LINFIELD 2-4 COLERAINE 17.8.2019

When you’re playing The Limelight days before you headline Glastonbury, the rules are the same, you have to perform no matter where you are playing.

This was more drunken karaoke down the pub than Queen at Live Aid.

The first 13 seconds were awful. The remaining 89 minutes and 47 seconds weren’t much better.

Coleraine kicked off and were straight on the attack, a long ball seeing Ben Doherty get clear of Jimmy Callacher and run towards goal. I was sat at the opposite end and could see that he was setting himself up to shoot on his left foot.

However, the three defenders around him couldn’t see it, backing off and giving him to shoot and put Coleraine 1-0 up.

At least there was still plenty of time to put it right.

Amazingly, it wasn’t the earliest goal I’ve seen Linfield concede, with Gary McCutcheon scoring in 12 seconds in 2013.

The response from Linfield? There wasn’t really one. A lot of build-up play but no final ball.

Coleraine were well organised, so Linfield needed to do something special to break them down. It just wasn’t happening for them.

Midway through the first-half, things got worse when Coleraine went 2-0 up from a corner.

I was at the other end and thought it went straight in. It was much worse than that.

There were no Coleraine players attacking the ball, Ryan McGiven headed the ball into his own net from a few yards out, beating Daniel Kearns to the ball just as he was about to clear it.

Surely McGivern would have seen Kearns and let him clear it? Running to head the ball away when facing your own goal always has a risk, he should have let Kearns take control of the situation.

As with the first goal, there was still time to put it right, but they didn’t look like doing so.

They did have history to look back on for recent inspiration, with Linfield coming from behind to draw and win against Coleraine in recent years, as well as Coleraine throwing away 1-0 and 2-0 leads to draw against Cliftonville and Glentoran in the opening week of the season.

All that Linfield could offer in response was a speculative long range shot from Jamie Mulgrew.

Towards the end of the half, Linfield had their best moments of the game, all being relative. A lot of possession and situations but very few chances. The only moment of concern for Coleraine was a shot from Joel Cooper which deflected into the side netting.

Even if Linfield had pulled it back to 2-1 during those final minutes, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t have changed the half-time team talk.

The response at the start of the second-half wasn’t quick in coming, and David Healy wasn’t prepared to wait for it, bringing on Kirk Millar for Jordan Stewart just three minutes into the half, after Stewart lost an aerial tussle he was favourite to win.

Just before the hour, Matthew Clarke made way for Shayne Lavery, with Linfield now going to three at the back.

Within a few minutes, the ball hit the back of the net, and it was Coleraine who got it when Stephen O’Donnell headed home from a free-kick.

Again, it was poor defending from Linfield, as Ryan McGivern switched off to give O’Donnell a free header when he was favourite to clear it.

Having already blown 1-0 and 2-0 leads this season, there was no way that Coleraine were going to blow a 3-0 lead.

The irony is, if McGivern attacked the ball as he did for Coleraine’s 2nd, he would have cleared it. And of course, if he left the ball for Coleraine’s 2nd as he did for their 3rd, Daniel Kearns would have cleared it.

Linfield responded with a Kirk Millar effort that was saved, before a teed up Joel Cooper free-kick went low into the back of the net to make it 3-1.

The goal wasn’t celebrated as a consolation strike, it was celebrated as the start of a comeback, there was time left to come back.

The crowd were further geed up by the introduction of Bastien Hery before the game restarted.

Then, a header from Shayne Lavery made it 3-2 and an unlikely comeback looked on.

Within minutes, those hopes were dashed when Ryan McGivern got a second yellow card as Eoin Bradley headed towards goal. All he needed was to have missed a penalty to get a full set.

The resulting reshuffle saw Kirk Millar have to go into a full-back position to cover the defence, and blunted Linfield as an attacking force.

Even though there was only one goal in it, the red card and reshuffle killed all of Linfield’s momentum.

There was time for one more goal in this game. Kirk Millar, usually reliable for an assist set up a goal in injury time. Unfortunately, it was for Coleraine, as his stray backpass was seized upon by Emmett McGuckin who rounded Rohan Ferguson and toepoked the ball into the open net before Ferguson could chase after him.

McGuckin was only brought on minutes earlier as a substitute to see the game out.

It summed up Linfield’s day as Windsor Park began to empty as soon as the ball hit the back of the net. Those that stayed saw Joel Cooper have a header saved.

Curiously, the last time August 17th fell on a Saturday, Linfield lost 4-2 at home, this time to Cliftonville. You will be glad to hear that August 17th won’t be a Saturday until 2024. Feel free to start making alternative plans for that day.

What went wrong for Linfield? Everything.

The fightback was too little, too late. You can’t turn up 60 minutes into the game. You can’t even relax for the first 14 seconds, you have to be on it straight from kick-off.

You could argue that the changes to the started line-up disrupted Linfield’s momentum. It wasn’t Swifts players being brought it, it was players such as Cooper, Kearns, Callacher and Waterworth, who were all regular starters when the team picked itself at the start of last season.

We can’t really use Tuesday night’s exertions as an excuse, as there were ten top flight teams in action on Tuesday night, one of those being Coleraine.

As disappointing as this performance and result was, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective and not to panic. If we win our game in hand, we’ll only be three points off the top.

With no game next weekend, and the following weekend’s game pushed back to the Monday night, we could be in the relegation zone by the time we next play a League match.

That would be a hilarious juxtaposition if we were in the groups stages by the time we play at Larne.

It would not be hilarious if we were still in the relegation zone by the end of September though, just for clarity.

Coleraine manager Oran Kearney stated when being interviewed on the BBC after the game that the game was postponed, even though his side got the three points.

I’ll have to disagree with him on that. I can understand postponing the Warrenpoint game, as disappointing as it is, as it is such an exceptional situation.

In terms of fixture scheduling, things are manageable and there is no need to panic, but we can’t let things build up.

If we get through to the group stages, playing League matches on the Sunday after will have to be looked at seriously, as we can’t let the outstanding games pile up.

Whilst we may have games in hand, other clubs will have points in the bag, which is far more preferable.

Next week’s fixture list sees two matches between teams with top six ambtions – Crusaders v Larne and Ballymena United v Glentoran which will hopefully see points droppage that we can take advantage of when we return to League action.

I’m hoping that this performance was purely to lure any Azeri spies into a false sense of security ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Qarabag have recent European pedigree. They know how to reach the groups stages of competitions, mostly the UEFA Cup, though they haven’t got past the group stage or looked like doing so.

A win against Anderlecht and draws with Saint Etienne (twice), Inter Milan, Monaco and Atletico Madrid (twice) in recent years commands respect, but not fear.

The second leg will be played at Azerbaijan’s national stadium, Tofiq Brhramov Stadium.

It’s a stadium that has evaded David Healy in his career. He was suspended when Northern Ireland played there in 2004. By the time they returned in 2017, he was retired from playing.

Hopefully, by the time he eventually gets there on Thursday week, it will be worth the wait.

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