It was perhaps apt that Crusaders should be the visitors to Windsor Park for the beginning of The Era Of Normality. Well, maybe not Normality, certainly not Post-Covid. I’m not quite sure what this period of history will be referred to.
Back in February 2020, when the news headlines were dominated by a virus in China that was nothing to worry about, Linfield beat Crusaders 4-0 in a live TV game. It was a win that ultimately won the title for Linfield, though nobody knew it then. All that Linfield fans were concerned about were upcoming games against Carrick Rangers, Larne and Glentoran, the latter two would never take place.
That win for Linfield was the first of five successive wins over Crusaders. They fancied their chances of making it six in a row, as Crusaders aren’t the force they once were, finishing 5th, and missing out on Europe via two penalty shoot-outs. That’s where they are, and ageing team allowed to grow old together.
If Crusaders faces are familiar, then for Linfield, it was a case of the opposite with a high turnover of players due to a combination of players unable to commit to full-time football, and players returning to, or being signed up by EFL clubs.
Naturally, that has prompted the need for a lot of arrivals, with most of the gaps being plugged in on paper. The problem is, a lot of the players have come from outside the Irish League, so we’re still trying to work out if they an improvement on those that have left.
Ironically, the striking position, not wanting to jinx it, looks like it might be filled by a player already at the club.
It is fair to say that Christy Manzinga endured a frustrating 2020-2021. The ability was there, but everything just seemed to be going wrong.
Circumstance has dictated that he is now Linfield’s main striker, and he has taken the opportunity with three European goals and a hat-trick in a friendly against Dungannon Swifts.
Starting this match, Linfield fans were hoping he could continue this form into the domestic season.
Amongst the substitutes were new signings Sam Roscoe, Martin Donnelly, Matt Green, Andrew Clarke and Ahmed Salam.
As well as getting used to new signings, there was new matchday arrangements. Well, a repeat of those during the the Windsor Park Redevelopment of 2014-2016. If you’ve forgotten, home fans in the North Stand, away fans in The Kop.
One day, one day, we’ll be back in the South Stand.
Linfield started off a bit sloppy, but Crusaders couldn’t take advantage of that sloppiness, the best they could offer was a header from Ben Kennedy.
Eventually, Linfield began to have a period of pressure, looking the more likely team to score without creating a clear opportunity.
That pressure looked like it was going to be rewarded with a Jimmy Callacher header, only to be denied by Jonathan Tuffey’s legs on the goal line.
It took another set piece for Linfield to take the lead, when Trai Hume headed across goal for Christy Manzinga to head home to put Linfield 1-0 up.
That goal was key, this was a game where the first goal was key. Crusaders looked they only had one goal in them, and were set up to frustrate.
However, it was Linfield who were frustrating their fans the most.
Whilst happy with the half-time, they needed to step it up and be more fluent with the ball.
It was an instruction was was being carried out in the early minutes of the second-half, with pressure on Crusaders goal resulting in Billy Chadwick having a shot blocked from close range.
Soon after, Christy Manzinga got in behind Crusaders defence, cutting in and firing home low to make it 2-0. As soon as he went through, there was going to be only one outcome.
That goal gave Linfield breathing space. Barring a capitulation, Crusaders were never going to get back into the game. All they could offer was a Josh Robinson header easily saved.
Linfield took the opportunity to being on Jordan Stewart for Billy Chadwick, as he continues his return from injury, showing some neat touches.
I really miss the guy in the South Stand who thinks he called Gordon, and shouts “Go on Gordon!!” and “Well done Gordon!!!!” every time he gets the ball.
Stewart had a shot blocked, while a Jamie Mulgrew cross had to be cleared off the line as Linfield were looking comfortable with their two goal lead.
Matt Green was brought on for his debut, made some good runs and was denied by a block just when it looked like he was going to mark his debut with a goal.
Martin Donnelly was another debutant, getting a brief appearance in injury time on his 33rd birthday.
One game down, and thirty-seven to go for Linfield.
Due to International Call-Ups, it will be a two week wait for Linfield’s second game, away to Portadown on 11st September.
Missing out on two matchdays made it even more essential to get three points in this game.
Larne and Glentoran will be inactive on Matchday 2, which presents Cliftonville an opportunity to take an early lead.
Thankfully, playing catch-up at the early stage of the season is something Linfield have successfully navigated, having had to do so during the Winter of 2019.
Even one game into the season, the expected Top 3 have already taken those positions, with Linfield sandwiched inbetween Larne and Glentoran.
Due to this break, my next match will be Linfield’s trip to Shamrock Park on 11th September, which will be my first visit there since February 2016.
Three days before that, Northern Ireland face Switzerland at Windsor Park in a World Cup Qualifier.
At the moment, tickets are being sold as a three match bundle, which doesn’t suit me as i’ll be away in the day of the Italy match.
To be honest, I was already thinking of writing off this campaign and going again for Euro 2024.
Add in the prices for the three match bundle, taking the piss and giving me an excuse to pass on it.
Another reason i’ll be giving the Switzerland game a miss is that I don’t really trust some of the Northern Ireland support. Please note, that’s part of a wide societal problem.
You know the sort, tanked up by teatime and can’t sit in the right seat. I’m not having some spiv coughing all over me while trying to scream “GREEN. AND. WHITE. ARMY!!!!” and then boasting that they’re riddled with Covid but didn’t want to miss out on da craic.
Don’t even try to convince me that wasn’t the case at CHSQ, and it will be the same at Belsonic.
And yet, our whole society seems to be so apathetic. Lots of people will die, what are we like? LOL. Whoospie. At least the pubs are open. The prices are what? THIS IS A DISGRACE!!!! WHY AREN’T PEOPLE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Anyway, back to the football, and it’s great to be spending a Saturday afternoon at Windsor Park, the first time since December 2020. Even greater to be celebrating a win.
Hopefully, the only stop-start nature of this season will be due to International Call-Ups.