THE FRIDAY FIVE – 29.3.2019

1. The Beat – Save It For Later
2. The Killers – Run For Cover
3. Mumford and Sons – Beloved
4. Feeder – Fear Of Flying
5. Florence and the Machine – Moderation

I hate it when bands I like are announced for Belsonic. Any outdoor event in Belfast is now a scumbagfest where you can barely breathe due to the stench of cigarettes and vapes. Think i’ll pass on The Killers and just wait on their next Odyssey concert.

Sad to hear of the death of Ranking Roger. As compilation albums go, Beat This : The Best Of The Beat is an absolute belter. For some reason, I never felt the urge to go an see them when they did what felt like an annual concert at The Limelight.

Ash are doing a concert in Edinburgh during the Festival. That is very tempting.

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NORTHERN IRELAND 2-1 BELARUS 24.3.2019

If Estonia’s last visit to Windsor Park was one of Northern Ireland’s lowest points in recent years, Belarus only previous visit to South Belfast was one of the highest points.

It was a gloriously warm Friday night in late May 2016. We didn’t know if the heat was because of the sunshine or because of Will Grigg. We were seeing the team off in their last home game before heading to the European Championship in France, we were on an unbeaten run, we were going to win it.

If you hadn’t seen such riches, you could live with being poor.

We loved the experience of going to a major tournament, and all the little spin-offs such as sticker books, send-off home matches and newspaper pull-outs, we want to do it all again in Euro 2020.

It will be tough though, with Northern Ireland in Pot 3 behind two former European Champions and two heavyweights. However, Germany and Holland are two heavyweights trying to rebuild their reputation after humiliating failures in recent years.

However, 3rd place may not be enough for Northern Ireland to secure a Play-Off place thanks to the farce that is the Nations League.

If the group goes to form based on the seedings, Northern Ireland finish 3rd and Belarus 5th, Northern Ireland won’t be guaranteed a Play-Off whole Belarus will be on the basis of winning their group in League D.

There were idiots in our support who kept saying the UEFA Nations League was a great opportunity to help Northern Ireland qualify. How? It is nothing more than a reward for mediocrity.

There will be a 3rd place team who misses out to a team who finishes 5th or 6th in their group. This will blow up in a big way in November.

Northern Ireland would be guaranteed a Play-Off if Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria qualify automatically. Bosnia-Herzegovina blew a 2-0 lead at home to one of their main rivals, while Austria have lost their opening two games in the weakest group. Useless showers.

Northern Ireland can only help themselves, and they found themselves camped in the Belarus half in the opening minutes of the game, but the best they could offer was a Paddy McNair shot saved by the keeper.

Kyle Lafferty had a shot turned around for a corner, a corner which brought Northern Ireland their opening goal when Jonny Evans found himself free in the box to head home from close range.

Pointless stat, but it was Northern Ireland’s first goal in the first-half of a competitive game since Chris Brunt scored against Czech Republic in 2017, nine games ago.

All the clichés about not giving Belarus something to defend and the floodgates opening for Northern Ireland were soon wiped out within a couple of minutes when a shot from Ihar Stasevich was deflected and looped up and over Bailey Peacock-Farrell. It was like a recreation of Andreas Brehme’s goal against England at the 1990 World Cup.

I was behind the goal it was scored in, and you knew what was going to happen as soon as the ball looped up. Windsor Park fell silent, apart from a small pocket of Belarus fans in the corner of North Stand and Railway Stand.

This was a game that Northern Ireland had to win, and the best way of making that happen looked like it was going to come down the left hand side with the duo of Jamal Lewis and Jordan Jones, where most of Northern Ireland’s play was going to.

Jones looked like he was going to set up a second for Northern Ireland but his cross went agonisingly across the box but nobody was able to get on the end of it.

Paddy McNair had a shot blocked as Northern Ireland’s pressure continued in search of a second goal that would not come.

As each minute passed, it became inevitable that Northern Ireland would turn to their bench.

First up, was Josh Magennis for Niall McGinn, then it was Liam Boyce for Kyle Lafferty.

You might say i’m being biased, but I was hoping that the third sub would be Paul Smyth.

It wasn’t, as Shane Ferguson came on for Jordan Jones. It was a sub that made sense though, as Jones was getting into good position out the left but the final ball was missing. If Ferguson could get into the same position, his left foot could provide a final ball that could be productive for Northern Ireland.

A small section of supporters in the quadrant between The Kop and North Stand began singing “Kop Stand Kop Stand, sing us a song”, to which The Kop responded “Who are ya? Who are ya?

Good point actually, who are they? Are they Kop? Are they North Stand? What stand are they in?

It looked like the winner was never going to come.

With just minutes remaining, the ball fell to Josh Magennis. It was set up for him to shoot but he couldn’t get a clear strike on goal.

He ended up passing it, and within seconds, was on the end of a cross, finding that elusive space to turn the ball home. Windsor Park erupted in celebration.

He doesn’t score many, but when he does, it’s vital. That second goal against Greece, breaking the deadlock on a frustrating night in San Marino.

Even his consolation goal against Germany felt important at the time.

The common consensus, would that this would be enough for Northern Ireland, but it almost wasn’t.

With less than a minute of injury time remaining, Bailey Peacock-Farrell had to save at the feet of a Belarus striker who looked set to score from a few yards out.

Northern Ireland held on and got the win, making it two wins out of two.

They were two games they were expected to win, but they still had to go out there and get the win.

Elsewhere in the group, Germany beat Holland 3-2.

It’s hard what to want when Germany meet Holland. Logically, a draw wouldn’t be bad, but it might not be a bad thing if Germany win both games.

That means that if Northern Ireland win away to Belarus and Estonia, and even if they lose home and away to Germany, they will effectively be in a Play-Off with Holland.

Given the choice, you’d rather be in that situation with Holland than Germany.

Even though Holland and Germany are both trying to rebuild their reputations after humiliating failures in recent years, it is Holland who have had the greater fall, and failure to reach the last two tournaments will still be on their mind until they get over the line in this one.

Due to their involvement in the UEFA Nations League, Holland won’t be playing any qualifiers in June while Northern Ireland play twice. This makes them even more of a must-win set of games than they already are.

If we do, we’ll have a nine point advantage over the Dutch, and put all the pressure on them come September.

For once, the UEFA Nonsense League will be doing Northern Ireland a favour.

Northern Ireland v Belarus 2016

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MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 11.1.1986

It’s a cup edition of Shoot this week, with the FA Cup 3rd Round, and a World Cup calendar included in this edition. The cover star, Ray Stewart of West Ham and Scotland, was hoping for glory in both.

Don Howe is interviewed, where he says he knows he could lose his job as Arsenal manager and his role in the England coaching set-up if both teams fail in 1986.

Manchester United’s FA Cup tie against Rochdale is previewed, with Shoot warning that Steve Taylor could be Rochdale’s danger man.

Nigel Callaghan gets a full page profile after handing in a transfer request at Watford, but denies he has had a bust-up with manager Graham Taylor.

Steve Moran tells Shoot that he hopes 1986 will bring him better luck that 1985, when he damaged knee ligaments in and end of season friendly in the Caribbean

Jan Molby gets a full page feature, crediting Kenny Dalglish for his turnaround in form, and revealing that he practices free-kicks.

Mick Harford also gets a full page feature, but it’s the opposite from Molby’s piece, which sees manager (David Pleat) praising player, stating that the Luton forward should be in the England squad.

It’s all one big love-in this week, with Paul Gascoigne of Newcastle United crediting manager Willie McFaul with the weight loss that has enabled him to be a professional footballer.

Despite English clubs being banned from Europe, they were well represented in the Adidas Awards, with Everton beating Manchester United to Team Of The Year, while Kerry Dixon was a finalist for Golden Boot, alongside Frank McDougall of Scotland and Martin McGaughey of Northern Ireland.

Hibs get a team profile where manager John Blackley declares he is building a team with ambitions of winning the league.

In news, Ian Greaves turned down the job as West Brom manager because they are sponsored by an anti smoking body and he is a dedicated smoker, Aston Villa want to sign Kevin Richardson from Everton, and Tommy Docherty dismisses England’s World Cup chances.

Manchester United defender Graeme Hogg tells Shoot he is hoping to curb his aggression and avoid suspension, while Billy Stark is the subject of this week’s “Focus On ……”

His favourite music is U2, Alison Moyet and Dire Straits.

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-5 LINFIELD 22.3.2019

When this game was chosen for live TV coverage, Dungannon Swifts were on a run of seven wins and a draw in eight games. It represented a major challenge to Linfield ahead of the split, a potential slip-up that would be captured live to the viewing public, just as it was against Glenavon a few weeks previously.

However, in more recent weeks, Dungannon’s form has gone on a downward trajectory, with defeats to Institute and Glenavon, and an Irish Cup exit to Ballinamallard United.

Even though Stangmore Park has been a kind ground to Linfield in recent years – Unbeaten since November 2013 and won on their last eight visits – the visits this season suggested this would be tight, with a last minute winner needed in October, and extra-time needed to end Dungannon’s grip on the League Cup in December.

Linfield went into this game missing two players due to international duty, though the two players in question, Kyle McClean and Michael O’Connor were substitutes last time out against Institiute, meaning that there was no disruption to the starting eleven. Their places on the bench were taken by Stephen Fallon, returning after injury, and Kirk Millar, returning after suspension.

Those absences didn’t affect them, going straight on the attack and spending the opening minutes in Dungannon’s half. They got rewarded with an early goal when Jordan Stewart created space down the right wing for Andrew Waterworth to nip in ahead of Joel Cooper and head home to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Having struggled at times against Bottom Six teams this season after not getting an early goal, Linfield now made sure that Dungannon didn’t have something to hold on to. It was also a timely goal for Waterworth, his first goal in five games.

Within a few minutes, he was making up for lost time when Jordan Stewart got in behind Dungannon’s defence to set him up to put it into the empty net. For the second time, Linfield had a situation that was going to result in a goal, the only question was who would score it. The answer each time was Andrew Waterworth.

Linfield must have been inspired by watching Kazakhstan score two in the early stages against Scotland the previous night.

Another cross from Jordan Stewart almost resulted in a goal but a Dungannon defender got to the ball ahead of Joel Cooper at the cost of a corner, while Cooper headed just wide from another cross.

All of Linfield’s attacking play was coming from the trio of Joel Cooper, Daniel Kearns and Jordan Stewart. Left or right, it didn’t matter which side Linfield went, one of those three would be setting something up.

A neat passing move resulted in Andrew Mitchell having a volley saved.

Linfield didn’t have to wait long to go 3-0 up, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick, ending a goal drought for him, his first goal since New Year’s Day.

The half ended eventfully for Andrew Mitchell with a yellow card and an injury, making him a prime candidate to be the first one substituted once the points were secured, if they weren’t already.

A run from Joel Cooper resulted in Niall Quinn having a shot go just wide.

Dungannon had some half chances towards the end of the half, but the danger was easily snuffed out by Linfield’s defence.

3-0 up at half-time, Linfield were a bit slow at the start of the second-half, perhaps not that surprising as they didn’t need to score, but they didn’t need to be giving Dungannon any encouragement that they could get back into the game.

Any possibility that Dungannon could launch an unlikely comeback disappeared when a bout of Head Tennis between Jimmy Callacher and Josh Robinson after a Daniel Kearns cross resulted in Andrew Waterworth heading home from close range to complete his hat-trick to make it 4-0. It was the second time he had scored a hat-trick against Dungannon, having scored one against them in 2015.

Waterworth then scuffed home an effort to make it 5-0, or so he thought, only to be denied by an offside flag.

The game won, Andrew Mitchell was replaced by Stephen Fallon to give him some vital minutes ahead of the run-in, as he returns from injury.

Andrew Waterworth would then get his fourth goal of the game, heading home from a Daniel Kearns cross to make it 5-0. It kept up a bizarre run of Linfield scoring five goals at Stangmore Park having won 5-3 there in 1995 and 5-1 in 2007. I’m already looking forward to Linfield scoring five away to Dungannon in 2031.

With the points definitely in the bag, Kirk Millar and Marek Cervenka coming on for Andrew Waterworth and Jordan Stewart.

Both of them were involved in attacking moments, with Millar hitting a shot wide after being caught in two minds wether to head it or shoot.

It finished 5-0, which put Linfield nine points clear, which they would expected it to be cut to six by Saturday teatime.

Except, that it wasn’t, with Warrenpoint Town recording a surprise win at Ballymena United.

It means that if Linfield win at Ballymena on 5th April, they will effectively be champions, with Ballymena United having to win their last four games, Linfield to lose their last four, and Ballymena to overcome a goal difference advantage of nineteen in Linfield’s favour.

What a win at Ballymena will definitely result in, will be European football and a return to the Scottish Challenge Cup for 2019-2020.

Friday night games on TV have been a mixed bag for Linfield this season. Hopefully, the game against Ballymena is a repeat of this rather than Glenavon.

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NORTHERN IRELAND 2-0 ESTONIA 21.3.2019

The last time Estonia visited Windsor Park, it was one of Northern Ireland’s lowest points in recent history.

It was October 2011, nearing the end of Nigel Worthington’s second full campaign as manager, both of which saw group favourites (Czech Republic/Poland in 2010, and Serbia in 2012) fail to qualify and minnows take advantage of it, but we weren’t the minnows taking advantage.

If Slovenia can reach a World Cup, why can’t we? If Estonia can reach a European Championship Play-Off, why can’t we?

It was grim, we couldn’t win a game, it felt like we would never win another game, and nobody wanted to play for us.

Unsurprisingly, Nigel Worthington’s time as manager was up, a new man was needed to take us forward.

That man, was Michael O’Neill, but it wasn’t instant. A poor qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup saw Northern Ireland be in Pot five for the expanded Euro 2016.

Suddenly, it all clicked, Northern Ireland won their group and went to France. They almost went to Russia. Now, they were wanting to head to, um, any one of thirteen countries co-hosting Euro 2020, for their second successive European Championship.

It would be tough though, as Northern Ireland, now in Pot three for Euro 2020, found themselves in a group with Germany and Holland.

Oh well, but even if we finish third, we’ll have a shot at the Play-Offs.

Well, no, that’s not guaranteed, thanks to the sham that is the UEFA Nations League.

Northern Ireland’s first foray into that competition wasn’t exactly glorious, losing all four games and being relegated. Quite how, I don’t know, Northern Ireland had enough chances to win all four games.

That frustration was worse when you saw Austria’s group – Poland, Latvia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Israel. If Northern Ireland had that group, we’d be very confident of qualifying automatically from that.

Northern Ireland had a chance with just over a minute on the clock, with Niall McGinn dragging a shot just wide, failing to emulate Ivan Sproule scoring an early goal against Estonia at Windsor Park.

Paddy McNair then had Northern Ireland’s first really chance of note when he headed over from close range when he really should have scored. Craig Cathcart had a header easily saved before Jordan Jones dragged a shot just wide, as Northern Ireland went in search of the opening goal they so desperately needed.

If Northern Ireland could get it, they could charge on and win this game comfortably. If Estonia got it, it could be a long night against a team set up to defend, now with something to defend.

The most curious thing about Estonia’s play in the first-half, was their goalkeeper always kicking out wide from goal kicks, usually conceding throws or possession.

All that Estonia could offer as an attacking force in the first-half was a couple of corners that were easily cleared.

If the first-half was a false start, the second literally was as Estonia had to kick off three times before they got it right. That third time was to ironic cheers. Hopefully, Northern Ireland fans would be cheering at some point for real as Estonia are kicking off, this time after a goal.

Northern Ireland began the second-half a lot quicker, outing more pressure on Estonia’s goal. That pressure was rewarded on 55 minutes when an attacking move which saw Northern Ireland seem to always have one more player and were a pass ahead get rewarded when Niall McGinn finish into The Kop.

Despite being 1-0 up, Northern Ireland still needed a second goal just to be sure.

They got a reminder of that when Estonia got in behind Northern Ireland’s defence, only for Bailey Peacock-Farrell to make himself big and deny Henri Anier.

Any nerves that may have been in Windsor Park were soon gone when Goerge Savile won possession (I originally though it was going to get pulled back for a high foot by him) before launching an attack which resulted in him being fouled for a penalty.

Steven Davis made no mistake from the spot to make it 2-0, and secure the Northern Ireland the points.

They could have secured them by a bigger margin, but Josh Magennis, now on as a substitute, enduring a frustrating evening, hitting everything except the back of the net, but he never hid when he got the ball next time. Thankfully, the misses weren’t costly.

With a Play-Off spot being determined by UEFA Nations League placings, 3rd place won’t be enough for Northern Ireland. It would only be enough if Austria and Bosnia qualify automatically.

Austria lost their opening game, but no need to panic, it was against the team who is Pot one in their group, while Bosnia won.

Northern Ireland can only help themselves, they simply had to get twelve points on the board before facing Holland and Germany. They have three of them.

On to Belarus, arriving at Windsor Park three days later.

Photo Album

THE FRIDAY FIVE – 22.3.2019

1. Circa Waves – Times Won’t Change Me
2. Vampire Weekend – Harmony Hall
3. Two Door Cinema Club – Talk
4. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Longshot
5. Marshmallow ft Chvrches – Here With Me

Apologies for there being no Friday Five last week, I was dosed and ill, which meant you missed out on a St Patrick’s Day chart. You’ll have to wait next year for that now.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 14.9.1985

England’s new star striker Gary Lineker shares cover space with Ian Rush, ahead of a vital week of World Cup Qualifiers, with Rush stating that Wales will destroy Scotland.

Rush gets a double page spread, saying that Wales will win and set up a Play-Off against a team from Oceania, due to Scotland missing the suspended Graeme Souness.

Unsurprisingly, Scotland think they will get the win, according to Shoot columnist Willie Miller.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, a result which sent Scotland into a Play-Off against Australia, which they won 2-0 on aggregate to reach the World Cup in Mexico.

The game will be remembered for the death of Scotland manager Jock Stein, who collapsed on the touchline moments before the final whistle.

Sammy McIlroy gets interviewed about Northern Ireland’s game in Turkey, expecting Turkey to provide difficult opponents despite losing 8-0 to England earlier in the group.

Kevin Sheedy gets interviewed about Republic Of Ireland’s chances of reaching the World Cup, stating that they can do it. Sheedy had yet to win an away game in his international career, and would need to start doing so, with trips to Switzerland and Soviet Union coming up.

England’s game against Romania is previewed, with manager Bobby Robson singing the praises of Gary Lineker, who had only made his international debut earlier that year.

Bryan Robson uses his column to focus on players who are aiming to head to Mexico next summer, such as Adrian Heath, Paul Walsh, Peter Davenport, Steve Williams and Remi Moses.

Celtic’s new star Alan McInally gets a double page spread, while Rangers also get a double page spread. Well, Queens Park Rangers.

Justin Fashanu also gets a profile as he hopes to get Brighton promoted from the Second Division.

Charlie Nicholas uses his column to express his fears after Scotland manager Jock Stein considers picking only domestic based players after having problems getting access to English based players.

One Scottish striker not worried about not getting picked is Kenny Dalglish, also player-manager at Liverpool, telling Shoot he’ll have no hesitation in dropping himself.

Meanwhile, there is disharmony with the West Germany squad, due to a row breaking out between Berndt Schuster and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Schuster was currently in international exile due to a disagreement with manager Franz Beckenbauer.

A dispute with broadcasters means that no club games in England are televised, so Shoot does double page photos of some of the best action.

LINFIELD 2-0 INSTITUTE 16.3.2019

And relax, all is well. Panic over.

After two defeats which saw their lead at the top cut and a trophy slip away, there was a danger that if it became three in a row, questions would start to be asked if Linfield’s season was about to fall apart.

With two games before the split to come against Bottom Six teams, this represented an opportunity for Linfield to get back to winning ways ahead of the crunch trip to Ballymena in early April.

This was a rare Saturday 3pm game, for numerous reasons. Institute hadn’t played at Windsor Park in that timeslot since 2011, 2008 in the League, while Linfield haven’t played at 3pm on a Saturday since 23rd February, and won’t do again until 13th April.

On the back of two bad results, Linfield will have been glad to be facing a side they had a lot of joy against this season, winning the previous three meetings by an aggregate of 12-1.

That form guide that Linfield were the only team to truly overpower Institute this season, who’ve had a comfortable first season back in the top flight, having to get used to a new ground, but never ever being in relegation danger, instead having ambitions of 7th place, and a possible wildcard opportunity of European football next season.

For Linfield, it was a welcome return to 4231, but no Kirk Millar, who was absent through suspension.

As well as the formation, there were two welcome returns with Jamie Mulgrew returning after suspension, and Joel Cooper returned after a month out through injury, a period where he was badly missed. Andrew Mitchell got the nod in midfield ahead of Kyle McClean.

The two previous League games had been milestone points in Cooper’s season. The first League meeting in August saw him make his home debut and mark it with a goal. By the time Linfield headed to The Brandywell in November, he had lost a bit of form and was on the bench for the first time as a Linfield player, but briefly found it again in a brief cameo, which laid the foundations for his performance against Cliftonville the following weekend when injury presented him with an opportunity to return to the side.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield were on the attack straight from the start, with Andrew Waterworth and Daniel Kearns having shots saved.

Institute had their moments, usually on the counter attack, but the attack was usually sniffed out before it became any major concern to Linfield.

The game died down as Linfield tried to get the lead, wanting to avoid giving Institute something to hold on to, usually finding themselves frustrated by their own wayward or overambitious passes.

The game then burst into life again in the final minutes of the half, with Chris Casement usually involved.

First he had a header well saved from six yards out when it looked like he was going to score, before having a free-kick hit the bar, before Andrew Waterworth’s instinctive rebound shot being saved, though an offside flag rendered that irrelevant.

To end, he had a cross flash across the six yard box and evade everybody, to complete a frustrating half for Linfield, which ended 0-0.

Despite that, there was no need to panic, especially as Linfield were extending their lead at the top as Ballymena United were surprisingly trailing Glentoran 1-0 at home.

It looked like the deadlock was broken in the early minutes of the second-half when Jimmy Callacher headed home, but he was denied by an offside flag.

Having been denied by the crossbar earlier in the game, Chris Casement tried his luck again with another free-kick, going just over.

Just after the hour, Linfield finally took the lead. After a series of Linfield crosses always seemed to be blocked by an Institute foot, Andrew Waterworth was able to control the ball, but not really getting into a clear position to strike at goal, but inadvertently set up Jordan Stewart to blast it into the roof of the net.

All the pressure was off Linfield now, and it showed. Joel Cooper looked to chip the ball in but it was headed off the line by Caoimhin Bonner. The TV footage was inconclusive though Linfield fans were screaming for it.

They don’t have VAR in the Irish League, and I don’t think SSAR (South Stand Assistant Referees) is going to be implemented any time soon.

Linfield’s hunt for a second goal ended when Josh Robinson headed home to make it 2-0, to as good as secure the points.

Institute responded by bringing on Paul Smyth from the bench, but there was no need for Linfield fans to panic, it wasn’t that Paul Smyth, he was somewhere in the North-West of England bemoaning the fact that Accrington Stanley’s match at home to Rochdale was postponed.

Coincidentally, there’s an interview with him on Stanley’s website, you can read it here.

David Healy then introduced some substitutions, starting with Matthew Clarke for Joel Cooper, cue the obvious poetry joke, before Marek Cervenka and Michael O’Connor coming on for Daniel Kearns and Andrew Waterworth.

Cervenka had an opportunity to score but would have needed a right foot curler, he waited too long and Institute were able to see out the danger.

His other main contribution was to get a yellow card to a sliding tackle that everybody in the ground could see a mile off, causing Caoimhin Bonner to show some pace for the first time in his career to get involved, resulting in a yellow card for himself as well.

If it was ten minutes earlier, of if the game was still up for grabs, he would have been an absolute cert for a second yellow card.

Gareth Deane was forced into a save in the final minutes, saving Linfield from a nervous end to the game.

The final whistle blew, and it was a 2-0 win for Linfield, a welcome win, and a welcome clean sheet after conceding six goals in two games.

The news came through from Ballymena that they had lost 2-0 at home to Glentoran. I’ll be honest, that is not a result I saw coming.

That means that Linfield are nine points clear, but Ballymena’s game in hand means it is effectively six points.

You’ll be glad to know that game in hand is on Tuesday, meaning that we’ll be level in terms of games played, meaning i’ll shut up about effective leads.

Institute are the opponents. As well as Institute played when it was 0-0, I can’t really see them taking anything at Ballymena, but I thought the same about Glentoran.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Dungannon, on the Friday night, giving Linfield a chance to extend their lead before Ballymena kick-off on the Saturday.

Hopefully, we take that opportunity, unlike against Glenavon a few weeks back.

When the Dungannon game was announced for TV coverage, Dungannon were on a decent run of form. That has tailed off in recent weeks.

Despite that, Linfield fans will have seen for themselves that their two visits have needed a last minute winner, and a cup win after extra-time.

Before that, it is the return of international football, as Northern Ireland face Estonia in their opening Euro 2020 Qualifier, and the start of the long road to England/Germany/Italy/Azerbaijan/Russia/Romania/Holland/Republic Of Ireland/Denmark/Spain/Hungary/Scotland begins.

I’m planning on being in London on the weekend of the Final. It would be great to pick up a ticket, but it’s more about the weekend away. I’ll also hope to sneak some time in Brighton as well.

Unfortunately, the kick-off for the Dublin games aren’t known yet, but i’ll try to sneak down to one of them in the Finals.

That’s a long way in the future, take each game at a time. Six points for Northern Ireland and three more for Linfield to aid their respective ambitions please.

Photo Album

CRUSADERS 4-3 LINFIELD 12.3.2019

Originally put back two weeks due to a Semi-Final postponement, then it got postponed itself, before changing venue, finally, the 2019 County Antrim Shield took place, as Linfield headed to Seaview looking to win their second trophy of the season.

The fact that it was Linfield and Crusaders going head to head in the Final shouldn’t have been that big a shock. This was the sixth Final in seven years that two out of Ballymena United, Crusaders and Linfield have met in the Final. If it’s one of those two teams going head to head in the 2020 Final, they might as well just make it a three team tournament.

This was the third meeting of Linfield and Crusaders during that run, with Linfield winning in 2014 and 2017.

Heading to the ground, it was so windy, there was a serious danger that if Crusaders played a long ball upfield, it might not come down for 27 minutes.

There were changes in the Linfield XI, not that surprising given previous Shield team selections this season.

With Gareth Deane playing in the 2017 Final as a rare opportunity for a second choice keeper to get a game, by 2019, he was now first choice, making way to give Conor Mitchell a debut.

Mark Stafford and Andrew Mitchell came in as players who haven’t played recently were given an opportunity, with Jamie Mulgrew missing through suspension.

Linfield had the better of the early stages and had a lot of pressure on Crusaders goal. They got their reward when Sean O’Neill dropped a corner, which fell perfectly for Mark Stafford to head home after 9 minutes, two minutes earlier than when he scored for Linfield in the 2017 Final.

Billy Joe Burns was lucky to get away with a yellow card for a late tackle, benefitting from the lack of minutes that were on the clock.

Crusaders soon got into the game and had some chances of their own, with Jordan Owens having a header that he should have scored, which David Cushley had a speculative shot saved. Not sure if you should count that, as he usually has about twenty speculative shots a game.

One of those shots soon found the back of the net from outside the penalty area, though questions have to be asked as to why Linfield failed to clear despite having two opportunities to do so in the build-up.

If Linfield fans were worried about how their team would respond to this setback, they had no need to be, as they responded to conceding one goal by scoring two themselves.

Andrew Waterworth nipped in front of a Crusaders defender to get to the ball first, running clean through on goal, only to see his shot saved, but Kirk Millar followed up to finish into the open net from a few yards out.

Surprisingly, it was only Millar’s fourth goal against teams in the current Top Six, having scored against Glenavon in 2015 and twice against Coleraine in 2016. It was very timely, though it should be pointed out that he compensates for his lack of goals with assists.

A minute later, it was 3-1 to Linfield when Millar resorted to assisting duties when his cross was header by a Crusaders defender off Colin Coates and in, though the PA Announcer gave it to Jordan Stewart because he was loitering in the penalty area, it was clearly an own goal.

Coates was then going in the referee’s notebook after grabbing Andrew Waterworth’s neck after a challenge. Of course, it was only going to be a yellow at worst.

Chris Casement had a free-kick tipped over while Declan Caddell had a shot saved as both teams searched for a goal before half-time, which saw Linfield have a 3-1 lead.

The second-half would have the wind in Crusaders favour, but Linfield weren’t 3-1 up because of the weather. They were 3-1 up because they’re a better team.

Linfield had the first chance of the second-half when Andrew Waterworth broke down the left to set up Jordan Stewart, who was denied.

Crusaders then started to see more of the ball and Linfield struggled to get the ball clear, literally, as the wind kept blowing it back towards their goal.

Not that it bothered Josh Robinson, who nonchalantly headed the ball back to Conor Mitchell from long range, without fear that it would end up in his own net.

Conor Mitchell was especially struggling with his kickouts, trying various techniques to find one that would see the ball not return to Linfield’s defensive work, with minimal success.

The pressure on Linfield’s goal was usually seen off, but only just, getting a body in the way more often than not.

Linfield needed to get the ball away from their own goal, as there would be no way of riding out such pressure for an entire half.

That proved to be the case when Colin Coates headed home to make it 3-2.

The goal didn’t inspire an immediate fightback, as Linfield not only held out, but had their own sustained period of pressure, with a Mark Stafford overhead kick being denied by a save from Sean O’Neill.

As the final minutes approached, Crusaders began the run out of ideas. Their main idea of kicking it up in the air and hoping to get a lucky bounce wasn’t working. However, they had one final corner.

You began to get bad vibes as soon as Crusaders set up for a corner, as the body language of the Linfield players didn’t look right, they didn’t look like they were ready to defend it.

And so it proved, as Jordan Forsythe finished from close range to make it 3-3.

Just when it looked like it was heading for extra-time, David Cushley headed home to make it 4-3 and put Crusaders in front.

Linfield responded with an attacking urgency that should have been there 45 minutes earlier.

To be brutally honest, this was a trophy that was thrown away.

We weren’t 3-1 up at half-time because of the weather, we were 3-1 up because we’re a better team. We allowed ourselves to be spooked by the weather and believed that it made Crusaders a better team than they really are.

We also didn’t help ourselves by not making a substitution at any point during the game.

Even though there are only substitutes allowed in the County Antrim Shield, there were still options for Linfield. Daniel Kearns, Marek Cervenka and Kyle McClean all could easily have made a positive impact if any of them were introduced from the bench.

The attitude in the second-half shouldn’t have been can we hold on to the lead, but can we extend it? We surrendered the initiative to Crusaders and lost a game we never looked like losing.

Twice in a row now, we’ve lost to Crusaders because we weren’t concentrating in the final minutes of a game.

So, the trophy chase is now – one in the bag, two gone and the big one to play for.

The day after this game, Linfield’s post-split fixtures were confirmed, even though teams can change position before the end of Matchday 33.

So, here it is:

05 Apr 19 Ballymena United (away)
13 Apr 19 Crusaders (home)
20 Apr 19 Glenavon (home)
23 Apr 19 Cliftonville (home)
27 Apr 19 Coleraine (away)

But before then, Institute and Dungannon.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 12.3.1977

Peter Shilton and Frank Stapleton, going for an aerial challenge, are Shoot’s cover stars in early March 1977.

A series of footballers are asked to describe the moments that changed their career, with pep talks from other goalkeepers being beneficial to the careers of Jimmy Rimmer and Joe Corrigan.

Glenn Hoddle, a rising star at Spurs, credits Martin Chivers for helping Spurs sign him, after he presented medals at a schools cup final that Hoddle played in.

Meanwhile, Scotland announced away friendlies in 1977 against Chile and East Germany.

In other news, the price of this year’s FA Cup Final programme has increased from 20p to 50p. The reason given that it will be a special bumper edition as it was the year of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Beside that, getting only a few column inches, Alex Ferguson has changed his status manager of St Mirren to full-time.

Billy Murray scored five goals in a game for Portadown against Dundela, while Jim Harvey of Glenavon is attracting scouts from clubs in England.

Kevin Keegan uses his column to warn that early international call-ups can prove damaging to young players in the long-term.

Aston Villa defender John Gidman gets a full page profile, where he is described as “Liverpool’s present to Aston Villa”, having been turned down by the Anfield club as a youngster.

England’s recent friendly against Holland gets a double page photo piece, with a further two pages being given to post match analysis from various football figures.

Gordon Hill uses his column to state that he wants Manchester City to win the league.

Football in Argentina gets a full page profile, with just over a year until they host the World Cup.

In world news, there was a minute silence before a game for an official in Peru, only for it to emerge that reports of his death were erronious.