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.