There can’t be many fixtures as evenly matched in recent years as when Linfield and Coleraine face each other.
Nineteen meetings in the League over the previous five seasons had seen five wins each and nine draws.
The first three of those seasons saw one win each and two draws, while Coleraine’s two wins and a draw in 2019-2020 were immediately cancelled out by Linfield’s two wins and two draws in 2020-2021.
They even kicked-off this match level on points, six each, though Coleraine’s came from four games and Linfield’s from two.
After losing their first two games, Coleraine have recovered by winning their next two and progressing in the League Cup.
A win for Linfield wouldn’t rule Coleraine out of the title race, but it wouldn’t help. Having written Coleraine off in mid November last season, I wouldn’t be making the same mistake again.
Goals against Portadown and Ballyclare Comrades meant that Matt Green was given a start, as Linfield looked to Christy Manzinga to continue his impressive start to the season, four goals in his first two League games, or seven in his last three games if you include the friendly against Dungannon Swifts.
Linfield started the game well. Too well, if you know what I mean, as a lot of the ball didn’t result in a goal.
The best chance that Linfield had was a free-kick from Kirk Millar that looked goalbound until a block took the sting out of the shot, deflecting it over.
It was only natural that Coleraine would then have some of the ball. Their almost took the lead in bizarre fashion when Jamie Glackin attempted an effort from just over the halfway line, going just wide.
More Coleraine pressure continued with Carson and McKendry being frustrated, the closest they came to scoring was from a Jamie Mulgrew last ditch tackle that sent the ball goalwards, but wide of the post.
Linfield responded with a Trai Hume effort from range.
Just as in the first-half, Linfield started the second-half strongly, but it would be midway through the half before they took the lead, Christy Manzinga finishing from close range after being played in.
In a game so tight, Linfield had got the vital opening goal. However, Coleraine would not be deflated.
Straight away, Chris Shields was forced into a tackle to block a shot when it looked like Coleraine were going to score.
Jordan Stewart came on for Matt Green as Linfield searched for a second goal, but the second goal of the game would be a Coleraine equaliser, rather than a clincher for Linfield as Conor McKendry fired a screamer in from just outside the penalty area.
The goal came out of nowhere as the game was meandering to a finish, not that Linfield would have been complaining as they held a 1-0 lead.
Suddenly, that goal for Coleraine perked Linfield into life.
Billy Chadwick, brought on for Christy Manzinga, managed to work space for himself on the edge of the penalty area, but his shot went agonisingly wide.
Jordan Stewart managed to work a small opening for himself. Instead of trying to ping it on his left foot and see where it ended up, he tried to get it onto his right, but the opportunity was gone.
Just when it looked like that winning opportunity would fall Linfield’s way, Coleraine seemed to get a body in the way.
Or, that the final ball from a Linfield player was awry.
The final flurry came too late for Linfield, as Coleraine held on for a draw, that was a fair result.
It also meant that half of the meetings between the sides since the start of the 2016-2017 season were draws.
I wouldn’t be surprised if all four of the League games finished tied. We’re due one of those seasons.
Looking elsewhere in the table, it was a point gained on Larne who lost 1-0 away to Crusaders, meaning that the only two perfect records in the League have now gone.
So early in the season and with some teams not playing their full compliment of games, it’s hard to assess a League table where Linfield languish in 6th, but will go top if they win their games in hand.
Biggest word in football, if.
What Linfield can do is keep picking up points.
Up next is Glenavon, Glentoran and Cliftonville in the space of six days, it is even more important to do so.
That game against Glenavon will see Linfield wear their new away kit for the first time. It looks a bit “Ballymena”. IT would be a cracking kit if the secondary colour was blue.
At the end of October, we’ll hit the point where everybody will be scheduled to have played each other, meaning the table will start to spread out.
Let’s hope Linfield are leading rather than chasing in this race by then.