Matchday 3 of the Irish League season saw three teams defending perfect starts. The two sides who have won the last six titles (Three apiece) and a side with ambitions of joining them.
At least one of those records would be guaranteed not to last the weekend as Linfield and Crusaders took in each other at Windsor Park, knowing that a win would see them wake up top on Saturday morning.
They would also know that, even at this stage of the season, it would put the pressure on others. On Larne, to keep level with them, and on Coleraine and Glentoran, already trailing and playing each other knowing they can’t afford to fall further behind.
As this was Linfield’s second home game of the season, the matchday experience is still being fine tuned.
No last minute rogue political announcements, I presume some people have erroneous payments not returned to worry about, meant that the ticket scramble for members was able to take place the day before as planned.
With this game being brought forward to Friday night for live broadcast online, that meant the Friday Night Scramble was a Thursday Night Scramble.
After screaming and shouting at my computer, it eventually worked, so I logged in and made my purchase.
I’m not sure if I was aided by Larne putting tickets for the County Antrim Shield Semi-Final at the same time, diverting traffic there.
I even got my phone set up to download tickets.
Things were going well. Well, until I got to the ground.
For this match, my ticket was in The Kop, meaning I had to enter via Windsor Way.
For some reason, the QR Code wouldn’t scan on my phone. Luckily, I had my iPad with me as back-up, so I was able to use that.
The downside to this new form of ticketing is that casual collectors of ticket stubs won’t be able to keep momentos of games they attend.
Once again, I passed the Temperature Gun Test. That’s three out of three for me this season. Funnily enough, what Linfield were looking for at full-time.
One day i’ll go to a football match and write “And I didn’t have to do a Temperature Test and fans didn’t have to keep a distance from each other”.
That day, sadly, is a long way off.
As the Seating Plan on the website doesn’t let you see what your view is, it was a bit of guesswork when choosing a seat, but I did well, quite central and not too far back.
There was mixed news for Linfield on the injury front, with Jamie Mulgrew missing out (replaced by Bastien Hery) but there was a welcome return on the bench for Shayne Lavery and Stephen Fallon.
It was Linfield who dominated the opening minutes, keeping Crusaders camped in their own half, seemingly intent on replicating the early goal they got on Crusaders last visit to Windsor Park.
The closest they came was an Andrew Waterworth header that went over.
Crusaders best offering was a shot from Paul Heatley that was easily saved.
Set pieces were giving Crusaders plenty of concern, with both Jimmy Callacher and Mark Haughey going narrowly wide from headers.
Despite a period of Crusaders pressure midway through the half, Linfield were the better team but didn’t have a goal to show for it.
As the half neared it’s end, they would have an opportunity to get that goal, in a game where getting the first goal would be so important.
A neat attack saw Conor Pepper make a run in behind Crusaders defence.
From where I was sat, it looked like the pass to him was too lot, but it turned out to be enough for him to get into space, resulting in a Crusaders player bundling him over.
A soft penalty, but still a penalty. It would be a foul anywhere else on the pitch.
The incident reminded how different the game is without away fans. I was expecting someone to shout “SHUT THE FUCK UP, IT WAS A CLEAR PENALTY” in response to protests from away fans in the North Stand.
Penalties against Crusaders at Windsor Park have been problematic for Linfield in recent years. The last two seasons have seen both Jordan Stewart and Bastien Hery miss in drawn games.
There would not be a hat-trick of penalty misses as Andrew Waterworth chipped down the middle to give Linfield a 1-0 lead at half-time.
Some habits are difficult to get rid of. As I was sat in The Kop, where Linfield attacked in the first-half, I was reminding myself not to head towards the far end of the South Stand to get a view of Linfield’s attacks in the second-half as, well, fans aren’t allowed there.
A random observation is that half-time only seems to be ten minutes this season (I think this is commonplace in Scotland’s Lower Leagues, especially in Northern Scotland) due to players being sat outside for half-time. I can see why, plus it also lessens the “Event time” of a football match with spectators in the ground for five minutes less.
I got caught out, no pun intended, when the second-half against Carrick started when I was at the toilet. I thought I had just lost track of time.
Navid Nasseri and Jamie McGonigle both had shots saved. McGonigle’s was the only real chance that Crusaders created in open play. They were mostly pinging balls into the box and hoping to get lucky. Jimmy Callacher wasn’t having any of it.
With Stephen Fallon already introduced for Jordan Stewart, Linfield made two further substitutions with Ryan McGivern and Shayne Lavery coming on for Navid Nasseri and Bastien Hery.
There would be a change in shape for Linfield, but not the three at the back that McGivern’s introduction caused against Carrick, but instead a 4-4-2 with Niall Quinn pushed further forward.
It was Crusaders who had the next attempt on goal when David Cushley, on as a substitute, had a long range free-kick (I know) tipped over the bar by Chris Johns. I thought it was going over, but TV Replays suggested it was going in, so Johns was justified to go safety first.
With five minutes to go, Linfield went 2-0 up when a quick counter attack saw a Kirk Millar cross get headed home by Niall Quinn at the near post having picked up on the other side of the pitch just seconds earlier. And that, was the three points.
Another thing missing about there being no away fans was the lack of sarcastic chants of “CHEERIO, CHEERIO” as the Crusaders fans made their way to the exits.
However, such a scenario would have been premature as Crusaders pulled a goal back instantly, Adam Leckey heading home from a few yards out, and then getting tangled up in the net in the rush to get the game restarted, a surreal silence being the soundtrack around Windsor Park.
Have to say, the silence when Linfield scored at Ballymena the previous week was very beautiful. Hopefully, there’ll be more beautiful silences at Portadown next week.
Naturally, that meant a nervy finish. Jimmy Callacher had declared that Crusaders weren’t getting an equaliser, and they weren’t going to get one, as anytime the ball went into Linfield’s penalty area, he was first to it, getting the ball clear.
As the final whistle blew, the tannoy blasted out Ghostbusters. Cruesbusters more like. Linfield ain’t afraid of no Crues.
Three wins out of three, Linfield were able to put their feet up on Saturday afternoon to see what the others could do.
It was a mixed bag of results, with the Top 5 separated by three points. The top 5 being who you would expect to be there.
Coleraine playing Glentoran meant that something would go in Linfield’s favour. A draw would have been perfect, but seeing Glentoran winless and out of the Relegation Play-Off on goal difference is a nice sight. Puts a lot of pressure on them.
Cliftonville have Dungannon and Warrenpoint up next. They are two games you would expect them to win and build momentum. Although, they usually do have a generous run of games in November before their title challenge falls apart in December/January.
That’s why it’s important for Linfield to keep on winning, especially with their match against Glentoran on Matchday 5 being postponted.
Both Manchester clubs and Celtic are currently finding out that games in hand are nice, you’re better off getting the points on the board.
Talking of Scotland, i’m still monitoring the possibility of going to Edinburgh in January for a weekend. It’s not happening, sure it isn’t.
It would be funny just to see a Hearts team who have been put out of the Scottish Cup just three weeks after winning it.
I’ve got Bray booked for next Summer, but they’ll still be playing in the First Division if there is a game on while i’m there.
Talking of Second Tier Football, Northern Ireland’s Championship got their fixture list published, so at least i’ll have that as an option if I can’t get to a Linfield away game.
Before that trip to Portadown, there is the possibility of a Cup Final.
Tuesday night sees red v blue, too close to call, while the man in The Oval Office is feeling the pressure. However, it’s unknown if Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be keeping an eye on the County Antrim Shield Semi-Finals.
Linfield face a trip to Larne, who they are level on points with.
A win for either side won’t make an impact on the title race, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a Cup Final to look forward to.
There’s no date for that. I would like to think that those in charge might schedule it towards the end of the season to give the opportunity for more fans to attend.
For that reason, I have a suspicion that the final will be held at Windsor Park regardless of who is in it.
Let’s be honest, this country is fucked and football stadiums will be restricted capacity for the season.
Apologies for the less than cheery outlook, but i’m dealing with realism.
When my next football match is, i’ve no idea.
Hopefully, Northern Ireland v Slovakia on Thursday week.
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