This was a game that had a delayed start, not once but twice. First, the kick-off was put back to 3.10pm due to farcical scenes outside the ground as a lack of scanners saw a queue of Linfield fans last to what felt like Royal Avenue waiting to get in. Then, as 3.10pm approached and the teams were on the pitch, the Referee was changing his shirt. Eventually, when the game started, Linfield never got going.
Linfield had went into this game on the back of a two game winless run on the road and were looking to keep the pressure on Cliftonville at the top.
Despite kicking off in 6th, Crusaders could argue they were in a false position, as wins in their games in hand could see them only four points off the top.
Having lost their most recent outing to Larne, after defeats to Linfield and Coleraine, it meant that nobody in the Top 6 had lost more. In fact, they had lost the same amount of games as Linfield, Larne and Cliftonville combined.
Those stats suggested they usually lose to the better teams in the League, Linfield had to add further evidence to this theory.
It was Crusaders who had the first chance of the game when Ben Kennedy had a free-kick saved by Chris Johns, who was able to get up quickly to make himself big to stop Paul Heatley from the follow-up.
Josh Robinson then headed into an advertising hoarding from close range (albeit a wide angle) from a free-kick.
Most of Linfield’s attacks were being frustrated when they reached the final third. You did sense that there were goals in it for Linfield if they really went for Crusaders.
They might even have been presented with one, as Crusaders defenders were usually unsure what to do with the ball whenever they had it. A bit of pressure might have brought rewards.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield got the breakthrough with their first real moment of attacking quality. Billy Chadwick was found at the edge of the box. The was a slight opening for him to shoot, but with a crowd of defenders around him, he elected to pass it to Christy Manzinga who was free on the left, and curled the ball into the back of the net.
Linfield had a half-time lead, and a great platform to build on. As long as they didn’t do anything stupid in the second-half.
There was a whole lot of stupid in the second-half.
Straight from the restart Linfield weren’t at it, allowing themselves to be camped in their defensive third too easily.
It didn’t take long for Crusaders to be presented with an opportunity to equalise when Chris Shields fouled Adam Leckey in the penalty area.
Thankfully, Linfield were given an escape when Ben Kennedy’s penalty was chipped onto the top of the crossbar.
That should have been a wake-up call for Linfield, and the prompt for them to let Crusaders know that this was not their day, it was Linfield’s day.
The respite was only brief, as within a minute, Crusaders were level with the most Crusaders goal imaginable.
A clearance was headed forty yards in behind Linfield’s defence and fell perfectly for Paul Heatley to smash home from close range. It was such a poor goal to concede.
And yet, it still didn’t act as a wake-up call for Linfield.
Soon after, a curling effort from Jordan Forsythe hit the post and rolled along the six yard box, thankfully, nobody was there to follow up and put it into the empty net.
Linfield eventually responded when a cross fell to Matthew Clarke, but his stretched effort was blocked by a Crusaders player.
The game was now even and up for grabs, and time was running out for either side to grab it.
Unfortunately, it would be Crusaders who got that goal, with ten minutes to go as Sam Roscoe made a mess of header back to Chris Johns, falling perfectly for Ben Kennedy to knock the ball over him into the net.
It was such a bad goal to concede, even more so that defence had been Linfield’s strongest point this season.
The goal spurred Linfield into life, but there wasn’t a lot of time to make the most of it.
Now they were camped in Crusaders half, and Matt Green was now introduced to the game. Too late in my opinion.
When the game was 1-1, a lot of the ball was in the air, it was perfect for him to add a bit of physical presence.
He was then joined in the action by Martin Donnelly, as Linfield looked to get as many attacking players on the pitch.
It looked like it might get a reward when a corner fell to Jordan Stewart in the penalty area, but his volley hit the sidenetting.
From where I was, at the side of the pitch, it looked it was in, and those around me were about to start celebrating until they realised.
That would be the last kick of the game as Linfield suffered their first League defeat of the season, just days after their first domestic defeat.
Elsewhere in the League, there were wins for Glentoran, Cliftonville, Larne and Coleraine.
It wasn’t yet a crisis, but now the game against Cliftonville was a must-win game, this early in the season. The gap was already nine points, albeit Linfield having a game in hand, it simply couldn’t get any bigger.
Now it was a case of do not lose. That didn’t even bear thinking about.
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