All season, Linfield have been trying to climb to the top of the Irish League table. For most of the season, the peak seemed a long way off. Gradually, win by win, the gap has got close and closer.
Tuesday night’s win over Warrenpoint Town put Linfield only two points off the top of the table, the closest they have been since August.
Just as against Crusaders at the start of October, as soon as Linfeld looked to cut the gap, the gap got bigger.
Games in hand mean Linfield still have the title destiny in their own hands, but another poor result in a big domestic game remains a sense of frustration.
For me, this was my first trip to Coleraine by train, with the ground being a short walk from the station …. or so I thought.
A few observations. I find it absolutely incredible in this day and age that Great Victoria Street doesn’t have self service ticket machines. It is also a very poorly designed train station. Want to know what I mean? Try and walk to the platform after a train has just arrived.
Hopefully, the planned Belfast Transport Hub will address this.
I got off at Central, and the newly built retail units are still empty, which is a bit embarrassing.
Getting off at Coleraine, there was a wait to walk to the ground as the road was closed as it is a Level Crossing and we needed to wait for the train to leave the station. Although, on the way back, I did notice a shortcut from the station to the ground, which i’ll make use of in future.
From there, we were then made to walk the long way around through an industrial estate. This delay meant I missed the opening minute of the game.
I got in just in time to see Ben Doherty have a shot saved by Rohan Ferguson. Even if it did go in, it still would have been a better start for Linfield than when the sides met in August, going 1-0 down after 13 seconds.
There were two changes for Linfield with Niall Quinn and Mark Stafford coming in for Matthew Clarke and Ross Larkin, harsh on both players who did well on Tuesday.
Aaron Traynor then had a shot over the bar as Coleraine continued the pressure. Traynor would then be later denied by two Linfield players charging at him to block a shot and make the goal smaller, similar to when Andrew Burns was forced to hit his shot into the side netting last week.
Linfield’s response was a shot by Bastien Hery which hit the post. Encouraged by this, Hery had a later shot from a similar range which was easily held by Chris Johns.
Eoin Bradley then got in behind Jimmy Callacher but his shot was saved by Rohan Ferguson.
Having got in at half-time 0-0, Linfield would have to improve in the second-half.
Wherever they play, if Linfield are attacking where their own fans, they always have a chance.
Linfield were brighter as an attacking force, but still not troubling Coleraine. Coleraine’s attacks were much more believable.
After managing to frustrate Coleraine, Linfield almost gifted Coleraine a goal, when Rohan Ferguson was caught in possession, but managed to put pressure on Eoin Bradley and make the goal smaller, making the save when Bradley tried to score from a wide angle.
In search of a goal, Linfield brought on Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth for Joel Cooper and Shayne Lavery.
However, it a game that looked like it was meandering to a 0-0 draw, it was Coleraine who got the breakthrough with ten minutes to go when Mark Stafford headed the ball into his own net when trying to clear the ball.
To make it worse, the goal came from a cheaply conceded corner.
It’s the second successive week where Linfield have conceded from Rohan Ferguson not being assertive enough.
When the ball comes in, just get it. If there are bodies in the road, just get it. If one of your own players is in the road, just go and get the ball. Hopefully, he’ll work on it.
It was a poor goal to concede on so many levels, in terms of time of the game, importance and the quality of the goal.
Linfield responded by bringing on Matthew Shevlin for Bastien Hery, as they attacked a goal where the Ballboys had mysteriously disappeared, being stood down, their work for the day was done.
Naturally, given the situation, Linfield had more of the ball, but never really did enough with it, all they could offer was a Jimmy Callacher header and a hooked Matthew Shevlin effort that didn’t force Chris Johns into a save.
Coleraine held out for the win, increasing their lead over Linfield to five points, and giving them a three point lead over Crusaders, although Crusaders could have overtaken them with a large win over Glenavon in a 5pm kick-off. They drew 2-2, which made this result even more frustrating.
Linfield’s two games in hand mean that if they win them, they will go top.
Trips to Ballymena and Larne won’t be easy, but they are mid table teams, we should be believing we will beat them if we want to win the League, especially as Coleraine and Crusaders are yet to beat them.
The table is now starting to take shape.
Carrick Rangers, Institute and Warrenpoint Town are now marooned as the bottom three.
It’s hard to assess Glenavon. Presently, they are in a relegation fight, but if they win their two games in hand (or even get four points), they will join Dungannon Swifts, Ballymena United and Larne in the race for 6th.
The top five are starting to pull away from the rest.
Despite one point from four games against the sides above them, Glentoran are only six points off the top. You have to count them in the title race. If they had beaten Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts in August, they’d only be one point off the top
Like Cliftonville, currently one point off the top, i’d expect them to be a bit further back by the time everybody plays each other twice.
It is interesting to note that Crusaders have gone four games without a win. If that was Linfield, it would be front page news.
Crusaders also concede goals. 4 x Coleraine, 2 v Coleraine, 2 v Glentoran and 2 v Glenavon twice.
It makes our failure to score against them this season even more frustrating.
It’s Coleraine that Linfield really have to worry about.
Their doing better than expected as I thought it might take a season to get back on track after their 2017-2018 team was decimated.
Three defeats out of three to Coleraine and Crusaders is a concern, especially the manner, a lack of creativity after falling behind to bad goals each time. In games of fine margins, we have to make everything count.
One positive is that Oran Kearney will win Manager Of The Month, which will jinx him.
If it does, we have to take advantage. Thankfully, we’ve got a generous run of games coming up in November.