With a reduced crowd and no away fans, this was always going to be one of the most surreal meetings between Linfield and Glentoran. Events on the pitch made this one of the most ridiculous and bizarre between the two.
This match should have been played two weeks previously during that midweek matchday, but a combination of international call-ups and Windsor Park being needed for Northern Ireland v Slovakia meant that game was postponed.
Call me cynical, but it seemed that game was scheduled for a date when there was a high possibility it would be postponed so that it could be slotted in for 2021 when there was a chance of playing in front of a bigger crowd.
That theory was soon debunked when it was slotted in at seven days notice.
I have another theory. With games now being postponed due to Covid Protocols and teams now having a backlog of games, the two clubs wanted the game slotted in as soon as possible.
This match, between top and bottom, would be the last chance Linfield fans would have to see their team in the flesh for at least two weeks, due to nobody being allowed into football stadiums because Trevor from the Golf Club and his wife Mandy can’t behave themselves in Tesco when their stock up on food for their weekend dinner parties.
Thankfully, I managed to get a ticket quite easily, logging straight in at 10am on Saturday morning to get one. I’m getting quite good as this online pushing people out of the way lark.
An injury for Andrew Waterworth meant a start for Shayne Lavery, looking to build on his goal against Glenavon three days earlier, while Jamie Mulgrew came in to midfield for Navid Nasseri, as Linfield went for a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation.
Glentoran had the first attempt on goal with a header, but it was Linfield who soon took control of the game.
Kirk Millar had a free-kick go wide while Kyle McClean had a shot go just wide.
Linfield then had a penalty appeal when a cross hit Luke McCullough’s hand
Shayne Lavery then pounced on Glentoran goalkeeper Dale Coeling dropping a cross. Unfortunately, the angle was too wide for a shot, but his cross caused some concern in Glentoran’s defence. Unfortunately, nobody in a Linfield shirt could get on the end of it.
Coeling recently had a shaky moment playing for Gibraltar against San Marino that did the round on Social Media a few weeks back. His evening didn’t get much better.
Linfield got the breakthrough when Jordan Stewart got the ball out left and skinned his man. He fired at goal from a tight angle. In my head I was bemoaning him not crossing. That was soon short lived when the ball hit Dale Coeling and then bounced in off him.
Technically speaking, it was an own goal rather than a goal for Stewart. It didn’t matter, Linfield had a deserved lead.
The only thing wrong with the first-half performance was that they didn’t get a much needed second goal. They would soon be regretting that in the opening minutes of the second-half.
Chris Johns spilled a shot and Paul O’Neill was the first to react, beating two Linfield defenders to the ball to make it 1-1. Linfield’s first-half performance had been undone.
Linfield’s response to the goal wasn’t that of Champions, looking shaky for the next five to ten minutes and being thankful to be 1-1, Conor Pepper being forced into a clearance a few yards out from his own goal.
Thankfully, Linfield survived that and were gifted an opportunity to retake the lead following some comical defending from Glentoran.
The ball looked set to go to Dale Coeling to pick it up and start another attack. For some reason, Seanan Clucas decided to pass the ball back to him, giving Stephen Fallon enough of a sniff of the ball to get there first and be fouled by Coeling.
Just like his goal against Glenavon, Stephen Fallon got rewarded for gambling and making a run. It’s what he does.
After a lengthy delay, Shayne Lavery stepped up and made it 2-1. Just about though. I was at the other end and thought he had missed it. It was like Gabriel Batistuta’s penalty against England in France 98.
The retaken lead didn’t last for long though, as within a few minutes, Jay Donnelly snuck in to fire home from close range.
Linfield responded by bringing on Navid Nasseri for Kyle McClean, reverting to their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
They were given a boost, if not a goal, when Shayne Lavery got in behind Glentoran’s defence and was taken out by Coeling with a reckless tackle for a straight red card. He was already on a yellow, so he would have went anyway.
Glentoran still had a substitution left, so we weren’t going to be treated to an outfield player in goals, as Rory Brown, being watched on the live stream by mum Agnes and partner Dino.
He was immediately tested, being forced into a save from the resulting free-kick.
The introduction of Christy Manzinga for Conor Pepper meant that Kirk Millar was now being shifted to right-back as Linfield went more attacking.
Although, the last time Kirk Millar was moved to right-back, he gifted Coleraine a goal with a stray backpass. Hopefully, this would have a better outcome.
However, it was Glentoran who got the next goal in the game when Robbie McDaid found himself in acres of space to put Glentoran 3-2 up with just minutes remaining.
Linfield responded by bringing on Matthew Shevlin for Stephen Fallon. It was a case of getting as many forward players on the pitch as possible. It wasn’t really working.
One one of the few times it did work, Patrick McClean was able to clear a lobbed effort from Jimmy Callacher off the line.
As the minutes ticked down, there was another red card for Glentoran when Seanan Clucas was sent-off for a wild challenge on Navid Nasseri.
It was the third time that Clucas was sent-off in a match involving Linfield, after being sent-off for Linfield against Glenavon in 2014, and then for Dunagannon Swifts against Linfield in 2018. On both those occasions, Linfield got a late winner. A late equaliser was what they were looking for here.
And it came, in the nick of time, with just over ten seconds remaining, when Jimmy Callacher headed home to secure a draw.
With all the stoppages within stoppage time, there should have been another minute added. You never know what could have happened.
A mixture of one point gained and two dropped, we won’t fully know until May. At the moment, it feels like two dropped, especially as this match was followed-up with defeat at Warrenpoint.
Linfield could have went four clear at the top, now they trail Larne by one point.
The most concerning aspect is the manner of the goals conceded. We’ve thrown away two leads and gifted five goals in one week. Especially after going into it with two successive clean sheets.
Larne have a Man City 2011-2012 vibe about them. They got off to a good start and built momentum, but they didn’t run away with it and really only won it because United threw it away. We simply can’t afford to let them start to build a lead like Chelsea did in 2004-2005.
Up next is Cliftonville, who have lost three of their last four games, and we have a good record against in recent years. Time to put this wobbly run behind us and go again. Unfortunately. that will be viewed from a laptop due to lockdown measures.
And finally, Diego Maradona. What can you say? That is a round of applause that was truly merited. Bravo sir.
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