Defeat at Larne last time out meant that Linfield fell four points behind in the race for the Irish League title.
Recently history suggested there was no need to panic. On the Saturday before Christmas in 2018, Linfield fell four points behind Ballymema United. Due to the quick turnaround of games, it was a one point lead by New Year’s Day.
For reasons that will covered later, Linfield won’t have the opportunity to get themselves in front by the first day of 2021, but they did have the opportunity to cut Larne’s lead to just one point if they could beat Dungannon Swifts at Windsor Park.
Linfield only ever have three types of results against Dungannon Swifts. They either hammer them (as in March and October 2019), or get a barely deserved one goal win (as in October 2018) or an awful draw (as seen at Windsor Park in August 2016, February 2018 and January 2020).
For a long time in the first-half, it was looking like it would be one of the latter two. This was a scoreline that nobody saw coming at 4pm.
After successfully navigating the online scramble for tickets, I found myself in the Lower Deck of the North Stand. Not ideal, but if a ticket is available, you just have to grab it.
As i’ve restarted collecting programmes (well, ones from this era might be worth a bit in the future), I got the programme for this game. Amongst the Editorial was the news that Joel Cooper will be rejoining the club on loan for the rest of the season. The programme had been on sale for a few days, before the news was announced officially. Everybody missed the scoop. And people think that print media is dead.
Unfortunately, some of the information in it was made redundant inbetween print and matchday, such as informing supporters that the match against Crusaders will be live on BBC2 (I even had it circled in Christmas Radio Times) and the arrangements for ticket sales for the match against Glentoran on Boxing Day.
The match started, or rather didn’t start, in farcical circumstances with both teams out on the pitch just warming up. It looked like they’d been brought out too early. Looks like the Referee might be asking Santa for a new watch for Christmas.
If the match started early, Linfield didn’t really start at all. Slow and devoid of ideas. Kirk Millar had a couple of overhit crosses, and if it wasn’t happening for him, it wasn’t happening for Linfield, with nobody else able to step up.
At the other end, Dungannon were posing a threat to Linfield, with Chris Johns having to be alert to avoid being embarrassed from a wide angle with a shot.
Finally, it looked like Linfield were going to make a breakthrough when their first cohesive attacking move saw Niall Quinn fire wide from the edge of the box when fans in the North Stand were expecting him to score.
Shayne Lavery then fired just wide soon afterwards as Linfield looked to take a lead on a day when it was essential to get the first goal.
0-0 at half-time, a sense of frustration, but there was hope for Linfield in the shape of Dungannon’s recent second-half capitulations. The past two Saturdays have seen them go from 1-2 to 1-6 against Glentoran, and then from 1-0 to 1-5 against Ballymena United. This is a side who concede in bulk.
The problem for Linfield was getting that first goal. The early moments of the second-half saw even more frustration for Linfield.
Every attack saw the ball bouncing everywhere except to a Linfield player or into the back of the net. It was looking like it was going to be one of those days.
A strange paradox where it felt like a goal was only a matter of time but, at the same time, was never going to come.
Thankfully, that goal came on 66 minutes when Shayne Lavery was able to move with the ball and create space for himself in the box. However, it was Jimmy Callacher who then took over, crossing for Andrew Waterworth to head home from a few yards out. Linfield had the breakthrough.
By this point, Jordan Stewart had come on for Niall Quinn, a straight swap on the left. Even though it made sense not to shuffle players about, it was surprising that it wasn’t Matthew Clarke that went off. It wasn’t really a game that required both Quinn and Clarke.
Jordan Stewart soon had an impact on the game when his through ball to Shayne Lavery allowed him to cut in and finish from a wide angle to give Linfield some breathing space.
If there was any doubt as to the destination of the three points, that was wiped away within two minutes, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a Kirk Millar corner to make it 3-0.
Dungannon’s fragility when they concede was there for all to see, Linfield going from 0-0 to 3-0 in the space of ten minutes, a goal glut reminiscent of the title run-in in 2017.
With a 3-0 lead, Linfield took the opportunity to rest Kyle McClean and Andrew Waterworth, bringing on Bastien Hery and Daniel Kearns. Seems a bit pointless resting players when there is no match for at least three weeks. Might as well if you’ve got a 3-0 lead.
It would soon be a 4-0 lead thanks to the double act of Millar and Callacher, Callacher heading home from close range.
A few minutes later, Linfield had a corner, and Callacher arrived on the scene, very interested, eyeing up a repeat of his hat-trick against Newry in 2018. Unfortunately, there would be no repeat.
Just the four, when one would have done, Linfield cut Larne’s lead at the top to one point, due to their game against Portadown being postponed due to Covid Protocols, as was Crusaders match against Carrick.
That would have been a good confident boost ahead of the match against Glentoran on Boxing Day. Except, there is no match against Glentoran on Boxing Day. Football being punished because this stupid 3rd world shithole can’t behave itself.
Or no match against Crusaders the following Tuesday. Circled in Radio Times for nothing.
Instead of a match against Glenavon to start 2021, Linfield are scheduled to start 2021, note the emphasis on scheduled, with an Irish Cup tie against Annagh United, the draw taking place two days before this match.
Coincidentally, the programme for this match, printed before the draw, had an interview with Mark McAllister, now of Annagh United. It’s almost as if they knew.
That would have been a brilliant away trip in the olden (pre Covid) days but it’s at home. I’ll live with giving this one a miss. Would have been heartbroken to miss out on an away game at a ground i’ve never been to.
Hopefully, a pain free passage to the next round and no repeat of last year’s defeat to Queen’s.
Giving players an opportunity to rest will be key in the second-half of this season, especially with three games that now need slotted in. Some clubs have it worse though.
Someone who won’t be playing for Linfield for a while will be Christy Manzinga, who begins a retrospective three match ban for an incident against Glenavon.
I’ve no problem with that, he deserved a red card. As long as it is applied to all cases. No action against the Glenavon player who was involved with Manzinga for his part in the incident, or Davy McDaid for his tackle on Jamie Mulgrew last week suggests a flaw even at this early stage.
After spending most of last season playing catch-up in terms of games played, thankfully Linfield have no outstanding games other than the three Christmas/New Year postponements.
You would like to think that clubs who are out of the Irish Cup will be able to make use of those free Saturdays when Irish Cup games are being played.
Elsewhere in cup draws, the World Cup Qualifying for Qatar 2022 took place, with Northern Ireland getting a difficult draw with Italy and Switzerland standing in their way. It will be hard to see Northern Ireland breaking into the Top 2, but we’ve got to dust ourselves down and go for it.
The away game against Lithuania was very tempting, but the date in September wasn’t ideal. If it was October, I would have been very tempted.
Even though it’s a competition I think is a nonsense, I might see about going to the Finals of the UEFA Nations League in Italy. I’ve got to have some trip to dream about or look forward to.
So far, I have a short trip to Bray lined up for three days in late June to base myself for a Last 16 Euro 2021 game (England, Scotland, Croatia or Czech Republic v Germany, France, Portugal or Hungary) and try and get a ticket.
Between you and me, Euro 2021 is looking very unlikely as far as i’m concerned. I’ll be amazed if it goes ahead.
In mid July, i’m booked for a weekend away over the weekend of the Final. Again, i’ll try to get a ticket, but if not, there’ll still be plenty of non football things to occupy me.
I’ve got late cancellation on my hotels, so I won’t lose out too much. To be honest, i’m already looking up hotels and things to do in Brighton as a back-up.
I do hope at some point in 2021 to visit Old Trafford. I was hoping to do the midweek game against Leicester in May, and make a week of it (taking in Sheffield and Peak District or Saddleworth Moor) but i’m not optimistic about that.
So, football in Northern Ireland takes an enforced break. Boxing Day 2020 was always going to be different, it was always going to lead to disappointment for a lot of people who would miss out on tickets. For it not to happen, and well in advance unlike 2009 and 2010 is something else. Football is being punished because wider society can’t behave.
Northern Ireland needs to look itself in the mirror and ask if it really did enough. A lot of people who say yes should really think about their answer. Really? My own observations contradict that.
I’ve been shouted at and abused in the street for asking people to move over a wee bit to give me some room.
A lot of people aren’t making an effort. This country needs to lose this whole “Big Lawd Attitude”. Your dick isn’t going to fall off if you give someone a bit of room on the footpath.
Ramming up people’s arses in a Supermarket doesn’t make the queue go quicker. Know what you need to buy.
Don’t stand in the middle of the aisle staring at shelves trying to decide what to buy. Be smart.
“I do what I like and nobody tells me what to do” – How’s that working out?
Ladies, don’t think you’re getting off. Some of you have been just as bad.
I know that Political figures have set a bad example, but you can be better. I know it’s hard.
I’ll park around the corner to go to a shop because there’s no parking space outside, then i’ll see someone parked on a double yellow outside and blocking traffic and i’ll wonder why I bother.
It’s hard, but be better. Let those who fall short face the consequences, always keep your standards high.
Walk on the left, it’s literally that simple. We’ll all get to where we’re going a lot easier.
This country is absolutely paralysed by it’s obsession with Pubs and World War II.
Pubs, Pubs, Pubs, Pubs.
Want Pubs to be reopened with no restriction? Then get the R Number down. Get the R Number down by making an effort.
A casual reminder that it’s not your patriotic duty to go to a pub, or to go out for a meal, to buy a sandwich at lunch or to go shopping, or to pick fruit for minimum wage. Your patriotic duty is to take preventative measures against the spread of Coronavirus. It’s really not that hard.
All the World War II Fanboys banging on about the “Blitz Spirit” getting to live out their kinky little fetish and deciding that sacrifices and looking out for others isn’t really their thing.
You can still go out and do things, just be smart about it. Don’t block people’s access, just be smart about what you’re doing. Maybe try looking where you’re walking and not staring at your phone?
I feel sorry for people not even born yet who’ll spend the 2070s listening to people banging on about how they were the generation who defeated Covid, when the truth shows they were not. They’ll probably be using it to try and jump queues.
“I’m a Covid Hero”. No you’re not.
Want the things you love to come back? We all do. Just be smart.
I’ve never felt unsafe at any football match I have been to this season. I can’t say that for any time i’ve walked in Belfast City Centre or Lisburn Road.
So that’s me for football in 2020. I’ve no idea when i’ll be at another game. Hopefully, Linfield v Coleraine on Friday 15th January.
As much as I enjoy Windsor Park, it would be nice to visit another ground in 2021.