THE FRIDAY FIVE – 28.2.2020

1. Swim School – Dignity
2. Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon
3. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
4. Selena Gomez – Rare
5. Declan McKenna – Beautiful Faces

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : WHEN SATURDAY COMES – NOVEMBER 2002

Kanu and Thierry Henry are the cover stars of this edition of When Saturday Comes, modestly complimenting themselves on Arsenal’s brilliant start to the season.

This editions editorial focuses on footballer’s autobiographies, after Manchester United have banned their players from writing autobiographies after the fall-out from Roy Keane’s recent book.

The furore, gets further investigated in a full page article.

Across the page, there is an article about Darlington’s failed bid to sign Faustino Asprilla, ahead of their move to a 25,000 seater stadium in 2003.

Talking of new stadiums, there might be new ones coming in Republic of Ireland and Scotland, as both countries are making a joint bid to host Euro 2008, with the lack of current stadiums in both countries getting featured by WSC.

The 2003 Women’s World Cup Qualifiers get featured, with France standing between England and a place in the finals.

The French are now allowing their women’s team to use the Clairefontaine facility that the men’s team used to win the 1998 World Cup, and have set a goal of winning the women’s one by 2007.

The tournament was moved from China to USA due to the SARS outbreak, while France won the Qualifier but went out in the group stages. They didn’t win the 2007 competition.

There are features on recently relegated Midlands clubs Derby County (2002) and Coventry City (2001) as they try to get back to the Premier League.

Ahead of a documentary which is about the be premiered, there is a double page spread on the North Korea team that reached the 1966 World Cup Quarter-Finals.

Peter Taylor is helping out at Peterborough, just two years after being England manager, which is covered with the witty headline “From Becks To Posh”

There is a profile of Richard Witschge, highly rated by Johan Cruyff but couldn’t get a game for Blackburn.

Sepp Blatter has just been re-elected FIFA President, and one writer takes him up on his promise to give Oceana an automatic World Cup place.

The monthly look at the best of the web takes a look at the best Welsh football websites, with the national team making a good start to the Euro 2004 Qualifiers.

WSC heads to Norway to look at the problems in club football caused by Rosenborg’s dominance in the 1990s.

Talking of declines, WSC looks at the decline of Scotland and Austria as European forces, focusing on a Champions League game between Sturm Graz and Rangers in 2000.

The magazine ends with a look at the highlights and lowlights of Sheffield United.

LINFIELD 4-0 CRUSADERS 21.2.2020

Linfield and Andrew Waterworth are really enjoying February 2020. The good news is, it has an extra day this year. The bad news is, the next match isn’t until 7th March.

After three successive wins from games they were expected to win, now Linfield faced a game that they must win. Or certainly, do not lose.

Too many times this season, Linfield have failed to deliver when presented with the opportunity to pull clear of a rival. Kicking off eight points clear of Crusaders, albeit with a game more played, Linfield knew that if they won, they could have some justification is regrading the five team title race as a four team title race.

Crusaders were there for the taking, both sides recent forms was going in opposite directions. Linfield had won their last three games while Crusaders had lost their last two.

The pre-match team news saw mixed injury news for Linfield – one in and one out, luckily in the same position as Jamie Mulgrew returned for Kyle McClean.

Straight from kick-off, Linfield looked to get the ball to Joel Cooper. Not a bad tactic considering his recent form.

Linfield were already putting Crusaders under pressure, a statement, winning a corner in the first minute.

Gerard Doherty punched the corner away to Joel Cooper, whose sliced volley fell to Mark Haughey.

The temptation for Haughey would be to help the effort goalwards, but he sent the ball left to Kirk Millar.

Millar’s cross has headed in by Jimmy Callacher, who got in front of his man, to put Linfield 1-0 up with just ninety seconds on the clock.

The man who Callacher beat to the ball incidentally, was his own team-mate, Mark Haughey.

It kept up an incredible run, that this was the ninth successive League goal for Linfield against Crusaders scored by a player whose first name began with J.

It was a run that began when Josh Robinson put them 1-0 up after a minute in December 2017. Linfield would be hoping to kick on and avoid a repeat of the 2-1 defeat they suffered that day.

Cameron Dummigan got a yellow card ten minutes into the game, a surprise considering the unwritten rule that Referees aren’t allowed to issue a yellow card in the opening fifteen minutes of an Irish League game. Even more reason to get Joel Cooper on the ball.

It looked like a second goal was going to come when a cross fell to Andrew Waterworth in the penalty area. Unfortunately, the ball hit him as he tried to control it, and bounced into Gerard Doherty’s arms. A moment of frustration for Linfield.

Crusaders did have sights of Linfield’s goal. Paul Heatley had a left foot shot saved when he would have been better trying to cut in and hit it with his right foot. Rodney Brown saw a header from a free-kick tipped over by Rohan Ferguson.

A satisfactory first-half for Linfield, mostly nullifying Crusaders attack and getting a lead of their own. Now they needed to kill the game off in the second-half.

Linfield went out in the second-half determined to secure the points as early as possible.

Andrew Waterworth had a shot which forced Gerard Doherty into a spectacular save. The respite was only brief for Crusaders.

As Crusaders tried to counter attack, Jamie Mulgrew wasn’t having any of it, winning back possession and starting Linfield on another attack.

That attack saw Joel Cooper run at Crusaders defence and pull the ball back. There was a bit of a scramble, but when the ball fell to Andrew Waterworth a few yards out, there was only going to be one outcome, as Linfield went 2-0 up.

That goal gave Linfield control of the game, but it was almost wiped out straight away when Jamie McGonigle had a free header from a cross, but the ball went straight into Rohan Ferguson’s arms.

Linfield made the most of their escape, applying more pressure on Crusaders goal in search of a third goal just to be sure.

Chris Casement had an effort saved while Stephen Fallon had an effort go just over.

There wasn’t long to wait for the third, as Jimmy Callacher headed home from a corner to make it 3-0. As with the other two goals, it was a case of the Linfield player wanting it more and reacting quicker to the ball when it was in the six yard box.

Even someone as cautious as me knew that the points were in the bag. It was now a case of how many for Linfield.

The three goal lead allowed Linfield to make use of their bench.

Having missed the match against Ballymena through injury, Shayne Lavery came on. Surprisingly, not a straight swap for Andrew Waterworth, but for Jordan Stewart. Why not throw on an extra striker when you’re 3-0 up?

Lavery almost had an instant impact when he got in behind Crusaders defence, but his first time effort was saved by Gerard Doherty while under pressure from a Crusaders defender.

With two more subs to make, Daniel Kearns was introduced to give him game time, having not featured much recently.

For the same reason, it was a bit surprising that Bastien Hery didn’t get a brief cameo, as Rory Currie was Linfield’s final sub, coming on for Andrew Waterworth.

The night got worse for Crusaders when Howard Beverland got a second yellow card for a foul on Shayne Lavery on the halfway line.

When Beverland got his first yellow card, someone beside me was screaming for a second yellow. Beverland is one of those players that you just always think is on a yellow card, even if he isn’t.

I know you always want your team to fight to the end and all that, but Beverland would have been better off letting him go and hope a team mate can cover for you. Now he is suspended from his side’s biggest match of the season.

Not that it is of any concern to Linfield.

Shayne Lavery had an opportunity to make it 4-0 in injury time, but he dragged his shot wide.

Just as against Glenavon last month, Linfield had a counter attack with thirty seconds to go. Just as then, they managed to get a goal in that timeframe, with ten seconds to spare this time, as Stephen Fallon passed a low shot into the back of the net.

Just as with the first three goals, it was about Linfield players wanting it more, Fallon making that run to make something happen, even though the game was long won.

Not important in terms of the result, but it could be by the end of the season.

At kick-off, Linfield’s goal difference was only two better than Crusaders, the only team close to them in this regard. This was effectively an eight goal win, as Linfield’s advantage over Crusaders in terms of goal difference is now ten goals.

The most pleasing thing about this game was the clean sheet, a first in five matches. Wins, goals and clean sheets are good habits to get into at this time of year.

Linfield fans went to bed on Friday night safe in their knowledge their team was now nine points clear at the top, though that would change after Saturday’s games.

The lunchtime game didn’t give them the shock result they were hoping for, as Coleraine beat Institute 4-0.

The 3pm games were a lot kinder for Linfield, with Glentoran (v Glenavon) and Cliftonville (at home to a Ballymena side who had lost seven games in a row. Absolute textbook post 2014 Cliftonville) both drawing.

The five team title race isn’t as exciting as Neutrals are hoping for. Glentoran, Crusaders and Cliftonville are having to argument to say they are part of the title race.

You can’t fully assess the League table until everybody has played the same amount of games, as Coleraine, Cliftonville and Crusaders have a game in hand on Linfield.

Those games are scheduled to take place on Tuesday 3rd March. I won’t be thinking about them that night as i’ll be seeing Blossoms in concert at The Limelight.

The good news for Linfield, is that Crusaders face Cliftonville, so only one of those will win that night, if any. At eleven points behind, this is a title eliminator. Even the victor being eight points behind will be needing a spectacular run of form and a lot of help from others.

Glentoran are eight behind and up against it but not out. They face Linfield twice still, so they can cut that deficit to two. They will need to win all their remaining games just to be part of the title conversation.

Their next three games are against Crusaders, Cliftonville and Linfield. Those first two games will represent further point droppage for Linfield to take advantage of

Coleraine are the main worry for Linfield. Seven points behind but with a game in hand, and with one trophy in the bag.

If Linfield keep winning, it doesn’t matter what the others do. They will need to keep winning just to keep up, and they can’t all win if they play each other.

That game against Glentoran incidentally, has tickets on sale now. It’s good to see that tickets are on sale four weeks in advance of the match. I don’t think this is because of my constant moaning.

Supporters will have two home games, a free Saturday morning, and another Saturday morning on the day of a relatively short away trip to purchase tickets, which is very convenient. I’d better get a move on and get mine.

Here’s a pointless stat for you. A list of how many times Linfield have scored 4 or more goals in a League match under David Healy.

6 – Dungannon Swifts
5 – Warrenpoint Town
3 – Glenavon, Cliftonville, Glentoran, Ballymena United, Ballinamallard United
2 – Crusaders, Portadown, Ards
1 – Coleraine, Institute

Only three teams have avoided such a fate. Linfield face two of them, Carrick Rangers and Larne in their next two games.

Not being greedy. I’ll take a 1-0 win in those two games, and every game remaining this season.

The other club who haven’t conceded four goals in a game to Linfield under David Healy? A bit surprising, Newry City.

I’ll be heading to that game at Carrick by train, hopefully. Assuming that Northern Ireland still has a Railway Network in two weeks time.

Talking of trips, i’m looking at Warsaw maybe for later in the year. Most likely a Saturday-Tuesday on Ryanair. Hopefully, i’ll take in a game while there.

Before Linfield play again, is the UEFA Nations League draw. You should know my views on the “Competition” is that it is a farce. But while we’re in it, a trip to Scotland, midweek game please. It’s been a while since I was last in Glasgow.

So, February 2020 has been a good month for Linfield. Hopefully, March and April will be likewise.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : FOUR FOUR TWO – OCTOBER 2004

Various stars from Barcelona are the cover stars of this edition of Four Four Two, as the club are at the beginning of a revival after a few lean years at the start of the century.

Steve McManaman is the subject of this Month’s Cash For Questions, where he urges Wayne Rooney to stay at Everton, and reveals his first footballing hero was Bob Latchford.

Brian Clough uses his column to suggest that Trevor Brooking should replace Sven Goran-Eriksson after a sex scandal involving the Swede. Clough died before this magazine hit the shelves.

Lloyd Dyer of West Brom and Alan Blayney of Southampton are the subject’s of this month’s The Boy’s A Bit Special. Blayney reveals he doesn’t share Antti Niemi’s love of Metallica and Iron Maiden.

Robbie Savage uses his column to talk about his excitement about the forthcoming World Cup Qualifier between England and Wales at Old Trafford. It would be a match he wouldn’t take part in as he was suspended after his red card against Northern Ireland the previous month. He never played for Wales again.

Lawrie McMenemy is subject to a Q and A where he reveals that he’s not much of a drinker.

New Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech is also subject to a Q and A, where he reveals that Arsenal were interested in signing him in 2002. Eventually, in 2015, he would sign for Arsenal.

Cover stars Barcelona get 15 pages of coverage, as they return to the Champions League after a season in the UEFA Cup, after a turbulent period at the start of the century. That month, they would give a debut to an unknown teenager called Lionel Messi.

There are three pages dedicated to a round table discussion between fans of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ahead of the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers, where England, Wales and Northern Ireland were all the the same group.

Gilberto Silva of Arsenal reveals a dark secret to Four Four Two ……… he plays the Mandolin.

Pete Winkleman is interviewed as MK Dons begin their first season in Milton Keynes, having stolen Wimbledon’s place in the Football League.

Elswhere in the Football League, there is a full page feature on Nick Barmby, as he has signed for his local club Hull City.

In Scotland, there is turmoil at Hearts as the club plans to sell Tynecastle and play home games at Murrayfield.

ASH – LIVE AT HMV BELFAST 15.2.2020

Well, it was just Tim Wheeler actually. Rick McMurray and Mark Hamilton weren’t there. They might have been out shopping at Victoria Square, though probably not with the weather outside, weather that was addressed by Wheeler as he made his entrance and exit.

It was an entrance that was met with a rather polite “Wa-hey!” rather than raucous applause, with Wheeler thanking the crowd for turning up with the poor weather outside.

You can usually rely on Ash for a HMV gig. Usually when they release something, they’ll turn up in Donegall Arcade to promote it.

I had missed their previous HMV appearance in 2018 as, frustratingly, it was happening while I was at Biggest Weekend, that I saw them at the next day. Their last one before that, was in 2015, a warm-up, in their words, for the next gig two days later supporting Foo Fighters at Slane.

I have previously purchased a Greatest Hits compilation, Intergalactic Sonic 7s in 2002, but i’m not sure where it is, so this updated compilation will be handy to listen to in the car.

What they are currently promoting is a Best Of/Greatest Hits compilation called Teenage Wildlife, to commemorate 25 years since their first release.

Just under half and hour, they crammed as many hits as they could into this short gig, hits such as A Life Less Ordinary, Oh Yeah and Shining Light.

It was a family affair for Wheeler, who gave a shout out to his niece and nephew, who were in the crowd, planning to catch up on Red Dead Redemption with them, the last time he played with them, he killed a horse.

That video game based bantz might make sense to you, but not to me, as the last video game I played was on the Sega Mega Drive.

As a result of having youngsters in the crowd, Wheeler had to tone down on the language on Buzzkill, just as Neil Hannon had to be less sweary due to youngsters in attendance when he played HMV in 2016.

Also on the playlist was a new song Darkest Hour Of The Night, recorded especially for this new compilation.

As he finished the set Wheeler announced there would be a Belfast concert in May. He didn’t say where or when.

My guess would be the final weekend of the month, as Ash had just been announced to perform at All Aboard Festival in Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin, if you don’t know) so I would expect a Belfast gig to be that weekend.

Photo Album

Ash live at The Limelight 2018

Ash live at Titanic Slipways 2018

Ash live at The Empire 2015

BALLYMENA UNITED 1-4 LINFIELD 14.2.2020

Why spend Valentine’s Day with the one you love when you can spend it with the eleven that you love? We’ve had our ups and downs lately, but things are going well. Although, we’d rather have been putting our feet up and getting ready for the League Cup Final.

That trophy may be gone, but the League was still up for grabs. With three rivals all inactive in the League this weekend, Linfield knew they could put a lot of pressure on them with a win here.

Linfield’s starting eleven showed one change from their last game, with Jordan Stewart coming in for the injured Shayne Lavery, as Linfield reverted to 4-2-3-1.

The game got off to a slow start, for both teams, a lot of the game being played in midfield as both defences were on top.

Linfield’s first chance was a header from Andrew Waterworth that couldn’t be diverted goalwards.

Ballymena’s first chance was a shot from Joe McCready that forced Rohan Ferguson into a save. A reminder to Linfield that for all their possession, the object of the game is to put the ball into the back of the net.

They certainly got a reminder of that when Joe McCready created space for himself on the edge of the box to shoot. It looked set up perfectly for a left foot curler, but he went for the right foot, and got the outcome he wanted, putting Ballymena 1-0 up.

I was sat at the other end and had a perfect view of it as he set himself up. It was in from the moment he hit it.

Worryingly, this was the sixth time in seven games that Linfield had conceded in the League, five in a row and seven in eight in all competitions. This is something that will need to be addressed in the run-in if Linfield have any ambitions of winning the League.

Remarkably, despite this run, Linfield have the second best clean sheet record in the League, only one behind Coleraine.

Although, it should be pointed out, that the last time Linfield kept a clean sheet, people were moaning that day, because it came in a 0-0 draw against Dungannon Swifts.

Having already ruined my birthday by not being in the League Cup Final and playing on this date, Linfield were now ruining it again by losing.

The response, was instant. Well, not as instant as the response to going 1-0 down against Dungannon earlier in the month. We had to wait five minutes for it.

Ballymena’s goal kickstarted Linfield into life, adding more intensity and urgency into their attacking. That was rewarded when Mark Haughey headed home from a header by Kirk Millar. Just like with McCready’s goal, it was in from the moment he sent it goalwards.

Earlier in the day, Millar had passed his Driving Test, and was now hoping that this would kickstart a three point turn, with the points now going to Linfield rather than Ballymena.

On his previous appearance at Ballymena, Haughey was sent-off, so this was a welcome change in fortune.

Credit to the Referee as well, for playing advantage in the attack that led to the corner after a foul on Jordan Stewart, before going back to book the Ballymena player who committed the foul.

Jordan Stewart then escaped the attention of a couple of Ballymena players in the penalty area, before hitting a left foot shot that was tipped over by Ross Glendenning.

Adam Lecky was then lucky to only to shown a yellow card for a high foot when going for the ball.

As it looked like the sides were going to go in at half-time level, Linfield took the lead with just fifteen seconds of injury time remaining when Joel Cooper ran into the box and saw his shot saved, then bounced off a defender perfectly for Jordan Stewart to finish from a few yards put.

The mood in both Dressing Rooms had now changed. For Linfield, it was no longer about winning the game, it was about finishing the game off.

Half-time leads at Ballymena have been precarious for Linfield in recent years. 2017 and 2018 had seen them go in 1-0 up but find themselves 2-1 down early in the second-half, so nothing would be taken for granted.

Linfield needed a third just to be sure, and looked the most likely to score.

A free-kick from Stephen McCullough which went just wide was a reminder to Linfield that they needed it.

Eventually it came, when a Ballymena player headed a corner towards his own goal. From where I was sat, it looked like it was going in, but TV replays suggested it might have been hitting the post.

Jimmy Callacher wasn’t waiting to see, nipping in to make it 3-1.

You sensed that if Linfield could make it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

Even though they drew 3-3 after being 3-1 up in 2010, and had a tense 3-2 win after being 2-0 and 3-1 up in 2014, Ballymena didn’t look like they had a two goal comeback in them.

Something that has been a bit of an issue for me in recent games has been the lack of substitutions. None at Warrenpoint and only one against Dungannon.

Though there was nobody who deserved to be taken off, we have a squad and we should be using it, especially to bring on fresh faces in attacking areas.

The third goal did bring a sub for Linfield, not one I would have made, as Matthew Clarke came on for Jordan Stewart where there were like for like options who could have come on for Stewart.

Within a few minutes, it was 4-1 as a run from Joel Cooper was frustrated by a save from Glendenning, then the crossbar, before Andrew Waterworth finished from close range, his fifth in three matches.

The 4-1 lead allowed a few more substitutions for Linfield, as Bastien Hery came on for Kyle McClean, who had needed treatment earlier in the half.

Rory Currie came on for Andrew Waterworth, his brief involvement saw him create an opportunity for Joel Cooper.

Points are vital, but so are goals. Linfield have the best goal difference in the League, but are only two better than Crusaders, so were thankfully for a Niall Quinn clearance from a Ballymena header on the line, even if it wasn’t important in the context of the match.

As the final whistle blew and scores were announced over the PA System, with a fancy new ringtone that sounds like you’re in a Supermercado, Linfield fans were celebrating even more good news from East Belfast, that Glentoran had drawn 0-0 with Carrick Rangers.

A shock to an extent, but not as much. Carrick have been one of the best teams Linfield have faced this season, their naivety being their undoing. After the game against Linfield in November, I felt they would get a big result against a Top 5 team this season, now they’ve got two. Hopefully, not a third when Linfield visit Taylor’s Avenue on 7th March.

That result puts Linfield six points clear of Glentoran. Glentoran still have the title race in their hands as they face Linfield twice (but have to make up twelve goals over nine games), but they have no margin for error. As long as Linfield keep winning, Glentoran have to keep winning just to stay alive in the title race.

The six point lead at the top is deceptive as Coleraine hand a game in hand, which could cut the lead to four points. Good, but not comfortable.

Friday night’s results meant that the identity of the Top 6 has been confirmed, although i’m still expecting Glenavon to somehow have a late surge to 3rd.

That means Linfield will know their final five opponents but not the order, is this will be determined by League positions after Matchday 33.

I have a suspicion dates might be confirmed in advance of that at the request of PSNI/Health and Safety due to some matches that may require ticketing.

One last note about this game, but with the League Cup Final kicking off at 7.30pm, there’s no reason why the Friday night games couldn’t have been played on Saturday afternoon as there’d be no clash, even if the games had earlier starts of 1pm or 2pm.

That said, Friday worked out well for me as I had something to go to on the Saturday afternoon (You’ll see that in the next blog) and the weather on Saturday afternoon may have resulted in a postponement.

Up next, is a home match against Crusaders. This is a big game, an opportunity to not quite kill off Crusaders, but leave them well behind this.

Far too many times this season, Linfield haven’t been ruthless when given the chance to pull away from teams. Not only will a win see Linfield pull further clear of Crusaders, it will put pressure on Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran as they prepare for their Saturday games.

Although, those three play Bottom 6 teams, they should win, it might not be so simple if Linfield have added some pressure on them.

With two defeats in a row, including the League Cup Final, Crusaders are there for the taking. Attack them, don’t play to their tactics, and keep your heads.

Photo Album

THE FRIDAY FIVE – 14.2.2020

1. Hayley Williams – Simmer
2. The Wkend – Blinding Lights
3. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott- You and Me
4. Selena Gomez – Rare
5. Declan McKenna – Beautiful Faces

Hate it when bands I like announce outdoor concerts in Belfast. Looking at you, Simple Minds.

So, if I want to see them, i’ll have to stand in the pissing rain and get cigarette and vape smoke blown into my face. Oh fucking joy.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : INSIDE UNITED – APRIL 2009

Edwin Van Der Sar and Nemanja Vidic are the cover stars of Inside United, the cover stating it was the April 2008 edition when it was the April 2009 edition, as they discuss United’s recent run of 14 league games without conceding a goal.

Sir Alex Ferguson takes questions from supporters, revealing that if he could sign a player from United’s past to play in the current team, it would be Bryan Robson.

With the title run-in coming up, Inside United looks at the key games in March and April of the contenders, which includes Aston Villa, sitting on the periphery of the title race.

Patrice Evra spills the beans on his team-mates, declaring that Thomasz Kuzczak is now the worst dressed player at the club following the departure of Louis Saha.

Every advantage counts in a title race, and this edition features an interview with United’s Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Clegg.

Cover stars Vidic and Van Der Sar get a five page feature, which is then followed by a six page feature on the run of clean sheets, with analysis from various former United players.

United have recently signed two Serbian players, Adam Ljajic and Zoran Tosic, and Inside United dedicates four pages to why they will both be a success at Old Trafford.

There is a focus on United’s Reserves, interviewing fans who travel to the games to see why it appeals to them.

Talking of Reserves, there is a profile of 17 year old Reece Brown, hoping to emulate his older brother Wes.

The magazine ends with Tim Burgess of The Charlatans talking about his love of United and his United memories.

WARRENPOINT TOWN 1-2 LINFIELD 8.2.2020

One down, ten to go. Or if you prefer – Three down, thirty to go.

Having got back to the top of the League with a win over Dungannon on Tuesday night, Linfield were intent on staying there.

All they have left this season is League matches, eleven of them to go in order to win the League.

The first of those was at Warrenpoint, a ground they had won at in all eight of their previous visits, as well as a win at Stangmore Park when Wareenpoint played there in the early months of the 2013-2014 season.

Not all of those wins have been straightforward, some have been dicey.

With the Top 5 separated by four points, there was no room for error from Linfield, or indeed the four teams below them.

Linfield were boosted that two of them, Glentoran and Coleraine, would be facing each other. The fact that at least one rival would be guaranteed to drop points made getting three points even more important for Linfield.

Linfield were boosted by the return of Shayne Lavery after suspension, and he came straight in for Rory Currie, hoping to repeat his feat of scoring in his previous two games against Warrenpoint this season.

This match would be played in the early stages of Storm Ciara, and Warrenpoint were hoping to take advantage of it, playing into the wind in the first-half and shooting straight from kick-off, forcing Rohan Ferguson into a (albeit, easy) save three seconds into the game.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t a shout from the crowd for Linfield to sort it out, that Warrenpoint were all over them.

It was a slow start from both teams as they tried to settle themselves in the conditions.

Shayne Lavery had Linfield’s first chance when his shot from a wide position was well saved by Warrenpoint’s goalkeeper, although a cross would have been a better option for Lavery.

Stephen Fallon had a shot easily saved before Joel Cooper cut inside but fired well wide as Linfield began to put Warrenpoint under pressure.

It didn’t feel like a Linfield goal was imminent, but it start to feel that Linfield were starting to take control of the game.

Eventually, Linfield did take the lead, but the assist came from a Warrenpoint player, after a header from Colm Deasy back to his keeper was short (The keeper actually shouted for him to head the ball back to him) and Andrew Waterworth jumped knocked the ball over the keeper first time to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Like on Tuesday night, the question wasn’t if he would score, but if he would get to the ball in time to score. Waterworth must think that it’s Christmas with all these presents he’s got this week.

Apologies for using the C Word in February.

Linfield’s next chance to extend their lead came just before the half-time whistle when Kirk Millar stretched to get a shot on goal, but the shot was saved.

A very satisfactory half for Linfield, nullifying Warrenpoint’s wind advantage, and getting a 1-0 lead themselves. Now they had to go and complete the job.

There was a goal in the early minutes of the second-half, but it was for Warrenpoint, as a heavy touch from Jimmy Callacher saw him lose the ball and one pass saw Ryan Swan make the most of his free space to fire home and make it 1-1. This was not what Linfield had anticipated.

The goal galvanised Linfield, and made them more determined to get the three points.

Warrenpoint couldn’t get out of their own half due to a wave of Linfield pressure.

That pressure was rewarded when Jimmy Callacher headed a free-kick across the penalty area, and Andrew Waterworth was bundled over before he could get on the end of it.

There was only one man going to take it. It was a pressure penalty. If he missed it, you felt that this could end up being a frustrating day for Linfield. He stepped up, and panenkaed it, just as he did at Solitude in 2017.

For a brief moment, it looked like the keeper had saved it, but thankfully, it was only a touch of the ball as it ended up in the back of the next to put Linfield 2-1 up.

Even though a second goal was welcome, Linfield needed a third just to be sure.

It looked like that was going to come when a speculative long range shot from Stephen Fallon got deflected and looked up and then picked up a bit of pace, but Warrenpoint’s keeper was able to adjust his bodyshape and make the save.

Throughout this game it was obvious that Linfield were managing the conditions better. When the wind was against them, they were able to get their passes and through balls to hold up and keep the pressure on. When the wind was with them, they were able to use the wind to get passes in behind Warrenpoint’s defence.

It looked like that third goal was going to come when Shayne Lavery got on the end of a Joel Cooper cross but Warrenpoint’s keeper made himself big and saved the effort, doing the same when Lavery tried to backheel the rebound in. You just know it would have found the back of the net in September or October, such is the life of a striker.

The lack of a third goal made things nervous for Linfield. The only real moment of worry was an Emmett Bennett header straight at Rohan Ferguson. Either side of the keeper, and it would have been a real worry for Linfield.

In injury time, Warrenpoint had a flurry of possession and balls into Linfield’s penalty area, but Linfield were able to hold out and get a 2-1 win.

Any win is a good day, but things got even better when scores from elsewhere were digested.

Coleraine beat Glentoran, a draw would have been perfect, but if you had to choose a winner, you’d go for the team that are further behind. Cliftonville usually have (at least) one bad result a season against Dungannon Swifts, I thought they’d be saving that for the Irish Cup game in a few weeks time rather than in the League, while Crusaders lost to Glenavon.

That means that Linfield are now four points clear at the top, a bit of daylight. Not a lot, that cane disappear very quickly. The aim is to keep on winning.

The next Matchday is very interesting.

Linfield travel to Ballymena United on Friday night in one of only four games next weekend.

Ballymena have lost their last six League games. I know what you’re thinking. I’m fearing that as well. Let’s make those fears unfounded.

The reason why there are only four League matches next weekend is due to the League Cup Final.

Because of that, Coleraine and Crusaders won’t have a League match, and neither will Cliftonville, as they were due to play Crusaders.

All the games are important, but this one especially so. Three rivals inactive, and guaranteed point droppage from one of them when they do play. This is a great opportunity for Linfield to get more points on the board and put the pressure on their rivals.

Linfield fans have been talking about the benefits of games in hand, now we can be talking about the benefits of how points on the board are better than games in hand. We just need to get those points on the board.

It seems silly to have these games on a Friday night when the League Cup Final kicks off at 7.30pm on the Saturday night. League games on a Saturday could easily be accommodated alongside this, even if they were earlier kick-offs.

Hopefully, if this is the new kick-off for the League Cup Final, League games that weekend can be moved to the Saturday from 2021 onwards.

But on to more short term issues. Three points at Ballymena please.

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