It wasn’t quite must win, but it was definitely do not lose, which Linfield managed on their trip to Larne in front of Sky Sports cameras in a game where both sides suffered A Case Of The Ex.
Of course, if they could win, it would have been quite the statement, pulling further clear of Larne (five points) and putting doubts in their title challenge, as there would be with back to back defeats against the two main challengers as the table stands.
Cliftonville’s game against Ballymena United would be a part of the story of this game, albeit, not a major part of the story.
Surprisingly, Cliftonville lost 1-0, meaning that Larne and Linfield wouldn’t be looking to keep in touch with them, but three points would see them overtake (in Linfield’s case) or cut the gap to one point (in Larne’s case)
Visits to Inver Park hadn’t been kind to Linfield since Larne were promoted to the Top Flight in 2019, with three defeats and a draw.
In what will be a busy Winter Schedule, the rescheduling of this game for TV coverage meant Linfield had a six day gap between games, which will feel luxurious in a few weeks time.
That allowed some players who might have been rested if this was played on a Saturday a chance to start, such as Matt Green, who almost put Linfield ahead after charging down a clearance from former Linfield keeper Rohan Ferguson, who was relieved to see it go behind the goal.
Ferguson was involved in the main talking point of the first-half when he took down Christy Manzinga in the full-back position as he raced on to a through ball. I had thought it was a yellow card when watching it in the stadium.
Looking back (I recorded the game on Sky Plus), it could be argued he was lucky to get away with a yellow. If it was a full-back making that tackle, it could easily have been a different outcome.
Larne’s attacks usually resulted in shots going wide or over, while Linfield weren’t even getting that far in a half where both defences were on top.
Linfield started the second-half well, having a lot of possession in Larne’s final third, but not being able to make the most of it in terms of creating a clear goalscoring opportunity;
It was Larne who had the first clear goalscoring oppotunity of the second-half when Andy Scott got in behind Linfield’s defence, cutting in from a wide position to fire a shot that was easily saved by Chris Johns. He really should have scored.
It was another excellent performance from Johns who has vastly improved after a difficult debut season at Windsor Park, bringing a calmness to the defence when needed.
Although, it would help if defenders would stop passing it back to him on his weaker right foot though.
Jordan Stewart and Niall Quinn were brought on as Linfield looked to take the lead.
However, that honour fell to Larne when Navid Nasseri was played in by David McDaid, and rounded Johns to fire it into the empty net to give Larne a lead on 79 minutes in a game that looked destined to finish 0-0.
It might have felt harsh on Linfield, but the truth was that they hadn’t had an attack of note.
The goal sparked Linfield into life, they had no choice but to. Jimmy Callacher had a header go wide from a set piece.
Billy Chadwick and Martin Donnelly then came on for Linfield, Linfield hoping he could have the same impact that Nasseri, the player who went the opposite way in that Summer swap deal.
With just three minutes remaining, Donnelly had an impact, when his free-kick was headed home.
As he was getting ready to take the free-kick, I was crossing my fingers that it would be Jimmy Callacher on the end of it.
Turns out, it was Jordan Stewart who got his head on it to make it 1-1, not someone you would have down for their aerial prowess, not that the Linfield fans who were celebrating cared.
A late equaliser away to Larne, having reviewed the tapes, was being celebrated like the winner in the European Cup Final,
Having worked their way back to getting a draw, the main thing was now not to lose this game. Linfield were able to see off any attacks from Larne, but unfortunately not to have on in injury time that they could make count.
The match finished 1-1. Not ideal when a win could have done so much damage to rivals at the top of the table.
But when you’re 1-0 down with a couple of minutes to go and not playing well, you’ll take it.
It is easy to forget, Linfield ended this Matchday one point closer to Cliftonville at the top of the table, only now trailing them by one point, nibbling away at their lead.
We don’t need to take a big bite of their lead, just a little nibble will do, a few of those will see Linfield overtake them.
Remember, we’re not yet at the point where everybody is scheduled to have played each other yet.
What it means for the table is that Linfield and Larne have Coleraine standing between them, as part of four clubs divided by three points.
Onto Saturday, and Linfield face Dungannon Swifts at home. You’d like to think we’d get three points, ideally stress-free, and put the pressure on the teams around us.
It is important to note that Crusaders will only be one point off the top of the table if their win their games in hand, so they have to be included in the title conversation.
Ticket details were announced for Northern Ireland v Lithuania. £40. It cost £30 to go to Lithuania in 2019. Just a bit of a cost barometer.
I’ll give this one a miss but keep an eye out for competitions on Social Media, which I imagine will now be plentiful.
I was going to give this campaign a miss and then renew for Euro 2024, but this pricing structure has made the decision for me.
Ian Baraclough has been given a new contract up to the end of Euro 2024. That is what we should be aiming for so might as well keep continuity going into it.
It was unfortunate that the Pot 2 team in our group was so strong.
Switzerland weren’t worried about Northern Ireland, they are trying to catch and overtake Italy above them.
If we were in Germany or Denmark’s group, where the Pot 1 team runs away with it and then the teams below them fight it out in a Mini League for 2nd, it could have been so much different, but we never stood a chance against Switzerland and Italy.
Finally, Linfield’s match against Ballymena, postponed twice due to International Call-Ups and then the NIFL Cup taking priority in the calendar will be played on 21st December.
That is handy for me, as I thought it was going to be played on Tuesday 16th November when I am in Brighton.
I might be going to an OMD concert that night, it would have made it hard to pay attention if i’m keeping an eye out for the Linfield score.