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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