To be honest, 2018 was an awful year for Linfield.
However, the Irish League doesn’t run on calendar years, and the second part of the year was a lot better, giving hope that 2019 could be a good year. Linfield arrived at Solitude hoping to make the final week of the year a very good week.
The busiest time of the year, both sides were coming into this game on the back of contrasting fortunes of their games on Wednesday afternoon. The quick turnaround meant there wasn’t a lot of time to analyse the games on Boxing Day, which was probably good for Cliftonville, after a 5-1 defeat at home to Crusaders.
Linfield didn’t really have to do much analysing of their match against Glentoran, they just had to repeat it.
The only positive that Cliftonville had on Boxing Day, was that they conceded less goals than they did in their previous game, a 6-4 defeat away to Institute.
All season, Cliftonville have conceded goals. Linfield know this, they stuck four past them in November, with Andrew Waterworth becoming a trendsetter, as everybody now scores a hat-trick against Cliftonville.
As you entered Solitude, you were greeted with a muted atmosphere amongst the home support, those two results creating a sense of doom and gloom. They looked like a beaten team in the warm-up.
Linfield’s preparations for this game weren’t exactly smooth, on and off the pitch. The lucky cafe I usually go to for lunch before games at Solitude was closed today. Just as big, was the absence of Joel Cooper through suspension, with some supporters who weren’t aware of this getting a shock as they saw him taking his seat amongst the away support.
His place in the starting eleven was taken by Matthew Clarke, when Daniel Kearns looked a more obvious option.
However, when the sides met last month, Clarke came on for Cooper with the score at 3-2 to Linfield, with Niall Quinn being pushed into midfield.
I had my doubts about this substitution, as I thought it was too defensive, but it proved instantly effective as Quinn set up the goal to make it 4-2.
David Healy was hoping for a similar outcome at Solitude.
On the back of the two previous results, Cliftonville were going to go at Linfield early on, and Linfield would have to ride it out.
That would be more because they have conceded early goals in those two games, meaning that it was a case of attack being the best form of attack.
Cliftonville had the first opportunity of the game when Rory Donnelly cut inside only to see his shot saved by Roy Carroll, before Matthew Clarke blocked Joe Gormley’s rebound when he looked certain to score.
Clarke required treatment afterwards, it looked as though he suffered turf burn on the artificial pitch.
It was a painful afternoon for Clarke as later on, he blocked a cross which hit him right inbetween the legs.
Linfield were poor in the opening minutes, giving the ball away with stray passes, and being caught in possession and easily dispossessed when they had the ball.
Too often, Cliftonville were first to every ball, and first in the air. They weren’t doing any damage to Linfield, but there’s no way that Linfield could get away with it for 90 minutes.
Linfield’s first real chance of note came when Jordan Stewart had a shot saved by Richard Brush.
Stewart then set up Niall Quinn, who fired past Brush, who came rushing out, only for the ball to go wide. He really should have scored. Worst of all, I was at the other end, a celebrated prematurely.
A few minutes later, Linfield went in front when a header from Jordan Stewart hit the post and rolled over the line, though from where I was, it looked like it was rolling across the line, meaning my celebrations were delayed, rather than premature when Quinn shot at goal.
Looking at the TV footage, it does look like an own goal by Chris Curran to me. We all know how the Dubious Goals Committee works in the Irish League. If an Attacker shouts loud enough, it’s their goal.
Cliftonville responded with a Rory Donnelly header which hit the post, but fell perfectly for Jimmy Callacher to clear, to remind Linfield that even though Cliftonville’s confidence is low, this game was far from won.
The half ended with a free-kick from Stewart being saved by Brush.
Inside a minute of the second-half, it was 2-0, when Andrew Waterworth got in behind Cliftonville’s defence shot past the keeper who came rushing out, but his shot was going wide, so Niall Quinn made sure from a few yards out.
I’m not sure why the keeper ran out, as Waterworth still had a lot to do to score. By rushing out, he made it so much easier for Linfield to score, not that I’m complaining.
Just like on Boxing Day, Linfield started to really play now they had a cushion. They couldn’t get the third goal they needed to secure the points.
Andrew Mitchell came on for the injured Stephen Fallon, while Michael O’Connor came on for Andrew Waterworth.
O’Connor’s afternoon didn’t last that long, as he got sent-off for two stupid bookings. Linfield were comfortable, and didn’t need to give any encouragement to Cliftonville.
The only moment of worry they had was a long range shot from Ryan Curran that was saved by Roy Carroll. Linfield might have had a man less, but they had the ball, and Cliftonville couldn’t score if Linfield had it.
In the end, it was a comfortable win for Linfield.
At one point, in the second-half, with Linfield 2-0 up, Ballymena United, Crusaders and Glenavon were all dropping points. In the end, only Glenavon dropped points.
Three other results going in our favour was hopeful, but we’ll take one.
Next up, is the first game of 2019 on the first day of 2019, a trip to Ards. We’ve already slipped up there once this season.
Elsewhere, Ballymena play Crusaders. One, or possibly two, teams below us will be dropping points on Tuesday. A win at Ards is a must.
Linfield can’t influence other results, but we can take advantage of them.