At the mid point of a busy December period, Linfield travelled to Warrenpoint, a ground they had won on all their previous visits to face a side they had beaten 7-0 in October.
However, this would be more difficult than those stats suggested, with some of those previous visits having some wobbly moments for Linfield, most notably both their visits in 2014. Add into that the fact that Warrenpoint have improved recently, sending Coleraine and Ballymena home from Milltown without a single point between them.
Kirk Millar’s red card last week presented an opportunity for Jordan Stewart to come into the starting eleven, while Andrew Waterworth came in for Bastien Hery, as Linfield look to rest him ahead of a busy Christmas period.
Just as significant, was the appearance of Mark Haughey and Daniel Kearns on the bench after long injury lay-offs. The sight of Haughey, even though he’s a defender, would have been a worrying sight for Warrenpoint, given his goalscoring record against them.
Even in the opening minute, Warrenpoint looked nervous, not properly dealing with some clearances.
One of those clearances not dealt with fell perfectly for Andrew Waterworth, who made the most of the space, the opportunity to strike at goal, and the fact that Warrenpoint’s keeper was slightly off his line to fire over him to put Linfield 1-0 up with just 48 seconds on the clock.
Remarkably, this wasn’t the first time that Waterworth has scored for Linfield inside the first minute, as this goal felt like injury time compared with the 18 seconds he took to score against Portadown in 2014.
An early goal was essential in a match like this, so that Warrenpoint wouldn’t have something to hold on to.
More Linfield pressure followed, usually Crossfield balls to Chris Casement or Joel Cooper, who were usually able to get in behind Warrenpoint’s defence.
Their crosses were usually dealt with by Warrenpoint somehow, or they were a cross which evaded everyone.
Stephen Fallon looked like he was going to score when a clearance fell to him, but his low shot was deflected wide.
In the last minute of the half, a cross fell to Jimmy Callacher, but he couldn’t bundle the ball in when he really should have scored.
Linfield really needed a second goal. The longer it stayed 1-0, the longer that Warrenpoint will have felt that they could sneak something from the game, all they needed was one chance to fall their way.
The grim reality was, that Linfield only had one shot on target in a half that they totally dominated.
It was obvious that Linfield players were told to step it up at half-time, judging by the increased urgency in the opening minutes of the second-half.
The best moment that pressure brought saw Shayne Lavery stretch for a header a few yards out, but it went over.
Andrew Waterworth and Chris Casement got onto the end of a Joel Cooper cross, but similar to the Callacher chance in the first-half, neither of them could divert the ball in.
Every time Linfield got the ball, the plan was simple, give the ball to Joel Cooper, who glided past Warrenpoint players every time he got it.
Jordan Stewart was next to be frustrated as his free-kick hit the side netting.
The longer it stayed 1-0, the more you feared that Warrenpoint would sneak something late on.
What was surprising, was that there were no substitutions for Linfield. The options were there, with Daniel Kearns and Bastien Hery both available to come on and offer something different in the attacking third.
Eventually, in injury time, the second goal came for Linfield when a long kick upfield from Rohan Ferguson saw Shayne Lavery get in behind Warrenpoint’s defence, the ball falling perfectly for him to finish from a few yards out.
For some reason, Matthew Shevlin came on for Shayne Lavery. A pointless substitution, he only got seconds on the pitch.
It was frustrating that the second goal didn’t come earlier, as Mark Haughey or Daniel Kearns could have been brought on to get some much needed game time.
As fans left Milltown, scores were filtering through from other grounds, and it was all good news for Linfield, with Coleraine drawing with Larne, and Glentoran and Crusaders drawing with each other. Those results meant that Linfield now have an outright lead of two points.
With the table so tight, it was a strange quirk that in a four week period between November 30th and December 28th, the top five all play each other with the exception of Coleraine not playing Crusaders.
Linfield have already played one of those teams, and the next three are against teams in the top five. They are games Linfield really can’t afford to lose, even though they have points and games in their favour.
Now if they could win them, we could kill off four rivals in one productive month and storm through a crowd, just as Cliftonville did in November and December 2012, racking up the wins while those around them were dropping points.
The first of those games is against Crusaders. There is nothing to be afraid of. Too many times in recent years we have been afraid of Crusaders. We proved we’re a better team three times last season, two of them when they were hoping to breathe down our necks in Winter.
Take our chances and don’t let them have speculative long range shots. It’s really that simple.
The games don’t stop after the busy Christmas/New Year period, with the Irish Cup starting on 4th January.
It’s a dream draw for me, a lower league team away from home, and it’s at a ground I’ve never been to. Queen’s University at The Dub. Not a bad way for my first Saturday football match of 2020.
Tickets have been a topic of conversation this week. Belfast Telegraph managed to fill some column inches by reporting the non story that Republic of Ireland will have only 5% (around 900) of tickets for a Euro 2020 Play-Off at Windsor Park.
Earlier that day, Scotland announced tickets prices for their match against Israel, so i’m guessing there was some sort of meeting or a deadline to confirm arrangements.
I presume the IFA have made arrangements with their Slovakian counterparts, just as the FAI have been given arrangements by their Bosnian counterparts.
But I guess neither of those stories are glamourous enough.
The more you talk about Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland, the more it’s not going to happen.
I’m not sure i’m in the mood to tolerate idiots phoning up Nolan to demand the game be moved to Lansdowne Road because Windsor Park isn’t big enough. Or even better, demand that Northern Ireland builds a 60,000 capacity stadium at 5 days notice.
I’ve got my tickets for Boxing Day and Coleraine. Credit to the club for having evening sales on Wednesday past, it is really convenient for fans hindered by not being able to get out of work to get to Windsor Park.
My point still stands that has been raised in the past, that any match which is ticketed should have tickets on sale four weeks before the game. That should actually be a formal rule.
For some reason, the Steel and Sons Cup Final is all ticket, which is a ridiculous decision which will vastly reduce the gate, as a lot or people, myself included, will probably decide to attend that morning if they are going to the match.
Usually around this time of year, League Of Ireland fixtures are released, so i’ll keep an eye out for them.
Hopefully, a Monday night fixture list when i’m staying in Bray in late June with Bray at home.
Finally, this match, as with every other match in Northern Ireland this weekend, had a minute silence before in memory of Carrick Rangers player Jerry Thompson.
I was out on Tuesday night so I was late to the news. I had originally thought it had happened during a match like Marc Vivien Foe, as Carrick were playing Glenavon, when I saw the news flash up on my ipad.
I don’t know why, but when a footballer or active manager dies, it just takes you aback with a big massive shock, like Justin Edinburgh, Emiliano Sala, Gary Speed or Phil O’Donnell. Though not managing anyone at the time, you can include Tommy Breslin in that list.
Unsurprisingly, Carrick’s match against Cliftonville was postponed. It seems a bit crass to call it a game in hand given the circumstances of the postponement, i’ll refer to it as “Game they have to play” when referring to Cliftonville’s place in the table in relation to the title race.
Such sad news, there’s nothing I can add to what has already been written, said and tweeted about it.