Another clean sheet and another game unbeaten, but a frustrating draw at home to Crusaders meant that Linfield’s revival suffered one step back after making a lot of steps forward.

Linfield suffered a blow with the absence of Kirk Millar, alongside the already absent Joel Cooper and Jordan Stewart, which meant they had no natural wingers, having to resort to 3-5-2 with Matthew Clarke and Daniel Finlayson playing as wingbacks, literally having to make the most of who was available.

Linfield had a lot of the ball in Crusaders final third in the opening minutes, but not really doing much with it. An all too familiar tale.

With this game being a 5.30pm kick-off, the narrative of this game was always going to be dictated by scores elsewhere.

Larne losing 2-0 at home to Coleraine on Friday night will have been noted by both clubs, knowing that this game presented an opportunity to cut the gap on Larne.

When there are five teams in a title race, you can’t just worry about Larne. With Cliftonville (v Newry) and Glentoran (v Portadown) winning their 3pm kick-offs as expected, three points were needed to keep up with them as well.

It was Crusaders who had the first attempt on goal, with Sam Roscoe forced into a block of a goalbound shot.

Linfield were then dealt an injury blow when Stephen Fallon went off injured when trying to get an attack going.

I was expecting Mike Newberry to come on with Chris Shields being pushed into midfield.

Chris Shields would be pushed into midfield, but it would be to accommodate Ethan Devine with 3-5-2 becoming 4-3-3, with Clarke and Finlayson pushed back.

The change almost brought an instant result when Robbie McDaid was played in behind Crusaders defence, through on goal but in a wide position, but he fired wide.

Even though he was in a wide position, he really should have scored, especially with the keeper well out of his goal.

Soon after, McDaid had another opportunity from a wide position on the edge of the box but he volleyed wide.

Again, he should have scored.

Paul Heatley made space for himself to get into a shooting position from long range, but his shot was easily and spectacularly saved by Chris Johns.

I was sat at the opposite end and thought it was going in. Turns out there was never a danger.

It soon became one each in terms of injuries with Robbie Weir going off.

His replacement raised some eyebrows, Declan Caddell, who retired in May.

He hadn’t lost it, getting a yellow card soon afterwards for a late tackle on Jamie Mulgrew.

Adam Leckey headed just wide for Crusaders, but it was a frustrating half for Linfield who dominated possesion but missed the only glorious opportunity they created.

The game was there for the taking.

You could feel that Joel Cooper was being sorely missed.

Cameron Palmer was forced into a block from Billy Joe Burns early in the second-half as Crusaders actually decided to show some attacking intent, with Chris Johns making a close range save from the follow-up.

Daniel Finlayson again went off with injury, and was replaced by Conor Pepper, as I had expected to happen on Tuesday.

Hopefully, he would have the same impact as Mike Newberry had against Larne.

Injuries had meant there was a lack of attacking options on the bench for Linfield, even more so as Ethan Devine was brought on earlier than anticipated.

One option they did have was Liam McStravick, who came on and scored on his debit as a substitute against Annagh United in the NIFL Cup.

I wasn’t at this game but I heard good reports on him, comparisons with Paul Smyth both in terms of stature and play.

There was nothing to lose by throwing him on, and there was no surprise when he was Linfield’s final sub, coming on for Chris McKee a day before his 18th birthday.

I’m actually old enough that I can remember matches on (or closest to) footballer’s dates of birth. Linfield beat Limavady United 4-1 on the day Liam McStravick was born.

He showed some nice touches but Linfield couldn’t get him on the ball enough.

It is a bit of a freak occurrence to have three players in the one position all injured at the same time.

This was a game that was crying out for a little bit of magic from Jordan Stewart or Joel Cooper, or for Kirk Millar to ping a cross onto someone’s head. Just once, that’s all that was needed.

With very little happening in open play, Linfield needed to make the most of their set pieces.

On player taking them the entire game, they were too predictable, cleared by Crusaders or any headers that were won by Linfield were too far out to threaten the goal.

If you were hoping for an injury time winner like in March when Crusaders last visited Windsor Park, you would be disappointed.

For a start, there was nowhere near enough, just the standard three minutes despite Crusaders persistant timewasting and numerous free-kicks and stoppaged.

In the end, they had to settle for a point. At least it keeps the unbeaten run going and it’s another clean sheet, seven in nine games.

That run was preceded by conceding nine in three goals.

Small steps.

Trying to get back into the title race was never going to happen inside four or five games, it was always going to be a long-term challenge.

If we go on another winning run, this result will be forgotten about.

Even though it feels like it was two points dropped against a team who were there for the taking.

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One thought on “LINFIELD 0-0 CRUSADERS 26.11.2022

  1. Pingback: 2022 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER | Analogue Boy In A Digital World

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