ARDS 0-2 LINFIELD 15.8.2017

With three games in seven days, there isn’t much time to relax at the start of the Irish League season, as Linfield made it two wins out of two in the North Down sunshine, beating Ards 2-0, the three points being secured before the sun went down.

The only worry for some away fans was getting into the ground, as roadworks at Ballyrobert made it a one hour journey for me.

As I arrived, there was a massive queue of people in front of me, and soon afterwards behind me. Would it really have been too much effort to delay the kick-off by five or ten minutes for those who were held up?

I ended up getting my first experience of the NIFL’s new £11 admission fee, due to the increase in handing back change in coins instead of the nice round £10 fee.

I only missed about a minute of action, and thankfully, Linfield weren’t quick off the blocks.

They weren’t slow either, building up pressure and being camped in Ards half. It was a matter of time until Linfield scored. That came when Mark Haughey was able to flick a loose ball over a defender in the box, and smash the ball home from close ranger after 18 minutes.

On 28 minutes, a Paul Smyth cross found Kirk Millar to head home and make it 2-0.

The pressure continued but Ards held out to keep the score to 2-0 at half-time.

A commanding position but not a definitive lead.

You know all those cliches about 2-0 being a dangerous lead? Linfield almost found out in the early minutes of the second-half when Scott Davidson was played through and hit the post.

You know that pundit speak of “He hit it too well”? It applies here. If he scuffed it, he would have scored, he struck it perfectly and hit the post, and straight to a Linfield defender to clear.

That was Ards big moment, as Linfield went in search of that third goal to put the match beyond all doubt.

Paul Smyth and Aaron Burns came closest for Linfield.

The third goal didn’t come for Linfield, but it wasn’t needed.

Burns, alongside Stephen Lowry were substitutes in the only change to the squad from Saturday after a one game suspension.

With Cliftonville, Glentoran and Crusaders waiting in September as well as the League Cup, County Antrim Shield and Scottish Challenge Cup between now and then, strength in reserve will be key to Linfield, even if it wasn’t needed here.

Results elsewhere meant that Linfield were one of five teams with six points out of six.

It is peak modern day Glentoran that they have actually had their best start to the season in eight years …… and find themselves 5th in the table.

Linfield are tucked away in 4th.

With two of the teams above them, Coleraine and Crusaders, playing each other, Linfield travel to Dungannon on Saturday knowing that a win will propel them into the top three at least.

The reason why Linfield are 4th is due to goal difference. It could have been so much better across these two games.

Goal difference was the thing that put life in Linfield’s title challenge last season when all looked lost. Linfield knew they didn’t need to overtake Crusaders, they just had to pull level with them and let the goal difference do the work.

There’s still 36 games to make up four goals.

Whilst the goals for column could be better, there’s no complaints about goals against, two clean sheets. Defensive records usually win you titles.

Linfield only needed two goals to be sure of beating Ards, Cliftonville needed to score six just to be sure. I know what position i’d rather be in.

Thursday sees the draw for the Scottish Challenge Cup, where Linfield will face an away tie. Stranraer away please.

I was amused to see that the scorer of Elgin City’s winner was Steve Bronsky. I’ve no idea where in Scotland he’s from so I don’t know if he’s a Smalltown Boy.

That’s enough 80s pop jokes.

Unless Kris Lowe of Dungannon is thinking “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” as Linfield score another goal on Saturday.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

March’s football watching began for me at Seaview, watching Linfield put Crusaders out of the Irish Cup.

There was a bit of a wait until my next match of the month as Linfield’s home match against Cliftonville was put back to the Monday night for live TV coverage.

I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday, as Ards were the visitors.

The month ended with two games in the one weekend – Linfield’s long trip to Ballinamallard, and Norway’s even longer trip to Northern Ireland for a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December 2016 began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and record a routine 3-0 win.

The following weekend, was a trip to Clandeboye Park, Linfield’s first competitive game there since February 2009, a routine 2-0 win over Ards.

The games got harder and more dramatic, with a late win over Ballymena United coming the following weekend, ruining David Jeffrey’s first return to Windsor Park.

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday in 2016, it meant that the Steel and Sons Cup Final was held on Christmas Eve, which I attended. Even more of a bonus was the fact that Linfield Swifts were in it, beating Dundela 3-1 to win the trophy for the first time since 1997.

Two days later came the highlight of the Christmas footballing calendar, Boxing Day. It was a bit crap in comparison to the previous four years.

The month, and the year, ended on a high, with Linfield going to Seaview and getting a vital win in the title race.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

Not a lot of football in September, due to Linfield having a domestic game postponed due to international call-ups, and then going to England for a weekend two weeks later.

Just the two games, seeing Linfield score four games at home to Portadown and Ards.

Linfield v Portadown

Linfield v Ards

LINFIELD 5-1 ARDS 18.3.2017

Having scored ten goals in their two previous home games against Ards this season, Linfield were hoping to add to that when the North Down side visited Windsor Park this afternoon.

It didn’t matter how many Linfield scored, as long as it was at least one more than Ards, it’s that time of year. The two magic numbers today were three and four. Three points to cut Crusaders lead at the top.

Despite the previous head to heads this season, today wasn’t going to be straightforward. Gareth Tommons had a half-chance in the opening minutes that Linfield were just about able to clear.

Within the first five minutes, Linfield got the early goal they craved when Cameron Stewart headed home from a corner, his first at Windsor Park, ending a drought in front of goal going back to the County Antrim Shield Final.

In the two big home wins this season (4-0 and 6-1) Linfield got a flurry of early goals and had the game won inside the first twenty minutes.

Ards were not prepared to let history repeat itself. Stephen Lowry was forced into an interception after a neat passing move threatened to bring an equaliser.

Andrew Waterworth looked set to score but his header was excellently saved by Ards goalkeeper.

Soon after, Ards got an equaliser when a low cross was finished by Guillaume Keke to make it 1-1. It wasn’t against the run of play.

During the move that led to the goal, Cameron Stewart went down injured and had to be replaced. Kirk Millar came on from the bench for him. Surprisingly for me, when Aaron Burns seemed the logical choice.

The change meant a slight reshuffle for Linfield, with Millar going to his right hand side position and Paul Smyth moving to a central role.

The change brought rewards for Linfield with Smyth thriving in is new central, with his cross after breaking in behind Ards defence eventually falling to Kirk Millar to fire home from close range.

Credit must go to Niall Quinn who shielded the ball away from an Ards defender to give Millar the opportunity to score.

Having lost the lead once, it was not going to happen again, as Linfield sought to increase their lead.

Andrew Waterworth got in behind Ards defence but was let down by a poor first touch while Paul Smyth had a shot go just wide.

As the half neared it’s end, four minutes injury time meant that there was time for Linfield to push for a third.

That came when Paul Smyth crossed for what looked like Matthew Clarke to score, only for Andrew Waterworth to control the ball and finish himself, his 100th goal for the club.

Having taken a goal from one left sided player, Waterworth still had time in the first-half to set up Niall Quinn, but his powerful shot was well saved.

Despite a comfortable lead at half-time, the title momentum swinging 3-3 draw at home to Ards in 2014 was still a recent memory for Linfield fans that they felt another goal for their side was needed, a game that Linfield led 3-1.

Linfield set out at the start of the second-half to get that fourth goal, but couldn’t quite get it. Kirk Millar with a volley and Mark Haughey heading over were the best chances.

Naturally, there was frustration amongst the crowd, especially when Linfield began to have a wobbly spell, Ards getting encouragement to try and get a second goal.

It only lasted for a short time, and Stephen Lowry fired home from close range after a header was saved. It was a third successive game in which he had scored in, securing the points for Linfield.

This lead gave Linfield a chance to give minutes to Aaron Burns and Josh Carson from the bench. Burns had a header over the bar as Linfield searched for a fifth.

That search got a little bit easier when Johnny Taylor achieved the unique feat of being sent-off at Windsor PArk for two different clubs.

Eventually, Linfield got their fifth when a shot fell perfectly for Aaron Burns to fire home.

It maintains Linfield’s impressive record against Ards, an unbeaten run going back twenty years and includes Linfield wins by 5-1, 4-0, 5-0, 4-0, 7-0, 7-2, 5-0, 4-0 and 6-1 margins. I’m sure there’s more that i’ve missed.

Those two second-half goals weren’t vital in the context of the game, but they could be by the end of the season. It means that Linfield’s Goal Difference is 50 to Crusaders 43.

For the title to be decided on Goal Difference, Crusaders would need to draw two games and lose win while Linfield win three in that run.

If Linfield win their last six games, Crusaders win four, draw two and lose one, both teams would be level on points.

Even if those six games were won by one goal, Linfield’s goal difference would be 56. Crusaders would have 42, and would need need to claw back fourteen goals over those four wins. At least.

For every point Crusaders drop, the Goal Difference advantage that Linfield have will put more and more pressure on Crusaders.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Ballinamallard. Everytime i’ve been there, Linfield have won. The two competitive meetings I haven’t been to, they haven’t won.

I’ll be there even if I have to be stretchered there. I’m going to sacrifice myself for us to get three points if I have to. It’s that time of year.

Other results of interest went Linfield’s way today. Coleraine winning and jumping into 3rd, potentially gaining an automatic UEFA Cup place. They play Crusaders next Saturday. Let’s hope their winning run continues, but ends on April 22nd.

Carrick beat Portadown to put pressure on Ballinamallard ahead on Monday night’s game.

Also next week, Northern Ireland face Norway in a World Cup Qualifier. Next week’s fixture list offers a chance for groundhopping for Norwegian visitors. Glentoran v Carrick on Friday (in the away end), game on Saturday, and then the international match on Sunday.

There are matches on Saturday in Belfast, but i’m sure if you got in touch with a LSC, they’d be more than willing to take some Norwegian visitors.

And how did Crusaders do today? They weren’t playing, as their match at home to Ballinamallard has been moved to Monday for Sky.

I might watch it and cheer on Ballinamallard, but then again, Travel Man is on Channel 4 at 8.30pm, then a choice at 9pm between a documentary about King’s Cross (Yes, I like documentaries about train stations. You probably watch Nolan, so you can’t judge me) and the new series of Family Guy on ITV2.

Hopefully by the time the final whistle blows at Seaview on Monday night, it will be Linfield fans who will be feeling giggidy about their team’s title chances.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December began for me with a trip to The Limelight, a venue I would be spending a bit of time at this month, to see Primal Scream in concert.

Two Days later, I was headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a routine win over Carrick Rangers.

I then headed out into Belfast to get some photos of a mural of Jack Nicholson

That night, I headed back to The Limelight to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following weekend, I was Bangor bound to see Linfield take on Ards, and then back to The Limelight (I know, becoming a regular) to see Cast in concert.

The morning after that, I was out on my bike to get some Street Art photos, in Great Victoria Street and a mural of Prince in Botanic.

On the middle Saturday in December, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield record a late win over Ballymena United.

The weekend before Christmas saw me being busy, taking in Ulster v Connacht for my annual Rugby match, and then the following morning heading to Seaview to see Linfield Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup.

There’s still a bit of the month left. Two big Linfield matches, against Glentoran and Crusaders. I’m also hoping to get a chance to head to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos.

And then, that will be me for 2016. Don’t worry, there’ll be Camera Adverntures in 2017.

Primal Scream live at The Limelight

Primal Scream live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Jack

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ards v Linfield

Cast live at The Limelight

Cast live at The Limelight Photo Album

Great Victoria Street Art

Great Victoria Street Art Photo Album

Prince Mural

Prince Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Ulster v Connacht

Ulster v Connacht Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

It was a musical start to September 2016, by going to see Squeeze in concert at Ulster Hall, then going to see The Divine Comedy perform at HMV two days later.

It was back to football the following weekend as Linfield took on Portadown.

I was then off to Liverpool for a wedding and made a trip out of it, getting some Street Art photos in Liverpool.

The following weekend after my return from Liverpool, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ards.

Having photographed Street Art in Liverpool, I was photographing Street Art in Belfast, of North Street and surrounding areas, having missed Culture Night due to being in Liverpool.

Squeeze live at Ulster Hall

Squeeze live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

The Divine Comedy live at HMV Belfast

The Divine Comedy live at HMV Belfast Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown

Liverpool Street Art

Liverpool Street Art Photo

Linfield v Ards

North Street Art

North Street Art Photo Album

ARDS 0-2 LINFIELD 10.12.2016

For the first time in nearly eight years, Linfield headed to Clandeboye Park for a competitive match, to take on managerless Ards.

Having won both previous meetings this season by half-time, Linfield were hoping to do likewise. Their best moment in the early minutes of the game came when Ross Gaynor got in behind Ards defence, but his shot from the edge of the box went just over.

The pressure began to build from Linfield a clear cut chance, they needed a set piece to eventually take the lead on 17 minutes when Jimmy Callacher got in front of his own team-mate, Mark Haughey, to head home from close range.

Just when it looked like a matter of how many Linfield would score, Ards came more into the game, causing some moments of concern for Linfield and giving Gareth Deane, deputising for Roy Carroll, more work to do than many in the crowd had anticipated.

The best moment came when Joe McKinney capitalised on a Mark Stafford slip to run towards goal, but his shot went well wide.

Linfield rode it out and began to have more pressure on Ards goal. They looked to have made it 2-0 when Callacher headed home from a free-kick but the referee disallowed it for a foul. I couldn’t see one myself.

Callacher wouldn’t have long to wait for his second goal, as a few minutes later he got his foot there first in a crowded penalty area to finish from close range after Mark Haughey headed back a Kirk Millar free-kick to give Linfield a 2-0 in the final minutes of the first-half.

The second-half was a bit of a non event. Not that surprising to be honest. Ards had a lot of possession in Linfield’s half but didn’t do a lot with it.

With the 3-3 draw in January 2014 where Linfield blew a two goal lead still a recent memory, Linfield fans were unsurprisingly eager for their side to get a third goal to really kill the game off.

Their best opportunity for that came when Kirk Millar’s low shot was blocked in a crowded penalty area.

Aaron Burns came on from the bench for Linfield. Personally, I would have had him on a bit earlier. The pity for Linfield that they couldn’t get a third goal was that they wouldn’t have got the opportunity to give some game time to young Cameron Stewart.

Andrew Waterworth burst through and hit the side netting in the final moments as Linfield couldn’t get that third goal. They didn’t need it, two was enough.

No results went in Linfield’s favour as Crusaders and Cliftonville both recorded expected victories against bottom half opponents, meaning it’s as you were at the top of the table.

The only down side for Linfield was the worrying sight of Paul Smyth watching the game while wearing a protective foot brace.

Next week’s games are intersting. Linfield (Ballymena at home) and Crusaders (Glenavon at home) have potentially tricky games, while Cliftonville have what should be an easy three points (Carrick at home)

Matters are complicated by the fact that all three of those teams are involved in League Cup Semi-Finals.

The logical thing could be to wish for Ballymena to have a devastating extra-time defeat on Tuesday. but Linfield faced a Cliftonville team last month off the back of an extra-time defeat, so that theory is clearly nonsense.

That match against Ballymena United will see the return of David Jeffrey to the Windsor Park dugout. Last time he sat in it, the seats were nowhere near as comfy, as the redevelopment hadn’t even started.

He’ll barely recognise the place, and it will be nothing to do with the novelty factor of being in the away dressing room.

The fixture list has been kind in that regard with his return coming as late as possible.

It was always going to be a media circus, not his fault, so i’m glad it’s come as late as possible in the season, to avoid such a distraction in the early months, especially as Linfield have already played Ballymena twice this season, it won’t be as big a story as if Ballymena came to Windsor Park in August or September.

No doubt he’ll get a deserved reception at 2.59pm, but come 3pm he’ll be the opposition manager, and I hope he has a miserable afternoon.

With Ballymena joint 2nd best attack and joint 2nd worst defence, it’ll probably finish 8-7 to someone. Hopefully, Linfield.

Over the next week, i’ll have a lot of tickets to get. Two for friends on Boxing Day, and one each for Linfield’s forthcoming visits to Seaview (Crusaders away and Steel and Sons Cup Final)

I tried to get some at Windsor Park on Saturday but they’re only on sale between Monday and Friday. Talk about making it inconvenient for supporters.

Meanwhile, it was announced this week that Lyon will host the 2018 UEFA Cup Final. That ground will be familiar to Northern Ireland fans as the venue for their Euro 2016 win over Ukraine.

I’d provisionally looked into it, but flights are only once a week (Saturday) and don’t operate in May. Well, that’s that plan bit the dust.

Anyway, onto Ballymena next week.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 4-0 ARDS 24.9.2016

Top of the league in August, Ards arrived at Windsor Park on a run of three defeats in four matches. Just over ten minutes into the game, they were on their way to four defeats in five games as Linfield turned on the style.

Linfield were straight on the attack, Paul Smyth forcing Ards goalkeeper into a save from a header. Once again, Smyth was involved in most of Linfield’s attacks. He wasn’t the only one, forming an attacking trio with Ross Gaynor and Kirk Millar. When Linfield were attacking, at least one of them was involved.

A goal for Linfield wasn’t long in coming, and it came on 7 minutes when a Paul Smyth cross wasn’t properly cleared, it fell to Stephen Lowry who played a simple pass to the unmarked Aaron Burns, who fired home.

As soon as Burns got the ball, there was only going to be one outcome.

Within a minute, Burns thought he had made it 2-0 when he fired home from close range from a Paul Smyth cross, but the goal was disallowed for offside..

A quick free-kick set Paul Smyth free out wide, and his cross found Stephen Lowry, who fired home.

The last time Ards visited Windsor Park, Linfield blew a two goal lead to draw 3-3 in a game that let Cliftonville back into the title race in 2014. There was no danger of that happening today. There weren’t even fifteen minutes on the clock, and the game was won for Linfield. The only question, was how many?

After that, Linfield eased off for a while. All Ards could offer was a speculative long-ranger shot. After easing off, Linfield stepped up a goal, with Stafford and Burns having attempts on goal.

It was only a matter of time before Linfield made it 3-0, and it came when Paul Smyth and Chris Casement toyed with Ards before setting up Kirk Millar to finish.

The waves of Linfield attacks continued, with Aaron Burns hitting the side netting from a wide angle after being played through, while Mark Stafford hit the woodwork from a corner.

Natuarally, the second-half wouldn’t be as intense as the first-half, but Linfield still had chances, Paul Smyth having a weak shot saved in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Just after the hour, Linfield made it 4-0 when Ross Gaynor’s cross was put into his own net by Emmett Frairs. If he didn’t try to cut out the cross, Aaron Burns would have had an easy finish from a few yards out.

A start today was Burns reward for goals off the bench in his last two games, with Andrew Waterworth being dropped.

4-0 up, it was the perfect time to bring on Waterworth and Kris Bright. Waterworth forced Ards keeper into a save, but when the game is long won, the attacking intensity isn’t the same.

Today marked the opening of the new bar at Windsor Park, in the corner of the South Stand and The Kop. My own impression was that it was underwhelming.

The thing that stood out, was no TV. When the old viewing lounge was there, I would pop in to check half-time scores in England and Scotland. I was hoping to go in today and watch the United match today. I doubt I was the only one thinking this.

It’s quite a basic thing and not having it is going to turn people away from the bar long-term if they can’t watch football on TV before the game, or have Soccer Saturday on while watching the match.

By the way, there is an excellent view of the game from the bar. Bit of a pity that you can’t watch the game from the balcony though.

Next up for Linfield, is a domestic double header against (barring any recruitment activity in BT4) two former managers, with the Scottish Challenge Cup tie against Queen of the South.

I’m always nervous going into games against Glentoran, but even more so given their form and league position. I’ve been more confident going into games against them when they’ve been top of the league.

A repeat of today’s performance, and we’ll be fine.

Some curious stats around today’s game, it was the third time in the last four home games that Linfield have scored four, and it was Linfield’s fourth clean sheet in eight games.

Long may this continue at both ends of the pitch.

Upon return from Dumfries, is a League Cup tie away to Ballymena, a competition we’re rarely still in come November. Would be nice to win it for the first time in, whisper it, eight years.

The League match against in-form Ballymena has been postponed due to the Challenge Cup, as has Crusaders match against out of sorts Glenavon. It’s fair to say those postponements have worked in Linfield’s favour.

The situation regarding postponements is one to keep an eye on. We’re only one game behind and there’s a date confirmed for it, Tuesday 18th October at Solitude. So it’s not that bad.

It’s been a good weekend for the club, with the Women’s team winning the Irish Cup and the Swifts getting through to the Quarter-Final of the Steel and Sons Cup.

The way the calendar falls this year, the final will be on Christmas Eve, which is a lot more convenient to attend. Hopefully, they can get to the final this year.

You may or may not have seen it this week, but Linfield got an apology this week from the Belfast Telegraph for a story printed in July about Linfield fans causing trouble in Dublin.

Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be bullshit.

I remember seeing it on the news stand when it was published and instantly dismissed it.

That was on the front page. I’m led to believe this apology was on page six.

If you want to read it, you can find it here.

If you don’t want to give them a hit, don’t worry, here’s a screenshot of it.

As you can see, it’s a C minus of an apology, just about scraping the basic requirements, apologising for “any inconvenience suffered”.

Obviously, “We were wrong”, “We lied” or “It wasn’t true” was too much of an inconvenience for them to publish.

The decline in standards at Belfast Telegraph in recent years can be addressed elsewhere. Possibly in a viral video. That’s the only type of story they do these days. A few weeks ago, they did a story about a video of a baby farting “going viral”.

Elsewhere, the corporate launch of Euro 2020 was this week. I know, Euro 2016 has already been consigned to history.

This tournament will have no host country but will take place all around Europe. An utterly farcical idea.

However, i’m a total hypocrite, and i’ll be keeping an eye on the schedule, to try and see what games in Dublin or Glasgow I can try and get to.

And finally, i’ve launched a series this week looking at the Windsor Park redevelopment from start to finish. You can find a link to it here.

The next time Linfield play a match at Windsor Park, against Ballinamallard on October 15th, the redevelopment will be complete.

Hopefully, there’ll be TVs in the bar by then.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

My football watching in December began in Ballymena, to see Linfield race into an early 2-0 lead, only to get home 3-2, in a vital win.

The following Saturday, was the first of three visits to Windsor Park in December, to see Linfield beat Ballinamallard United and go top of the league.

That set up a top of the table clash against Portadown, which Linfield won 3-2, helped by a last minute penalty save from Ross Glendinning.

The final week of the month saw me go to three matches in three days. I got invited to the Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas morning. It was a good game and worth getting out of bed for, Carrick Rangers beating Harland and Wolff Welders 4-1.

The next day, was the Boxing Day clash between Linfield and Glentoran. It wasn’t a good game, but it was a good result, with Linfield winning 2-1.

The next day, one more match for the year, to see Bangor take on Ards in a top of the table clash in Championship 1, with Ards getting a late and dramatic 3-2 win in injury time.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Linfield v Portadown

Carrick Rangers v Harland and Wolff Welders

Carrick Rangers v Harland and Wolff Welders Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Bangor v Ards

Bangor v Ards Photo Album