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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