Linfield left the pitch after their first League game of 2019 with a one point lead at the top of the table. By the time they kicked off their second game, they were ahead only on goal difference after Crusaders win over Newry City on Friday night.
A home game against Warrenpoint gave Linfield a chance to go clear at the top, but it wasn’t going to be easy, as Warrenpoint had the longest unbeaten run at Windsor Park of any side in the League, stretching back to September 2015, albeit two drawn games.
It was a Warrenpoint side coming off the back of a win at Mourneview Park on New Year’s Day. Having left Mourneview Park unbeaten twice this season, they were wanting to do the same at Windsor Park, having drawn 1-1 there in November.
If people thought Warrenpoint were going to park the bus, they got a shock in the opening minute as they went straight on the attack, firing in a cross which caused enough concern in the Linfield defence.
The opening minutes of the game saw Warrenpoint holding the ball but there was no danger to Linfield as it was all in their own half and not going forward.
Unable to create an opening in open play, Linfield were further frustrated by being unable to take advantage of any set pieces.
Most attacks were falling just short, the final pass usually being too hard or too soft.
There was a mild panic for Linfield when a cross from Ciaran O’Connor looked like it was going to loop in. Having fallen 1-0 down directly from a corner to Warrenpoint last season, it looked Linfield were going to concede another freak goal to Warrenpoint.
Just before half-time, Linfield went 1-0 up with their first attempt on target, when Joel Cooper was played into space by Jordan Stewart, who finished the eventual cross. He had so much of the goal to aim at, he couldn’t miss.
It changed the dynamic of the half-time team talk.
Linfield weren’t great, but they had a lead. Now they had to go out and finish the game off rather than going out to win it.
While the score was only 1-0, Warrenpoint weren’t out of it, and Linfield would know about this in the early minutes of the second-half with Roy Carroll being forced into a save, while Philip Donnelly got in behind Linfield’s defence but fired just wide of the post.
Niall Quinn had a shot blocked when he looked certain to make it 2-0, but the opportunity to get that decisive lead came when a Jordan Stewart shot was blocked by a handball.
From where I was, I was screaming for him to pass it to Andrew Waterworth, but watching back on the TV replay, it looked like his shot was going to go in.
Stewart made no mistake from the penalty spot to make it 2-0, and surely secure the points for Linfield.
Joel Cooper was given a rest, making way for Daniel Kearns, before Andrew Waterworth made it 3-0, removing any lingering doubt as to where the points were going.
There was still time for one more goal, as Stephen Fallon headed the ball behind Warrenpoint’s defence, with Jordan Stewart pouncing to get a hat-trick, his second for Linfield, after getting one in a 4-0 win against Ballinamallard last season.
The 4-0 lead was a perfect time to blood Lorcan Forde into the game, with him and Michael O’Connor both coming on for the final minutes.
O’Connor might have only had a brief cameo, but it was still a bruising afternoon for him, as Warrenpoint lost their discipline, with Matty Lynch being sent-off for two fouls on him.
Elsewhere, Ballymena United surprisingly drew 2-2 with Dungannon Swifts, meaning that Linfield went three points clear at the top of the table.
Unfortunately, laptop problems meant I wouldn’t be previewing the upcoming trip to Crusaders as I didn’t get this blog finished before that game.
It was a big game for Linfield and it lived up to the hype.
You can read about it in the following post.