LINFIELD 2-0 GLENAVON 22.1.2022

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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