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.
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.