CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 13.1.2020

After five games in fourteen days over the Christmas/New Year period, a nine day break allowed Linfield to get the benefit of the Three Rs ahead of the second half of the season as they looked to win back to back titles – Rested, Refreshed and Ready.

You could add a fourth R to that list – Reds Beaten Again.

To say that the Christmas/New Year period did not go well for Linfield is a bit of an understatement, as they looked to bounce back from their Irish Cup defeat to Queen’s University, the biggest shock in Irish League Football since Liam Beckett started up an ASMR Channel.

Bizarrely, Cliftonville would have been perfect opponents for Linfield on the back of the game against Queens, having beaten twice after cup exits, in September after exiting the UEFA Cup and then in December after going out of the NIFL Cup.

Now, Linfield need to invent a cup competition that they can go out of just before they play Cliftonville in April.

Linfield’s run of results over Christmas/New Year showed how quickly fortunes can change in football. After victory at Warrenpoint, taking advantage of draws from Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders to pull clear at the top. The title was in the bag and the open top bus was ordered.

Three weeks later, Linfield were in crisis.

Yet on Sunday afternoon a Tweet of the recent form in the Irish League made for interesting reading. Linfield sat 4th in the Form Guide, over the last ten games, just two points behind in-form Cliftonville and only four less points than unstoppable Glentoran, both of whom only managed one more win that crisis club Linfield in that period.

There have been times in recent years where Cliftonville have went on winning runs, but that has been as a result of a generous run of games. Their current winning run of four League games saw wins over Coleraine, Crusaders and Larne, a statement of intent that they believe they can win big games.

A win over the reigning Champions, who they lost to in their last five meetings, would be the biggest statement, even though all the post match coverage would be of the continuing crisis at Windsor Park

It wasn’t quite a must win game, but it definitely was a must not lose game for Linfield. Defeat wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it wasn’t a conversation they wanted to be having.

Two televised games meant that this matchday would be staggered across four days.

Friday night saw Coleraine take on Crusaders on BBC Two. Whatever happened, at least one of Linfield’s rivals would be dropping points. A draw would have been perfect, but I could live with a Coleraine win if it meant Crusaders getting adrift. As it turned out, Crusaders won, but Linfield could live with it, as we could pull clear of Coleraine instead.

That defeat for Coleraine allowed Glentoran the opportunity to go top on Saturday afternoon.

If you find Saturday afternoons without a Linfield match to be unbearable, you had better get used to it, as a combination of cup exits and TV scheduling means that was the first of five Saturdays over the next eight weeks where Linfield would be inactive.

Glentoran took their opportunity to go top of the League with a 2-1 win over Warrenpoint. Just about. They were 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go when Warrenpoint’s keeper got sent-off, the third successive Saturday they’ve enjoyed a bit of luck (after goalkeeping error and then a dodgy penalty). I see those days are back.

Glentoran’s reign at the top would only last 48 hours, as the result of this match would see new leaders. Avoiding defeat would do the job for Cliftonville while only a win would do for Linfield.

Storm Brendan, it turned out, was not a Glentoran supporter. If he was, he would have got this match postponed to let them enjoy being at the top of the table for a little longer.

Other TV options on Monday fitted in nicely with this match. Getaways on BBC, which is what Linfield want to be doing in July and August, jetting off around Europe, ideally in the European Cup.

Cold Feet on ITV was what the crowd got, as they watched this match in chilly temperatures. Though, if you wanted to watch something that would make James Nesbitt grumpy, Coleraine’s defeat a few days earlier would have been a better option.

For me, this was my first night visit to Solitude. It meant a change to my pre-match superstitions.

Usually, I go to Papa Drew’s on Oldpark Road for lunch prior to a Saturday game, but it was closed. As was Cod Almighty a few shops down.

So, I had to make do with a Chinese. Not ideal. Though, if we won 10-0, it was have been Chinese all the way in future.

Despite Christmas being long gone, Linfield set up with a Christmas Tree, with a midfield three of Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Fallon and Andrew Mitchell being a midfield set up for a battle.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield had a bench with a lot of attacking options – Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin, Kirk Millar, Daniel Kearns and Bastien Hery being on call should they be needed.

It was Cliftonville who had the first shot with a Conor McMenamin shot from outside the box that was easily saved.

Ruaidhri Donnelly then headed against the bar. However, it was the top of the bar so it looked closer than it was. However, it was worrying that Cliftonville were winning headers in Linfield’s penalty area.

Linfield’s first real spell on the ball saw them get a penalty when Liam Bagnall handled a goalward shot.

Jordan Stewart looked as though he wanted to take the penalty, but it was left to Andrew Mitchell.

I was slightly worried when he stepped up as he was due a miss. Cliftonville fans were hoping that would be the case. They would be left disappointed as Mitchell put Linfield 1-0 up.

Cliftonville had the next attacking moment when a Joe Gormley cross went tantalisingly across the six yard box, but Ryan Curran couldn’t get on the end of it.

It was Gormley who made it 1-1 when Ethan Boyle was disposed and he ran through to score, despite protests for offside from Linfield.

It was Gormley’s first goal against Linfield since since November 2018. His record against us is bizarre. He either goes ages without a goal against us or scores in successive matches, so this is a bit ominous ahead of future games.

That goal seemed to make Linfield lose their discipline and shape, running about after the ball as if somebody had thrown a toy into a Dog Pound.

They were glad to get in at half-time at 1-1, to calm themselves down and go at it at half-time.

The half-time break saw a change for Linfield, with Mark Stafford coming on for the injured Mark Haughey.

The second-half saw a lot of early pressure, which got rewarded when Mark Stafford jabbed the ball home after a flick on from Ethan Boyle.

It wasn’t what he was brought into the team to do, but just like at Dungannon last season, it was a contribution that was welcomed. Just like at Dungannon last season, it was a goal that came when Linfield really needed it.

The goal came from an outswinging corner. It’s always good to have a bit of variety at corners instead of always going for an inswinger. That was probably due to them always being taking by a right sided player. It has been a bit surprising that neither Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper have taken corners in the absence of Niall Quinn.

You got the feel that if Linfield made it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

It looked like they were going to get it when Shayne Lavery burst clear after a defensive mistake, only to be denied by a save from Richard Brush, with the rebound going out for a corner after the ball went to wide to stick the rebound in.

Joe Gormley then left the pitch to ironic cheers from Linfield fans, as he made way for Michael McCrudden to make his debut for the club. It turned out that Gormley was injured, as it seemed odd that he would be substituted when they needed a goal most.

Linfield turned to their bench and freshened things up with a like for like change up front, with Kirk Millar coming on for Jordan Stewart.

Despite the narrow lead, Linfield were mostly comfortable and never really troubled in defence.

Jamie Mulgrew was having what I thought would be described as a silent influence on the game, the sort that goes unnoticed. However, a quick browse through Social Media proved me to be wrong, the general consensus that this was his best performance in a long time.

Every time Cliftonville got near or over the halfway line, they were usually to get the ball off Jamie Mulgrew within the next five seconds. Thou shalt not pass.

Not tonight lads, you’re not getting near our goal.

Despite holding out for most of the second-half at 2-1, it was only natural that Cliftonville would have more of the ball in the final minutes, as they had the greater need.

And so it proved, as Linfield had to survive a flurry of corners.

And penalty shouts. Well, you know what I mean. I’ve been to Solitude enough times to know that Cliftonville fans claim for everything when they attack their fans, it still makes you nervous.

That flurry of corners and possession would bring one big chance for Cliftonville, when a cross set up Aaron Donnelly perfectly for a header, but he made no contact with the ball.

Rohan Ferguson looked well positioned if he did, but Donnelly should have been asking the question.

As the ball went out, the clock hit 94 minutes. That was it, the game was gone. Rohan Ferguson completed the formalities, the final whistle blowing as soon as he took his goal kick.

At 2-1, Cliftonville looked short of ideas and self belief against a team they have struggled against in recent years. It was like watching this fixture between 2012 and 2016, but with the roles reversed.

If you like stats, here’s some for you.

This was Linfield’s 4th win in their last 5 games at Solitude, the other being a draw.

Since Cliftonville’s last title in 2014, Linfield have played 13 games at Solitude, winning 7 drawing 4 and losing just 2.

This was Linfield 6th successive League win over Cliftonville.

Most importantly, this was a result that saw Linfield go top of the League on goal difference ahead of Glentoran and Cliftonville.

If the result against Queen’s taught us anything, is that you can’t take any win for granted. However, upcoming games give Linfield an opportunity to go on a winning run and build momentum, putting pressure on the teams below us, as five of the next six games are against teams in the bottom half.

I didn’t want to say it at the time, but I was hoping that the free weekend in February could be used for a friendly away to a League Of Ireland side. No footballing value to it, I just wanted the prospect of a trip away somewhere to cheer me up.

Cork possibly, so I could lay flowers at the site where Billy Murphy fell and died and his brains were coming out of his mouth.

Derry City had similar ideas, with one paper running a story about a possible friendly between the sides after Declan Devine said they were trying to face an Irish League side that weekend.

It’s hardly an earth shattering revelation that League Of Ireland sides monitor the Irish Cup to see who is free in early February.

Such a game wouldn’t have been that appealing to me. I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, and I’ve already been to The Brandywell this season, so as a trip it didn’t offer me somewhere I hadn’t been before. As it turned out, Portadown got that honour.

As it turned out, Linfield are using that free Saturday to play midweek games around it. They’ve been a bit crafty about it. Other clubs have been happy to manipulate the fixture list for their own agendas, so why not Linfield?

We’ll be facing Larne on the back of games against Crusaders and Glentoran and just before their Irish Cup tie, which is what their season is about now. If they are the slightest bit tired or off focus, we must capitalise on it.

The following Tuesday, is Dungannon at home, with Dungannon coming off the back of an Irish Cup tie against Newry, which let’s be honest, has extra-time and penalties written all over it.

Midweek football is going to be quite frequent for me during January, as next week I head to Manchester to see United take on Burnley.

While i’m there on the Tuesday, Salford City face Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy, and FC United face Sheffield in the Integro Cup, the Northern Premier League’s version of the League Cup. Might take in one of those games.

Talking of football trips, the League Of Ireland First Division fixture list was announced and Bray won’t playing at home when i’m staying there during Euro 2020. I’ll have to make do with a Dublin game on the Monday night.

St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork is looking likely as Richmond Park is easier to get to, although it is tempting to get one last game at Dalymount Park, although I thought that when I visited it in 2016.

Coincidentally, government funding was announced this week for that redevelopment. I didn’t realise they had to wait for the Northern Ireland Assembly to get back together to release funding.

You’d think there was an election in the Republic of Ireland next month.

I’m still looking for somewhere to go over the July Holidays. I spent a miserable Sunday night looking for somewhere to go and got nothing. Estonia might night be happening.

Waterford might, it is very tempting. They play at home over that weekend too, against Cork. I know, what is it with this urge to see Cork City?

More immediate, is Linfield v Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, as part of a busy day where i’ll be going to see Badly Drawn Boy in the evening.

Hoping that the Linfield match can be described as Something To Talk About rather than a Silent Sigh or Pissing In The Wind.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 9.12.1989

Match action from Scotland v England is the cover image of this week’s edition, as the two countries could be paired together in the forthcoming draw for the 1990 World Cup.

Bobby Davison of Leeds United shows Match around his house, sharing his matchday routine and his CD collection.

It’s the 2nd Round of the FA Cup, and Aylesbury are hoping to shock Northampton Town. Their manager Trevor Gould knows someone with FA Cup pedigree, his brother Bobby won the competition 18 months earlier.

Hans Gilhaus of Aberdeen gets a profile, stating that his best form is yet to come, despite a goalscoring start to his career in Scotland, saying that Aberdeen have a lot of similarities to his former club PSV Eindhoven.

In news, South African born Roy Wegerle is hoping to play for USA in the 1994 World Cup, as he’ll have to wait until 1991 to get US citizenship.

David Platt tells Match he has no plans to leave Aston Villa, having turned down Watford and Hibs to join them from Crewe.

In foreign news, Chris Waddle could have increased competition at Marseille, with the club strengthening their squad.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY 2-1 LINFIELD 4.1.2019

There is no way to gloss over this result, it was embarrassing.

After a difficult Christmas/New Year period, the Irish Cup offered a respite for Linfield, ahead of a nine day break before resuming League action.

The draw gave them an away trip to Lower League opposition, a great chance of progress and a new ground for fans to visit.

Well, not for all of us.

Due to the capacity of The Dub, Linfield were restricted to 150 tickets. Unfortunately, I missed out on getting one.

Undeterred, I decided to head over and chance my luck.

I asked at Reception and they had no spares, but I found a spot outside the ground to watch from. It was ok, but there some parts of the pitch that were obscured. While standing there, I was offered a ticket at face value so I decided to take it and get a better view.

If you did want to watch the match from outside, you could do so, or you could watch it from a sofa in The Pavillion, albeit with a restricted view.

The Dub is very small with no room for manoeuvre with regards to fitting more fans in. There could have been ways around it though.

They could have closed off some of the Car Park and created a standing area behind the goal at that end. I’m not sure what the feasibility was of playing the game at the pitch beside it, which had a bigger stand and standing area around the pitch.

After a busy run of games, I had expected some changes, with some players being rested and others who had been inactive recently getting some much needed game time.

That was not to be the case, although we did see three at the back getting binned.

It was a big day for Ethan Boyle, recently signed from Shamrock Rovers. Not only was it his birthday, he turned 23, he made his debut at right-back, coming in for Mark Haughey who continues his recovery from injury with a rest.

Do you want to feel really old? The day that Ethan Boyle was born, Saturday 4th January 1997, was the day that David Jeffrey took charge of his first match as Linfield manager.

In a match like this, Linfield had to be on the front foot early on, and not give Queen’s an opportunity to settle in the game. That would not be the case.

In fact, it was Rohan Ferguson who was the busier keeper, making a series of saves to keep it at 0-0.

On 38 minutes, Queen’s took the lead when Marc McKenna dispossessed Bastien Hery and then nutmegged Jimmy Callacher before firing home from outside the box. It was a goal that had been coming.

Once again, it was another poor goal conceded by Linfield. We’ve conceded some absolute shockers recently.

It acted as a wake-up call for Linfield, 38 minutes too late you could say.

Jamie Mulgrew, facing his younger brother Ben, hit the top of the bar as Linfield looked to go in at half-time level.

In the final minute of the half, it looked like Linfield had been given a reprieve with a penalty being awarded for a handball from a corner. However, the whistle was actually blown for a foul in the build-up.

The second-half began, or rather didn’t begin, in farcical circumstances, as the start was delayed due to the net that Linfield were attacking in the first-half being broken. I’m not sure how, as it didn’t see any action.

When the second-half did begin, it did so with Linfield being camped in Queen’s half. For the first time in the match, it felt like a Linfield goal was imminent.

Mark Stafford had a header hit the bar, while Joel Cooper saw his header from the rebound saved. Jamie Mulgrew then had an effort go wide as it looked like Queen’s had seen out the Linfield onslaught.

Joel Cooper was now getting the better of his opposing full-back, but he continued to frustrate with his final ball.

Just before the hour, Shayne Lavery was introduced for Daniel Kearns, and the impact was immediate, as he headed home from a corner to make it 1-1.

That should have been the springboard for Linfield to go on and win the game. However, there would be no onslaught, with Queen’s looking comfortable at 1-1.

On 75 minutes, the match swung in Queen’s favour when Mark Stafford slipped under pressure and handled the ball in the penalty area. After a delay, a penalty was given.

Jonah Mitchell stepped up to put Queen’s 2-1 up. Ironically, he was given his senior debut and then loaned to Queen’s by former Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Linfield were in deep trouble and time was running out. Matthew Shevlin and Jordan Stewart came on for Bastien Hery and Mark Stafford in search of an equaliser.

That looked like coming when a through ball saw Matthew Shevline get in behind Queen’s defence, control the ball and go round the keeper, with the offside flag going up as he was putting the ball into the net. He looked onside to me.

Linfield were running out of ideas, and hoping to get lucky with a free-kick. The best they could offer was a header from Jimmy Callacher which was disallowed for offside.

In fact, it looked like Queen’s were more likely to score on the counter attack.

It looked like one of those free-kicks would bring Linfield an equaliser when a headed clearance fell to Kirk Millar, whose cross was headed wide by Matthew Shevlin from a few yards out. He really should have scored. If he hit the target, he would have.

Everybody sensed that was Linfield’s big chance, and it had gone. This was going to be Queen’s day.

Unfortunately, there would be no dodgy 95th minute penalty to save us. I note those days have returned. We would have missed anyway.

And so it proved, as they held on for a famous win. The most damming thing for Linfield was that they deserved it. It wasn’t a smash and grab.

To make it worse for Linfield, Larne and Dungannon Swifts both won, meaning that the free Saturday on Saturday 1st February can’t be used to slot in one of the two games that need rearranged.

Dungannon Swifts and Larne both have winnable ties, meaning the Quarter-Final date of Saturday 29th February probably won’t be able to be used to slot in one of these games.

If you’re a calendar nerd like me, you’ll be especially annoyed at Linfield not having a game on 29th February. Unless we have a midweek game between now and then, February 29th won’t fall on a Saturday until 2048.

So what now for Linfield?

Three trophies have gone and all focus is on the League.

Ironically, in order to over throw Cliftonville, Linfield must now look to Cliftonville’s past as an inspiration.

The important thing is not to panic. Just three weeks ago, Linfield were about to run away with the League, now it looks like the season might be falling apart.

The line-up for this game was totally wrong. There are too many players who have played too much football and need a rest. This game, the fifth in fourteen days should have been used to give some players a rest and others some much needed game time.

Linfield’s results since the 7-0 win over Warrenpoint have followed a worrying trend: 0-1, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-6, 3-0, 0-1, 2-1, 1-0, 0-3, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-3, 1-1, 3-0, 1-2.

Far too many 0s and 1s in those first figures.

The games where Linfield have scored more than one in that run have been against Carrick Rangers, Ballymena United, Warrenpoint Town and Institute (twice).

That is quite damming.

Linfield have been too slow starting games, allowing teams to get settled, and against Crusaders and Glentoran, giving away early goals and chasing the game, while also struggling against teams who are well organised in defence.

Even against Warrenpoint last month, we didn’t push on after scoring inside the first minute.

There’s no urgency in attack, teams are allowed to get comfortable.

When we create chances, the final ball goes awry, or we aren’t reactive enough when the ball is loose.

Now the fixture list has calmed down, but not in the way we wanted. We’ll be having a lot of gaps now.

This upcoming nine day gap couldn’t come at a better time. A chance to recharge batteries and get minds focused on the task at hand.

That task now is retaining the League title. It’s the only thing we can do now.

It is so important to be in Europe next season. Linfield gained a lot of co-efficient points this season. It might take a while to see the benefits but we have to continue to be in Europe and keep getting those points in order to secure a favourable draw, that’s how The New Saints got to be seeded when they enter the European Cup.

As said earlier, Linfield can use Cliftonville as a form of inspiration.

January 2014, reigning champions and just dumped out of the Irish Cup at the first stage on the back of a bumpy run of results in the League, although losing a replay to Coleraine is a bit more respectable. Sounds familiar.

They focused their minds and energy on the League and went on a winning run to secure the title.

And that winning run started against Linfield. The task for Linfield is to do something similar, starting against Cliftonville.

If we can get through the game at Solitude, we have a run of games against Bottom 6 opposition coming up, and a great chance of getting a winning run going.

Although saying that, a tie against Championship opposition should have been an opportunity to start a cup run.

It seems a bit coincidental that the lack of goals and dodgy results have come while Niall Quinn has been out injured. Key at both ends of the pitch.

There won’t be any trophy celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in May 2020. Let’s make sure there are celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in April 2020.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 3-0 INSTITUTE 1.1.2020

New Year’s Day, time to make some resolutions and make a new start. Well, that’s what Linfield were hoping after a disappointing run of results over Christmas.

In terms of wanting to change the habit of not winning, Institute would have been perfect opponents if Linfield had to choose.

It wasn’t the fact that that Linfield haven’t lost to Institute since 2003 (or at Windsor Park since 2002, last dropping points to them there since 2009) or the fact that Linfield have won the last nine meetings.

It was the fact that twice last season, games against Institute, in November and then in March, saw Linfield come out of a bumpy spell of results to recover their composure and start a run of wins.

Even earlier this season, victory over Institute, coming off the back of a 6-0 defeat to Dundalk, began a run of five wins out of the next six League matches.

Sandwiched in the middle of a busy run of games, it was unsurprising that there were changes to Linfield’s starting eleven.

What was surprising was the way they lined up, 3-5-2 with Matthew Clarke one of those three in defence.

With no Mark Stafford or Josh Robinson on the bench, it was a case of making the most of the players who were available.

I’d be slightly worried if we lined up like that against Cliftonville on 13th January, as when Institute attacked, Linfield’s defence looked exposed and open.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had a lot of the ball in the early stages of the game, the game mostly taking place in Institute’s half. It looked like it was a matter of time until Linfield scored.

It looked like that goal came when Andrew Waterworth finished from close range but the goal was disallowed as the cross from Daniel Kearns was just out of play.

As with most games this season, Linfield’s best moments came when Joel Cooper got on the ball. Institute couldn’t handle him. However, the final ball usually went to an Institute player, or Institute were able to get a body in the way and thwart him.

Bastien Hery then had a shot from outside the box as Linfield continued to be frustrated as they searched for the opening goal.

That came when Linfield were awarded a penalty for a foul on, who else, Joel Cooper. Having scored two penalties when the sides met in November, Andrew Waterworth got his third penalty goal of the season against Institute to put Linfield 1-0 up.

This was a game that Linfield were never going to win 1-0. You got the feeling that once they got one, the floodgates would open.

Within a few minutes, it looked like that was going to be the case when Shayne Lavery got in behind Institute’s defence, but his shot was turned over by Institute’s keeper Rory Brown, being watched by his proud mother Agnes.

The respite was brief for Institute, as the resulting corner was flicked on by Andrew Waterworth for Mark Haughey to finish from close range to make it 2-0.

It seemed that Kirk Millar was the only person taking corners, which meant we were treated to outswinging corners for the first time in a long time.

It’s always good to mix and match at set pieces, and outswingers seemed to be working for Linfield, with Shayne Lavery having gone close with an earlier effort.

The half-time whistle blew with Linfield in a commanding lead, which they needed on a day when the Top 6 faced the Bottom 6, and all of the Top 6 teams were winning.

Linfield just needed another goal just to be sure, and not give Institute any encouragement that they can get back into the game.

They had enough opportunities to get it in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Shayne Lavery got played through but dragged his shot wide, the finish of a man in a goal drought. In September or October, the ball would have been blasted into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, a pull back from Joel Cooper saw Lavery shoot goalwards, but his effort was blocked at the expense of a corner.

Mark Haughey was then denied by the post from a set piece as Linfield searched for a third clinching goal. Andrew Waterworth was then denied from a wide angle as he got in behind Institute’s defence.

Having scored in Institute’s last two visits to Windsor Park, it was no surprised that Jordan Stewart was introduced from the bench, coming on for Daniel Kearns.

Stewart was involved in Linfield’s third goal, when his saved shot fell perfectly for Shayne Lavery to finish from a few yards out, the perfect sort of goal you want when having a drought. Hopefully, the start of a run.

With the game won, Linfield now had the opportunity to make changes, with Matthew Shevlin coming on for Andrew Waterworth, and Ross Larkin coming on for Mark Haughey. Larkin had a chance to score in injury time, but his close range effort was saved by Brown, who made himself big.

An easy win for Linfield on a day when they had to win. There would be no favours elsewhere in the League, as all of the Top 5 won.

Assessing the Christmas period over a four game basis, it was disappointing for Linfield, missing an opportunity to kill off three rivals, and allowing Cliftonville and Glentoran to make up ground on them.

The League is getting parked this weekend, as Linfield enter the Irish Cup, with a trip to Queen’s University, where they’ll be hoping to graduate into the next round. Apologies.

I’m still trying to get a ticket for that one, so if you know of one going, get in touch.

After a busy run of games, I would expect some changes to be made, with Kyle McClean and
Ethan Boyle getting some minutes.

As said earlier, the Top 6 met the Bottom 6, and it was a clean sweep for the Top 6, so it’s as you were at the top.

The next Matchday, January 10th to 13th is very interesting, as Coleraine face Crusaders and Cliftonville face Linfield in televised games, while Glentoran should be beating Warrenpoint Town.

Like recent games, it’s not quite must win, but it’s do not lose. Let’s be ruthless and burst a hole in Cliftonville’s balloon. The nine day break coming up will be beneficial to us, a change to recharge and get ready for the run-in.

So, 2020s football watching has already started, and trips to Manchester and Dublin are already scheduled in.

I’m still thinking about a Tallinn/Helsinki double header in July.

Also, in 2020, Harland and Wolff Welders will move to a new ground, so i’ll hope to get a visit there when it opens.

But what I really want to see in 2020, is another League title for Linfield. Oh, and another Irish Cup.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : 90 MINUTES – 6.4.1996

Gary and Phil Neville of Manchester United are the cover stars of this edition of 90 Minutes, as the 95-96 season enters it’s final stages.

In news, Rangers are linked with a move to sign Danish striker Mikkel Beck, while Wolves have opened up a Cyber Cafe at Molineux.

Ruud Gullit has joined the BBC as a pundit for Euro 96, while Sasa Curcic has pledged his future to Bolton, even if they get relegated.

Cover stars Gary and Phil Neville get a three page interview, described as the most famous brothers in Manchester, after the Gallaghers.

Kevin Lloyd, AKA Tosh from The Bill, talks to 90 Minutes about his love of Derby County.

There is a full page profile of new Fulham manager Micky Adams.

90 Minutes Live canvasses opinions at Exter v Plymouth, asking if the recent stories about Mad Cow Disease will put fans off getting a burger at the match.

The magazine ends with a report on a celebrity match at Wembley between England and Scotland, which England won 2-1, ahead of the Euro 96 match between the professionals in just over two months time.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2019

My football watching for 2019 is over and my football watching for 2020 isn’t that far away.

As is tradition, time to look back at my football watching over the past twelve months.

Matches : 53

Goals : 147

Red Cards : 9

Missed Penalties : 4

Hat-Tricks : 5

Jordan Stewart (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)
Andrew Waterworth (Dungannon Swifts v Linfield)
Shayne Lavery (Linfield v Glenavon)
Shayne Lavery (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)
Joel Cooper (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 33

Ards, Ballymena United, Belarus, Bray Wanderers, Burnley, Carrick Rangers, Cardiff City (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee, Dundela, Dunfermline Athletic, Estonia, FK Sutjeska (1st time), Germany, Glenavon, Glentoran, HB Torshavn (1st time), Hibernian, Holland, IFK Norkopping (1st time), Institute, Limerick (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Newry City, Northern Ireland, Partizan Belgrade (1st time), Qarabag, Rosenborg, St Mirren (1st time), St Patrick’s Athletic, Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 19

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Clandeboye Park, Coleraine Showgrounds, East End Park, Easter Road, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newry Showgrounds, Old Trafford, Richmond Park, Seaview, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue, The Brandywell, The Oval, Wilgar Park, Windsor Park,

Competitions : 11

County Antrim Shield, European Championship Qualifiers, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, League Of Ireland First Division, NIFL Cup, Scottish Championship, Scottish Premier League, UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

Two hat-tricks in the same match by two players on the same team, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town on 22nd October.

COLERAINE 1-1 LINFIELD 28.12.2019

Linfield ended this decade with a trip to Coleraine, where they should have started the decade.

Back then, in January 2010, it was a tight title race where nobody was able to go on a winning run to burst clear of the rest. Sounds familiar.

In fact, the only winner on a weekly basis during the Winter of 2009-2010 was the weather, with a backlog of games due to postponements. Linfield and Coleraine’s meeting on New Year’s Day 2010 was one of those games to fall victim.

Ten years on, there is a backlog of games to be scheduled, but thankfully not on the same scale.

For both teams, this was the second of two games in three days, both having contrasting fortunes in their respective Boxing Day encounters.

Both sides would have preferred Bottom 6 opponents where they could have rested players.

Linfield made six changes for this game. It’s possible that they could have made six changes if they won at The Oval on Boxing Day, that this rotation was always planned.

One change was enforced, with Joel Cooper missing out through suspension, giving an opportunity for Kirk Millar to slot in after his unscheduled three game break. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that a refreshed Millar would have slotted in anyway regardless of the result at The Oval, or any suspensions.

As suspected in my Boxing Day blog, the quick turnaround was too quick for Mark Haughey, while Mark Stafford and Ryan McGivern also came into the defence.

The last time the calendar fell this way, in 2013, there were no games on Saturday 28th December. The two previous times I can remember, 1996 and 2002, there were games, although I think 1996 was the first legs of a minor cup competition against a lower division side.

People would complain about no games on Saturday 28th, and will complain if there are. People just love complaining.

Travelling to the game by train, Linfield supporters travelling to this game that way will have enjoyed a 1/3 discount as part of a marketing campaign by Translink.

I’d hoped to have a nice relaxing trip. My hopes were not met as I ended up being sat beside a table of melters overdosing on Prosecco. “Derry won’t know what’s hit it” apparently, while one of them has sworn off men. Hopefully, that would be the only 90 minute nightmare of the afternoon.

On the topic of transport, and i’m going to keep saying it, it is incredible that there are no self service ticket machines at Great Victoria Street Train Station. Meanwhile, in Coleraine, I find it incredible that the door at Platform 2 which leads to the street outside (which is open for fans coming home) is closed as fans arrive, as this would be far more convenient as they can take a shortcut to the ground, and not have to wait at a Level Crossing when they can just bypass it.

Linfield started the game in the mood to get an early goal, with Kirk Millar bursting through in the opening minute, only to see his shot deflected behind for a corner.

Matthew Shevlin, making his first League start for Linfield, was then denied when Chris Johns saved his header.

Shevlin’s previous League appearances for Linfield had all been as a substitute, more often not getting enough time to get into the game. He did well in this game, looking lively when he got the ball and making things happen.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead when a throw saw Stephen Fallon in space, he looked up and fired a dipping shot into the net.

A few minutes earlier, Fallon had a shot at goal, so he was fancying his chances. From where I was stood, at the corner of the Terrace and the Away Stand, I was wondering what on earth he was doing.

Before I could think to myself “What the fuck did you shoot from there for?”, I could see the ball coming down and was only going to end up in the back of the net and was now celebrating before the ball hit the net.

The ball went in like a dart from, um, Fallon Sherrock. There’s a topical reference for you, although my only other knowledge of darts is Jim Bowen.

Jim himself would have described the goal as “Super, Smashing. Great”.

Even though Linfield had a few opportunities before that, it wasn’t one way traffic. A few minutes earlier, Coleraine had an opportunity when Josh Carson was played into space, but he fired wide from a wide angle.

Linfield fans weren’t that bothered about the run of play, as their side had a much needed early lead.

Coleraine had enough of an attacking threat for Linfield to know that this game was not won.

In fact this was the first time in eight games that Linfield went 1-0 up against Coleraine, and they’ve only led for about one minute in those eight games.

Coleraine’s best chance in response was a cross which fell perfectly for James McLaughlin, but he fired over when a low shot would surely have scored.

1-0 at half-time to Linfield. With Cliftonville and Glentoran both drawing their matches, this was an almost perfect afternoon for Linfield. So far.

As expected, Coleraine came out at the start of the second-half, hungry for an equaliser. Linfield couldn’t get out of their own half.

Stephen Fallon cleared a header at his post. It might have been hitting the post rather than going in, but he wasn’t to know that, before charging down the rebound as well.

Within a few minutes, Coleraine got their reward when Aaron Canning headed home a corner with Rohan Ferguson stranded, although Chris Casement needed to do better when challenging with Canning.

He didn’t need to win the header, just to do enough to stop Canning getting a clear header.

You couldn’t say that the Coleraine goal wasn’t coming.

The goal brought Linfield back to life and they almost responded with a run and shot from Matthew Shevlin that was saved.

Just as Jordan Stewart was warming up to be Linfield’s first substitute of the game, the game suddenly swung in Coleraine’s favour.

Ryan McGivern got a second yellow card for a foul. He couldn’t get out of the way. If Linfield were hoping for leniency and a talking to, those hopes were quickly dashed when the yellow card instantly came out. There’ll be more about that later.

Suddenly, the substitution changed. It was no longer about getting Jordan Stewart on to win the game, it was about getting Matthew Clarke on to make sure we were covered in the left-back position.

Matthew Shevlin, who probably would have went off for Jordan Stewart, was now coming off for Matthew Clarke.

A man down, Linfield now had to dig in and make the most of any opportunities that fell their way. They almost got one when the ball broke to Kirk Millar, whose first time shot was blocked by Chris Johns, who rushed out and made himself big.

It looked like it was going to be ten against ten when Stephen Lowry, on a yellow card looked like he was going to get a second yellow for a foul, but was spared by refereeing leniency that was denied to Ryan McGivern.

It was such a clear yellow that people around me were celebrating Lowry’s impending removal from the pitch, and that Coleraine’s numerical advantage was soon to be gone.

I’d have had no problem with McGivern’s red card if Lowry got one, likewise i’d have had no issue with the leniency towards Lowry if McGivern had got the same.

It’s not the application that’s the problem, it’s the lack of consistency when applying them.

There’s absolutely no suggestion that Linfield would have automatically won the game if Lowry was sent-off, but that doesn’t change the fact it was a wrong decision.

Instead of 10 v 10, it looked like it was going to be 11 v 9 when Rohan Ferguson mistimed a tackle outside the penalty area. I’m not sure why he was out there in the first place.

I must admit, I muttered to myself in the style of Brenda from Bristol “Not another one” as the whistle blew.

The fact it was a genuine attempt to win the ball saved him, we saw something similar when Jonathan Tuffey was booked when conceding a penalty against Linfield in 2017.

Jordan Stewart was also walking a disciplinary tightrope, after getting booked after a series of cheap fouls. It was utter stupidity on his part, giving away cheap free-kicks when Coleraine weren’t having possession in dangerous areas. He was making himself noticed by the referee, even though there wasn’t long left in the game.

In injury time, it looked like Coleraine were going to win it when Jamie Glackin created space for himself in the penalty area. Surprisingly, he didn’t shoot, instead choosing to set up James McLaughlin.

That split second allowed Rohan Ferguson to get out and make himself big, just as Chris Johns did with Kirk Millar, and save the shot and earn Linfield a point.

If there was any blame attached to him for the goal, he made up for it with that save.

Most Linfield matches in recent weeks, there was been at least one big and key save made by him.

Both teams had to settle for a point. It didn’t suit either of them in terms of the League table. Both teams were left frustrated that they didn’t win a game that was there for them to win, but also relieved not to lose a game that was slipping away from them.

Results elsewhere didn’t do any favours for both teams, with Cliftonville, Crusaders and Glentoran all winning.

It means that Cliftonville are three points clear of both Linfield and Coleraine, who both sit above Glentoran on goal difference, with Crusaders a further point behind.

Much has been made of Linfield’s games in hand, but they only have one in hand on Glentoran and Cliftonville. You won’t be able to fully assess the League table until everybody has played the same amount of games.

It’s been a good Christmas for Glentoran and Cliftonville, displaying the same form over the Festive Period that enabled Linfield to lay the foundations for winning the League last season.

For Linfield, it feels disastrous, but it’s probably more disappointing. Failure to beat Institute on New Year’s Day, and you could legitimately describe it as disastrous. A win over Institute would only upgrade the Festive results to meh.

So that concludes Linfield in the 2010s, a decade that saw 5 League titles, 3 Managers and a rebuilt stadium.

The 2020s will begin at home to Institute, three points is a must if we have ambitions of starting the decade with a title.

Hopefully, this game and the cup tie against Queen’s will give us an opportunity to rotate and get some fresh legs after a couple of tired performances.

Not only that, a few goals will be nice. The last time Linfield scored more than one in a game was against Ballymena in November. We can’t win 1-0 every week.

Sky Sports have done us a favour as we’ll come off the back of this busy period with a break of nine days, a chance to get the batteries recharged ahead of the run-in.

We’ll need to be on full charge for the first game of that run. Away to Cliftonville. We simply cannot afford to let Cliftonville pull ahead of us and get any form of belief in the title race.

Curiously, we arrived for our previous visit to Solitude after a nine day break after a busy run of games. Another 1-0 win would be nice.

That match against Queen’s sees Linfield restricted to 150 tickets, which means it is more than likely that i’ll miss out, which is a bit shit as it was a game I was looking forward to. I’ve never been to The Dub before, but surely it can hold more than that?

A random thought, with the NIFL Cup Final taking place at 7.45pm on Saturday 15th February, surely the League matches scheduled for Friday 14th February can be moved to the Saturday afternoon, even if the kick-offs are slightly earlier. Surely that makes so much more sense?

So, what will football in 2020 hold for me?

Well, i’m going to United v Burnley in mid January. I’ll keep an eye out for other games in Greater Manchester on the Tuesday night when i’m there.

I’m spending time in Dublin/Bray in late June to be in the city on the day of the Last 16 match in Euro 2020 at Lansdowne Road. Hoping to get a ticket for that, but there’s League Of Ireland games on while i’m there, so i’ll be guaranteed to see some football.

Still toying with the idea of doing a Tallinn/Helsinki double header over the July Holidays, so I might even take in an Estonian game.

Who knows what my football watching will be like in 2020?

All I know is that I plan to keep going to as many matches as possible.

Starting with Institute on New Year’s Day

Photo Album

GLENTORAN 3-0 LINFIELD 26.12.2019

Well that was shite. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to read on.

Christmas got off to a good start for Linfield, with the Swifts winning the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas Day, now it was the turn of the first team.

They arrived at The Oval on the back of a late draw against Crusaders. Those two points dropped allowed Cliftonville and Glentoran to cut the gap at the top of a congested table. Victory here could see them pull away from Glentoran and one or both of Crusaders and Cliftonville depending on the result at Seaview.

It was expected that the team that finished the match against Crusaders would be the starting line-up for Linfield. However, that would not be the case with Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth starting ahead of Daniel Kearns and Shayne Lavery.

That meant that Linfield’s starting eleven featured all four of their goalscorers on Boxing Day 2018, as well as their goalscorer in 2016, Mark Haughey.

Their goalscorer on Boxing Day 2017, Cameron Stewart, was also on the pitch, but playing for Glentoran.

Inside the first ten minutes, it was Glentoran who struck the first blow when a long throw wasn’t cleared and a shot flashed across goal and fell perfectly for Elvio Van Overbeek to backheel the ball into the net.

It was a bad goal to concede, and was made worse by the fact the initial throw-in was so cheaply conceded, coming from a clearance out after a Glentoran attack was snuffed out.

Linfield responded with a Jimmy Callacher header that was kicked off the line. Joel Cooper then had a shot saved by Marijan Antolovic before Andrew Waterworth was flagged offside when following up the rebound.

Waterworth then had a header go just wide as Linfield went in search of an equaliser.

The best came when a goalmouth scramble fell for Mark Haughey. He managed to get a shooting opportunity but fired over. He would have been better off firing low into the crowded goal line as only one player could use his hands.

Despite being 1-0 down, there was no need to panic. There were goals in this for Linfield. They just had to keep the pressure on.

The pressure on Glentoran’s goal continued with Stephen Fallon having a shot go just wide before Jordan Stewart hit the post.

That search for a goal resulted in Shayne Lavery being brought in from the bench for Bastien Hery.

Linfield still had to be wary of not going 2-0 down, and they had a warning when Willie Garrett headed a free header straight at Rohan Ferguson.

It looked like that goal when Andrew Waterworth headed home from a Joel Cooper cross but was instantly denied by an offside flag. I didn’t have a clear view of it and the TV replay was inconclusive.

Wether left or right, Cooper was getting a lot of jot out wide and making things happen, but Linfield couldn’t get anybody on the end of his crosses.

You sensed if Linfield could get it to 1-1, they would go on to win the game.

Antolovic was having one of those days, and even when he dropped one, a Linfield player couldn’t get on the end of it.

That was the problem, more often than not, wherever it was on the pitch, when there was a loose ball, there would always be a Glentoran player first to the ball.

One such situation saw Hrvoje Plum run towards Linfield’s goal. Linfield’s defenders kept backing off and you knew what was going to happen as he fired in low from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0.

Up against it, but not out of it, Daniel Kearns and Matthew Shevlin came on Jordan Stewart and Matthew Clarke. Kearns should have been on a lot earlier when the score was 0-1.

Even though they were two goals down, Linfield were still in it. If they could get an instant goal back, there was still plenty of time left to get something from this game.

Joel Cooper was denied from a couple of efforts as Linfield looked to get that goal bad.

Plum then made it 3-0 from the penalty spot to put the game beyond doubt.

Despite that, Linfield continued to attack and continued to be denied, no matter what they did.

Linfield’s poor record in big domestic games (excluding Cliftonville) continues to be poor this season. Bizarrely, they aren’t the only team to be afflicted with this.

Top 5 v Each other (8 games, W-D-L-Pts)

Coleraine 4-3-1-15
Crusaders 3-2-3-11
Cliftonville 3-1-4-10
Linfield 3-1-4-10
Glentoran 2-3-3-9

Coleraine are the only team to have won more than they have lost in this Mini League and yet, they sit 3rd in the actual League. These stats are both worrying and give Linfield hope at the same time.

You can win the League without winning all these games, you can win the League having an inferior head to head against one team, but you won’t do it if you lose more than you win against the Top 5.

Nobody has an excellent record in these games, they all take points off each other and Coleraine have dropped to Bottom 6 teams.

It’s frustrating that everytime Linfield got close to the top, they lost a big game and get held back, then when they reached the top, they can’t seem to pull away.

They had better fix it quick, with a trip to Coleraine coming 46 hours after the final whistle at The Oval.

We’re not disadvantaged as Coleraine have the same turnaround time.

Regardless of the result, I would always have expected changes between the two games due to the turnaround.

I would expect Kirk Millar to come back in. We’ve found out the hard way over the last three games how important he is. Maybe a start for Daniel Kearns, Shayne Lavery to start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Haughey was rested as two games in such a quick time might be too much for a player just back from long-term injury. Possibly, Andrew Mitchell might come in.

I would expect some rotation for the Institute and QUB games.

Sky Sports have done us a favour moving the Cliftonville away game to a Monday night, to have eight days gap between matches as we recover from a busy Christmas/New Year period.

It’s hard to assess this game. Linfield had enough chances and should have got something from this game, but they didn’t take them. We’ve probably played worse and won comfortably.

There were a couple of worrying trends though.

For the second successive game, Linfield conceded a soft goal in the opening ten minutes. We can’t keep giving teams something to defend so early in the game.

Some of the goals Linfield have conceded this season have been shocking, being punished for basic mistakes.

We have also struggled to break down teams who swarm the midfield and are well set up in defence. This is why it is imperative not to concede the first goal and give opponents something to hold onto.

We also need to be quicker to the ball in attacking situations. Far too often, opposing defenders are the quickest to react in situations.

We’ve let Cliftonville go top and put Glentoran back into the title race when we should have been out of sight. Glentoran have a generous run of games coming up, and won’t face a Top 5 team until February.

Tomorrow is a new day, as they say, and if Linfield can get three wins from the next seven days, this result won’t be forgotten about, but the smell of it won’t be lingering about.

We’d be through to the next round of the Irish Cup, and the worst scenario in the League would be 3 clear of Coleraine and 1 behind Cliftonville with those games in hand.

I’d hoped those games in hand would be used to extend our lead, rather than getting a lead.

Fortunes can change so quickly. Remember, Linfield went from four points behind to one point clear in the space of ten days last Christmas/New Year.

The good news for anyone travelling to Coleraine is that return train travel this weekend is 1/3 off as part of a marketing promotion.

Let’s hope Linfield aren’t feeling as generous as Translink.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MANCHESTER UNITED – JANUARY 1998

Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole and Phil Neville are frolicking in the snow on the cover of Manchester United’s official magazine to celebrate United being Christmas Number 1 in the Premier League charts.

In news, Peter Schmeichel says United have made a breakthrough in European football after winning their European Cup group, but doesn’t believe lifting the trophy in Amsterdam is a formality.

Elsewhere, Andy Cole has signed a new contract keeping him at United until 2002.

David Beckham is the subject of a five page interview, as does United’s latest home grown debutants Ronnie Wallwork and John Curtis, who both came on as substitutes in the win over Barnsley in late October.

Brian McClair’s Diary reveals he appeared in a firework safety event, and met a fan in the shape of a Celtic supporting Government Minister.

The magazine ends with a Happy New Year message from various United players.

2019 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December’s photo adventures had to wait a full seven days, when I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville.

A few days later, I headed to Ulster Hall for my final concert of the year, to see Primal Scream.

The following Saturday, I headed to Warrenpoint to see Linfield get a 2-0 win.

That was followed by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield draw 1-1 with Crusaders.

December so far hasn’t been that busy so far, but there’s still some photo adventures to come in the final week.

It’s unlikely that i’ll be at Seaview tomorrow for the Steel and Sons Cup Final, but i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day. As if i’d be anywhere else.

Boxing Day is the start of three busy days, as i’ll be heading to Ulster v Connacht the day after, and then Coleraine v Linfield the day after that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed by look back at my photo adventures in 2019. Of course, there’ll be more photo adventures in 2020.

In terms of concerts, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Blossoms and Badly Drawn Boy are already on the horizon.

Travelwise, Manchester and Bray are confirmed. I’m planning to walk up Bray Head. While in Bray, i’ll sneak in a trip to Dublin. I’m hoping to see a Euro 2020 game while i’m there, but i’ll definitely catch some League Of Ireland action.

May is the new date for Hit The North, so i’ll be photographing that, and any other Street Art I spot during the year.

And i’ll be crossing my fingers for some snow to photograph at some point because i’m a big kid.

Linfield v Cliftonville

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders