THE FRIDAY FIVE – 6.4.2018

1. The Wombats – Turn
2. Snow Patrol – Don’t Give In
3. Jack White – Over and Over
4. Chvrches – Never Say Die
5. James – Better Than That

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WARRENPOINT TOWN 1-3 LINFIELD 6.2.2018

Linfield went into this game on a run of two wins in their last eight League games. That run began with a 3-3 draw at home to Warrenpoint in December. They were hoping that a game against Warrenpoint would be the springboard for a run of form in the opposite direction.

Linfield had fond memories of the last time they visited Warrenpoint back in September. A 4-1 win that night put Linfield top of the League. They were knocked off the top the following day and haven’t been back since. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that it will be until next season at least that they will return there.

This was supposed to be the first match at the newly renamed Q Radio Arena in January before it was postponed. Thankfully, this match survived the weather second time around.

It was to be a milestone night for Jamie Mulgrew, who made his 500th appearance for Linfield. There’s another milestone awaiting in the coming weeks as he is due to be fouled for the 5,000th time as a Linfield player.

He would have reached that milestone the weekend before, but a rainstorm caused the abandonment of a game against Cliftonville in 2008, and the appearance doesn’t count. He also lost a goal as well, struck from the record.

The early moments saw Linfield struggling to get into the game. I just had a bad vibe that this might be the night Warrenpoint get their first win over Linfield.

Linfield were having “Nearly chances” with through balls just about being intercepted by Warrenpoint’s defenders. Linfield just needed to get one of them right.

Involved in most of these attacks was Louis Rooney, a surprise inclusion but was involved in most of Linfield’s attacks, having his best performance in a long time.

Despite Linfield’s possession, it was Warrenpoint who were making the most of it every time they got the ball, with Gareth Deane being forced to save from Alan Davidson, before Davidson put Warrenpoint 1-0 up after a Deane save from Lorcan Forde.

You couldn’t deny that Warrenpoint didn’t deserve it.

The goal sparked Linfield into life, with Warrenpoint unable to get out of their own half.

It only took five minutes for Linfield to be rewarded, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a corner to make it 1-1.

Louis Rooney got in behind Warrenpoint’s defence before dragging his shot wide. If it was September, it probably would have been a goal.

It looked like a matter of time before Linfield made it 2-1, but Warrenpoint were able to hold out and go in at half-time level.

The second-half continued the theme of Linfield pressure with Andrew Waterworth heading against the top of the bar in the opening minutes.

Jordan Stewart, who would often frustrate by trying to beat one more man, delivered a cross for Louis Rooney who headed over. In September, that probably would have hit the back of the net.

Lorcan Forde hit the post for Warrenpoint. I could hear it hitting the post from the other end of the ground, such was the power in the shot.

On 74 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when a Jimmy Callacher’s header ended up in the back of the net. To me, it looked like an own goal from a Warrenpoint defender trying to clear it.

As there is no Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, so if an attacking player shouts loud enough, he will be awarded the goal.

A few minutes later, Callacher had a header cleared off the line. If that had went in, he definitely would have been claiming the second goal.

With five minutes to go, Mark Haughey got his obligatory goal against Warrenpoint to make it 3-1 and secure the points, ending any possibility of a third successive 2-2 away draw.

It was a win that moved Linfield up to 4th, with games against Dungannon and Cliftonville to come.

Well, that second bit is definitely true as we play them in the Irish Cup in a few weeks time. Playing them in the League? Well, that is a bit up in the air.

On the same night this match was played, the second League Cup Semi-Final between Ballymena and Cliftonville was postponed, causing a bit of a problem with the League Cup Final scheduled for February 17th.

If this was to be on the midweek of wc February 12th, that would give fans of the winning team only a few days to get a ticket.

That’s why Windsor Park was chosen as the venue, as it was a lazy one size fits all option that could accommodate any combination of Semi-Final winners.

This game was scheduled for this coming Saturday, meaning that Ballymena and Cliftonville’s League games are postponed, which especially royally shits on Warrenpoint, who miss out on a home gate as they were scheduled to face Cliftonville.

The most obvious solution would have been to play Ballymena v Cliftonville on Saturday 17th February at 5.30pm and have it live on Sky Sports instead of the NIFL Cup Final, with Sky showing the Final on Saturday 17th March.

Why Saturday 17th March?

That is the date of the FA Cup Quarter-Finals. Let’s not kid ourselves, Sky are only using that date and that slot because they don’t have an FA Cup game to show.

It would also give the competition organisers five weeks to organise the Final and choose a venue. Linfield are scheduled to be at home that day, so that could provide a logistical problem if the Final was at Windsor Park.

How are Linfield fans caught up in all this mess?

Well, Linfield are scheduled to play Cliftonville away on Friday night.

If Ballymena win on Saturday, the match goes ahead.

That means Linfield fans will have no home games, and no Saturday games, only a couple of working days to purchase tickets.

Now, you could say that Linfield could make plans to sell tickets at 5pm after the Dungannon match, but what if Ballymena v Cliftonville goes to extra-time?

Are we supposed to sit about in the Car Park at Windsor Park listening to the radio to see if Ballymena win and queue for tickets that might not actually be going on sale?

What a farce.

One plus point if it does go ahead next weekend will be that it will take place on Saturday 17th February, possibly with a 5.30pm kick-off if Ballymena v Cliftonville is postponed again, taking the Sky Sports slot.

That is because Warrenpoint v Cliftonville has been postponed to Tuesday, with both sides weekend games moved from Friday to Saturday.

Strange that Linfield had to play Tuesday and Friday in September, but Warrenpoint and Cliftonville can get an extra day’s rest to accommodate midweek matches in February.

Questions have to be asked why Ballymena v Cliftonville wasn’t played on week commencing 29th January. Should this game not have taken precedence over a rearranged League match?

One of those Semi-Finals could have taken the Sky Sports slot that Cliftonville v Glenavon occupied that midweek.

It is important to note that when Cliftonville v Glenavon was originally scheduled for December, it wasn’t selected for TV broadcast.

I was considering getting a neutral ticket for the NIFL Cup Final. I’m glad that I didn’t now it looks like Linfield might be playing that day.

The longer this farce has dragged on, we could have made the most of a potentially free weekend to play our outstanding League game at home to Glenavon. That option has now long gone.

Got to feel for Cliftonville fans. They know their team has a match next weekend, but they don’t know where, when or who against.

It remains to be seen if Dungannon are playing at Windsor Park next weekend. They’ll definitely be playing at Windsor Park this weekend.

Hopefully they’ll be going home empty handed. We’ll just have to wait and see who Linfield and Dungannon are playing, if at all, next weekend.

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CRUSADERS 1-2 LINFIELD 31.12.2016

Linfield began 2016 the way they began the year, with a clash against Crusaders.

Unfortunately, they finished the year as they started, trying to make up a massive deficit, only the 7 points today compared with 9 (with a game more played) on New Year’s Day.

Despite dropping points on Boxing Day, Linfield knew that if they could get the win, the gap would be one point less than when they kicked-off on Boxing Day, even though the title race would be out of their hands. Defeat was not an option for Linfield, as the gap would increase to ten points, double figures, making the Irish Cup tie against Glentoran next weekend make or break for the season.

Linfield could take heart from the previous meetings this season, both 0-0 draws, but games where Linfield were the better team.

The other ten teams in the league might believe Crusaders are unbeatable, Linfield certainly did not.

It was Crusaders who had the first chance of the game when Michael Carvill (yes, really) headed against the bar after Linfield fell asleep at a set piece, allowing a short corner to go into the box unchallenged.

That was the only moment of worry in the first-half for Linfield, as they began to dominate the game, applying pressure on the Crusaders goal.

Jonny Frazer, rewarded with a first team appearance after helping the Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup, was linking up with a recalled Aaron Burns, providing support to the no longer isolated Andrew Waterworth. Crusaders were struggling to handle them.

Despite that, it was Mark Haughey who looked like giving Linfield the lead, but his goalward shot was blocked in the six yard box. From where I was, it looked like it was going wide. TV replays suggested it was going in. The Crusaders defender wasn’t taking any chances.

As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield weren’t going to get their reward. That was, until Aaron Burns flicked the ball over a defender and tried to get some space in the penalty area.

From where I was, it looked like he was going to miss. Shows what I know, he just set himself up and fired the ball past Sean O’Neill to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It got even better for Linfield a few minutes later when Andrew Waterworth chased a through ball which Michael Gault looked set to shepherd the ball back to the goalkeeper.

Thankfully for Linfield, Gault dithered even more than the time Warren Feeney offered him a contract, giving Waterworth enough of an opportunity to get the slight touch of the ball he needed to put the ball in the net to put Linfield 2-0 up.

The scoreline was exactly what Linfield deserved.

Naturally, there was the fear of a Crusaders backlash. It didn’t come. In fact, Linfield were the side most likely to score.

Aaron Burns lobbed the keeper but the effort was headed off hte line, while Andrew Waterworth touched the ball goalwards past an onrushing goalkeeper, not quite as successfully as he did in the first-half.

On the hour, a melee by the touchline resulted in a red card for Jamie Mulgrew. I was at the other side so didn’t get a great view.

From what I could see, Mulgrew had hands raised. No complaints about his red card, but real complaint was why he was the only player leaving the pitch, as there were several Crusaders players around him with hands raised.

It didn’t quite gee up the Crusaders fans. It was the Linfield fans who were noisiest as a result of this, urging their team to get the points. They knew the players needed them to help them see out the final half hour.

Unfortunately, what the incident also meant, was there would be five to six minutes of injury time.

There wasn’t an immediate reshuffle needed by Linfield, as Aaron Burns slotted back into midfield to fill in the gap left by Mulgrew.

Within a few minutes, Chris Casement was brought on for Jonny Frazer to play in right midfield, to give some defensive cover in that position.

Despite the one man advantage, Crusaders were restricted to speculative shots and crosses into the box. They only needed to get lucky with one to get back into the game. That came when Jordan Owens headed home to make it 2-1.

The speculative shots and crosses continued but Linfield held firm. Despite the one goal lead, Linfield knew they just had to keep their heads and they would get the three points, as there was never a moment when you felt a Crusaders equaliser was imminent.

David Healy, sent to his stands in the same incident Jamie Mulgrew was sent-off, turned to the bench, bringing on Cameron Stewart, belatedly in my opinion, for Andrew Waterworth, who was feeling the effects of leading the forward line as a solo effort since the red card.

Despite the disappointment of last Monday, this result means that Linfield are a point closer to the top of the table than they were this time last week. It really should be a two point gap. There’s no point crying about Boxing Day, it’s gone, the next game is the one that matters.

Not only is the gap at the top reduced, the lead over third place Cliftonville is now four points. While we should be looking ahead of us, it’s nice not to have to immediately look behind us.

That next game comes around very quickly, a Tuesday night game at home to Coleraine, on a night with a full fixture list.

That, like every game between now and April, is a must-win game, as this result cannot be allowed to be undone if Linfield are to have any serious ambitions of winning the title.

Crusaders, are away to Ards. That’s a game I would expect them to win. Though, I would have said the same about Ballymena today. Ards are unbeaten in three games under new manager Colin Nixon. Hopefully, he can continue with his unbeaten start as a amanager.

After that, is the Irish Cup trip to The Oval before concentrating on the league again with a trip to Mourneview Park.

The big games keep coming for Linfield, but the standard has been set. If we can repeat today’s performance, especially the first-half performance, 2017 could be a very successful year for Linfield.

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LINFIELD 1-2 CLIFTONVILLE 19.11.2016

Panto Season arrived early in Belfast as Raymond Crangle brought his award winning live show (***** review in Glentoran Gazette) to Windsor Park, with Linfield v Cliftonville as the support act.

Having been on the road over the past fortnight, Linfield were back at Windsor Park, hoping to build on the momentum of those three games.

Cliftonville had just come off the back of a League Cup defeat, their first in the competition since 2011, and after extra-time as well. You’re never tired if you win after extra-time.

Going into the game, Linfield were four points clear of Cliftonville. Not only would a win keep up the pressure on Crusaders, but pull themselves clear of Cliftonville, to ensure they are looking up and not having to be looking at who was behind them.

Linfield kept the same team that started against Dungannon, and had the first attacking moment of the game when Ross Gaynor’s cross went across the six yard box. Agonisingly, nobody was running in.

Cliftonville were having half chances, forcing Linfield into last gasp tackles. They were having too much possession in Linfield’s final third.

Linfield thought they had the lead when Jamie Mulgrew fired a shot just wide. It was Cliftonville who had the best chance of the half when Stephen Garrett’s volley just went wide of the post. He really should have scored.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s best attacking moments in the first half when a shot was saved from a wide angle, and a half chance in the six yard box was diverted wide for a corner.

Crangle gonna Crangle, denying Linfield a penalty when Paul Smyth was clattered in the penalty area at a cross with the ball nowhere to be seen.

When Linfield fans held him to account at free-kicks by counting one to ten in a chant, he managed to walk in tiptoes rather than actual steps.

One of those free-kicks was a Niall Quin shot fro ma central position, which went just wide.

In the early minutes of the second-half, it was Cliftonville who took the lead when a headed clearance fell perfectly for Daniel Hughes to fire home.

Thinking on the positive side, it should have been the wake-up call for Linfield. It wasn’t. The response was slow in coming.

Paul Smyth had the best chance when he fired over from close range. In a game where Linfield had created very few chances, it was essential to make the most of them whenever they came.

David Healy turned to the bench, bringing on Ross Clarke and Kirk Millar.

It was Sean Ward who had Linfield’s next chance, but his volley was saved by Peter Burke. It looked like being one of those days.

There wasn’t long to wait for an equaliser, as Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range after a header was cleared.

Having lost leads away to Glenavon, Ballymena, Crusaders and Glentoran, it’s clear that Cliftonville are vulnerable when teams equalise against them on the road. This goal should have been the cue for Linfield to push forward and get the win, especially with left-back Levy Ives struggling with injury.

It was Cliftonville who looked the most likely team after that, and got a late winner when Ross Lavery scored from close ranger after a scramble.

At home to a team who have struggled on the road, and had a demoralising extra-time defeat on Wednesday night, Linfield should have powered on after the equaliser. This was three points thrown away. Coumpounded by news of Crusaders getting another injury time winner.

The title race is far from over, but there’s not much room for error for Linfield. Without sounding arrogant, the fixture list over the coming weeks is generous, with Portadown, Carrick and Ards next up.

If we have any ambitions of winning the league, nine points has to be the target. In the same run of games, Crusaders have to go to two grounds (Dungannon and Ballinamallard) they’ve struggled at in recent years. It could all change in the coming weeks. If it does, it has to be in Linfield’s favour. The gap can’t be allowed to get any bigger.

Next weekend, the Swifts will be battling to reach the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Good luck to them. The final is on Christmas Eve this year, so it’ll be more convenient for me (and i’m sure many other supporters) to attend this year.

That game at Portadown next week is one i’ll be missing as i’ll be in England. Next Saturday, i’ll be seeing Lisburn take on Sandy Row, in respect of the opposing managers in Oldham (Stephen Robinson) v Peterborough (Grant McCann) as I’m going over to Old Trafford on Thursday to see United take on Feyenoord, then staying over for the West Ham game the following Sunday, my first glimpses of Mourinho’s United in the flesh.

Not that United’s form is cheering me up at the moment.

Photo Album

CRUSADERS 0-0 LINFIELD 13.8.2016

Linfield made the trip to Seaview for the first of a double header of games against the other sides in last season’s top three, looking to make up for lost ground following Wednesday night’s draw against Coleraine.

Seaview was the ground last season where Linfield’s winning start was derailed and then in April, their title hopes were all but killed off.

They were hoping not to make it a hat-trick of Seaview disasters. Defeat wouldn’t have been fatal to their 2016-2017 title ambitions, but a five point gap in the middle of August would have been a big gap to make up already. On the flip side, Linfield knew that a win would see them, at worst, joint top of the league.

It wasn’t just two points that were costly for Linfield, with Jamie Mulgrew and Ross Gaynor missing today through injuries suffered on Wednesday night.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield have options in their squad, with Sean Ward and Josh Carson coming in, while Aaron Burns replaced Paul Smyth.

It was a game where defences were on top. Linfield were warned that they couldn’t afford to make a slip when Crusaders were presented with a free chance from a free-kick, which they couldn’t take.

Likewise, Linfield weren’t getting a lot of joy, being at their most dangerous from set pieces, but like Crusaders, not having a clear goalscoring opprtunity.

Talking of goalscoring opportunities, Stephen Lowry hauled back Paul Heatley as he ran forward in first-half stoppage time. It was a classic case of “Taking one for the team” as he picked up a yellow card. It would end up to be a costly card for Lowry later in the day.

As Heatley lay on the ground, Crusaders players surrounded the referee. It was a common theme any time a Linfield player committed a foul. Thankfully, Linfield didn’t play Crusaders game.

It’s not as if Raymond Crangle would have needed any encouragement to book a Linfield player.

To be fair, he wasn’t as bad as usual. By his standards. His pre-match warm-up saw him lap up the boos from Linfield fans and cheers from Crusaders fans as he jogged past them.

It appeared that Panto Season had arrived in Belfast four months early.

Like any great entertainer, he saved one of his Greatest Hits for the end, by booking Andrew Waterworth for handball after he landed on the ball after being fouled in injury time.

From the resulting free-kick for Lowry’s foul, Linfield switched off, allowing Crusaders to get space after the free-kick was taken quickly, and then allowing Paul Heatley a free header. Thankfully, it was straight at Roy Carroll.

Quick free-kicks from Crusaders were a recurring theme during the game, catching Linfield out, but Linfield had enough shape about them not to be punished for it.

In the opening minutes of the second-half, Linfield were reduced to ten men when Stephen Lowry got a second yellow card.

Ironically, just seconds before, Kirk Millar had lost possession and was chasing it back. I was mumbling to myself at Millar not to make a tackle and get sent-off (He was also on a yellow card), only for Lowry to jump in and do likewise.

On the touchline and with the Crusaders player going nowhere, it was a stupid tackle to make, especially for a player on a yellow card.

Despite being down to ten, it was far from game over for Linfield. In the past year they have faced Cliftonville, Ballymena and Glenavon with ten men and been undefeated in those games. In two of them, they turned a defeat into a draw and a draw into a win.

In terms of personnel, Linfield didn’t need to turn to their bench, with Aaron Burns slotting back into midfield.

Sammy Clingan, on the bench, would have to wait a little longer for his competitive Linfield debut.

Despite being a man light, Linfield had their best attacking moments after the red card. Mark Haughey headed over from a free-kick when he should have scored, while Kirk Millar’s cross was almost headed into his own goal by a Crusaders defender.

David Cushley had Crusaders best chance, but his shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

It wasn’t just on the ground that Carroll was commanding, as he frustrated Crusaders tactics of lumping the ball into the box.

Crusaders could cross the ball all day, Carroll would have caught the ball all day.

The game was crying out for Paul Smyth to be introduced from the bench, which he was, for Josh Carson, giving Crusaders problems. He flicked a header wide from a free-kick.

It was the sort of game that had 0-0 written all over it as both teams struggled to make the breakthrough.

As the final minutes played out, both teams went for goal, but without committing too many players forward.

This was backed up by Crusaders passing it about in their own half in the final seconds of the game

It was neither a good result or a bad result, Both teams will not be unhappy with a point while feeling that they could have won all three.

Up next for Linfield, is a home match against Glenavon, one of three clubs (the others being Crusaders and Ards) two points above Linfield at the top.

Glenavon have started the season in goalscoring form, scoring 10 to Linfield’s 3 in the opening 3 games. On the other side, they are prone to conceding, shipping 5 goals in those 3 games, the same as Ballinamallard who have lost all three games and sit 11th.

Glenavon’s form suggests there will be goals. A simple 1-0 for Linfield will do me.

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HARLAND AND WOLFF WELDERS 1-5 LINFIELD 21.7.2016

Linfield had hoped to be in European action last night, but it was instead Cork City who were hosting (and beating) Swedish side Hacken.

As a result, Linfield made the trip to Tillysburn Park for the first time since 2012, just 48 hours after their last visit to East Belfast, to face Dundela.

With that in mind, there were some changes, but not the wholesale changes that perhaps might have been expected, with Jamie Mulgrew, Ross Gaynor, Jimmy Callacher, Kirk Millar and Reece Glendenning starting for the 2nd time in 48 hours.

There was also a start for Ross Clarke, who came on as a substitute against Dundela, scoring a goal, as he continues his return from after missing most of last season through injury.

It was Welders who had the first chance, with Roy Carroll having to rush out of his goal to smother the ball as an attacker ran through.

Carroll was vocal throughout the game, organising his defence and dictating their positioning.

Up front, Michael McLellan, against the club he left in January, and Adam Salley were given a chance to impress up front. Neither really did.

It was surprising that Aaron Duke wasn’t involved after his trial game on Tuesday, even off the bench, considering that other players who played on Tuesday played last night.

Ross Clarke put Linfield 1-0 up from a free-kick after a foul on Ross Gaynor.

Clarke was central to most of Linfield’s attacking play.

A foul on him which looked like a penalty to me but was awarded as a free-kick on the edge of the box resulted in Linfield’s second goal as he fired in his second free-kick of the night, and third of the week.

Clarke left the pitch due to injury before the end of the first-half. A concern, after his injury problems last season.

If people thought that Linfield’s attacking threat would be diminished, they were wrong, as Paul Smyth took his place.

Smyth picked up where he left off on Tuesday night against Dundela.

Aaron Burns was also introduced off the bench, with both him and Smyth adding quickfire goals midway through the second-half the secure the win for Linfield, giving them a 4-0 ;ead.

Paul Smyth continued to run the show, the centre point for most of Linfield’s attacking.

A foul on him towards the end won a (admittedly soft) penalty.

Smyth took the penalty, despite Aaron Burns intentions. There wasn’t even a game of rock-scissors-paper to decide who took it like Burns and Gaynor had at Warrenpoint in March.

Smyth justified the decision to let him take the penalty to make it 5-0 to Linfield.

Despite having a commanding lead, Roy Carroll could be heard screaming “CLEAN SHEET!!! CLEAN SHEET!!” at his defence. He didn’t get the clean sheet he wanted as Welders pulled a goal back to make it 5-1.

There are still games at Tullyvallen and Distillery to come. Unless another game is arranged in the final week, this will have been my last pre-season game for this year.

It’s now just over two weeks until the main event starts, and the fixture computer has given Linfield a trip to Ballinamallard on the opening day. It’s a trip Linfield usually seem to make in the opening months of the season.

Three points and sunshine would be nice.

But most importantly, three points.

Photo Album

Harland and Wolff Welders v Linfield 2012

DUBLIN STREET ART – MAY 2016

Took a day trip to Dublin, making the most of an extended Bank holiday Weekend.

While, I was there, I took the opportunity to get some Street Art photos.

I’ve been to Dublin many times before and know my way around the City Centre, and know where a lot of the Street Art is.

One thing I wanted to was see the David Bowie mural in Francis Street, but I didn’t get a chance to, I was on a tight schedule. I did get to see a cafe in Newmarket having the iconic lightning bolt painted on their door as a tribute to him.

I wanted to get some pictures of the Tivoli Theatre Car Park, which is covered in Wall Art, but it was closed the two times I was over there.

There is a mixture of old and new art, naturally, I just left the old ones. No point photographing what i’ve already photographed.

When I was in Dublin, I headed to a football match at Dalymount Park, which has some excellent pieces of Wall Aart as you approach the ground, so I snapped some of them.

As there is a proposed redevelopment of Dalymount Park in the coming years, I was glad to get these as there is a possibility they could be lost or destroyed when the development takes place.

I hadn’t been there on any of my recent visits to Dublin, so it was good to get this. After the game, I headed back into the City Centre, and got some shots from Temple Bar.

Until my next visit to Dublin, enjoy.

Photo Album

Dublin Street Art June 2015

Dublin Street Art July 2014

Dublin Street Art August 2013

LINFIELD 4-0 CLIFTONVILLE 23.4.2016

After getting a first win at Solitude in four years, followed by a first league win over Cliftonville in three years, there was one little monkey Linfield needed to get off their backs before the season ended, a first home league win over Cliftonville since January 2013, a run that had seen four defeats and a draw in this fixture.

It’s a Sign Of The Times that supporters entering Windsor Park to the sound of Prince on the tannoy expected that run to end today.

Linfield had only one change from Tuesday night’s win at The Oval, an enforced one, with Aaron Burns coming in for the injured Matthew Clarke. Burns played a lot of his early career at left-back, but his goals over the last couple of seasons meant that Ross Gaynor was the one moving back.

It was Cliftonville who had the first chance of the game when sloppy play by Linfield allowed Davy McDaid to get space to shoot but he fired it over. He really should have scored.

On ten minutes, Aaron Burns was lucky to avoid a red card for a high studs up challenge, but it was only a yellow. If it was the other way around, we’d be screaming for a red.

Screaming for a red seemed to be what Cliftonville were doing most in the first-half, trying to goad Linfield players into a reaction that never came. Not this time, Linfield won’t be playing their game any more.

Martin Donnelly then hit the bar for Cliftonville. The top of the bar. A nervous moment, but not a worrying one for Linfield.

Donnelly hit the crossbar again from a free-kick, via Gareth Deane, starting his third successive game for Linfield, but a goal kick was awarded.

Cliftonville were having the better of the early moments without dominating. They were first to the second ball on too many occasions, perhaps unsurprising for a team with more to play for in terms of the league.

Thankfully for Linfield, Cliftonville were toothless up front. A better team would have punished Linfield for their first-half performance.

On 35 minutes, Linfield took the lead with their first moment of attacking quality, after working space for a cross out the left, Conor Devlin surprisingly dropped the ball, landing at Aaron Burns. Burns was able to control the ball and create enough space for him to fire into the empty net.

It wasn’t The Most Beautiful Goal In The World, but they all count.

An undeserved lead via a player lucky to be on the pitch, and nobody was really surprised such is the contrasting fortunes of both clubs at the moment.

Having gotten away with it in the first-half, Linfield made Cliftonville pay for it in the second-half, going 2-0 up in the early minutes when Paul Smyth worked enough room for a cross which was blocked, but fell invitingly for Kirk Millar to cross for Aaron Burns to score unmarked from a few yards.

That was the game won for Linfield, Cliftonville never looked like offering a fightback after that.

Kirk Millar had a chance to score, before later setting up Andrew Waterworth, but the joy was short lived as the goal was disallowed.

The third goal came when Paul Smyth broke free and ran towards goal. He had the option of setting up Aaron Burns for a hat-trick, but decided he fancied a goal himself, his low shot squeezing.

Again, most of Linfield’s attacks came through Smyth. Cliftonville’s main plan for trying to stop was was to get as many men as possible on him whenever he got the ball.

It didn’t matter how many were trying to stop them, he would find a way past them.

Smyth was involved in Linfield’s net goal, being fouled in the box for a penalty.

Aaron Burns was by now on the bench as Linfield made some substitutions to give other players some action.

If he was on the pitch, it would have been interesting to see who would have taken it, with Burns on a hat-trick. Gaynor was unchallenged when it came to taking it, and made it 4-0.

Glenavon’s 1-0 win at The Oval secured a UEFA Cup place for the Lurgan side, which denied Linfield fans the opportunity to laugh at Cliftonville fans cheering them on for two successive Saturdays.

At the final whistle, Linfield players gathered on the halfway line to do a lap of honour, as supporters applauded a team who offered them 90 goals so far in the league, a high for Linfield in a 38 game season.

Hopefully, there’ll be another lap of honour in two weeks time.

In terms of league action, that’s me for the season. I’ll be giving next week’s trip to Glenavon a miss.

It’ll be interesting to see what Linfield’s line-up will be for that game, wether a Swifts team will be selected, or if it will be used to pick the team that will play on May 7th, using the game as a dress rehearsal.

My guess is that it will be Swifts team, considering that Linfield’s starting eleven for the games against Glentoran and Cliftonville has given the biggest hint as to what that team will be on May 7th.

Mark Stafford might play at Mourneview Park but the cup final might be too soon for him. A place on the bench is the best he can hope for.

Ross Clarke’s absence from the last two games after his cameo against Coleraine suggest the cup final has come too soon for him.

Gareth Deane’s appearances in the last three games suggest that he will be in goals for the Irish Cup Final.

If everybody is fit, the defence should be Clarke, Haughey, Callacher, Ward. If Clarke isn’t fit, expect Ross Gaynor to fill in.

If Matthew Clarke isn’t fit, it will save David Healy having to make a difficult decision further up the pitch. The midfield should be Gaynor (if not left-back), Lowry, Mulgrew plus either Aaron Burns or Kirk Millar.

Ross Gaynor playing at left-back would mean Linfield could accommodate both Burns and Millar. If one of them was to miss out, they would be very unlucky considering both players current form.

Up front picks itself, with Waterworth and Smyth starting.

Subs will be interesting. Reece Glendinning should get the nod if Mark Stafford is unable to make the bench alongside whichever of Burns or Millar misses out. The other places should be a battle between David Kee, Niall Quinn, Guy Bates, Stephen Fallon, Ross Clarke and Ross Glendinning battling it out for the other three places

The excitement in the Irish League on the final day is at the bottom, with Carrick, Warrenpoint and Ballinamallard are battling to avoid the automatic spot, and hoping to drag Portadown in the Play-Offs.

Ards look the most likely to go up. I would be hoping our away game there is in the early months (sunny day on the seaside) but not the weekend in September when i’m in Liverpool.

Linfield haven’t played a competitive game in Bangor since 2009.

Possible Play-Off teams are Larne (I haven’t been there since 2005), Armagh City (I haven’t been there since 2006) or Institute (Nice ground to visit, easy to get to by public transport)

No offence to whoever in the Premiership gets the Play-Off place, but I wouldn’t be too unhappy if they lost.

And now, this is the time of year whenever I do my pre-season wishlist. So, here we go. All away games of course, at grounds I haven’t been to or haven’t been to for a while. Any of – Harland and Wolff Welders, Dundela, Moyola Park, PSNI, Larne (if not promoted)

Looking further afield, Ayr United are always inviting Irish League teams over for a friendly, it must be our turn. Maybe we could use our County Louth connections to get an away friednly against Drogheda? Would be nice.

The season isn’t over yet, there’s still the Irish Cup Final.

For me, after that, a trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Bournemouth. I’ve been twice to Old Trafford this season and have yet to see a United goal, so i’m hoping for a change in fortune.

Then, Northern Ireland v Belarus, before a planned day trip to Dublin over the May Bank Holiday, to hopefully catch some League Of Ireland action while i’m there.

An eventful season for Linfield is almost over, with a lot of optimism for the future. Hopefully, the wait for David Healy’s first trophy as Linfield manager has only two weeks left.

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