CLIFTONVILLE 0-0 LINFIELD 9.4.2022

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.

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