For the fifth successive Summer, Linfield headed to Wilgar Park for a pre-season friendly. I think we can officially call it a tradition.
The four previous visits had brought wins for Linfield : 3-2, 3-1, 2-0 and 4-1 and appearances from trialists such as Craig Beattie, Aaron Duke, Jordan McMillan and Daniel Kearns, with Kearns being the only one who was actually signed by the club.
The visit to East Belfast last Summer came during the later stages of the World Cup, which was a handy distraction from how awful the 2017-2018 season was for Linfield. Midway through the first-half, grateful to be only 1-0 down, it didn’t look like 2018-2019 was going to be much better for Linfield.
Thankfully, four goals and a second-half cameo from Joel Cooper later, there was some cause for optimism for Linfield fans. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cooper was at Wilgar Park again today, his first appearance of the (pre) season having missed both the games against Rosenborg, the most senior player in a surprisingly much changed Linfield eleven.
This was the meat in the sandwich of three successive away games, Norway – East Belfast – Faroe Islands. We’d hoped it would be Norway – East Belfast – Belarus, but it wasn’t to be.
Unsurprisingly, players involved in both legs of the tie against Rosenborg weren’t involved.
There were a lot of not well known names in Linfield’s starting eleven, Joel Cooper being the most senior, with others such as Alex Moore, Caohmin McGuinness, Lorcan Forde, Daniel Reynolds and Ryan Strain making ten to fifteen appearances in the first-team maximum, at a guess.
It was slightly surprising not to see neither Andrew Mitchell (unused sub) or Stephen Fallon (two substitute appearances) involved after their limited involvement against Rosenborg.
I’d hoped to see Mark Haughey or Josh Robinson involved, but neither were ready after their respective injury problems.
Joel Cooper was determined to carry on where he left off last season, skinning a Dundela defender, unfortunately the cross missed everyone, before he then created space for a shot, forcing Dundela’s keeper into a save.
Linfield’s early pressure was rewarded with a goal from Daniel Reynolds, finishing after a header was saved. There was a suspicion of offside, but Wilgar Park doesn’t have VAR. I suppose it evens it up after the soft penalty Dundela got last year.
Forde, Reynolds and Cooper (sounds like a law firm that) were usually found combining together in all of Linfield’s attacking play, but they couldn’t get a second goal.
It wasn’t all Linfield though, with Alex Moore being given plenty of opportunities to showcase his shotstopping ability.
Dundela had most of the ball during the opening minutes of the second-half but it was Linfield who got the ball in the back of the net when Forde and Reynols combined, with Reynolds hitting the post, with such a clean strike, it fell perfectly for Ryan Strain to put the rebound into the back of the net.
Game over? Not quite. Dundela continued to force Alex Moore into making saves, and were rewarded with a goal from Chris Watts to make it 2-1.
More Dundela pressure followed, and it looked like a Dundela equaliser would be inevitable, but Linfield held out to secure the win in a match that won’t live long in the memory.
Up next, is a UEFA Cup tie against HB Torshavn with the away leg on Tuesday. Without sounding arrogant, it’s a tie we should win, having won four out of four ties against Faroese teams this decade.
If we do get through, the draw is on Monday. The New Saints are the only team that stands out as a team we should be confident of beating. Let’s just make sure we beat HB first and worry about later rounds.
It looked as though Bastien Hery would be the last incoming at Windsor Park this Summer, but Rohan Ferguson has joined on loan from Motherwell.
As speculated in my Rosenborg blog, we’re probably getting a keeper in on loan in order to enable Alex Moore to go out on loan. That’ll probably be in the next week. We won’t be short of offers on the basis of today’s performance.
It is similar to us waiting to get Kyle McClean in January before we let Robert Garrett leave.
Paul Smyth is going on loan, but not to Linfield sadly, but to Wycombe Wanderers. I’d hoped he’d get more games with QPR changing manager this Summer. He’s still only 21 though, and he’ll play at least 35-40 games for Wycombe barring injury.
The day after the HB home match, i’m off to Edinburgh for a few days. Dunfermline’s home match has been moved to the Friday night for TV. Livingston and Hibs are at home on the Saturday, which is tempting.
And finally, United would have been playing a European match in Belfast if Watford weren’t so shite in the FA Cup Final.
HB Torshavn will do. Hopefully, i’ll be turning up at Windsor Park to see Linfield finish off the job.