Cristiano might have been the talk of the footballing world in the lead up to this weekend, but at Shamrock Park, it was Christy who was the centre of attention.
After a two week break due to games being called off due to International Call-Ups, Linfield were back in action and back on the road.
Their last away trip, to Solitude in May, saw them lift the title.
For many fans, due to restrictions, they missed out on a chance to be there, just as some were unable to attend the Irish Cup Final the previous weekend due to restrictions. This match would be the first opportunity in eighteen months to see their team on the road, since a trip to Carrick Rangers in March 2020.
There would be no signs of rustiness, vocals all in tune. Like a classic rock band, you never lose it.
In the opening minutes, there wasn’t much to sing about, with both teams forcing the opposition keeper into routine saves.
There would be nothing routine about Chris Johns first meaningful save, as Ruairi Croskery was played through. He looked certain to score, but Johns got a hand to his low shot, saving it, and sending the rebound away from immediate danger.
Christy Manzinga got in behind Portadown’s defence, similar to his second goal against Crusaders two weeks previously.
This time, his shot was saved. From where I was, it looked like a cross to Billy Chadwick would be a better option, but when you’re on the run of form he is on, he is entitled to shoot.
It was Portadown who scored first, from a cheaply conceded corner by Linfield. Kirk Millar made a hash of clearing the ball when a corner came to him, the resulting confusion saw a team-mate forced into the safety first option of conceding another corner.
The safety didn’t last for long, as a free header across the penalty area and a stretched leg saw the ball fall perfectly for Ruairi Croskery (one game and one goal for Linfield in 2016) to sneak in and put Portadown 1-0 up.
It was a bad goal for Linfield, Michael Newberry was caught ballwatching. He knew it too, with his hands going on his head straight away.
Linfield’s best chance in response was a volley from Christy Manzinga which went over the bar.
Manzinga was soon involved in the action when he was played through after a run from Billy Chadwick. He made no mistake, finishing to make it 1-1.
Chadwick and Manzinga combined well at times, something to work on.
Something that definitely needs worked on was the amount of cheap throw-ins conceded.
Even though they weren’t in dangerous area, it was frustrating to continually see simple passes gone wrong, or too ambitious passes being made. Especially at a ground like Shamrock Park where the ball doesn’t come back into play immediately, and Linfield needed the game to flow to keep the pressure on Portadown.
Christy Manzinga continued to be the main character in the game, this time being denied by the crossbar after a header.
Both teams exchanged shots that were easily saved as the half meandered to an end, looking like they would go in level.
Portadown had other plans when Lee Bonis snuck in unnoticed from a cross on the left to finish from close ranger. Another poor goal to concede as a result of not tracking a man.
The dynamic of the half-time team talk had changed once again. It was no longer about finishing the job off and completing the comeback, it was about starting another comeback.
It looked like another equaliser was going to come from Billy Chadwick, when he got himself one on one with a Portadown defender, set himself up to shoot, but dragged his shot wide.
From where I was behind the goal, it looked like there would only be one outcome. I turned out to be wrong. I know, i’m as shocked as you are.
David Healy turned to the bench to try and change the game, bringing on Jordan Stewart and Matt Green.
Jordan Stewart had scored the winner in two of Linfield’s last three visits to Portadown, so fingers crossed for three out of four.
He would soon have a goal disallowed due to an advantage not being played. The resulting free-kick went over the bar.
There were more agonising near misses for Linfield.
Trai Hume having an effort cleared off the line by a header. Matt Green had a header saved by the keeper’s legs.
You had a feeling that if Linfield could just get one goal, it would be the springboard towards victory. There was still plenty of time to go.
That goal eventually came when Jordan Stewart played the ball to Kirk Millar whose low cross was finished from close range by Matt Green for his first goal for Linfield.
No time to savour the moment though, grabbing the ball straight away to restart the game. There were three points to be won.
Green would be frustrated in his attempts for his second Linfield goal, having an effort saved by the legs of Portadown’s keeper, before having the ball snatched away from him by a Portadown defender just as he was setting himself up to fire home.
Eventually, Linfield took the lead for the first time, when Christy Manzinga, who else, made space for himself outside the box, and for some reason ignored me shouting at him to pass it left, firing home to make it 3-2 and give Linfield the lead for the first time.
Even though there was one goal in it, you can never be too comfortable, the way the game had gone, you just knew Linfield would see the game out.
They weren’t even seeing the game, continuing to spend the game in Portadown’s half, despite the aim being not to concede rather than to score.
Four goals would have been nice, but three was enough, as Linfield kept up their winning start to the season, but languish in 5th, due to inactivity.
Postonements due to International Call-Ups have made the table lopsided, but it is Cliftonville with ten points from twelve who lead.
Linfield facing a repeat of the Winter of 2019, having to make up games and chase opponents.
Up next, was a League Cup tie away to Ballyclare. I wasn’t there, which is probably why they won, negotiating that opponent, round and venue a lot more effectively than when I visited in 2014.
In League terms, Coleraine at home, a fixture that has literally been even over the past five year.
2016-2017, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 saw one win each and two draws.
2019-2020 saw two Coleraine wins and a draw, before Linfield levelled it out last season with two wins and two draws.
Two wins have seen Coleraine back on their feet after losing their first two games. The objective for Linfield is to knock them off their feet again. Every point is valuable.
On the Wednesday before this, was Shayne Lavery running the show for Northern Ireland against Switzerland. They still have a chance but are up against it.
I gave the match a miss as it will be an absolute Covidfest. Sorry, but there are two many divs in the Green And White Army.
Although, the ticket prices made it easy. Good to see and issue being made about it and hopefully the IFA address the issue for Euro 2024, or dare I say, a World Cup Qualifying Play-Off. Got to be optimistic.
Living relatively near Windsor Park, I incorporated it into my evening walk to purchase a programme for watching the game on TV.’
I was disappointed to see them not being sold at the ground. This has been a recent phenomenon at games under the IFA. This was the case at the Irish Cup Final and the European Super Cup Final as well, instead selling them online only.
Ahh yes, that well known matchday behaviour, ordering the programme to get it through the post four days later. And you have to pay postage for it.
I fully understand safety concerns about Programme Sellers, absolutely, but there is enough land in and around Windsor Park for them to be based. Why not borrow a kiosk from Ticketmaster to reduce close contact for them?
They can sell programmes at Old Trafford with a crowd of 75,000 for crying out loud.
There have been a few Linfield games moved to Friday nights. One of those was Crusaders moved to Friday 12th November.
Before you could say “Isn’t that the night Northern Ireland play Lithuania? That seems like a dumb idea”, it was moved back to the Saturday.
As I will have some free Saturdays, I hope to spend one of those visiting Harland and Wolff Welders new ground.
The first definite date is Saturday 27th November, but if Linfield v Carrick Rangers is postponed due to International Call-Ups, i’ll be there on Saturday 9th October, all being well, the first scheduled game there.
Until then, my match going will be Linfield. Up next, will be the aim for three wins in a row to help with four titles in a row.
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