Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park looking to continue their title challenge against 5th place Linfield, only to find themselves blown away by a four goal blast midway through the first half.
Three wins and three draws from their opening six games wasn’t a disaster, but Linfield knew if had to be so much better if they have ambitions of winning the League.
Successive games against Carrick Rangers and Warrenpoint Town, teams expected to be in the Bottom Six, were must win, but especially so when you consider the two fixture lists over those two weekends.
One this weekend, Cliftonville, Larne and Glentoran were inactive, while Coleraine could only draw on the Friday night,
The following weekend, those four play each other, presenting Linfield with an opportunity to put some points on board and pull clear of rivals.
After serving a three match ban, Christy Manzinga was back in Linfield’s starting eleven, with Sam Roscoe and Martin Donnelly also starting, as Linfield made a few changes, albeit enforced due to the absence of Trai Hume and Cameron Palmer due to International Call-Ups, but also bearing in mind that they will be playing eight matches in October.
There wasn’t much to write about in the first quarter, with Linfield struggling to break down Carrick, all they could offer was a Stephen Fallon shot that went over the bar, while Carrick had a free-kick that was easily saved by Chris Johns.
It looked like Linfield were going to take the lead when Christy Manzinga was played in behind Carrick’s defence but the play was stopped for a foul and a free-kick to Linfield.
Manzinga’s frustration wouldn’t last long as he stretched to head home from the resulting free-kick to give Linfield the lead.
That goal opened the floodgates, as within a few minutes, it was 2-0 when Sam Roscoe headed home from a corner to realistically put the game beyond Carrick.
Having complained about the quality of set pieces during the draws against Glenavon and Cliftonville, you have no idea how pleased I was by two goals from set pieces.
Like against Glenavon and Cliftonville, it wasn’t really happening for Linfield in open play, but this time they’d taken the opportunities when set pieces came their way.
If there was any doubt as to the destination of the three points, that was soon extinguished when Mike Newberry was played in behind Carrick’s defence (yes, from right-back) and crossed it to Christy Manzinga.
It looked certain that Manzinga would scored from close range, but his shot was saved by the keeper, but he made no mistake from the rebound.
If you were worried that he would have lost momentum by sitting out three games after his red card against Glenavon, those worries were unfounded, as he picked up where he left off.
Soon after, Martin Donnelly started a move on the left, and the time the ball was cleared, it fell to him centrally on the edge of the penalty area to fire home and make it 4-0.
This was the 40th time Linfield had scored four or more in a League match under David Healy. Two of them came in Carrick’s last two visits to Windsor Park. A repeat of the 7-0 scoreline in March was now looking a possibility.
Except, that would be the end of the scoring, as the second-half was a non event.
Christy Manzinga was hungry for a hat-trick, but the attacking intensity wasn’t there to give him the opportunities to get one.
Then the sun came out, causing a bit of an inconvenience for some fans trying to see the game.
Where was it in the morning when I needed it? I was hoping to go for a stroll along the new section of the Lagan Towpath. I’ll have to save that for another time.
That was the height of the excitement.
Unsurprisingly, with a busy schedule either side of this game, Linfield took the opportunity to utilise their bench, giving players who minute minutes some gametime and giving those who need a rest a chance to put their feet up.
With the game now a non event, some supporters took the opportunity to leave early.
Those that stayed were almost rewarded with a fifth goal from Matt Green, but his header was cleared off the line.
It finished 4-0, a nice boost for the goal difference which might be handy come late April, shooting Linfield up to 3rd.
No longer stuck in a traffic jam, now firmly breathing down the necks of Cliftonville and Larne.
Every point is important. Cliftonville are a point clear of Larne because they drew at Seaview where Larne lost.
Cliftonville are two points clear of Linfield because they beat Coleraine who got a draw at Windsor Park.
Larne are one point clear of Linfield despite losing a game because they’ve only dropped five points with a defeat and a draw while Linfield dropped six with three draws.
Next Saturday will be interesting with Cliftonville facing Larne and Coleraine facing Glentoran. A win at Warrenpoint is a must.
If they do that, they can apply some pressure on those above them, and pull away from those below them.
A draw at Solitude will give them the opportunity to go top, but just get the win and worry about other results. It’s too early in the season to even think about other results, although you’re always grateful when they go your way.
It is worth remembering that Linfield lost on their last visit to Warrenpoint, in in their two visits in 2019-2020, needed an injury time goal to finally see off Warrenpoint in December before being made to work for a 2-1 win in February.
That game is sandwiched inbetween two home cup ties against Institute and Dundela which you would expect to get a win.
If they do that, they’ve got a bit of momentum.
Suddenly, those three drawn games are forming part of a long unbeaten start to the season.
It is interesting to note, that Linfield have kept clean sheets in six out of nine domestic games this season.
A good foundation to build on, even more impressive when you consider that the back four has been disrupted by injuries and players departing for other clubs.
You may have noticed me saying that if this match was postponed due to International Call-Ups, i’d go and see Harland and Wolff Welders playing at their new ground.
Well, the ground has been completed, but they couldn’t get the paperwork cleared in time to host a match this weekend, so it was a good job that this match wasn’t postponed.
More than likely, it’ll be November before I get a chance to visit.
My next ground to visit, Warrenpoint.
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