They’re all must-win at this time of year, but especially when results from other games on Friday night were processed.

If Linfield were hoping for favours, they were to be disappointed as Glentoran and Cliftonville were able to navigate potentially tricky away games on Friday night. For Linfield, this game was now about maintaining a lead rather than extending it.

Linfield had a lot of the ball in Glenavon’s half in the early minutes but weren’t going anywhere with it on a day when Linfield really needed an early goal.

Perhaps Linfield fans had been spoilt by 7-0 and 8-1 wins over Glenavon in recent years, but the key to those wins was getting an early goal and not giving Glenavon something to hold on to. We even saw that in the two meetings with Glenavon this season, a 3-0 win in November and a 0-0 draw in September underlining the importance of getting an early goal.

It looked like that would come when Kyle McClean got on the end of a cross, but with the ball behind him, he couldn’t adjust his body to drag his foot along the ground to make contact with the ball.

A Glenavon defender got there first and booted the ball out for a corner, an action that could have went awry with hilarious consequences, but unfortunately for Linfield, it didn’t.

Once Glenavon rode that out, they had some attacks of their own, causing Linfield moments of worry. Danny Wallace being denied by a tackle when he looked set to score being the best of them, as well as Niall Quinn having to make a clearance as the ball was driven across the six yard box.

Linfield responded with a Stephen Fallon shot which forced Glenavon’s keeper into a spectacular save as the sides went in level at half-time.

As the half neared it’s end, Robert Garrett had an opportunity across goal when he probably should have scored.

It was a half that saw Linfield have most of the ball but Glenavon be more effective with their use of the ball.

As the teams re-entered the pitch to start the second-half, Linfield fans were expecting their side to go straight at Glenavon from kick-off.

There was only 27 seconds to wait for the first attempt on goal, but it came for Glenavon, a header for Matthew Fitzpatrick that he really should have done better with.

Linfield responded immediately, and the ball fell perfectly for Kyle McClean to have a strike on goal, but Glenavon’s keeper was able to rush out and make himself big, Peter Schmeichel style, to block the shot.

Sam Roscoe and Ahmed Salam were then denied, and we were still nowhere near the hour mark.

Both teams had left the dressing room with the intention of going 1-0 up as soon as possible.

Time was still on Linfield’s side, but it was feeling like it was time for Chris McKee.

Linfield still need an experienced striker in this window, and to rely on McKee would be a big gamble.

His brief cameo against Ballymena United was promising, as is the fact that he scored twice in a reserve match against the same opponents. Not quite hit the ground running, but off to a good start.

That time came, as part of a double change, with him and Mike Newberry coming on for Niall Quinn and Ahmed Salam.

I assume that Quinn was injured as Newberry was warming up for a long time prior to coming on.

It looked like Glenavon were going to take the lead with a long range shot from Matthew Snoddy that had to be tipped over.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead when a cross from Jamie Mulgrew evaded evaded everybody it seemed until it landed perfectly for Christy Manzinga to fire in low under the keeper.

Who else did you expect to open the scoring?

Just seconds earlier, he was lying on the ground after a challenge, as Southstanders were screaming at him to get back on his feet and get on with the game.

Thankfully, he did, to devastating effect.

Before the ball went to Jamie Mulgrew, the ball was worked to him via some passing between Chris McKee and Kirk Millar, who seem to have worked out an understanding already.

For the fourth time in six matches, it was looking like 1-0 to the Linfield. Good for results but not good for the nerves. Only George Graham could enjoy it.

As said last week, scoring a goal isn’t a problem, it’s scoring goals.

As good as Linfield’s defensive record has been this season, and it has been excellent (famous last words), they won’t get away with relying on it all season.

Thankfully, on 88 minutes, there was a second goal for Linfield, when Jamie Mulgrew crossed for Chris McKee to head home from close range.

If you want to feel old, he was born in the week leading up to the 2002 Irish Cup Final.

And finally, the home fans could relax and enjoy the one minute plus injury time that remained with the points in the bag.

Really got to enjoy those four minutes.

It was another impressive cameo from McKee who offers something different to Linfield, both up front and out wide if Christy Manzinga moves out there.

As said previously, there is a potential for a bloodbath at the top of the table with the Top 6 playing each other.

It looks like this was the weekend when it became a three horse race with Larne and Crusaders now out of it.

Larne were probably out before this weekend but you could have made a case for Crusaders. Three teams aren’t above them aren’t going to implode at the same time.

Things now get tasty for Linfield, with two road trips, first to Solitude to take on Cliftonville.

What a boost it would be to get the three points and leave Cliftonville gasping for air in the title race.

As Linfield discovered on Friday night, they can’t rely on others, they just have to go out and help themselves.

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After a brief dalliance with Harland and Wolff Welders (It was their new ground that did it and nothing more) last weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for my first visit of 2022 to see Linfield take on Ballymena United there for the second time in just under a month.

That last meeting, in the week leading up to Christmas, offered Linfield the chance to go top for the first time this season.

Three weeks later, Linfield were still top, but they had the opportunity to extend their lead and have a bit of breathing space, albeit deceptively and temporary due to the match between Cliftonville and Glentoran being put back to Monday night for broadcast on Sky Sports.

As a result, this game was massive for Linfield, an opportunity to put pressure on their two biggest rivals. As long as Linfield won, it didn’t matter what the result at Solitude ends up.

A draw would be perfect, but you could live with one side winning as a gap would start to emerge with the team that loses.

Of course, all of this dependent on Linfield winning this game first of course.

Two changes out wide for Linfield with Ahmed Salam and Martin Donnelly coming in for Jordan Stewart and Kirk Millar as Linfield continued with 4-3-3/4-5-1 rather than 4-2-3-1.

There were striking options on the bench, but not a lot of experience, with Ethan Devine, who scored on his debut in the Irish Cup the previous week being joined by Andrew Clarke and new loan signing Chris McKee.

Linfield started the game camped in Ballymena’s half, the best opportunity coming when Stephen Fallon was able to cut in and curl wide off a defender.

Thankfully, there wasn’t long to wait for a breakthrough, just after the quarter hour.

Who do you think scored it?

Of course, it was Christy Manzinga.

His original shot was blocked but Ballymena couldn’t clear it, falling for a Linfield player every time, before Niall Quinn teed up Manzinga to fire home from outside the box, nonchalantly celebrating with a non celebration celebration, because it was almost a mundane goal by his standards.

A vital goal, to get an early breakthrough against traditionally stubborn opponents. Now Linfield had to kick on.

They almost did that when Manzinga was played through on goal, in a move similar to his goal against Warrenpoint Town in December.

To the shock of everybody in Windsor Park, this move didn’t result in a goal, as Ballymena’s keeper was able to get a hand on the ball as Manzinga looked to round him.

The resulting incident saw a free-kick to Linfield after the ball fell to a Linfield player outside the box, who was fouled as he looked to shoot. Ballymena’s keeper was forced into a save from the resulting free-kick from Martin Donnelly.

A satisfactory half from Linfield, the only problem was not getting a second goal, especially with drawn home games after going 1-0 up against Warrenpoint Town and Glentoran still a recent memory.

Getting a second goal as been problematic for Linfield in recent weeks, apart from against Dungannon Swifts and Oxford Sunnyside. They have been the only games since the trip to Coleraine in early December where Linfield have scored two or more.

Christy Manzinga then made space for himself before shooting over, before a bizarre incident where a cross was set up perfectly for him to volley home. only for him to fire the ball across the penalty, to the bemusement of all in Windsor Park.

In search of a second goal, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Kirk Millar and Chris McKee, a debut for McKee, for Salam and Donnelly.

It looked like McKee and Millar had built up an understanding while warming up, basically an arrangement where McKee gives the ball to Millar and then demands the ball back straight away.

I know i’ve been bemoaning the lack of an experienced striker, but I was impressed with McKee’s appearance on Saturday. He made good runs, made himself available and wasn’t afraid when he had the ball.

It looked like he was going to mark his debut with a goal when he got on the end of a cross but headed over from close range.

As the game entered it’s final stages, Linfield looked like they were going to get over the line despite the lack of a second goal.

That almost proved costly with 92 minutes on the clock when Niall Quinn had to get his body in the way of a goalbound Ballymena shot from just over six yards out, with Kirk Millar also having to help out from the follow-up.

Eventually, Jamie Mulgrew was able to run away with the ball before being fouled, with just fifty seconds left on the clock.

Linfield were able to see out those fifty seconds and get the three points.

Elsewhere, Larne surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Dungannon Swifts, while Crusaders were able to keep in touch with a 1-0 win at Warrenpoint Town.

You could probably rule Larne out of the title race. It might seem premature, but it’s hard to make a case as to why they are in it

Up next, is a home match against Glenavon. Hopefully, they’ll be going into that game with a couple of results going in their favour on Friday night.

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LARNE 1-0 LINFIELD 11.1.2022

It was definitely the first of three. Meetings between Linfield and Larne over the next month. Linfield were hoping it would be the first of three, as in trophies this season. Instead, it ended up being the second of two (successive County Antrim Shields for Larne) and seventh in fourteen for Linfield (County Antrim Shield Final defeats).

The venue, was Seaview. A surprise perhaps. The more obvious ones would have been The Oval or Ballymena Showgrounds. However, Ballymena Showgrounds was unavailable for this game.

Larne would have been happy with this, returning to the venue they won the trophy at last season, although they would be playing in front of a crowd this time.

Linfield had also won the County Antrim Shield at this venue, but you have to go back to 2006 for it. Their only other wins in the competition since then, in 2014 and 2017 were both in Ballymena. Perhaps they should have asked for the game to be rearranged for a date when Ballymena Showgrounds is available.

Curiously, if you include the 2017 Charity Shield, David Healy was hoping this would be the seventh different venue he has won a trophy at as Linfield Manager, joining Ballymena Showgrounds, Solitude, Windsor Park, The Oval, Coleraine Showgrounds and Mourneview Park on the list.

In terms of atmosphere, Seaview would always be the best ground in this regard, a smaller ground where fans are closer to the pitch.

Having rested players in previous rounds, Linfield went strong for the Final, meaning that David Walsh missed out in goal despite his penalty saving in the Semi-Final.

With Trai Hume now gone to Sunderland, there was an appearance at right-back for Niall Quinn. Not sure about that, he’s not a right-back, especially when Mike Newberry was on the bench. It feels like shoehorning players in instead of playing them in their proper positions.

Inside ten seconds, Linfield had conceded a corner. The next twenty seconds were a lot better, winning the ball back and going straight back on the attack.

Jamie Mulgrew ran with the ball and found space, thinking why not, his long range show as tipped over by Rohan Ferguson, although for some reason the Officials awarded a goal kick.

Linfield were hoping to replicate their fast start to last season’s Irish Cup Final.

That didn’t materialise as Larne found their way back into the game, with Chris Johns forced into a save from a low shot before a header from a set piece hit the post.

The game was now end to end. For Linfield, Jordan Stewart had a shot go just wide while Christy Manzinga while Larne had a goal disallowed.

Although, Linfield weren’t helping themselves at times with some defensive indecisiveness, especially against a side like Larne who don’t give you a minute.

Just before the hour, it looked like Linfield were going to get the breakthrough when Christy Manzinga, making a welcome return after injury, was played in to a shooting position but he scuffed his effort wide.

That was much to the relief of a Larne defender who did an airshot when trying to clear it. If he did make contact with the ball, he probably would have put it into his own net.

Even with only an hour played, it was obvious this was only going to be a 1-0 game. The question was, who was going to get it?

Larne sent on new signing Lee Bonis in search of that goal, just two days after his big money move from Portadown.

Matthew Clarke had a spectacular scissor kick go just over the bar, having had a shot blocked minutes earlier as Linfield looked for a decisive opener.

Larne replied with a shot from Lee Jarvis being saved.

With just over ten minutes to go, Larne took the lead with a header from Tomas Cosgrove. A vital lead in a game which didn’t look like it was going to provide many goals despite both teams efforts.

Ten minutes wasn’t a lot of time to hold out, but it was enough time for Linfield to get an equaliser.

David Healy responded by turning to his bench, bringing on Martin Donnelly and Ahmed Salam for Matthew Clarke and Kyle McClean, meaning that McClean wouldn’t be getting a chance to recreate his last minute heroics of the Semi-Final.

Suddenly, Larne’s players were suffering from cramp. They weren’t when it was 0-0.

Martin Donnelly had special motivation to get Linfield back into the game, as if he could, he would be winning the County Antrim Shield with a fourth different club (Crusaders 2009-2010, Cliftonville 2011-2012 and Larne 2020-2021 being the others) which I presume would be a unique record.

He was involved in Linfield’s best chance of an equaliser when he was played in, forcing Rohan Fergsuon to rush out and deny him, the ball falling to Jimmy Callacher, whose goalbound effort had to be headed off the line at the expense of a corner.

Andrew Clarke then entered the action as Linfield put on more attackers in search of an equaliser.

It was not to be, as Larne were able to hold out and win the County Antrim Shield for a second successive season.

The night got worse for Linfield as they finished the match with ten men after Jordan Stewart had to be stretchered off after a bad injury.

Thankfully, the early diagnosis isn’t as bad as feared, but he will be missing for a while.

An even game, Larne got the goal and Linfield didn’t. Linfield will and have played worse and won. Onto Saturday.

However, it was a game that emphasised the need to dip into the Transfer Market this month. An experienced striker to come off the bench and occasionally start, a defender to boost numbers and now a winger to cover for Jordan Stewart.

As disappointing as this result was, it will be forgotten about very quickly with a win over Ballymena United the following Saturday which would see Linfield open up a gap at the top of the table and then put their feet up while Cliftonville and Glentoran play each other on Sky on Monday night to keep pace.

It’s been a busy week with Matthew Clarke being given a two game ban for “Provoking the general public”. How horrific. At least he didn’t punch a corner flag. The club have appealed it so he should be able to play while that appeal is being heard.

What a slippery can of worms that has been opened. There’ll be teams going into matches in March with ten players banned if this is the benchmark.

The match against Ballymena is massive. Looking at January’s fixture list (and early February), teams in the Top 6 seem to be playing each other in every matchday. There’s the potential for a bloodbath, but also for Linfield to pull away if they keep their nerves.

Elsewhere, it has been announced that Northern Ireland will play Hungary at home in a friendly in March. More than likely giving this a miss.

It’s only a friendly and i’ve seen Hungary twice before. Not worth risking being around The Rugby Crowd (AKA, Pissed By Six Brigade) for.

I’ll hopefully be back for the Nations League games in June.

Ticket prices for the League Cup Final were also announced, although Linfield won’t be in it. Only a tenner, good to see. Hopefully, sensible pricing structures will be in place for the Irish Cup Final.

Oh, and that Linfield are in it.

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Regular readers will know I love visiting football grounds, especially ones i’ve never been to. Over the past two years, I haven’t had a chance to because of you know what limiting my travel opportunities.

So, when the opportunity to visit a newly built football ground, and all I had to do was travel across Belfast, came up, it was too good to be true.

It was an opportunity I thought i’d never have. Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic.

You see, every time I had a free Saturday since it opened in October due to Linfield’s match being moved for live broadcast, Harland and Wolff Welders were always playing away from home. So frustrating.

Of course, Linfield were playing at the same time, but with a match against Oxford Sunnyside expected to be a non event (It was, eventually, after a lot of toiling), I could be forgiven for making the most of Harland and Wolff Welders getting a home draw in the 5th Round of the Irish Cup.

I was planning to get the train over but just as I was leaving the house my dad was passing and offered me a lift. Would have been rude not to take it up. He didn’t actually go into the game, but gave the new ground his approval from the outside.

It had a lot of bicycle parking spaces, which gets a thumbs up from me.

There are also a lot of car parking spaces available for fans attending, which is handy as there isn’t a lot of on street parking.

If you are so inclined, there is a bar at the back of the main stand behind the goal. There is another bar for Sponsors and Directors known as the Fred Magee Lounge, but the signage may need an update as, as of last week, he is now known as Fred Magee MBE.

One big stand for sitting if you wish, two smaller ones and one terraced stand as well as plenty of standing area along the side of the pitch, it’s a decent ground for Irish League football. The spatiousness (is that even a word?) will come in handy if Linfield ever make a competitive visit there.

Highlight of the day was walking past Glenn Ferguson, who was watching the game.

In the build-up to their opening game at Blanchflower Park, the club released a video showing off the facilities.

The visitors were Annagh United, best known for beating a Glentoran side featuring Nacho Novo in the League Cup in 2016, a result which saw the end of Alan Kernaghan’s reign at The Oval.

It’s not cup shocks against Glentoran that Annagh want, it’s League matches against them, which could be a possibility next season, with Annagh currently 3rd, six points behind leaders Newry City with a game in hand, and Harland and Wolff Welders a further six points behind in 6th.

No chance of a giantkilling here, mainly due to both teams being in the same division and relatively close to each other.

Naturally, there would be some relatively familiar names in both teams. Michael McLellan, briefly of Linfield in 2016, Darren Murray, of various clubs, Scott Davidson, who scored in the 2011 League Cup Final for Distillery and Ben McAuley, formerly of Ballymena United lining up for Welders. Annagh had Niall Henderson, an Irish Cup winner with Glentoran in 2015 lining up for them.

The first-half was mostly even, defences on top.

Of what chances there were, Welders keeper had to stretch to tip a shot over while Darren Murray headed just wide from a cross.

It was hard to see where a goal was coming from, then out of nowhere, Ruari McDonald flicked home a cross to put Annagh 1-0 up.

And then, almost another goal, as Darren Murray headed off the post immediately, agonisingly close to an equaliser.

1-0 down at half-time, Welders came out intent on equalising and had to wait until just before the hour when Michael McLellan got in behind Annagh’s defence, turning inside his man to create a shooting opportunity for himself and then firing the ball home to make it 1-1.

A game that had been even so far was now turning in Harland and Wolff’s favour, as they put pressure on Annagh’s goal. The best effort was a goalbound shot being cleared off the line.

Crosses were particularly problematic for Annagh, often evading the keeper and defender but unfortunately for The Welders, their attackers were never able to get a clear header to score, often going agonisingly wide.

With the weather getting a bit chilly, I was hoping for this game to be settled inside 90 minutes. Can’t say I was looking forward to extra-time.

Just as when I went to see Dunfermline Athletic take on Dundee in the Scottish League Cup in 2015, I was spared that by the game being settled in injury time.

The plot twist, was that the goal came against the run of play to Annagh, when a cross fell perfectly for Niall Henderson to set himself up to smash home from close range and win the game.

Even though there was still some time left for an equaliser, you just felt it wouldn’t come, and so it proved as Annagh made it through to the next round.

Their prize, an away tie against Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield meanwhile, were eventually winning 4-0 against Oxford Sunnyside, with a debut goal for Ethan Devine, just signed from Knockbreda.

I don’t know much about him, but i’d be hoping for a more experienced striker to be signed alongside him for the run-in. Still, good to see him and Andrew Clarke getting on the scoresheet.

One more defender to bolster numbers would be needed now that Trai Hume has moved to Sunderland.

A great move for him, though Sunderland signing Northern Ireland players leaves me conflicted as I am enjoying them languishing in the lower leagues.

He brings the ex Linfield contingent on Wearside to two alongside Carl Winchester. It would have been three if Conor McLaughlin hadn’t left in the Summer.

Linfield’s prize is a trip to Larne, meaning they will face Larne twice and Glentoran in the space of seven days. Bring it on.

It is being rumoured of a UK and Ireland bid for Euro 2028. I don’t know why England doesn’t just bid on it’s own. Still, at least it will fill up some pages on slow news day with reports of a 700,000 capacity stadium to be built in Belfast in order to host Slovenia v North Macedonia.

So, overall, it was great to be groundhopping again, it is a perfect ground for Irish League football, something for everybody depending on how you like to watch football. I would be very excited if Linfield were to play a competitive game here at some point in the future.

Definitely on my pre-season wishlist, though obviously not taking over my top two of Bray and Stranraer away.

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So, I have one last day off over the Christmas/New Year Period, and I have two options.

Do I have a lie-in or do I get up early to walk up Cavehill?

Of course I got up early to walk up Cavehill.

I had eleven days off over Christmas if you include Public Holidays and Weekends, but didn’t get out on many walks.

The weather was crap. No point going out for a hillwalk in the rain.

I had quite a few of those mornings where you stare out the window waiting for the rain to stop and then grabbing the bike for a quick cycle as soon as it stops. That was the height of my conscious physical activity of Christmas/New Year. Obviously, i’d done a lot of subconscious activity walking about doing everyday things.

It was a bit frustrating, just as the same time last year, when I had planned on filling every available day with a hillwalk, but it was not to be.

This was my first visit to Cavehill in two months, my longest gap since my first visit in late 2019.

Ok, this might sound odd, but just go with it. I don’t usually go out for a cycle or a hillwalk on a Saturday morning when i’m going to a football match that afternoon.

That’s because I usually put my feet up when I go home and relax, meaning the 3pm kick-off time then becomes a struggle. Trust me.

As a result of actually spending my Saturday afternoons watching football, I haven’t been out for a hillwalk on a Saturday morning for a while.

Add into that, any Saturday i’ve been free, the weather has been crap.

That is basically how I haven’t been to Cavehill for two months. Blame it on crap weather and watching football.

When I talk about crap weather, it’s not just rain. It’s dull skies that don’t really help for good photos, and going for a walk and not taking photos feels like a waste of time.

Talking of time, I left the house just after 8.30am. The lack of traffic was sadly balanced out by all the lights being against me. An absolutely incredible run of red lights in a row.

Despite that hold up, I arrived just before 9am. Seeing a few cars scattered on Innisfayle Park made me worry that the car park was already full, but thankfully, it turned out to be eager walkers who arrived before the gates opened at 7.30am.

I can report, that three days into 2022, the line markings for parking bays at Cavehill are still vague.

Come on Belfast City Council, how hard is it to buy some white paint?

With there being some rain in the previous few days, it was no surprise that is was quite mucky, so I found myself having to psyche myself up a few times to leap over a puddle.

And I found myself having to watch my footsteps at times, mostly on the way down, so that I didn’t slip and slide all over the place.

There was also some interesting developments in the shape of a new mountain bike trail currently being piloted.

On my way up, I managed to get some nice photos of the sunrise, although I ended up wishing I had got up earlier so that the same photo opportunities would be there the higher I got.

I didn’t deviate from my usual route, up to McArt’s Fort, have a wee look around Belfast and then back.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be standing too close to the edge due to it being windy, and cold. Thankfully, I had layers, but still, brrr.

I did manage one other hillwalk when I was off, as I went up to Blackmountain the previous Thursday. The weather was dull and dark, so I didn’t bother taking photos, which is why there is no blog.

Thankfully, it was dry, which is the main thing.

I’ve been up Blackmountain in the rain, and it’s not a nice place to be when it rains. It has happened to me, and there is nowhere to shelter.

It was great to get back up Blackmountain after only visiting twice during 2021. You couldn’t keep me away from it towards the end of 2020.

I did go one Saturday morning in January and it was rammed, which put me off going on a weekend. Then, when I was using up Annual Leave, I ended up trying out other walks.

As is customary, I made a donation to the National Trust in exchange from a beverage. As it was Christmas, I treated myself to a hot chocolate instead of the usual cup of tea. I’m so extravagant, i’m out of control.

Part of the Christmas decorations saw a collage of images on the wall of the cafe titled Dogs Of Divis.

Simple really, you let them take a photo of your dog if you’ve taken it with you, and they print it off and include it on a collage on the wall.

Unsurprisingly, they were all good dogs. 13/10, would pet.

Genuinely reckon if there were Social Media accounts based on Dogs Of Divis, they would be the most followed accounts on the web.

For the record, Cavehill was holding it’s own in terms of good dogs this morning.

While I was out, ITV were broadcasting Britain’s Favourite Walks : Top 100, hosted by Julia Bradbury and Ore Oduba. If you have Sky Q, you should be able to download it. It’s a repeat of a show originally broadcast about two or three years ago.

Cavehill is included on the list, one of four that I have done alongside Arthur’s Seat, Beachy Head and Derry’s Walls. Just another 96 to go.

So, a first walk of 2022 is done, i’m sure i’ll have more over the next 362 days.

On the wishlist for this year that I hope to do at some point are Belvoir Park Forest, Blackhead Path, Blackmountain, Colin Glen Forest Park, Cregagh Glen, Giant’s Ring, North Down Coastal Path and Scrabo Country Park

I’ve no travel whatsoever booked, so we’ll just have to wait and see what other walking adventures I have.

Photo Album

Cavehill – October 2021

Cavehill – July 2021

Cavehill – April 2021

Cavehill – March 2021

Cavehill – January 2021

Cavehill – November 2020

Cavehill – October 2020

Cavehill – August 2020

Cavehill – June 2020

Cavehill – February 2020

Cavehill – November 2019


New Year’s Day, but Linfield weren’t in the mood for resolutions, they want to continue winning trophies.

They ended 2021 top of the table but only on goal difference. Having an earlier kick-off meant a win would give them a three point lead over Glentoran, a chance to achieve, albeit briefly, what they wanted to do five days previously.

Curiously, this match kicked off at 2.57pm. That curiousity would become even more curious within a few minutes.

For Linfield fans, this would be their first visit to Stangmore Park since October 2019, with Linfield’s only visit to Dungannon since then was behind closed doors.

That day, it was a nice sunny day despite the time of year and a win with four goals. A repeat would have been nice. In the morning, we were looking set for a repeat of the weather, before it took a bit of a turn as kick-off approached.

Hopefully, that would be the only unexpected turn of the day.

As well as two points dropped on Boxing Day, there were two players leaving the game early due to injury. Neither of them, Jimmy Callacher and Christy Manzinga, were able to take part on this game, their places being taken by Sam Roscoe and Andrew Clarke, with Clarke being the only available striker at the club, with the departure of Matt Green being confirmed in midweek.

With their main striker missing, questions would be asked of Linfield where the goals would be coming from?

There wouldn’t be long to wait for an answer as Kirk Millar put them 1-0 with a long range shot that hit the stanchion and go out back into play. Thankfully, there was no controversy as the goal was rightly given.

A perfect start for Linfield, an early breakthrough against opponents who were hoping to frustrate.

It was a perfect start that would be undone straight away, when Darragh McBrien was able to walk through Linfield’s defence and fire home.

There was just over two minutes on the clock when the ball hit the back of the net. Combined with the match kicking off at 2.57pm, the score was 1-1 before the scheduled kick-off time. It looked like both defences had been caught out by the early start.

We were all set for a 45-45 draw at this rate.

For a brief glorious moment, my football watching stats for 2022 were a goal every minute. I should have just walked out and not attended another match until 2023.

There wouldn’t be calm, just relative calm. Fans had to wait a whopping seven minutes for the next goal.

Naturally, even at this early stage, there were fears that this would be another Warrenpoint.

Thankfully, those fears were put to bed on nine minutes when Chris Shields lined up a shot. Having already seen a team-mate score from range, he obviously thought to himself, why not?

Within seconds, the ball had hit the back of the net for his first Linfield goal from open play, every bit as important as the penalties he had scored.

A few minutes later, Jordan Stewart headed home from close range to make it 3-1 despite the attempts of Dungannon’s keeper to claw the ball out.

There was a brief wait for confirmation that it was a goal. I had an excellent view and the ball did cross the line.

Four goals in the opening twelve minutes. Hope nobody turned up late.

Linfield were now in control, but that didn’t stop Dungannon going at them, a looping header from a free-kick going just over causing a moment of concern.

Unsurprisingly, after a frantic start, the game began to meander with Linfield now in control.

If it got to 4-1, that would have been the three points in the bag.

Despite only a two goal cushion, Chris Shields was replaced at half-time by Kyle McClean as a precaution.

The three goal lead that Linfield were looking for didn’t take long in coming, with Trai Hume heading home from a corner, just over a minute into the second-half. Dungannon being undone by an early goal.

Thankfully, this time there was no instant response from Dungannon.

Soon afterwards, Jamie Mulgrew curled an effort just wide as Linfield were now looking to boost their goal difference with the game won.

They had every need to with such a slender lead over Glentoran at kick-off of just three goals.

With such a commanding lead, Linfield also had the opportunity to make some substitutions.

Mike Newberry headed home to make it 5-1 as the game started to meander. Probably just as much to do with a downpour now taking place. No point doing anything silly in those conditions.

Ahmed Salam thought he made it 6-1 in injury time but his header was cleared off the line by Dungannon’s keeper. I had a good view of it but it was inconclusive.

Shortly after, it was 6-1 to Linfield from a corner. The goal has been credited to Ahmed Salam but it looked like an own goal by Dungannon’s keeper trying to punch the ball away.

As there is no Dubious Goals Committe, if a striker shouts loud enough, he gets it.

Salam wasn’t exactly shouting for it, but I doubt he’ll correct anybody. It didn’t matter, it was now 6-1 to Linfield.

That’s how it finished, with Linfield now having a three point lead over Glentoran.

However, it’s not Glentoran they should be worried about, it’s Cliftonville who are now their biggest challengers, being two points behind with a game in hand, against Crusaders on Tuesday night.

Crusaders, ridiculously, kicked off knowing if they won their games in hand they would only be five points off the top.

Make that seven, as they were held to a draw by Carrick Rangers.

As Linfield fans were tucking into their dinner after making it home, Glentoran were losing 3-2 to Larne, meaning that three point lead is maintained. Larne remain eight points behind. Not vast, but still some breathing space and a reason why if you had to choose a winner, it would be Larne.

Next Saturday, is the Irish Cup, at home to Oxford Sunnyside.

I would expect this to be a non event and an easy win for Linfield, but thanks to the defeat to QUB in 2020, there is still that element of fear when facing a lower league team.

I’ll be giving that game a miss but I will be heading across Belfast to Blanchflower Park to see Harland and Wolff Welders take on Annagh United, my first visit to the newly built stadium.

I hope.

My next Linfield match is scheduled to be the County Antrim Shield Final against Larne at Seaview on 11th January.

As yet, there are no tickets on sale yet. Presumably, because they are waiting for the outcome of the Assembley Executive Update, scheduled for Thursday 6th January.

Sadly, that’s where we’re at regarding attending football matches, literally taking it one game at a time.

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