Eight goals and a chance to go top of the League, Linfield were in a very good mood at kick-off at Inver Park. Within 90 minutes, the mood had totally changed.
For me, this was my first visit to Inver Park since 2005. I can’t really remember much about that visit other than it was very wet that day.
Newly promoted with a lot of hype, to be honest, Larne’s 6th place are probably where you would expect them to be. Never in danger of going down, but not enough about them to launch a title challenge.
Their record against the five teams above them is the biggest criticism pundits have against them. Prior to the Saturday before this match, their record against the Top 5 was P10 W0 D5 L5.
That included a match in November where Linfield gave Larne a lesson. Of sorts. The lesson being, to take your chances.
That all changed on the Saturday before with a late 2-1 win over Glentoran, a result that was gratefully welcome at Windsor Park.
This match should have been played in September, live on Sky Sports, but it was postponed due to international call-ups, only now getting an opportunity to play it.
You could say that this date was very convenient for Linfield. Elimination from the Irish Cup meant they were free on the Saturday, so slotting in a midweek match with plenty of recovery time made sense.
Add in the fact that Larne were on the back of games against Crusaders and Glentoran, that match against Glentoran coming two and a half hours after Linfield’s match the same day. After this, came an Irish Cup tie against Ballyclare Comrades.
If Larne were tired or had their eyes on future match, Linfield had to smell blood and go for it.
As a tribute to Nicholas Parsons who died earlier that day, it took Just A Minute for Linfield to score when Jordan Stewart nipped in front of Albert Watson to poke home from close range.
It was a dream start for Linfield. Unfortunately, they decided to pay further tribute to Nicholas Parsons by deviating from their performance against Glenavon three days earlier, giving a repetition of their performance against Coleraine in August.
The decline, was instant, when Davy McDaid nodded home from close range ahead of Ethan Boyle after a ball into the box. It was a poor goal to concede.
Between Boyle and Rohan Ferguson, one of them should have been getting their body in the way, anything to deny McDaid an attempt on goal. He was so close, he couldn’t miss.
Having got the dream start, it was sloppy of Linfield to concede an equaliser so quickly. The momentum was now all with Larne.
Linfield were now all over the place defensively, usually when the ball went near Davy McDaid.
The absence of Jamie Mulgrew meant this was a team lacking leadership, someone to kick them up the arse and tell them to get themselves together. That was surprising, as there were a lot of players of vast Irish League experience on the pitch.
Larne were getting closer and closer to a second goal, but found themselves being denied by Ethan Boyle, but usually when he was covering for his own mistakes.
It was no surprise when Larne took the lead after a through ball from Mark Randall played Davy McDaid to smash home and make it 2-1.
Linfield’s response was a Bastien Hery shot which went wide and Shayne Lavery being unable to get on the end of a cross.
Despite that, it was Larne who were always the most likely to score whenever they went forward, and Linfield had a massive let-off in the final minutes of the half when Mark Randall hit the bar from close range after a cross from Davy McDaid. He really should have scored,
At half-time, Linfield were glad to only be 2-1 down. However, no matter how bad Linfield are playing or whatever the score, you never write them off when they are attacking their own fans. If they wanted to give those fans something to celebrate, they would need to play a lot better.
The second-half didn’t give them much to shout about, the closest they came was a Kirk Millar cross which evaded everyone.
Just as in the first-half, it was Larne who were most likely to score. Everytime they had a corner, Larne were winning the header, thankfully, not enough to cause any damage to Linfield.
Eventually, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Kyle McClean, who probably should have started the game, for Bastien Hery, and Niall Quinn for Ethan Boyle. The introduction for Quinn for Boyle made no sense positionally whatsoever.
Linfield’s final substitution saw Rory Currie come on for Joel Cooper. Cooper limped off as he made his way to the bench, a matter of concern for Linfield.
After surviving several free headers in their own penalty area, eventually Larne made one count when Harry Flowers headed home after a free-kick.
You felt that at 2-1, there would still be goals in this game. You also felt that, if it went to 3-1, it would be a long way back for Linfield.
And so it proved. Linfield had the ball, but didn’t do enough with it. They never looked like pulling a goal back that could bring hope of a fightback, as the game meandered to it’s inevitable conclusion of three points for Larne.
Results elsewhere weren’t unexpected or kind to Linfield, as Glentoran beat Glenavon 4-0.
Over the space of four days, Glentoran and Linfield replicated each other’s results, beating Glenavon at home and losing to Larne.
Once again, Linfield throw away an opportunity to go top. We’ve thrown away too many opportunities to go top or pull clear.
When we went top for the first time in December, we should have been kicking on from there.
If Larne’s record against the Top 6 is lamentable, Linfield’s isn’t much better, with negative goal differences in the head to heads against everybody except Cliftonville.
This has to stop. We can’t be good-bad-good-bad as it has been in 2020. It has to be good-good-good-good and it has to change now. We won’t get away with it and win the League if it continues.
We have to get back to basics, stop conceding bad goals and stop trying to score the perfect goal. Far too often, we allow teams the opportunity to get comfortable and settled when defending, when we shouldn’t be giving them an opportunity to breathe.
At Inver Park, Linfield lacked leadership and didn’t stand up to the challenge that Larne set.
All is not lost, if Linfield win their next match, at home to Dungannon Swifts, they will go top. The aim is staying there.
Every since Matchday 2, Linfield have had games in hand. Those games in hand should have been about extending the lead, not getting a lead.
As of next Tuesday night, those games in hand will be gone. If performances don’t improve, so will the title.