I’ve never seen so many trees at a football ground in my life. A very scenic view of my first visit to Mill Meadow to see Linfield get a win that was a lot more comfortable than people were expecting at half-time.
I don’t usually bother with League Cup ties, but a chance to visit a ground i’d never been to before was too good to turn down.
With a trip to Crusaders in the League three days away, it was unsurprising that David Healy made some changes.
It was more a case of who wasn’t starting, with Chris Johns, Chris Shields, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon all watching as the match kicked-off.
Linfield took a while to get going. They were always a little bit short in attack if you know what I mean.
Passes were either too long or too short. There was no real attacking fluidity.
That was never going to last though, with this much of the ball, Linfield were always going to get a chance and make it count.
Kirk Millar almost made it 1-0 when his shot flashed wide of the post.
Eetu Vertainen was almost presented with an opportunity when Moyola’s keeper kicked the ball straight at him, hitting him in the chest, but was denied at the expense of a corner as he looked to make the most of his mixed fortunes.
Chris McKee was denied by a last gasp slide as it looked like he was going to be played through, then was denied again when he headed home, only to see it chalked off for an infringement.
Linfield were having a lot of the ball but not creating many clear chances. There was no real panic but Moyola Park were having a lot of set pieces.
All it needed was for one of them to get lucky, and we could have another Queen’s.
Eventually, Linfield got the lead when a cross from Kirk Millar was volleyed home from close range by Niall Quinn.
Still a bit of work to do, the game was far from won, but a lead that was more than welcome.
It didn’t last long though, as Moyola Park responded immediately.
Straight from kick-off, they worked themselves into a shooting position, with Jake McNeill eventually hooking the ball home from the save.
Having taken a hold of the game, Linfield had given it up straight away.
There was not a similar response from Linfield.
Again, Moyola Park had a few set pieces.
I am usually worried whenever the opposition have the ball, no matter where it is.
In truth, the set pieces didn’t really worry Linfield, but you are still always worried that one might get lucky.
A match that was already tricky didn’t need to become even more trickier.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield got a vital second breakthrough, if that is even football terminology.
Kirk Millar got on the end of a ball in behind Moyola Park’s defence, before the onrushing keeper to put the ball into the net.
Both players were injured in the collision, but were able to continue.
There would still be a bit of work for Linfield to do in order to see the game off, but they would have a better starting point to do so in the second-half.
I think the theme of the half-time chat was to try and get an early goal in the second-half to kill the game off, as that is what happened inside the opening minutes of the half.
A headed clearance from a free-kick fell perfectly for Andrew Clarke to fire home to make it 3-1.
Not quite the name in the hat for the next round, but near enough.
Just don’t do anything stupid like conceding a goal to make it 3-2 and give Moyola Park any form of encouragement.
It looked like that 4th goal was going to come when Eetu Vertainen capitalised on a mix-up in defence to hook it goalwards, only to be denied by a goal line clearance, which fell to Chris McKee, who hit the post from the rebound.
The last thing that Moyola Park needed to see was some of Linfield’s big name subs making an appearance, as Joel Cooper came on to get that elusive 4th goal, the closest they came after the 3rd goal was an effort from Andrew Clarke that went over the bar.
It eventually came when Eetu Vertainen was played in and made no mistake with a low finish. It was one of those, you were celebrating as soon as he got the ball as you knew there would be only one outcome.
Game won, time to relax, but there was still time for a 5th goal for Linfield when Ethan Devine crossed low for Robbie McDaid to finish in off the post.
I actually thought it was an own goal, hitting a defender on the way in.
Nope, TV replays proved me wrong. I think I might need to go to Specsavers.
A bit dicey in the first-half, but the two goals in a couple of minutes either side of the break ultimately made it a comfortable night for Linfield.
Mill Meadow is easy to find and is handy for watching football. They even had a barbecue on.
I even had a wee nosy in their bar, which was surprisingly quiet.
The draw for the next round handed another away trip for Linfield, to Dundela.
Easy to get to ground and should be a good night. Linfield usually played a pre-season game there in recent years, but not since 2020.
I wasn’t at that game, so this will be my first trip to see Linfield there since 2019, although I did go to see Dundela take on Queen’s University in 2020, my first football match in the flesh for seven months due to you know what. I really just wanted to go to a football match.
Even though they are in The Championship, it is potentially tricky, especially as they set up this tie by beating Crusaders.
A good omen is that the last two meetings (both in the County Antrim Shield) were 5-0 to Linfield with the added bonus of a hat-trick (Peter Thompson, Niall Quinn) for a Linfield player.
That would be greedy, just a win would do, by any score.