Linfield took on Glenavon sandwiched inbetween two milestone points of the season, Matchday 21 (though due to postponements and rearrangements, this was both sides 20th game) inbetween the halfway point (Matchday 19) and the point when everybody should have played each other twice (Matchday 22)
The previous meeting came at that most eagerly awaited of milestone days, the opening game. Fans of both sides arrived at Mourneview Park wanting to know if their team were capable of making a title challenge.
Four and a half months later, both sides were in a title challenge, the two main challengers to surprise leaders Ballymena United, who have started to become comfortable in that role since going top three weeks previously, sitting two points clear of Linfield, who were one point clear of Glenavon.
With two postponements since their last game, it had felt like ages since Linfield last played. Unsurprisingly, they were unchanged since their last League game, a 4-1 win over Crusaders.
There was a boost though in the shape of Daniel Kearns being able to take a place on the bench after two months out through injury.
In the opening minutes, Jamie Mulgrew was able to run unchallenged towards Glenavon’s goal, but fired over. Mulgrew had scored the winner when the two sides met at Windsor Park exactly eleven years previously, and he was in the mood to repeat it. It wasn’t the only time during the game that Glenavon let him run free at their goal.
A neat passing move down the left almost set up Joel Cooper to lob into the net, but Jonathan Tuffey was able to catch it.
Glenavon had their chances, gifted to them by Linfield. A defensive mix-up presented Andrew Mitchell with a clear strike at goal but he fired over, not as far over as his penalty on the opening day, but he still should have scored.
Another mix-up saw Stephen Murray hit the bar, while the woodwork was also hit when Roy Carroll dropped a corner into the post, to shocked gasps from both sets of fans.
Carroll had to run out of his penalty area to clear some danger, but the resulting shot from far out went wide.
Linfield had their own pressure on Glenavon’s goal, with Joel Cooper firing over, before Linfield thought they had taken the lead when Jonathan Tuffey fumbled a shot straight to Andrew Waterworth, whose quick reactions got him a goal, only for the offside flag to deny him.
The end of the half saw some Linfield pressure and a flurry of corners, the most dangerous of which saw a Glenavon defender head out for a corner, just as Jimmy Callacher look set to score in front of The Kop for the third successive home game.
In a game that looked like it had no more than one goal, Linfield’s set pieces were generally poor at a time when they needed just one to get right.
The start of the second-half saw an opportunity for each time, Glenavon hitting the bar followed by a low Joel Cooper cross evading two team-mates running in.
With each passing minute, it became obvious that Daniel Kearns would be introduced. That happened just after the hour, perhaps earlier than some expected, as part of a double substitution which saw Michael O’Connor join the action. With half an hour to go, Linfield had introduced two of their three attacking options from the bench in search of the win, especially with Ballymena United 2-0 up against Ards, and being so in front, they could afford to miss two penalties.
A quick counter attack saw Stephen Murray have a shot saved before both teams were frustrated by goal-line clearances.
Daniel Kearns tried to sneak the ball in fro a tight angle, but his shot was saved by Tuffey, before Kearns set up two late chances, pulling back for Stephen Fallon who fired just wide under pressure, while Joel Cooper couldn’t get to the ball before Tuffey.
It was a contradiction of a game, both teams had chances but neither looked like scoring, it was one of those games.
Elsewhere, Ballymena won to go four points clear. They can be overtaken but the lead can’t be allowed to get bigger.
I said at the start of the month that Ballymena had a run of winnable games, and so it has proved.
I wouldn’t put much hope on the, slipping up against Coleraine and Crusaders, considering that both have had four goal defeats recently against Top Six opposition.
Crusaders are now three points behind Linfield but I wouldn’t be too concerned, as Linfield have a game in hand.
Cliftonville meanwhile lost 6-4 to Institute and now don’t have a keeper for Boxing Day. I doubt Brian Neeson’s ban will be more than one game, which is a pity ahead of next Saturday.
And on to Boxing Day, I suppose we’re due a win, having failed to win the last two meetings, although facing a Glentoran team without a win in two months does worry me, if you know what I mean.
In truth, we should be beating them. The current state of the table dictates that we must, regardless of other results.
The day before that, is the Steel and Sons Cup Final between East Belfast and Sirocco Works. At the minute, I don’t plan on attending, but you never know.
Having discovered that Sirocco’s ground is on the Connswater Greenway, I’ll be adding them to the pre-season wishlist, alongside East Belfast.
Last weekend, Linfield should have been playing away to Newry, but it was postponed due to the weather.
Curiously, with a meeting scheduled for the weekend of the League Cup Final, it meant that Linfield had two away games against Newry postponed in the same week.
There’s still four months of the season left, so there’s no need to panic.
Finding new dates for games seems to be a thing, with the County Antrim Shield Semi-Final against Ballymena being postponed for the second time.
I don’t think either club will be unhappy with that, the match should never have been scheduled going into a busy Christmas period.
Though, it is now scheduled for Tueaday 8th January, so it’s now at the end of a busy period.
There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t have been played on Tuesday 15th January.
Now, I know the Final is scheduled for Tuesday 22nd January, but there’s no reason why a venue couldn’t be arranged now to cover for the seven day turnaround.
If it is Linfield v Crusaders it wil be played at xxxxxxx, and if it’s Ballymena v Crusaders, it will be played at xxxxxxx.
There is recent precedent for the County Antrim Shield Final date being put back, it has happened in 2010, 2014 and 2017.
This week saw the League Of Ireland fixture list for 2019. I’ve booked a two night stay in Dublin on 11th and 12th July as I’ll be off work. There’s no top flight games on the 12th, but Bray and Shelbourne are both at home. Bray is looking the most tempting at this moment in time.
Northern Ireland have announced a friendly against Luxembourg for October 2019. I’ll pass on that, but I’ll be entering competitions for a freebie, of course.
Not the result we wanted, but there are positives. The biggest of which, was the first clean sheet in nine matches. That would be a good habit to get into again.
Daniel Kearns is back from injury and Mark Haughey, Ryan McGivern and Cameron Stewart are all due back from injury, which is effectively like four new signings.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my blogs, and I’ll be intending to post more crap in 2019 and beyond.
So, Merry Christmas to you all, even Glentoran supporters. Though, in their case, I hope they have a horrid Boxing Day, especially between the hours of 3pm and 5pm.