If, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in Politics, then the same (well, eight days) can be said about Football as Linfield regained top spot in the Irish League.

It is easy to moan about scraping a 1-0 win against Portadown, but if Glentoran had managed it ten days previously, they’d be sitting two points clear at the top of the table.

Glentoran’s visit to Larne on the Friday night was always going to be part of the narrative of this game.

Honestly, i’d expected Linfield’s task would be to keep up with Glentoran. I’d hoped it would be cutting the gap. The chance to overtake them provided by Larne’s win was most welcome.

Although, Linfield could have been kicking off this game in 3rd, if Cliftonville had beaten Dungannon Swifts, but that match was postponed, meaning that they have two games that need rearranged, the other being a match against Warrenpoint Town on the week of the League Cup Final.

There was no Christy Manzinga in the starting eleven for Linfield, giving Eetu Vertainen a first start alongside Chris McKee as people were trying to work out the formation which turned out to be 3-5-2 with Jake Hastie as wing-back in the absence of a recognised left-back.

Told you we should have given Ryan McGivern a new contract.

It took just sixteen seconds for Hastie to be involved, finding himself free in a crossing position but the ball went out for a goal kick.

Linfield were getting a lot of joy out left, so it was no surprise they were looking to exploit that, with Hastie and Jordan Stewart having most of the ball in the early stages trying to work an opening as the game started to resemble Attack v Defence.

Chris Shields flicked an effort wide from a corner while Chris McKee had an effort go wide as Linfield searched for an opener.

On a day like this, getting a 1-0 lead as soon as possible would be key, although it was still too early to start panicking that this would be a repeat of the 1-1 draw at Windsor Park in 2017 (five years and two days ago)

Thankfully, the goal came, when Jake Hastie crossed the ball into what Commentators call “The corridor of uncertainty” and the ball ending up in the back of the net.

Who of? was the question, as Chris McKee and Michael Ruddy went for the ball with Jethren Barr, with some media outlets giving it as an own goal before TV footage confirmed it was McKee.

McKee certainly celebrated it as if it was his goal, sending out a pre-emptive message to the Dubious Goals Committee.

Now that Linfield had the lead, they had to push on and get a second to kill the game.

It looked like that was going to come when a neat passing move saw Eetu Vertainen be set up to fire home, only for a Portadown defender to block him and deny him a Goal Of The Season contender.

1-0 at half-time, a satisfactory 45 minutes for Linfield.

The need for a second goal became more and more emphasised when Portadown began to cross the halfway line in the second-half, with Adam Salley having an effort go over.

Despite not creating a clear opportunity, Portadown were almost gifted a goal when a backheader from Jimmy Callacher looked to have left Chris Johns stranded, but in truth, Johns claimed it easily, the view from the opposite side of the ground made it look worse than it actually was.

Callacher was having a frustrating day at the other end, loitering with intent at set pieces but often finding himself frustrated with the outcome.

Jake Hastie was taking most of them, usually firing the ball into the six yard box or penalty spot, forcing Portadown to worry a lot.

Ironically though, it was a Jordan Stewart corner that almost brought a second goal, with a Stephen Fallon header just going wide.

Ethan Devine then came on for Eetu Vertainen, before a double change saw Ahmed Salam and Kieron Evans come on for Chris McKee and Jake Hastie.

Evans showed some decent touches in his brief cameo.

Kyle McClean had an even briefer cameo, coming on in injury time for Jordan Stewart as Linfield looked to see out the win.

With five minutes of injury time indicated, the final minutes were going to be nervous for Linfield, although they will have been used to on visits to Windsor Park for League matches since the start of November, with all bar one game being a one goal win for Linfield or a draw, meaning the game was up for grabs in the final minutes.

The only two goal was was secured with a goal in the last five minutes. A whopping five minutes of relaxation.

It looked like Linfield might get a second goal when Ethan Devine had a shooting chance, but he dragged his shot wide because the Quadrant inbetween the North and Railway Stands.

If you can’t score, that’s the best place to miss, denying Portadown an opportunity to get the game restarted as soon as possible.

There would be no late scare for Linfield seeing the game out for a 1-0 win, a welcome clean sheet after five games without one.

Elsewhere, Crusaders beat Carrick Rangers, meaning they will be seven points off the top if they win their game in hand. Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville just can’t seem to get rid of them.

I got my Northern Ireland Campaign Card sorted for the Euro 2024 and UEFA Nations League games, and i’ve moved from The Kop to the Railway Stand as The Kop has gone “A bit Holyland”.

I don’t want to be that guy, but i’m right. Being so pissed at 6pm you can barely walk is embarrassing, and i’m fed up of not being able to breathe while watching the game due to cigarette and vape smoke.

That is despite having a signposted and dedicated area for their trampy lifestyle choice.

Don’t give me “Oh, but they’re sick and they can’t help it”. Bullshit. They’re not, and they can get help.

It takes a special kind of scumbag to have people go out of their way and accommodate them, and then turn around and say it’s not good enough.

Being in the Railway Stand also means I won’t have to walk all the way to Boucher Road to get in, which is handy.

One of those games might be against Estonia, where I am considering visiting in May, flying from Dublin. Just looking at it at the moment, also try to take in a football match of one of the Tallin teams. We shall see.

To be honest, it’s not Covid 19 that is the worry there, it’s that Estonia is “A bit close to the action” if it all kicks off in Eastern Europe.

Also celebrating a victory was the UK, who scored a resounding 20-0 win over Covid with all twenty goals coming from Boris Johnson, every one of them he got the ball and skinned their entire team.

As a responsible adult, I feel that I should speak up and say a few things.

Covid is not over, it’s just that your Government has decided to stop pretending to give a shit.

Language is so important, but let me spell it out. Being politely asked to wear a mask when going into a shop is not, and I repeat, IS NOT A FUCKING RESTRICTION.

Being asked to isolate when you have an infections virus, IS NOT A FUCKING RESTRICTION.

Bill Bailey summed it up perfectly with his routine about how the Nazis loved mildly inconveniencing people.

Softest lockdown in Europe, and people still felt they were oppressed.

There were a lot of media outlets who had the brass neck to get outraged at events at Wembley in July.

When you spent the early months of 2021 pushing a narrative of “We’re all going to go mad when this is over” then come early summer run weeks of headlines of “Freedom Day”, that is what you get.

That is why language is so important.

This is the worst possible time of the Pandemic, the absolute worst in society have been egged on and emboldened to believe they can behave how they feel, leaving everybody else to pick up the pieces.

Let us never forget, that this country as a collective, told old and vulnerable people to fuck off and die because The Court Of Popular Opinion found them guilty of closing pubs.

We are a country paralysed by our obsession with Pubs and War, people giving more of a shit about closed pubs and increased beer prices and closed hospital wards and increased Covid figures.

All throughout the Winter of 2020-2021, we heard more about reopening pubs than about getting The R Number down.

A nation of Grifters, Spivs and Charlatans, who all hijacked Covid for their own agendas.

Be careful who you listen to. The same people who were demanding that pubs should reopen “Because mental health” will laugh at you and taunt you if you ask for a bit of room on the footpath or if you asked them not to climb over you to get something from a supermarket shelf.

They speak from their bank balance, not their heart, in a lot of cases.

There are a lot of behaviours that were actually an issue before Covid. They’re an even bigger issue now.

Belfast people seem to have a default setting of “Nobody tells me what to do” even when what they’re being told to do is show some basic courtesy towards others.

It’s amazing how Boris Johnson is a liar who can’t be trusted, except when he says it’s ok to do things you like doing. In which case, he’s ok.

Just a reminder that just because others can get away with dropping their standards, doesn’t mean you should as well. A reference that is applicable to a certain funeral.

“We can’t be afraid and stay indoors forever”. Nobody is asking you to stay indoors. All you’re literally being asked to do is just be careful and use your brains when you go outside.

“Why should I have to stay indoors because of old people and vulnerable people? Let them shield so I can live my life”. Why should old and vulnerable people have to stay indoors because others can’t behave themselves?

We also need to knock this Economic Gaslighting on the head as well. “You must go to the pub”, “You must go to the office and go out for lunch”, “You must shop in City Centres”. It’s my money, and it’s staying in my pocket until you provide me with a safe environment to do so.

If you don’t wear a mask indoors or in a crowd, you’re very naive. That’s me being kind. There are other terms which I could use which are more accurate.

I’m not one of those people who wears a mask to protect others. I’m not that great a guy. I wear a mask to protect me from others, because nobody else is going to protect me.

If we have to “Live with Covid”, fair enough, but i’m not living with stupidity.

Having lived through Covid, I know everything that has happened, and I will challenge every bullshit historical revision in years to come.

No mask requirements, no legal need to isolate. You expect me to be jumping for joy at being exposed to Covid like this?

I’m not afraid of Covid, I just want to make sure I don’t get it. I’m not going to gamble on being in a wheelchair in my 50s or 60s with Long Covid because this country can’t behave itself.

You can do things right, or you can do things quick. We’ve decided to do things quick.

It’s like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer takes on a Max Power alter ego. “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way” to which Lisa points out that the Max Power way is the same as the wrong way, only for Homer to point out, “But faster”.

There is another Simpsons episode that sums the UK up perfectly. Home is hailed a hero for stopping a nuclear explosion by closing his eyes and pushing a button at random.

Towards the end of the episode, Homer is outed as a fraud, and one of the final shots is of a dictionary with the definition of Homer.

“To pull a Homer. To succeed despite idiocy”.

This is what we as a nation are trying to achieve.

Apologies for the brief diversion into Politics, nonsense football ramblings will resume at Carrick, where hopefully it will be third time lucky for Linfield to get a Friday night win in February.

If they do, three will be a very magic number for Linfield. That would be how many points clear they would be of Glentoran with a win, and really put the pressure on Glentoran and Cliftonville.

For many, it will be their first chance to see Linfield play at Taylor’s Avenue since the more innocent times of March 2020.

Little did we know that it would be seven months before we see our team play again.

Certainly puts the ten day gap between games after Carrick into perspective.

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If the title wasn’t won on Tuesday night it certainly wasn’t lost on Friday. However, this is bloody annoying.

Linfield and Glentoran faced reach other at The Oval as the top two, level on points, just as they had done when they met on Boxing Day, just short of seven weeks previously. It was a bit of a difference from their last meeting at The Oval in September, when it was a meeting of 6th and 7th.

The first issue of the night was actually getting into the place. It actually took me the same amount of time getting in than it did getting from Titanic Quarter Train Station to The Oval.

A massive bottleneck emerged in the tunnel leading to the away end, with not many people getting into the ground due to a lack of turnstiles being open. I could see five gates not open.

Ticket sales were done online. so they should have known how many people would be arriving and have arrangements in place to get people into the ground in a quick manner.

In the end, they were letting people just walk on in without scanning their ticket. I’m sure there was people who were wishing they had just turned up and presented their ticket from the match in September.

Linfield were given a boost with the return of Chris Shields to the starting eleven after a substitute appearance against Larne.

There wasn’t a lot happening in the opening stages of the game with both defences on top.

Jake Hastie had Linfield’s first attempt of note when he fired over.

Chris Johns had a moment of worry when he dropped a cross that held up in the wind, while Sam Roscoe had to get his body in the way to block a shot from outside the penalty area.

0-0 at half-time, and not a lot in it. Linfield would be attacking against the wind but towards their own fans, which is a completely different force of nature.

It looked like those fans would be celebrating a goal in the opening minutes of the second-half when Sam Roscoe got on the end of a free-kick but his header was saved.

As the game approached the hour mark, it was Glentoran who took the lead when Sam Roscoe softly lost possession to Jay Donnelly and his shot was blocked, falling perfectly for Conor McMenamin to fire home from close range.

Linfield’s response was to bring on Eetu Vertainen and Kirk Millar. It was a debut for Vertainen, signed on loan from St Johnstone.

It was a decent cameo from Vertainen, making good moves, having a physical presence and, I know it’s a cliche, a good touch for a big man.

He was then joined up front by Ethan Devine, who came on for Conor Pepper as Linfield looked to have increased bodies up front.

It looked like that was going to come when Christy Manzinga burst into the box but passed when he should have shot. Of all the people you wanted to have the ball in that situation.

Everybody was expecting him to shoot, so when the pass came, the attack died.

On a night when neither side were having many chances, it was so important to take them.

As time ran down, Matthew Clarke was next to be frustrated as his volley went just over.

Chris McKee then came on for Jamie Mulgrew as Linfield chased an equaliser, now having three up front.

In injury time, it looked like that equaliser when Sam Roscoe headed goalwards from close range but was denied by a top save from Aaron McCarey, with Glentoran able to get the ball away in the scramble.

It was that moment when you just knew it wasn’t going to be Linfield’s night.

At so it proved, as Glentoran held out for a 1-0 win that sent them three points clear at the top.

Linfield have played worse and won, and will play worse and win. A bad mistake at the back and some bad finishing and bad luck at the other end decided it.

Not to panic though. Definitely do not panic.

The League wasn’t won against Larne and it wasn’t lost against Glentoran.

Remember, Linfield spent most of the first half of the season chasing Cliftonville. They were six points behind (albeit with a game in hand) at one point, a similar defecit.

Linfield still have their destiny in their own hands. If they win all their games, Glentoran have to win all their others and then outscore Linfield.

Tempting fate, but Linfield have a generous run of games coming up before the split. The Bottom four still to be played between now and then, and only one of the Top Six, and that is at home.

It is easy to focus too much on Glentoran and forget about Cliftonville, although I doubt they’d be unhappy about that.

On Saturday afternoon, they beat Coleraine to go a point behind Linfield and four behind Glentoran.

It may be a strange logic, but I wasn’t too unhappy with that Cliftonville win. Hear my logic out.

Cliftonville travel to The Oval in a few weeks, and it won’t be a bad thing to have them in the mix and have them pumped up for that game.

Obviously, that is dependent on Linfield winning their games between now and then.

Of course, Cliftonville are more than welcome to capitulate after derailing Glentoran.

We’ve been here before, in February 2017, when Linfield were nine points behind Crusaders. They only have to make up three.

Back then, the next points change, went in Linfield’s favour in the next matchday. The lead can’t get bigger.

Linfield have come out of the Winter Bloodbath with a few cuts, but nothing fatal.

Starting with Portadown next Saturday, it’s time to start a winning run to be in prime position to land some fatal blows come April.

As a postscript, with there now being some free Saturdays between now and the end of the season due to Linfield’s Irish Cup exit, feel free to hit me up with suggestions for trips away, ideally with a football match thrown in. I’m thinking of Scotland. Nothing decided, but just looking for ideas.

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LINFIELD 2-1 LARNE 8.2.2022

It wasn’t emphatic, but it was still a response, and sometimes the best response is to just grind one out.

Three winless games on the road had seen Linfield knocked off the top of the table and eliminated from the Irish Cup. However, they were now back in the home comforts of Windsor Park.

Very home comforts, as Linfield hadn’t lost a home League match in front of a crowd (yes, I know that is a very niche and specific statistic) since August 2019.

It might have felt like Linfield have thrown away points at home this season, but they’ve actually kept eight clean sheets out of twelve.

That’s a very good foundation for a title challenge. Perhaps the doom and gloom of Friday is premature.

Curiously, those four other games were all 1-1 draws where Linfield scored first.

Simple really, keep a clean sheet and win the game. Also, Windsor Park is the place to go to if you want goals.

Unsurprisingly, there were changes to Linfield’s starting eleven after their cup exit, with a return from injury for Conor Pepper and first starts for Kieron Evans and Jake Hastie.

And there was another welcome return, with Chris Shields available on the bench after injury.

In the early minutes of the game, Linfield were already showing more attacking intent than they had in their previous two games, not that it was hard to.

You know what I mean. They were more believable when they attacked. What they were doing might not have worked, but they were having a go at Larne.

Christy Manzinga inparticular, getting a lot of joy out left. Albert Watson managed to benefit from the unwritten rule of no yellow cards in the first 15 after pulling him back.

Manzinga had another run where he cut in, set himself up to fire the ball into the back of the net, but slipped just as he was about to strike.

Linfield’s recent form summed up there.

There wasn’t much in the way of clear opportunities for either side. Linfield had a few corners while Larne were restricted to speculative shots from long range which were easily and unsurprisingly saved by Chris Johns.

Just as the half looked like ending goalless, Linfield got the breakthrough on a night when the opening goal would be so important, not just in terms of the way the game was going, but in terms of the mood and atmosphere around Windsor Park.

Stephen Fallon dispossessed a Larne player and found himself through on goal, with Conor Devlin stranded, not knowing wether to come out to him or rush back to his goal line.

I was screaming for Fallon to smash it in, but he just chipped it over Devlin to make it 1-0.

That’s the way the teams went in at the break. It would have been greedy to ask for 2-0, but Linfield were more than delighted to take the 1-0. Even if it was 0-0, you would have been happy with the improvement.

What everyone was in agreement, was that Linfield needed a second goal to be a bit more comfortable.

There wasn’t really much incident in the early minutes of the second-half. Linfield turned to their bench to try and get that second goal, with Kirk Millar coming on for Kieron Evans.

It was Larne who got the next goal, with pinball in the penalty area falling for Ronan Hale to fire home from a suspiciously offside position.

Now, the pressure was on Linfield.

It was only natural that Larne would grow in confidence while Linfield would wonder if it was one of those nights. They spent the next few minutes riding out a storm.

Thankfully, that storm was rode out, albeit with a moment of worry when Lee Bonis headed wide under pressure.

During that storm, Chris Shields made a return to action, coming on for Niall Quinn.

Eventually, Linfield began to get more of the ball in Larne’s half, and worked an attack which was thwarted at the expense of a corner.

The corner didn’t quite go to plan, evading two Linfield attackers. However, it turned out to be a masterstroke as it fell perfectly for Christy Manzinga to fire home and put Linfield 2-1 up.

Even with twenty minutes to go, the way the game was going, a second equaliser looked beyond Larne. Not that anybody in Windsor Park was saying that out loud.

The best thing about the goal was that I didn’t have to listen to “For fuck sake Christy!!! Do something!!!!” as I had done throughout the second-hal from where I was in the South Stand. I think that counted as doing something.

One goal from winning the ball and another from a corner landing perfectly to someone. You make your own luck in this game. If Manzinga wasn’t in the position he was, Larne clear it and get on with the game.

Chris McKee came on for Jake Hastie and offered something different, not giving Larne’s defence a minute to settle with the ball.

Elsewhere, Glentoran were away to Portadown, a game I expected them to win.

It was 0-0 for most of the night, although I knew Glentoran would get a late goal to go 1-0 up, which is what they did.

Meanwhile at Windsor Park, Linfield were repelling Larne’s attacks. Not hanging on, but with one goal in the game, it was too close for comfort.

As Chris Johns got ready to take a goal kick, Linfield fans began to roar.

I know my crowd roars, this wasn’t a “Come on, we’re almost there” roar. This was a roar that suggested that something had happened elsewhere.

That something, was an equaliser for Portadown which was putting Linfield top of the table as things stood.

Linfield fans began to start chanting “We are top of the league”. That was just asking for trouble, the game was still going on.

Thankfully, they weren’t made to look silly as Linfield held on for the win that put them top of the table.

No time to celebrate though, as attention turned to the trip to The Oval in three days time.

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LARNE 2-0 LINFIELD 4.2.2022

It hasn’t been upgraded to a panic yet, but it is a concern, as Linfield exited the Irish Cup just six days after being knocked off the top of the Irish League table, as the winless run now stands at three matches at the worst possible time of year.

This wasn’t quite the response to Coleraine that people had in mind. Now Linfield are looking to respond to not responding when they needed to respond.

For the first ten minutes of this match, it was largely uneventful. However, that was to soon change when a shot from Andy Scott was punched by Chris Johns and fell straight to Lee Bonis to fire home and put Larne 1-0 up.

As soon as the ball was punched out, there was only going to be one outcome.

It was a bad one from Johns, the shot was catchable, or at worst, just tip it over the bar.

In a game of this importance, where the first goal would be key, it was such a bad goal to concede.

There was almost an instant response from Linfield, when Kirk Millar intercepted a pass and his cross intended for Christy Manzinga, fell perfectly for Ahmed Salam but his shot hit the post and went out for a goal kick.

He really should have scored. Even at this early stage, it was starting to look like it was one of those nights.

The night wasn’t getting much better for Linfield, you were thinking now you’d be happy to take a 0-1 at half-time

Linfield were all over the place, especially at the back. Chris Johns parried another effort just like the goal but got away with it.

Trying to play it out from the back, but the problem was, it was going back to Larne with no movement of inspiration in midfield.

Chris Johns was having too much of the ball at his feet as a result.

There’s nothing wrong with passing the ball back to the keeper when it’s the right thing to do, but far too often, the ball was going back to him because it was the easy thing to do.

As the half neared it’s end, Niall Quinn looked like he was going to equalise until his header was tipped over by Conor Devlin.

It was a strange paradox. As bad as Linfield were in the first-half, they still had two excellent goalscoring opportunities that could have brought an equaliser.

The start to the second-half wasn’t particularly inspiring. The much hoped for response didn’t materialise. It only took ten minutes before David Healy had seen enough, making a triple change bringing on Ethan Devine, Chris McKee and Jake Hastie.

It was Ethan Devine who was having the biggest impact, getting into positions and trying to make things happen. It looked like he was going to set up an equaliser when he headed on a set piece to Jimmy Callacher who headed wide when he should have scored.

When Jimmy Callacher can’t score from a header, you know it’s not your night.

As frustrating as he is, it wasn’t Christy Manzinga’s night either.

No matter how bad he plays, you keep him on because he might just get that goal.

It wasn’t going to happen, allowing himself to get into personal battles with Larne players instead of concentrating on putting the ball in the net.

Nobody was surprised when he got replaced for Kieron Evans as Linfield searched for an equaliser to at least get extra-time.

With ten minutes to go, that became an uphill task when a misplaced backpass from Jamie Mulgrew fell perfectly for Lee Bonis to round Chris Johns and make it 2-0.

Even with ten minutes to go, everybody knew deep down that it was game over.

As bad as Linfield were, they gifted Larne two goals.

It was a strange paradox where Linfield didn’t really pose much of an attacking threat but still had three great chances to score.

They just need to start doing the basics right at both ends, and quick.

After the game, Michel Parker was added to the squad, which suggests there may be fears over the fitness of Chris Shields and/or Cameron Palmer.

The squad now looks a bit bloated and lopsided, there’s a 2008-2009 vibe to it.

Up next, Larne again. The truth this, this game won’t make much of a difference to that game. I’d be saying that even if Linfield won.

And that is something they need to start doing again, and quick.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland Block Bookings have reopened. I’m going to try and get moved to the Railway Stand. I’m bored of The Kop. Just bored by boring bores. You know the sort. They’re not a “Geg” and they’re not “Great craic”, they are just bores. Time to move to the more serene surroundings of the Railway Stand I think.

Northern Ireland are part of a bid for Euro 2028. We’re going to be a spare wheel. The guy on the night out who doesn’t get told of the change of plan and turns up at the wrong bar.

Not sure I can be bothered about how we should have built a 300,000 capacity stadium at The Maze.

I may be tempted to a game or two in England though.

This result means I will now have three free Saturdays to fill. I may go away somewhere. Brighton v Man United on the weekend of the Final sounds tempting.

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This was a day where everything that could have went wrong did go wrong for Linfield as a first defeat in twelve games saw them knocked off the top of the table at the end of a first week of a potentially season defining month of games.

Linfield’s starting eleven raised a few eyebrows. The absence of Christy Manzinga meant a first start for Ethan Devine after two goals in two sub appearances.

There was also a start for Jordan Stewart just weeks after there were fears he could be out for months, while a welcome return to the bench for Conor Pepper at a time when numbers in defence in Coleraine.

Despite goals in recent weeks from Ethan Devine and Chris McKee, Linfield shouldn’t be relying on youngsters to lead the attack. It was a pity that Matt Green didn’t work out as he did the job he was brought in to do (cover suspensions, cup games and come in off the bench) and scored big goals in wins over Portadown, Glentoran and Dungannon.

Curiously, I followed a Vintage Shop in Belfast and browsed through their Instagram and got a bit of a shock when I saw him posing for photos in it on the week he signed for Linfield. How random.

I took an earlier train to this game in the hope of rummaging through some charity shops in Coleraine Town Centre, In one Vintage Shop, I was quoted £4 for a Coleraine v Tottenham Hotspur programme from 1982. There were about five or six copies lying in the shop so it’s not as if they could say it is hard to find.

Unsurprisingly, I declined the offer.

Back to the game, and Linfield had a lot of the ball at the start but didn’t really do much with it, It would become a theme throughout the game.

When Coleraine got their first attack, they made the most of it, winning a soft penalty for handball when the ball was fired at Ethan Devine from close range.

The resulting penalty was fired home by Lyndon Kane to give Coleraine the lead.

Not an ideal start, but Linfield had been here before, coming from 1-0 down to win at Coleraine at the start of the previous month.

The problem for Linfield was, they were too predictable, and Coleraine, like Cliftonville on Tuesday night, knew exactly what they had to do to defend against it.

Linfield’s predictability was causing them problems at the other end of the pitch, far too often trying to play it out from the back and unable to to cope with Coleraine’s pressing. Coleraine players knew what Linfield players were going to do, and as a result, knew what they needed to do.

It clearly wasn’t working, yet Linfield persisted with it.

Even their best attacking moments were just half chances. A header from Sam Roscoe, Stephen Fallon making a run but not being able to get the ball under control and Kirk Millar having a speculative low shot easily saved.

Despite that, Linfield knew they would be attacking their own fans in the second-half. And when they do that, no matter what the score or how the game has gone, they always have a chance.

It looked like they were going to level when the ball fell perfectly to Jordan Stewart in the box, in Linfield’s first real attacking moment of note.

However, he would be denied by a Coleraine defender throwing himself at the ball at the expense of a corner.

Despite having a lot of the ball, Linfield weren’t doing a lot with it. Coleraine were holding on but not hanging on.

Unsurprisingly, David Healy turned to the bench in search of a goal, with Chris McKee coming on for Kyle McClean.

There would be an even bigger mountain to climb on 76 minutes when Matthew Shevlin was able to create space and fire home low to make it 2-0.

The move for the goal came from lost possession, the second time in a week. Same player as well.

Linfield had been here before, in 2016 and 2019, coming from 2-0 down to beat Coleraine 3-2. Maybe it was a triennial thing?

Andrew Clarke and Conor Pepper came on in search of an unlikely comeback, as several fans headed for the exit.

Due to trains between Coleraine and Belfast only being once an hour, I had no choice but to stay as i’d already missed the 4.19pm train home.

Those that did leave early missed an incident that summed up the afternoon for Linfield.

A wind assisted corner kick, not quite in the same league as Stephen Beatty v Glenavon in 1994, looked like it might be giving Linfield hope, until Gareth Deane did just enough to keep the ball out when it looked like it was going in.

Naturally, the claims from Linfield were loud. I didn’t have the best view of it in the ground but having looked at the TV footage (not the best of angles), it didn’t look in to me.

Within seconds, a quick counter-attack from Coleraine saw Jamie Glackin make it 3-0.

From 1-2 and a bit of hope to 0-3 and defeat confirmed in a matter of seconds.

Elsewhere, unsurprising news filtered through that Glentoran had beaten Warrenpoint Town at The Oval to go two points clear at the top of the table despite losing twice as many matches as Linfield.

Draws can kill you in this League. On Tuesday night, it was a draw at Cliftonville that had Linfield top of the League, but now it was the reason they trailed Glentoran who won at Solitude earlier in the month.

Or was it Glentoran’s win at home to Warrenpoint Town who got a draw at Windsor Park.

The one thing you mustn’t do is panic.

We’ve been here before. At the same time of year, in January 2020, Glentoran went top of the League, but then collapsed under the pressure. They were long out of it before Covid intervened.

Yes, they’ve win five games in a row, but all by one goal. Linfield have to be there when their luck runs out.

This was Linfield’s first defeat in 12 games after a similar unbeaten start to the season.

Back then, Cliftonville were starting to build up a lead and the season threatened to fall apart.

The following week, Linfield beat Cliftonville and went on a winning run.

We’ll need to repeat that sort of form over the coming weeks as the season enters it’s defining stage.

In November, a big game to follow-up disappointment gave Linfield a boost to go forward.

They’ll need to have a similar response in February, there’s plenty of them coming up.

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Well it keeps Cliftonville at arms length, five points away. The problem is, there are three teams in the title race, and one of them got a little bit closer to Linfield after they suffered their first cut of the Irish League Winter Bloodbath.

That last line might sound harsh, but draws can kill you. If Linfield had been able to get a goal and turn a 0-0 into a 1-0 at Glenavon and Portadown, they would be five points clear. Seven points would be the lead if they killed off Warrenpoint Town when 1-0 up in December. And don’t even start me on Boxing Day.

It was a point though that keeps Linfield on top with an outright lead. We won’t find out until May if it was one gained or two dropped.

Twenty-three and a bit years after an 11am kick-off with age restrictions on getting tickets, Linfield fans were able to make their way to Solitude like a normal League game. All it took was a Global Pandemic.

To be honest, if the old arrangements were in place, I would have given this game a miss. Can’t say I would have been keen to sit on a stationary bus for ages while waiting to be transported to Solitude.

In a strange way, I do miss my quirky little pre-match wait. Sitting about having a leisurely read of Shankill Extra picked up in Ballysillan Lesure Centre and having a browse through Iceland and having lunch in my lucky cafe.

After years of being dropped off outside the ground by bus, there was one obvious question I had never considered, where on earth is the away end? Such a simple question, but what is the name of the street? I’ve never had to know before.

I’m quite glad I don’t go to Solitude every week going by the endless rows of pre-match cars trying to get parked.

When you want to go somewhere, you end up using the strangest things as landmarks. For me, it was Centra. Don’t go right there, that’s for home fans, take the second next right.

The street in question is Cliftonville Drive, although a more appropriate name would be Cliftonville Park as that’s where Players and Officials go to park their cars. Might write a letter to Belfast City Council suggesting a change.

As Linfield were making their way into Solitude, they were digesting some interesting some interesting team news, with a start for Chris McKee and a place on the bench for Jordan Stewart just two weeks after getting a bad injury in the County Antrim Shield Final.

However, the bench was once again imbalanced with a lack of defenders. One day, Linfield will play a match with a fully balanced bench.

Linfield made a decent start to this game, and looked to get a perfect opportunity to make the most of it when Chris McKee went down in the box. No penalty was given despite screams from Linfield fans, although TV replays proved it to be a correct decision.

Despite having a lot of the ball, Linfield weren’t really doing much with it, not enough to break through Cliftonville’s defence.

After riding out Linfield’s start, Cliftonville came into the game, and took the lead just before the quarter hour when Linfield couldn’t clear the ball despite numerous attempts, and the ball fell perfectly for Jamie McDonagh to fire home low.

No need to panic, still plenty of time to go and there were goals in this Linfield team, but this was a bit of a pain in the arse.

Despite the fact there were goals on this Linfield team, they needed to do more with the ball, especially when set pieces weren’t being utilised.

Christy Manzina was looking lost and isolated every time he got the ball.

However, Linfield had 45 minutes attacking their own fans, and anything can happen in that situation.

A repeat of the last time they were 1-0 down at Solitude at half-time, in April 2017 would have been nice.

Commeth the hour, commeth the man, as Matthew Clarke headed home from a Mike Newberry cross, just seconds after I was moaning at him for standing out the right and getting in Jamie Mulgrew and Kirk Millar’s way as they were trying to work an opening. What do I know?

I even managed to get the goalscorer wrong, as I thought it was Jimmy Callacher at first.

In my defence, my view was such that I could only make out someone with a 6 on their back heading the ball into the back of the net, I naturally assumed it was Jimmy Callacher.

I was actually now hoping that Clarke had been given a three match ban for “Provocation of the General Public” on Boxing Day, just to laugh at the outrage of him scoring in a game he shouldn’t have been playing in.

Now Linfield had the momentum and had to make the most of it, push on and win the game. Just don’t do anything stu ………… oh for fu …….

Within minutes, Cliftonville were back in front, and it was a goal of Linfield’s own doing.

A stray pass from Mike Newberry, under no pressure, went straight to a Cliftonville player and one pass played in Jamie McDonagh through on goal, albeit a bit wide, but he had enough room to fire the ball low across Chris Johns and into the back of the net.

Having climbed back level, Linfield were now having to do it all again. An apt analogy considering there is a point in Cavehill where you can see Windsor Park and Solitude at the same time. You think you’re near the top but you realise there is still a long way to go.

Instead of looking to push on and win the game, Linfield were now looking to get back level again.

If the first scenario was calling for Jordan Stewart, the second most definitely was, even at this early stage.

There would be a wait for that, with Ethan Devine and Cameron Palmer entering the pitch first, before Stewart eventually joined the action.

It looked like Linfield were going to get a second equaliser with another Matthew Clarke header but an absolutely outstanding outstretched arm from Cliftonville’s keeper.

Eventually, Linfield got the goal they craved when a cross from Matthew Clarke was headed home by Ethan Devine to make it 2-2.

There was still enough time for Linfield to go on and win it, but not a lot of it to equalise if they repeated what they did after their first equaliser.

Thankfully, they didn’t do that, but they couldn’t get a goal at the other end to secure a dramatic comeback win.

Elsewhere, Glentoran secured a late win over Coleraine. If that game had finished a draw, you would have taken this as a good result. That late goal made it a bit deflating, even though Linfield were a point better off in terms of the gap at the top of the table than they were at the start of the month.

At least Linfield had managed to address goalscoring issues, scoring two or more in successive games for the first time since early December.

Pity about the two soft goals conceded, especially the second.

If Linfield had kept it 1-1, they might have went on and won the game. If they made it 2-2 earlier, they might have went on and won the game.

Anyway, onto Coleraine.

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