- Harry Styles – As It Was
- Sigrid – It Gets Dark
- Editors – Heart Attack
- Liam Gallagher – Better Days
- Echo and the Bunnymen – Bring On The Dancing Horses
Another weekend, another draw, another mixture of relief and frustration.
All the excitement was at Seaview, all the tension was at Windsor Park.
It all meant that Linfield and Cliftonville are as you were going into the final match of the season.
The kick-off was put back to teatime to accommodate live broadcast at relatively late notice of just over a week before.
BBC were waiting to see if one of those sides could pull clear to the point that they could win the League. It turned out they were still neck and neck, so they decided to show both games.
The title could have bee decided today in Linfield’s favour if they won and Cliftonville lost. Linfield just had to concentrate on their own game.
Linfield lined up with the same starting eleven as at Seaview on the Tuesday night, meaning that Ethan Devine was on the bench despite his latest goalscoring heroics.
He would still be lurking ominously on the bench should Linfield need him.
Devine made up what was a rather balanced Linfield bench. Two wide men, two strikers, one midfielder, one defender and a keeper. Somebody to come on in any situation.
Linfield had the first attack of note in the game, when Eetu Vertainen was able to get a shot in but it was easily saved by Rohan Ferguson.
There was a lot of early pressure from Linfield, having a lot of the ball in Larne’s final third. They really needed to make this count.
Eetu Vertainen then had a penalty appeal turned down. I didn’t think it was when watching the match but I can see why there were appeals. It was a challenged best described as untidy.
Linfield were soon dealt a blow when Jamie Mulgrew had to go off injured, replaced by Kyle McClean.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, with Larne eventually making their way to the opposite end of the pitch when Mark Randall had a shot which needed to be tipped over by Chris Johns.
Towards the end of the half, Linfield had a flurry of corners, four on a row but none of them brought a goal. Linfield needed to ram it home when they were on top.
0-0 at half-time but no need to panic, but there was a need to step it up.
Especially as news emerged that Cliftonville were 1-0 up at Seaview, a result that was putting them top with a game to go, leaving Linfield fans with the prospect of, and I feel dirty even typing it, having to cheer on Glentoran next Saturday.
More of Windsor Park being opened up meant a long awaited return to watching the second-half from the quadrant between the South and Railway Stands.
In the opening minutes of the second-half, Ben Hall had a header saved from a corner.
Even though we hadn’t played an hour, Ethan Devine was being warmed up, eventually coming on for Jake Hastie as Linfield went with two up front.
Devine’s reputation as a supersub was enough to rev up the crowd.
They were even more revved up when Chris Johns took a goal kick so good that everybody started cheering and celebrating.
Of course, this is the time of year when cheers and celebration can happen at random moments due to events elsewhere. It could only mean one thing, Crusaders had equalised against Cliftonville.
There were two more cheers. I don’t have data on my phone to check, but I overhead somebody in front of me saying it was now 3-1 to Crusaders and showing them their phone.
That meant, if the score stayed the way it was, Linfield would win the League if they won this match.
Eetu Vertainen had a shot saved as Linfield searched for that vital goal.
However, it was Larne who had the best chance of the game when the ball was pulled back to Davy McDaid and he fired over when he should have scored.
Thoughts turned to that scare at Warrenpoint last month before winning. You can’t survive something like that and not get three points.
Those three points were made even more important when the sold out allocation of 81 tickets in the North Stand started cheering and chanting “You’re not singing anymore” to indicate that Cliftonville had pulled it back to 3-3 at Seaview.
Inver/Solitude Relations had suddenly improved over the past week.
Linfield responded by bringing on Chris McKee and Ahmed Salam to try and get a winner, but the closest they came was an Ethan Devine header that went agonisingly wide.
Larne were able to hold out for a 0-0 draw. Linfield were the better team but didn’t do enough to win.
The lack of any cheers from either set of fans suggested that things had finished 3-3 at Seaview, which turned out to be the case.
Another Weekend where Linfield and Cliftonville fans were left with a mixture of frustration and relief.
It reminded me of Matchday 37 in 2018 when both Crusaders and Coleraine drew their matches meaning it went to the final game.
The good omen for Linfield if that the team who started the final day top won and won the League.
A repeat would be nice, though i’m not sure my nerves could take going 1-0 down as Crusaders did that day.
Another good omen for Linfield is that last season, they fluffed their lines against Larne and then out it right to clinch the title in their next match against Coleraine, who Linfield play next.
There are also bad omens from history, but let’s not talk about them.
Talking about fluffing lines, Newry City did that in the Championship as well, delaying their promotion by a week barring a ridiculous goal swing.
One more game to go.
It would be nice if Linfield could go 4-0 up inside the first minute and give us a relaxing evening.
European football has been secured. So important with those ranking points from 2019 still in the bank. That means it’s even more important to be in the European Cup.
You may complain about this team dragging our emotions all over the place every weekend, but you’ll miss it over the next three months.
I guess you could say this was …… a big win. A big big win.
With games running out, every win counts, especially with Cliftonville winning as well, as a goal from Ethan Devine kept Linfield top of the Irish League with just two games to go.
Crusaders had went into this game with five wins in a row and six wins out of seven.
That one defeat though, came against Linfield last month. Incidentally, that was Linfield’s seventh win in eight against Crusaders and tenth out of the last fourteen League games against Crusaders.
While Crusaders had a good recent record, Linfield had a very good recent record against Crusaders.
Jake Hastie and Eetu Vertainen were rewarded with starts after cameos from the bench on Good Friday. Both of whom would have chances to score early one.
There was a difference to this game at kick-off, with Linfield attacking the goal where their own fans are based in the first-half instead of in the second-half.
Having got myself in position to see them attacking the home end, I quickly had to powerwalk to the other end of the ground to get into position. In case you’re wondering. I like to base myself where Linfield are attacking, if possible.
When I get caught out like this, i’m always hoping that Linfield don’t score in the opening minute while i’m getting my new view. Score as many as you wish in the following 89 minutes.
They almost did score in the first minute, when Eetu Vertainen managed to work his way into the box into a shooting position but fired over.
Jake Hastie was then next to be frustrated when he volleyed over from a cross.
A bright start from Linfield, there were goals in this game for them.
They still had to be wary of the attacking threat posed by Crusaders, and got a gentle reminder when Jordan Owens headed wide from a set piece.
It looked like Linfield might get that opportunity when a Jordan Stewart shot was blocked by a Crusaders defender.
Despite appeals for a handball, nothing was given.
Replays showed that it wasn’t a handball, but when a defender charges out with arms in the air, you’re always going to claim it.
The wait for a goal didn’t last too long when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick.
With Linfield looking to kick on, it looked like Matthew Clarke was played in. Just as he was about to shoot, a Crusaders player was able to get a tackle in.
There were goals in this for Linfield.
As it turned out, there needed to be, as Jordan Fosythe headed home from a corner in the final minutes of the half. For the second successive game, Linfield threw away a lead almost as quickly as they got it.
However, there was no need to panic. Eetu Vertainen looked like he had a goal in him. Or a card. He was having one of those nights, getting into positions, creating shooting opportunities for himself and battling against defenders.
The one big disadvantage Linfield had, was that they wouldn’t be attacking their own fans in the second-half. That would be a different experience.
Those Crusaders behind the goal were almost treated to a goal from Eetu Vertainen, but his header agonisingly struck the post.
Surely not a third successive frustrating draw?
Linfield went for the win in the only way they know how, by bringing on Ethan Devine. Crusaders had already been on the receiving end of one of his goals this season.
And so it proved, when he was played in by Matthew Clarke in the penalty area, firing home to put Linfield 2-1 up with twenty minutes to go.
A bit early by his standards. But welcome. Needed a third goal though.
That third goal didn’t come but it was ok, just about, as Linfield were doing an ample job of holding Crusaders at bay.
It just needed one lucky bounce to fall Crusaders way for all that to be undone.
Kyle McClean came on for Eetu Vertainen to provide an extra body in midfield.
Ahmed Salam then came on for Kirk Millar. As Millar was walking off towards the touchline, he realised where he was and what the situation needed, so he did a detour and took the scenic route off the pitch instead to kill a bit of time.
Time was on Linfield’s side, but they needed to make sure Crusaders had as little of it as possible to get an equaliser.
They didn’t. Linfield saw out the game to win 2-1.
A big win, which got big celebrations.
Cliftonville also won, meaning that the gap at the top of the table remained one point in Linfield’s favour.
The draw at The Oval between Glentoran and Larne meant that both Linfield and Cliftonville secured European Football for 2022-2023. What competition is still to be decided.
Elsewhere, Newry have as good as secured promotion from The Championship. Just one more point needed.
Away in August or September, teatime kick-off, sneak off to Carlingford again. Would be nice.
A night when some things were decided but in the end, nothing really was.
What a difference a year makes.
On Easter Tuesday 2021 (yes, I know the dates for Easter fluctuate so it’s not strictly a year ago) I ventured up Cavehill to see it covered in snow.
It was an amazing experience and something I always wanted to do, so I was glad that everything aligned to enable me to get photos I wanted.
This year, the weather was kinder in terms of temperature. Not warm but certainly not freezing.
It was also kind in terms of phototaking, lots of daylight to work with.
Readers will know when I go somewhere, I like to arrive there early. On this occasion I was there around 8.40am.
Having been so many times, there’s not much new for me to discover.
However, I did spot Seaview for the first time. It was the first time i’d actually been looking for it. You can see it from the top.
Quite apt, as that’s where i’d be heading later in the evening.
This was a walk I hadn’t done for a while, not all of it my own fault.
I did neglect Cregagh Glen for a while, focusing on other walks.
However, a few weeks back, I did attempt it, only to be met with the most inconvenient of things, a blocked off bridge.
So, I just turned around, headed home and went out on my bike instead.
A few weeks down, I had assumed that it would have been fixed, but no, it’s still blocked off.
Never fear, there are ways around it.
There is a pathway where you can bypass the bridge. Be warned that it can be a bit slippy slidey and a bit perilous in parts, so be paying full attention to your surroundings when walking that way.
Or, you can stride along the river. The water is very shallow and there are stones that you can walk on.
Of course, it can be a bit slippy slidey so make sure to pay full attention and be careful when striding across.
The sooner it gets fixed, the better.
I wasn’t prepared for another visit where I have to turnaround again, even though I would have had the option of a short drive to Belvoir Park Forest or a long overdue return to Minnowburn.
With four days off work, I was planning to take in a few hillwalks so I was looking at what I should do.
Having not visited Cregagh Glen for a while, this was going to be on my list.
I wanted to go when the weather was nice, so dull weather on Saturday and Sunday of my four day weekend meant they were going to be set aside for cycling.
So come Monday, a nice bright morning, off to Cregagh Glen I go.
I did have a slight lie-in, but arrived there just before 9am, the aim of being there when it was quiet.
It was very quiet. I barely saw anybody on the way up. I did see a few people on the way down, but not a lot thankfully.
The lack of people definitely boosted the ambience as far as I was concerned.
It was perfect walking up Lisnabreeny Hill, via a detour through the American War Cemetery* (*Not an actual cemetery). Peaceful, lots of daylight for taking photos, and that daylight was bringing out the colour in the trees and hedges.
Having been up Lisnabreeny Hill a few times, I knew where is good fortaking photos and getting shots, so I got to work.
Due to the bridge being out of use, the next time I go to Cregagh Glen, I might actually start from the National Trust Car Park on Church Road and walk down instead of starting from the dual carriageway off the Cregagh Road and working up.
It was always something I was wanting to do, just to be different, the bridge being out of use might just prompt me.
Rather enjoyable day out and productive use of some time off.
Weather getting better and hitting Bank Holiday Season, there might be some more.
Linfield blinked, but they slightly got away with it because Cliftonville blinked as well, meaning it’s as you were in the race for the Irish League title, with both sides feeling a sense of frustration and relief.
Past experience means that Linfield fans know how Cliftonville fans feel. Twice in fact.
In 1999 (Linfield 1-1 Coleraine, Glentoran 1-1 Cliftonville) and 2009 (Glentoran 3-3 Distillery, Linfield 2-2 Cliftonville), Linfield were chasing and dropped points in the run-in, only to see Glentoran had dropped points as well.
You end up relieved the gap hasn’t increased but frustrated that an opportunity to cut it or go in front wasn’t taken, because you won’t get many more.
Cliftonville went from being the frustraters to the frustrated.
The absence of Christy Manzina through injury presented a start for Jordan Stewart, hoping to kick on after recent impressive cameos.
For Glentoran, this was their last chance to push for the title now that the gap was six points and an inferior goal difference working against them as well. Defeat would theoretically, if not mathematically finish them off.
Ending Glentoran’s title challenge wasn’t Linfield’s main aim, it was boosting their own. Things can be a bit distracting when there are three teams in the race. It was about keeping ahead of Cliftonville.
The scheduling of this game gave Linfield the opportunity to do just that, and really put the pressure on Cliftonville.
Well, the pressure would have been on Cliftonville anyway regardless of the result, but a Linfield win would have left them with no margin for error.
Inside the opening minutes, some decent passing out the left worked space for Matthew Clarke but his cross to Kirk Millar was cut out by a defender. A good promising early opening.
From then on, Glentoran had a lot of the ball but not really doing a lot with it. Linfield were getting a lot of goal kicks from overhit passes by Glentoran.
No need to panic, but it did need to get sorted. Far too often Linfield were losing the ball as soon as they were winning it.
Michael O’Connor hit the outside of the post from a corner while Jay Donnelly was unable to connect with a through ball. Things were getting very concerning for Linfield.
Even more concerning when Conor McMenamin was played clear out right only to see his low shot was easily saved by Chris Johns.
Not only were Glentoran having more of the ball, they were actually now doing something with it. Linfield needed to step up their game.
Within a few minutes, they issued a welcome response that was needed, when a cross from Jordan Stewart evaded everybody and went straight into the net.
It might have been a fluke and undeserved based on the way the game had gone so far, but you’d take it. You’ll take anything at this time of year.
This came a few minutes after he worked space for himself on the edge of the box but fired over.
Considering how brittle Glentoran’s confidence was after a 4-0 hammering by Crusaders, it was disappointing that Linfield hadn’t gone at them from the start instead of letting them bed into the game.
Now Linfield had the game in their control now, they needed to push on.
Well, not quite. Within a few minutes, Glentoran were level when Conor McMenamin was able to cut in from the right and smash the ball home with his left.
Having survived a similar situation earlier in the game, Linfield couldn’t say they weren’t warned.
Whilst not the best performance, it was still frustrating to go in at half-time level having taken the lead and given it away so quickly.
The second-half didn’t start off much better, they were still giving the ball away cheaply.
Thankfully, that was only for the first couple of minutes, and things did start to pick up.
Despite that, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Eetu Vertainen and Jake Hastie for Chris McKee and Kirk Millar. It was a glaringly obvious substitution to make.
It almost had an instant impact when Vertainen created space for himself on the edge of the box to shoot, but hit the side netting.
With four assists in his last three appearances, I was glad to see Hastie on the pitch but disappointed that he wasn’t on corner kick duty.
On a night where not everything was going to plan, they should have been getting him on corners, especially if he delivered one like he did for Ethan Devine’s winner at Warrenpoint.
If he was frustrated at not taking corners, he was further frustrated when his header was saved by Aaron McCarey with nobody able to follow up. It was already looking like a frustrating evening for Linfield.
It could have got worse when Conor McMenamin burst towards goal from a counter-attack, but his effort hit the side netting.
Having scored a couple of important late goals from the bench, Ethan Devine has developed a bit of a reputation for himself for this sort of thing.
As the minutes ticked by, we were getting closer to Devine Time.
And so, he was summoned from his warm-up, the home crowd began to get excited at the prospect of another late goal in Linfield’s favour.
It looked like that goal was going to come, but from an alternative source, when Jordan Stewart had a shot saved but his follow-up header neither went goalwards or to Ethan Devine who was following up, the ball going just wide.
Full-time, 1-1. It can only be described as two points dropped when you have a lead so slender.
That meant Linfield fans were going to be spending their Saturday afternoon hoping Larne could get something at Solitude, which they did.
As a result, it was as you were, with both Linfield and Cliftonville feeling a sense of frustration and relief.
Of course, if they both won their matches, it would still be the same gap at the top without any of the emotional turmoil.
Talking of Larne, their visit to Windsor Park has been put back to a 5.30pm kick-off.
To be honest, I was surprised that it was a 3pm kick-off in the first place.
I presumed that the BBC were waiting until after Easter Tuesday before deciding which game to show. In the end, they’re showing both Linfield and Cliftonville’s games at the same time.
Let’s hope they’ll be capturing something decisive in Linfield’s favour.
Before then, a trip to Seaview.
If there’s two lessons to take into this game, it’s play better, and if you can get in front without playing well, stay in front.
And if you do that, you’ll do that in the title race.
- Editors – Heart Attack
- Sigrid – It Gets Dark
- Harry Styles – As It Was
- Tom Grennan – Remind Me
- Boots Randolph – Yakety Sax
- Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law
- Alfie Templeman – Broken
- Lauren Spencer-Smith – Fingers Crossed
- Harry Styles – As It Was
- Sigrid – It Get’s Dark
It wasn’t the worst 0-0 draw in history, and it wasn’t the worst result in the world. For one team, it will turn out to be a good draw. For another, it will be a bad draw. Linfield and Cliftonville will have to wait three weeks to find out which.
With the title race so tight, both Linfield and Cliftonville went on a winning run to pull away from Glentoran during March, the Glens starting the day four and five points behind Cliftonville and Linfield respectively.
Both sides were wary that a draw could potentially let Glentoran back into the title race.
However, as players were warming up, they were greeted with the news that Glentoran had lost 4-0 to Crusaders, meaning that victory would allow them to pull clear of not one, but two rivals
Even though they were playing at home, Cliftonville were still needing to get familiarised to their surroundings as this was their first home match since 4th March, and first home League match since 26th February.
The situation was similar to Matchday 34 in 2014 when Cliftonville won 3-1 at Windsor Park to overtake Linfield at the top and go on to win the League.
There were a couple of players who played in both matches still involved, Jimmy Callacher (that match was his first start for Linfield) and Jamie Mulgrew for Linfield and Joe Gormley for Cliftonville. Niall Quinn didn’t play in that match but was a sub in this match. Martin Donnelly played for Cliftonville that day but was not involved for Linfield.
Curiously, this fixture has seemed to sync up with Everton facing Manchester United.
Saturday 23rd April in 2011 and 2016 saw wins for United and Linfield, while the opening weekend of October 2021 saw both games finish 1-1.
If you’re superstitious, Everton’s 1-0 win at lunchtime, will have made for a nervous afternoon, as if the afternoon wasn’t nervous enough already.
Linfield’s starting eleven showed four defender. Yes, 3-5-2 had been abandoned. There was no Jordan Stewart or Ethan Devine despite their goals at Warrenpoint last time out, but there was a (perhaps surprising) return for Christy Manzinga even though Linfield scored ten goals in the three games he missed through suspension.
In the early stages, Cliftonville were focusing on getting the ball out their left and it was working. They were having a lot of good build-up play and getting some speculative shots.
Even though they were speculative shots, it only takes one to get lucky.
Linfield were able to ride that out. It was inevitable given the table and the venue that Cliftonville would go for it from the start.
As they grew into the game, they had to make an early change when Stephen Fallon was injured. There are worse options to have on the bench than Jamie Mulgrew.
It looked like Linfield were going to make the vital breakthrough when some one touch passing split Cliftonville open with Christy Manzinga through on goal. Even though he was under pressure from a defender and Cliftonville’s keeper was rushing out, you were expecting him to score.
Unfortunately, Luke McNicholas was able to make himself big and make the save.
Chris McKee had two chances to score, first with a shot in the box that went over and then a header that was straight at Luke McNicholas.
Joe Gormley thought he was going to score when he got a clear view of goal, but the ball wouldn’t would sit right for him, having to strike towards goal which was straight at Chris Johns.
0-0 at half-time. Neither side playing great, neither side playing bad. The game was there to be won and both sides felt they could win, especially as they’d be attacking their own fans.
Joe Gormley would find himself frustrated twice in the early stages of the second-half. First when a lazy clearance fell perfectly for him but he fired over when you were expecting him to score. Then the ball fell to him in the box but Chris Johns made himself big to deny him.
With the game so balanced, it was time for Jordan Stewart, who came on for Chris McKee.
It was Christy Manzinga who had Linfield’s next big chance but he fired wide from a wide angle.
Jordan Stewart worked himself some space out wide and his cross eventually went just wide.
Stood centrally behind the goal, I could see it was going just wide. Those to the left and right of me were excitedly and prematurely getting ready to celebrate a goal.
One last substitution window for Linfield, and on came Ethan Devine with Linfield fans hoping he could provide some late heroics for the third time in four games.
With three substitutes available during this window, I would have hoped to have seen Jake Hastie come on, considering he has four assists in his last three appearances.
Cliftonville didn’t have too many clear chances but they are one of those teams and Solitude is one of those grounds where you just have a fear the ball will end up in the net as soon as they get into the final third.
If they could. More often than not, Cliftonville players were finding themselves getting tackled by Chris Shields if they even thought about running towards Linfield’s goal.
As the game looked like heading towards a 0-0 draw, Linfield got one last opportunity with a free-kick on the edge of Cliftonville’s penalty area in a central position.
Jordan Stewart lined up to take the kick and Solitude held it’s breath.
His free-kick went just wide of the post, and the final whistle blew, a 0-0 draw. Both sides pulling clear of Glentoran but not the two (Cliftonville) or four (Linfield) point lead that either side wanted to finish the day with.
Up next for Linfield is a home match against Glentoran and a great opportunity to put pressure on Cliftonville as they play first over this weekend. The only time it will happen in the split as both sides will be playing simultaneously during the last three matchdays.
Get at them from the start and there’s no reason why Linfield can’t win.
As a side note, a win would (barring a freak goal difference swing) secure European football, albeit not knowing what competition they’ll be playing in.
Talking of European football at Windsor Park, and Belfast has bid to host the 2023 European Conference Final.
It would be great to see, but i’m not too confident, as hosting the 2021 European Super Cup Final, Dublin hosting the 2024 UEFA Cup Final and Wembley hosting Finals and club and international level might work against the bid. Even if it is unsuccessful, let’s hope they try again, it is a game worth getting.
Even though neither city had bid for it, it would be great if Brighton or Edinburgh hosted the Final one year.
Talking, of Edinburgh, i’ll be heading there at the start of May to base myself there for a break to Central Scotland.
The post-split fixtures for the weekend i’m there are: Celtic v Hearts (I was really hoping Hearts would be at home as I haven’t been to Tynecastle since 2015), Hibs v Aberdeen and Livingston v St Johnstone.
Although, there may be Lower League Promotion Play-Offs for Partick Thistle, Queen’s Park and Edinburgh City.
Let’s hope there are no European Play-Offs for Linfield, but a straight ticket into the European Cup.
- The Feeling – There Is No Music
- Liam Gallagher – Cmon You Know
- Kawala – Hypnotized
- Arlo Parks – Softly
- Alfie Templeman – Broken