Having played everybody once, Linfield would be on the road for matchday twelve, the start of the second stage of matches, to face Ards, the side that they endured the most frustrating game in the first stage of games.
That game against Ards, was the only dropped points at Windsor Park, but trips to Clandeboye Park have been kind to Linfield in recent years, with three wins out of three and three clean sheets since Ards were promoted in 2016.
It was the second of four successive games against teams in the bottom five, representing a great opportunity to get some points on the board and some winning momentum, especially as they and Glenavon have pulled away from everybody else, and that Glenavon have a similar run of games.
It was a slow start for Linfield, never really getting going or penning Ards into their own half, and it was Ards who took the lead when a cross was headed home by Mark Kelly. If Linfield needed to be told to up their game, they certainly had to now.
During the 0-0 draw in September, Ards grew in confidence with each passing minute as they had something to hold on to. Now they had something better than a 0-0 draw to hold on to.
The response from Linfield wasn’t immediate. It didn’t come until the midway point of the first-half, with Robert Garrett having a shot deflected wide for a corner, before Josh Robinson thought he had headed home an equaliser, only to be denied by the offside flag.
Linfield now needed to step it up to get that equalising goal. It looked like Michael O’Connor was going to get it but he couldn’t get his leg on the end of a cross which flashed across the penalty area.
1-0 down, there was no need to panic at half-time, but the second-half performance needed to be so much better.
You got the feeling that if Linfield could pull it back to 1-1, especially early in the second-half, it would be a platform to go on and win the game.
Joel Cooper had a shot saved while Michael O’Connor couldn’t get a header on target as Linfield chased that equaliser.
Now midway through the second-half, David Healy turned to his subs bench, making a double substitution, with Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn coming on for Robert Garrett and Kirk Millar.
Waterworth was straight into the action, firing a shot over with his first touches.
A goal came soon after from one of the subs, but not the one you would be thinking, as Niall Quinn got to the ball just before Sam Johnston to put the ball into the net.
Linfield had the goal they craved, and there was still enough time to go on and win the game.
It was Ards who responded better to that goal, with Kym Nelson hitting the post from a long range shot, before Mark Kelly cut inside to stun Linfield and put Ards 2-1 up.
The opportunity came about from Jimmy Callacher jumping in to try and make a tackle, but there was no need to as Kelly was going nowhere.
With Callacher now on the ground, Kelly exploited the space that was now finish to make it 2-1. It was such a bad goal to concede, and at such a bad time. Linfield would now have to get back into the game all over again.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield had most of the ball but never looked like creating anything with it. It was all too predictable, long balls forward that David Elebert was easily heading away.
By this point, Jordan Stewart had come on as a substitute for Andrew Mitchell, his main moment was having a shot palmed away by Sam Johnston.
It looked like Linfield were going to get a penalty for handball, but a free-kick was given. From the resulting free-kick, it looked like Andrew Waterworth was fouled. The referee wasn’t interested. He also wasn’t interested when Linfield appealed after penalty box grappling every time Linfield had a set piece.
It just looked like one of those days, where it was going to be Ards day. Linfield started off poor, never got into a rhythm, gave Ards something to hold on to, and never took advantage of the momentum they had in the one moment when the game swung in their favour.
It had been so long since Linfield lost away to Ards, it was at Castlereagh Park. 1997 to be precise. I’m not sure of the last time Linfield lost at Clandeboye Park, but i’m guessing it was the early 1990s or the 1980s, though they did lost a friendly there in 2014.
Elsewhere, Glenavon took advantage with a win at The Oval against eight (yes, eight) man Glentoran, the first time Glentoran had three players sent-off in a match since March 1998. That afternoon certainly brings back a lot more fonder memories.
That will mean Glentoran will be three players down for Tuesday night’s game in the County Antrim Shield, though that might not be a good thing considering Linfield’s record against teams missing players.
Regardless of today’s result, i’d make changes and give some fringe players game time. We’ll need them at some point over the season.
Hopefully, Glentoran’s defending will be as statuesque on Tuesday as it was for Glenavon’s two goals today.
Obviously, with a few big names on the bench just in case. We should still be going out to win it, as we don’t want to go into next Saturday’s game on the back of two defeats.
Traditionally, Linfield have been rubbish in October so today’s result shouldn’t have been a shock. But still, we’re now needing to win to keep in touch with Glenavon instead of winning to put the pressure on them to keep in touch with us.
Glenavon’s match at home to Newry is a 5pm kick-off, so the trip to Dungannon is an opportunity to put pressure on Glenavon before they kick off. We simply have to. We can’t afford to let Glenavon get any further in front.