After a poor start to the season and a difficult run of games against Top 6 opposition, you did have a fear that Glenavon were going to get it right eventually, and it would come against Linfield. Those fears came true, as Linfield dropped three vital points in the race for the title.
The opening minutes saw Shayne Lavery get in behind Glenavon’s defence and win a ball he shouldn’t have won, but the ball went just wide.
Glenavon were fearful everytime the ball went to or near Lavery, with some justification after he scored a 14 minute hat-trick when the sides met in September.
Lavery wasn’t the only player to go close, as Mark Stafford had a header block before Joel Cooper’s effort went wide.
Cooper was getting a lot of joy in the opening minutes, and Linfield were trying to get him on the ball as much as possible.
Inbetween that, Josh Daniels had an effort tipped around for a corner, a reminder to Linfield that they needed to make the most of the early chances they were creating.
Some neat build-up play saw Shayne Lavery curl a shot just wide. It seemed like a matter of time before Linfield scored.
Of course, we all know what happened next, as a speculative effort from Robert Garrett deflected in to put Glenavon 1-0 up. Garrett was credited with the goal, but the deflection made it an own goal for me.
Garrett had given Linfield a warning a few minutes earlier when his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Rohan Ferguson, who saved the rebound from Gary Hamilton.
The make things worse, the move for Glenavon’s goal began with some possession cheaply lost by Linfield.
Linfield responded quickly, with a Bastien Hary header being flicked over by Shayne Lavery.
Having already created opportunities at 0-0, and going immediately close at 0-1, you felt that there was no way that Linfield weren’t going to score.
However, that was as good as it got in the first-half for Linfield, as Glenavon were able to go in at the break comfortably 1-0 up.
There was no need for Linfield to panic, but they really needed to step it up, and not give Glenavon any opportunity to get comfortable.
Linfield knew that if they got an early goal, they could build on it and go on to win the game. However, just getting that goal was the issue.
There was a half-time substitution for Linfield, with Andrew Waterworth coming on for Mark Stafford. It was clearly a tactical change, as if it was injury, Josh Robinson or Ryan McGivern would have come on.
Switching to 3-5-2 did mean an extra man up front, but it cam at the cost of not having a full-back to support Millar or Cooper out wide.
The early minutes of the second-half saw a lot of Linfield pressure. Kirk Millar being frustrating by firing over from a shooting position when he needed to hit the ball low.
Jimmy Callacher then had a header well saved by Jonathan Tuffey as Glenavon managed to frustrate Linfield.
Glenavon almost got one at the other end when Rohan Ferguson was forced into saves from Josh Daniels
After an early flurry, Linfield never regained that momentum as Glenavon were comfortably holding onto their lead.
Even Joel Cooper was struggling to get past his man in the second-half.
Set pieces were shocking all night, being easily cleared and never really look like they were going to do anything with the second ball, if they won it.
On a night when nothing was happening for Linfield in open play, they needed to make the most of any set piece opportunities that came their way. And a lot of them came their way, which was the most frustrating thing.
They didn’t need to get half of them right, they just needed to get one right. If they could pull it back to 1-1, if there was enough time on the clock, they could charge on to win the game in the final minutes.
3-5-2 then became 3-4-3 as Daniel Reynolds came on for Bastien Hery. If you were to take off a midfielder, it would have had to be Stephen Fallon or Jamie Mulgrew. Even though he wasn’t having the best of games, Hery was still capable of unlocking Glenavon’s defence.
He proved that by running from midfield, only to see his low shot turned around by Jonathan Tuffey.
Linfield’s bench looked bare without Jordan Stewart and Daniel Kearns. If one or both of them were available, they would have been introduced in search of an equaliser.
And so it proved, as Glenavon held out for a 1-0 win.
The closest Linfield came to scoring after their initial flurry was when a goalbound header from a Glenavon defender into his own goal hit a defender on the line.
If ever you knew that it was their night.
Even though Glenavon are better than their League position suggested, this was three points thrown away against a team who were there for the taking. An opportunity to put pressure on Cliftonville, Coleraine and Crusaders thrown away. They’ll be arriving for their games with a spring in their step.
There’s no need to panic, Linfield will only be a point off the top if they win their games in hand, but you’d rather have the points in the bag.
With three games postponed, the road to the top of the table was going to be long and difficult, but we can’t afford to keep stumbling when the summit is in sight.
The last three games have all had a similar theme, a lack of creativity and urgency. The difference in this game is that Linfield didn’t get a goal at a key time, and they gave the opposition a lead to defend.
There’s an immediate opportunity for Linfield to put it right, with a trip to Ballymena on Tuesday night, in what becomes a must win game. Well they all are, but they are especially so now.
I’ll miss that game as i’ll be on a short break in Lithuania. I’ve an early morning flight on the Wednesday and kick-off is 9.45pm local time, so I might be sleeping through it.
That might be the first Linfield match I’ve slept through, which will be impressive considering I’ve witnessed a 0-0 draw against Dungannon.
Charlie Allen wasn’t involved in this game as he was playing for the Swifts in a Steel and Sons Cup Semi-Final, which he scored in a 4-0 win.
That is the third final in four years for them, which is impressive, especially when they only play young players in the competition due to senior players being ineligible.
That means i’ll spend a month trying to decide if I want to get up early on Christmas Day to go to it.
That was Allen’s 16th birthday as well. To make you feel old, he was born on the day of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. Linfield scraped a 3-2 win at home to Limavady United that day. If you can remember either of those, you must be feeling really old.
I’m at the age now where I can remember the closest game to a Linfield player being born.
The newest Linfield player, Ethan Boyle, was born on the day that David Jeffrey became Manager.
Boyle will join in January alongside Kyle McClean. The signing of Boyle, a right sided defender, suggests that Mark Haughey’s return from injury isn’t going as well as planned, or that he may be loaned out in January in order to regain match fitness.
This game being moved to a Friday night meant that I wasn’t able to go to Ulster v Clermont as my one match a season.
Frustratingly, all of Ulster’s home European matches are at the same time as a Linfield match.
Sorry Egg Boys, but you’ll always lose out to Linfield.
As a result, my one Ulster match a season will be at home to Connacht on December 27th, sandwiched inbetween Linfield’s trips to Glentoran and Coleraine on the 26th and 28th.
And they say that Christmas is a time for taking it easy.
One football trip i’m not making, unless something dramatic happens is the trip to Bosnia for the Euro 2020 Play-Off Semi-Final.
The winner of that match will be at home in the Final. Already people are excited about Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland. If that is a game, I think it would be more advantageous for it to be at Lansdowne Road as playing away from home seems to suit them more.
If I was Manager of Slovakia or Bosnia, i’d be typing “Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland” into Twitter, screenshot everything, and pin it on the Dressing Room wall.
The draw for the Finals will be next Saturday, meaning that if Northern Ireland qualify, their opponents fans will have a four month head start on hotel rooms in that city.
It also means that any team qualifying from the Play-Off will only have two games maximum, unless they can squeeze a third game into the May/June friendly period to prepare, as well as two months to arrange those games. What a farce.
Thankfully, Northern Ireland weren’t screwed over by the UEFA Nations League. I feel for Slovenia who finished 4th in their group, and will sit and watch a team who finished 5th in their group play in the Play-Offs.
If Bulgaria win their Semi-Final and Final on penalties, they will qualify with only one win in ten games, and that came against a Czech Republic side who had already qualified.
International Football can take a back seat until March.
Let’s hope Linfield are in a much stronger League position by then.