There is a thing called Whamageddon. The objective is to avoid hearing Last Christmas by Wham. Linfield were also hoping to avoid Last Christmas, but it was nothing to do with George and Andrew. They wanted to avoid a repeat of the 2-1 defeat at The Oval, which killed off their title hopes, if they weren’t already dead by the time they arrived in East Belfast 365 days ago.
A defeat today, or even a draw, wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it certainly would have been a result they could do without. In the end, they produced a performance that left their fans on The Edge Of Heaven.
Having fallen four points behind Ballymena on Saturday, Linfield couldn’t afford to let the gap get any bigger.
As the teams entered the pitch, there wasn’t many players on the pitch at the start who had scored in this fixture. Linfield only had Niall Quinn (2015) and Andrew Waterworth (2013) while Glentoran had Stephen Gordon (2014), with last year’s matchwinner Curtis Allen being on the bench.
It was clear early on that Linfield were planning on giving it to Joel Cooper as much as possible, with good reason, having set up the winner when the sides met in October.
Having seen off early Linfield pressure, Glentoran had a bit of the ball in Linfield’s half, too much for Linfield’s liking, even though they didn’t do much with it.
On 15 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when Jimmy Callacher scored after a free-kick. It was his third goal in front of The Kop for the third time in four games. The only difference this time was that it was with his foot rather than his head. Linfield might as well be 1-0 up already in their Irish Cup tie against Ballymena in a few weeks time.
It was a perfect time to score as it wasn’t too early, as Linfield have tended to struggle in recent years when they have scored early against Glentoran.
All that Glentoran could offer in response was a free-kick from Willy Garrett that was easily saved by Roy Carroll.
Linfield were determined to get a second goal before half-time. Kirk Millar fired across goal from a wide angle, before a flicked header went agonisingly wide.
A neat passing move resulted in a Joel Cooper low cross just miss Andrew Waterworth when the slightest contact would have resulted in a goal.
Joel Cooper then had a shot saved, with Elliott Morris getting to the round ahead of Andrew Waterworth who had sniffed a goal, before the half ended with a ball in from Niall Quinn evaded everybody and hit the post.
In the 2016 fixture, Linfield could have had the game won in the first-half, before hanging on for a point. They had to be on it from the very first kick of the second-half.
They weren’t. Curtis Allen, now brought on as a substitute, headed over from the close range. Jimmy Callacher was forced to stick out a leg and concede a corner when intercepting a pass to Allen.
Glentoran were having a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. Despite that, your natural pessimism makes you fear they will get a goal.
The second goal that Linfield needed came from a counter attack from a Glentoran corner, when Joel Cooper and Jordan Stewart ran at pace at Glentoran’s defence, those that were behind them couldn’t get back in time to help out.
Eventually, Cooper crossed for Stewart to finish from a few yards out. If Stewart didn’t get there, Kirk Millar would have had a empty net to put the ball into.
That was it, game over. Any fear there was of conceding a soft goal and dropping cheap points was now gone. Now that the game was won, Linfield were ready to put on a show.
A few minutes later, Cooper had his goal, volleying home from a corner. At 3-0, even I was able to relax in the knowledge that the points were secured.
Linfield were now showing off, playing ole football, keeping the ball like Institute, with Glentoran’s players too downhearted to put a tackle in.
When they did, Robbie McDaid got himself sent-off for kicking out at Jordan Stewart before squaring up to Andrew Mitchell, who had come on as a substitute for Jamie Mulgrew.
It was the fifth red card in the last six Boxing Day fixtures between Linfield and Glentoran.
By this point, Andrew Waterworth had made it 4-0 to Linfield with his last kick of the game before being replaced by Michael O’Connor. Personally, with the game won, I would have let Daniel Reynolds get some minutes.
Daniel Kearns was brought on as he continues to make his recovery from injury. He almost made it 5-0 but his shot was saved by Elliott Morris. Morris was beaten again, by Michael O’Connor, but the goal was disallowed for offside, as Linfield had to make do with just a 4-0 win.
Elsewhere, Ballymena drew 3-3 with Coleraine, meaning the gap is now back down to two points. Linfield couldn’t afford to let the gap get bigger, they reduced it within one game.
Crusaders beat Cliftonville 5-1. Do Cliftonville fans call 26th December St Stephen’s Day as it’s usually a day when Stephen Baxter is smiling?
Just like last month, Linfield will be facing a Cliftonville side who have lost their last two games.
Hopefully, like last month, we’ll show no mercy.
This match will be Linfield’s last game of 2018. Let’s be honest, it’s been a bloody awful year, but three points can lay the foundation to 2019 being a lot better.
Oh, and of course, don’t forget, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.