After exiting the Irish Cup last weekend, it was important for Linfield to bounce back as quickly as possible. The weather denied them the opportunity to do it in the County Antrim Shield Final on Tuesday, which meant they had to wait seven days. As a quirk, they would be facing a side they had a score to settle with, as Coleraine were the only team Linfield had yet to beat this season.
The postponement of the County Antrim Shield Final can be looked two ways. As a positive, it gave Linfield players a free midweek to recover from that cup tie, the final minutes saw Niall Quinn struggling to move while Jordan Stewart watched the final minutes from the bench with an ice pack strapped to him. As a negative, an opportunity to put Crusaders back in their place and get a trophy in the cabinet was delayed.
While Linfield and Crusaders were putting their feet up on Tuesday night, Coleraine were winning a rearranged League game at Dungannon to move them up to 4th, their highest position since the early months of the season.
After a slow start under new manager Rodney McAree, Coleraine had experienced an upturn in form in recent weeks, with only one defeat in their last ten matches. After going so close to the title last season, Coleraine’s struggles this season will have been seen as a shock by many, or maybe not, having been a victim of their own success by losing four key players to clubs on the Mainland, with Darren McCauley (Inverness Caledonian Thistle) joining Martin Smith (Swindon Town), Stephen Dooley (Rochdale) and Brad Lyons (Blackburn Rovers) in professional football, as well as losing manager Oran Kearney to St Mirren.
Linfield made a few changes to their starting eleven, with Marek Cervenko, Andrew Waterworth and Kirk Millar coming into the side.
Coleraine had the better of the opening minutes with Ben Doherty having a free shot from outside the box easily saved by Gareth Deane when he really should have made him work, before Jamie McGonigle hit the post.
Linfield came more into it and had their first chance when Niall Quinn’s cross, deliberately bypassing those waiting in the middle, fell to Kirk Millar who fired over when he needed to go low.
Jordan Stewart then fired over from outside the box. He had options to pass but he is justified to shoot considering the form he is in. Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns berated his defence. There may have been a double motivation, as it killed the game.
It was Coleraine who took the lead when Gareth McConaghie scored from close range after a cross from Jamie Glackin. It was poor from Linfield, who all switched off believing that the ball was going out for a goal kick, and couldn’t recover by the time the cross came in.
It wasn’t the only time that Linfield were slow to react in the first-half. Coleraine almost counter attacked because Jimmy Callacher was trying to shepherd the ball out for a corner, while Coleraine went on a counter attack as Jamie Mulgrew was second to the ball from a Linfield throw in Coleraine’s half.
Throughout the first-half, Linfield were sloppy in possession. Jordan Stewart conceding a throw straight from kick-off, the clock on the scoreboard wasn’t even running yet so I couldn’t tell you how many seconds it was into the game, was a ominous warning.
The only moments of joy they had was trying to get Marek Cervenka in behind Coleraine’s defence. The joy was limited though, as he couldn’t get a clear goalscoring opportunity, often being denied by Chris Johns clearing it or a Coleraine defender shepherding the ball out.
A big improvement was needed from Linfield. As my DAB could only pick up the Rugger and I have no data on my phone, so I was unaware of scores elsewhere. Regardless of what was happening elsewhere, Linfield had to win this.
Within a few minutes of the second-half, the task got harder for Linfield, when Dean Shiels made it 2-0 to Coleraine. Wether it was a goal, was up for debate.
I was sat at the other end and it didn’t look over the line. The TV footage, looked inconclusive, and that is being generous.
This game was heading the same way as the fixture in November. They didn’t look like scoring, but they had over 40 minutes to rectify the situation.
Immediately, Daniel Kearns, Michael O’Connor and Joel Cooper were sent to warm up. David Healy had options to change it, unlike in November when he had to throw on youngsters Daniel Reynolds and Brandon Doyle.
Just before the hour, Linfield got a goal back when a free-kick was headed back into the six yard box by NIFWA January Player Of The Month Jimmy Callacher and it fell to Josh Robinson.
He couldn’t quite control of the ball, it looked like one of those days, but he managed to get enough space to smash the ball into the back of the net.
In November, Linfield only had a couple of minutes left after pulling a goal back to make it 2-1, now they had over half and hour, and they were determined to make every second count.
The atmosphere at Windsor Park lifted, Linfield fans knew their team needed their backing, and they were up for it.
More pressure continued from Linfield, and they got an equaliser when Niall Quinn started and finished a move by firing home from just beside the penalty spot.
Linfield fans weren’t sure how and why he was in such a central position, but we were all thankful that he was.
68 minutes on the clock and still plenty of time to win the game, Linfield now had all the momentum.
2-0 has been a dangerous lead in this fixture in recent years, with Coleraine and then Linfield blowing 2-0 leads at home to draw 2-2 last season.
That wasn’t what Linfield wanted, they wanted a repeat of the game in February 2016 when Linfield came from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
By now, Ballymena United were winning at Institute, but only 2-1, while Crusaders were 1-0 down at Dungannon Swifts. There was no point in going a point further clear of Crusaders if Ballymena United were going to get two points closer to us.
Andrew Waterworth (goal) and Jordan Stewart (clean through on goal) were both denied by the offside flag as Linfield went in search of a winner.
Michael O’Connor came on for Marek Cervenka and Joel Cooper came on for Andrew Waterworth as Linfield searched for the winner.
On 83 minutes, it looked like it would be O’Connor who would get it when a Joel Cooper flick fell perfectly for him, only to be denied by the post. A shot from him was then blocked by a Coleraine defender and looped up onto the bar.
Linfield had to be careful they weren’t caught out by attacking so much, and got a reminder of this when Gareth Deane was forced into a save from James McLaughlin.
We then entered three minutes of injury time. It should have been more due to the amount of timewasting by Coleraine. And yet, the only time you ever see a goalkeeper get booked for it, it’s Roy Carroll.
It was enough time for Linfield to win the game thankfully, as a corner fell to Michael O’Connor, who saw his shot blocked, only to fall to Kyle McClean who fired home low to give Linfield the lead.
It wasn’t quite the points secured, as Coleraine still had one last attack, which resulted in a corner that Linfield just about cleared, learning their lesson from last week, and seeing out the game to win 3-2.
Ballymena United and Crusaders results stayed as they were, meaning that they remain six points clear of Ballymena, albeit with a game more played, and twelve clear of Crusaders. I think we can safely rule Crusaders out of the title race, if they were ever in it.
Ballymena’s game in hand isn’t until mid March, so if Linfield keep winning, Ballymena will have to keep up. Especially if Linfield win their next League match, against Ballymena on 23rd February.
That can wait, as it will be the second successive Saturday they meet, as they meet in the NIFL Cup Final next weekend. It’s been so long since Linfield won it, Glenn Ferguson scored the winner off the bench. As a substitute for Joe Bambrick.
The truth is, the first match won’t have any impact on the second. Winning one won’t automatically mean you win the other. Hopefully, next week, we’ll be celebrating a trophy. Hopefully, the first of three.
Hopefully, Linfield won’t turn up at 4.10pm and start playing next week. Obviously, that would be a waste of time because the match kicks off at 5.30pm.
Remember, if you can’t go, it’s on Sky Sports. As is Glentoran v Glenavon on Monday 18th, while Glenavon are on TV again on BBC on Friday 22nd. They’re on TV more times than Aston Villa these days.
At the moment, it looks like the away game against Newry is still going to be on February 26th, which is disappointing as Saturday 2nd March is now free. It was also space the games out better, meaning we don’t travel to Mourneview Park on 8th March after ten days without a game.
Guess what? That Glenavon match is live on TV. Just give them their own channel.
That rescheduling for TV works out well for Linfield as it gives them an extra day’s rest ahead of the County Antrim Shield Final on 12th March, which is now the provisional date for it.
That works out handy for me, as I have Chvrches (19th February) and KT Tunstall (5th March) over the next few Tuesdays, and was worried about a clash.
There are Irish Cup ties on Monday, with Ballymena involved. Hopefully, a heavy pitch and extra-time ahead of the NIFL Cup Final.
I’m not sure why they can’t play on European nights when three postponed Quarter-Finals were played on a European night last season.
After sorting out fixture scheduling in the Irish League, I now turn my attention to Scottish football.
Disappointingly, Bohs have had to pull out of the Irn Bru Cup after their game against East Fife was postponed last week.
Why not play it on the Semi-Final weekend, and there is still five weeks until the Final to slot the other Semi-Final in.
When it was announced that League of Ireland teams were entering the competition, the obvious thing that stood out was when the Quarter-Finals would be played if an Irish team was involved. Surely they could have made contingency plans?
It’s looking like Linfield will be in the competition again next season, but if we’re drawn away to Spartans or Edinburgh City, we may be subject to a Tourist Tax.
Robbing bastards. If i’m paying £2 for every day i’m in Edinburgh, i’m entitled to make a few demands of Edinburgh City Council.
1. Total smoking ban in the city. 2. Signage telling people to walk on the left of the footpath. 3. Jimmy Chungs to return to Waverley Train Station.
Just introduce a Flyer Tax and a Poster Tax if you’re that short of money.
Scottish Challenge Cup can wait, it’s about what we want in February 2019.
That’s a nine point lead at the top of the table and the NIFL Cup in the bag.