BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 1-2 LINFIELD 25.3.2017

Matchday 33 is one of the milestone points in the Irish League season. Everybody has played each other three times, and now top and bottom are ready to breakaway, as the final five games of the season approach.

For Linfield, the fixture computer dealt them a repeat of the opening day of the season, an away trip to Ballinamallard.

As well as the fixture being the same as the opening day of the season, we even got August weather. The picnic area at Ferney Park would have been perfect if it had a view of the pitch, although the fact it didn’t would have been definite plus point in the opening 45 minutes.

It wasn’t a day for picnics and sunbathing in the Fermanagh sunshine, it was a day for three points. Vital at any time of the season, especially at this time of year.

Linfield began the game on the attack, Paul Smyth causing problems for Ballinamallard. When Ballinamallard had their first attack, they were more effective, with Ryan Mayse forcing Gareth Deane into a save. Dean was deputising for Roy Carroll, who has been called-up to the Northern Ireland squad for the match against Norway. Shane McGinty also forced him into a save, as Ballinamallard set about reminding Linfield that this was not going to be a stroll in the sunshine for them.

Kirk Millar had Linfield’s first attempt on goal, but his volley from inside the penalty area went over.

Linfield fans went into panic when Gareth Deane went walkabout, losing possession to Ryan Mayse in the left back position, his goalward shot only hitting the side netting.

Jimmt Callacher had a header saved as Linfield looked to find an end product that their pressure and possession had so far failed to provide.

Ballinamallard took the lead when Ryan Curran got enough space to fire a shot past Dean from just outside the penalty area. It had been coming. It was the first time that Ballinamallard had ever led Linfield at Ferney PArk. What a time for it to happen, at both ends of the table.

Linfield responded. They had to. Andrew Waterworth broke into the penalty area and had his shot saved. Mark Haughey had a penalty appeal turned down, before heading over.

Niall Quinn was next to have a header over as Linfield started to play, thirty minutes later than they should have. He was then followed by Kirk Millar. Both should have forced the keeper into a save.

A careless pass set up Ryan Mayse to have another shot. Ballinamallard were making the most of the ball when they attacked, Linfield weren’t. Linfield were relieved to go in at half-time only 1-0 down.

As the left the pitch, news emerged that Crusaders were trailing 1-0 at Coleraine.

It brought back memories of April 1999 (Glentoran 1-1 Cliftonville, Linfield 1-1 Coelraine) and April 2009 (Glentoran 3-3 Lisburn Distillery, Linfield 2-2 Cliftonville), when Linfield had been chasing Glentoran for most of those seasons, waiting for them to slip up, and when they did, being unable to take advantage.

Linfield fans had been marking this game in the fixture list as a potential Crusaders slip-up, and when it came, their side wasn’t taking advantage of it.

David Healy turned to his bench at half-time, bringing on Aaron Burns for Paul Smyth. A bit surprising that Smyth left the field, though it was later revealed by Stephen Lowry that he was feeling ill at half-time.

It was no surprise that Burns would be brought on, perhaps a bit earlier than some would have expected.

The second-half had a flurry of Linfield pressure, the ball was mostly in Ballinamallard’s half.

Linfield got their reward when Andrew Waterworth chased down a through ball and managed to get a cross from the byline, missed by a Ballinamallard defender and fell perfectly for Aaron Burns to finish from close range.

Waterworth giving a lesson as to why you should always chase a “lost cause” and that, if you do, you make your own luck.

Waterworth had a flick saved while Niall Quinn had an effort cleared off the line, as Linfield chased the lead.

David Healy again turned to his bench, bringing on Josh Carson for Kirk Millar. Not that surprising to see Carson come on, I thought it would be for Niall Quinn.

With ten minutes to go, there was almost a dramatic winner …… for Ballinamallard. Mark Stafford left a kick upfield for Gareth Deane, unaware that Jason McCartney was behind him. There might have been twenty-two players on the pitch and hundreds in attendance, but now, there was only two people in Ferney Park, Jason McCartney and Gareth Deane.

Time stood still. McCartney lobbed Deane, but the ball hit the bar. Linfield fans were relieved to see the ball go over.

The incident only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity for both sets of fans.

The game was now at the “goal the winner stage”. If Ballinamallard had scored, there would surely have been no way back for Linfield.

It was surely going to be Linfield day now. There was no way a team could survive a moment like that and not come away with three points.

With just six minutes left, Linfield got the breakthrough. A cross was headed clear, falling to Stephen Lowry on the edge of the box. I screamed for him to keep his shot low, but he fired it high, and into the back of the net. Once again, it was proved that I know nothing about football.

Some people got so excited, they ran onto the pitch to celebrate. They thought it was over, but it wasn’t quite.

You can never settle on a one goal lead, but Ballinamallard never looked like getting an equaliser, as Linfield saw the game out.

As they left the pitch, the full-time whistle blew at Coleraine where the home side beat Crusaders 1-0 to reduce the gap at the top of the table to four points. It was the breakthrough that Linfield had spent months waiting for.

Crusaders are Linfield’s next League opponents on April 8th at Windsor Park, with Linfield knowing that a win will reduce the gap to one point, and really put the pressure on Crusaders.

Linfield will have nothing to fear. They’ve won three and drawn two of the five games against Crusaders. It really should be five out of five.

The remaining fixtures are :

April 15th : Ballymena v Linfield, Cliftonville v Crusaders

April 18th : Linfield v Glenavon, Crusaders v Coleraine

April 22nd : Ballymena v Crusaders, Coleraine v Linfield.

April 29th : Crusaders v Glenavon, Cliftonville v Linfield.

These games were arranged before the split. Using the formula to devise the fixtures, Crusaders should have been facing Coleraine rather than Cliftonville on April 15th.

Call me a cynic, but it seems odd that Crusaders avoid facing in-form Coleraine the week after facing Linfield, but instead will face out of sorts Cliftonville. Odd. Very odd.

Linfield will take a break from League action to face Dungannon Swifts in an Irish Cup Semi-Final at Mourneview Park.

Football is a numbers game. The numbers this morning were seven (points off the top at kick-off) and four (point off the top at full-time). The numbers this evening were seven (hopefully the number of games remaining this season) and three (the number of trophies Linfield hope to win this season)

Linfield still don’t have the title destiny in their own hands, they still have to win and hope. What they are hoping for, is a lot less than it was this morning.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield take on Glentoran, play awful but grind out a 2-1 win.

The following Saturday, I went to see Northern Ireland take on San Marino, the first game at a fully redeveloped Windsor Park.

I then went home, and got a bit of sleep, before an early morning boat to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United.

Two days later, I was Limelight bound to see Feeder in concert.

There were then two frustrating weekends as I was then Coleraine bound the following Saturday to see Linfield held to a frustrating draw, just as they were at home to Crusaders the following Saturday.

The month ended by going to see KT Tunstall in concert at Mandela Hall.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August began for me with a trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United in the opening game of the Irish League season.

The following day, I ventured to Cupar Way to check out the Peace Wall in Belfast, something I do every six months to have a look at the Street Art.

After that, came a triple whammy if Irish League matches, taking in Linfield’s games against Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon.

That was then followed by a triple whammy of concerts – Madness and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Belsonic, then Red Hot Chili Peppers at Vital.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall

Belfast Peace Wall Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Madness live at Titanic Belfast

Madness live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Catfish and the Bottlemen Photo Album

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

LINFIELD 4-0 BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 15.10.2016

David Healy celebrated his first anniversary as Linfield manager with a home game against the side who ruined his appointment, which was announced just before kick-off of a League Cup tie which Linfield lost 1-0.

One year on, and Linfield were again coming off the back of a League Cup defeat, 4-1 at Ballymena, having previously exited the Scottish Challenge Cup to Queen Of The South a few days earlier.

Like their hosts, Ballinamallard were coming off the back of two bad results, a 6-1 thumping at Dungannon Swifts, after only managing to get a draw at The Oval.

There were new faces brought into today’s line-up, a combination of rotation due to a busy month and axing players after the midweek shocker at Ballymena. I wasn’t there thankfully but can’t comment, but the media coverage and supporter reaction online were all consistent in their analysis.

Among those changes was the exciting prospect of Ross Clarke and Paul Smyth starting a competitive game for the first time, Clarke’s first start since April 2015 as he continues his recovery from injury.

There was no hangover from Linfield in the opening minutes, the pattern for the game being set out, with Linfield attacking and Ballinamallard defending.

What Linfield needed was an early goal, and they got it when Andrew Waterworth was played in by Niall Quinn to touch the ball and get him past Ballinamallard’s keeper, before composing himeself to fire into the net.

It was his first league goal of the season. A bit later in the calendar than many would have anticipated, but hopefully the first of many.

Despite being past the goalkeeperm there were still obstacles for him. Dropped recently, lacking in goals, a wet pitch, a defender running back, he ignored all of them to compose himself and finish.

It was a return to form for Waterworth today. Even when he couldn’t score or get on the end of a pass or cross, he was there and he was looking like he was seconds away from a goal.

In the previous meeting in August, Linfield got an early goal, but were pushed all the way by Ballinamallard, who were level at one point in the game.

It was the same pattern when Ballinamallard visited Windsor Park in March, Linfield edging the game 2-1 and Ballinamallard equalised. As well as that, Ballinamallard came from behind to get a draw in December.

In short, the game was far from won despite Linfield’s early lead.

Though, Linfield were the team most likely to get the next goal in the lead, their best opportunity coming when a long range Sammy Clingan free-kick was saved by James McGrath.

Clingan has had a lot of long-range shots saved this season, but his luck was soon to change, making it 2-0 from a free-kick. It was his first goal for the club.

Despite that, Ballinamallard tried to venture forward, Johnny Lafferty having his shot deflected over after a Roy Carroll spill.

Ross Clarke almost replicated his goal against Ballinamallard in February 2014, but his shot was deflected wide.

For Linfield, the aim of the second-half was to get an early goal and put the game to bed. Andrew Waterworth was agonisingly close to getting on the end of Ross Clarke’s cross.

There wasn’t long to wait for a third goal, and it came when Mark Haughey headed home from a corner.

Now that the game was won, Linfield turned to their bench to give some players a rest ahead of Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly, the first player substituted was Ross Clarke, who made way for Kirk Millar.

It was a productive afternoon for him, showing flashes of his 2014-2015 form and getting more minutes as he continues his recovery from long-term injury.

With the game won, Linfield stepped it up a gear, having numerous attempts on goal.

Having scored four goals in their last four home games, the stats suggested there would be another goal for Linfield, especially as Aaron Burns had since been introduced from the bench.

The fourth goal came after Paul Smyth took advantage of a sloppy backpass from Niall Owens back pass, touch it past the keeper and then score into the empty net. It wouldn’t be the first time today that a player called Owens would help Linfield today.

The one positive from Wednesday night’s defeat for Linfield, is that it gave Ballymena United some confidence, if it was needed, ahead of today’s game against Crusaders.

A 2-1 win for Ballymena was greatly received at Windsor Park, as it meant that Linfield will go top of the league if they beat Cliftonville on Tuesday night.

Even though the result helped Linfield, a closer inspection of the league table sees Ballymena only five points off the top of the league. They were really only helping themselves, with Linfield a secondary beneficiary.

Of all the absurd things to happen in 2016, a Ballymena United title challenge led by David Jeffrey is not something anybody would have seen on January 1st. He could probably resurrect Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Solitude, a ground and opponent that should hold no fear after recent head to heads. It should never have done in the first place. Let’s put that period behind us.

After that, is a trip to Coleraine, only four points off the top of the table, suddenly eyeing up a prospect of a title challenge.

That is followed by a County Antrim Shield tie against Cliftonville. Even though it’s a minor competition, you don’t want to have three cup exits in a month. That is a very Arsenal thing to do. The Saturday after that, Crusaders come to Windsor Park.

Four wins has to be the aim, ending the month with a cup final and a four point gap at the top of the league. Despite the two cup exits, that sequence of results would have made October 2016 a very productive month, despite the two earlier cup exits.

So, up next for Linfield, four Cs. Let’s hope the performances are A*.

Photo Album

BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 1-2 LINFIELD 6.8.2016

I’ve enjoyed the past three months spending my Saturdays going out cycling. Not as much as I enjoyed jumping back into the madness of a new Irish League season.

The fixture computer gave Linfield a trip to Ballinamallard to begin with. Not that surprising perhaps, as barring 2012-2013, Linfield have travelled to Fermanagh in the opening two months of the season.

Of the new signings, Chris Casement (second debut) and Roy Carroll were the only starters, with Josh Carson on the bench.

It was a man who has fond memories of Ferney Park, Stephen Lowry (he scored his first goal for the club there), who put Linfield into the lead when he headed home from a Ross Gaynor free-kick after 8 minutes.

It was the first goal anywhere in the new Irish League season.

Ballinamallard were letting Linfield know they were in a game and that a two goal lead was needed just to be sure.

It almost came when a crossfield pass played in Kirk Millar whose shot was tipped onto the side netting, though the referee gave a goal kick.

Linfield were getting a lot of joy from crossfield passes and playing balls in behind Ballinamallard’s defence.

Paul Smyth got in behind the defence but couldn’t get enough room for a shot, allowing for a Ballinamallard tackle.

Ballinamallard got an equaliser when a failed overhead kick fell to Ryan McConnell, who fired home. This was not in Linfield’s plans.

It was a ball in behind the defence that brought about Linfield’s second goal, as Ballinamallard’s keeper cleared the ball from the left-back position as Andrew Waterworth chased for possession, the ball landing perfectly for Kirk Millar on the halfway line, who returned the ball into the back of the net.

There was a moment of tenstion as the ball was in mid air, someone near me even gasped as the ball went goalwards. The tension was over as soon as the ball hit the back of the net and Linfield fans celebrated.

The second-half, like the first-half, saw Linfield need a two goal margin. They couldn’t get it. Their best moment came early in the second-half when Kirk Millar fired goalwards from a tight angle, but his shot was smothered.

Like in the first-half, Ballinamallard were reminding Linfield that while there was a one goal difference, the game was far from won.

Josh Carson came on from the bench and looked lively.

With 10 minutes to go, Linfield had a flurry of attacks as they sought the goal that would secure the win, with Stephen Lowry and Niall Quinn going close. Smyth and Carson were the focal point of Linfield’s attacks.

Ballinamallard went closer, with a Laffery header going just wide. He was free in the box.

Only one game in, and Linfield were doing this to their fans.

As well as the Lafferty header, Linfield had to survive a nervy corner kick.

You can be comfortable in the final minutes with a one goal lead. Linfield weren’t.

As much as Ballinamallard deserve credit, all they needed was more luck or better decision making to get a point.

Still, have to take a win, especially considering Linfield’s recent record on the opening day of the season. We’ve been used in recent years to being two or three points off the top of the league, so we’ll take this.

It wasn’t a great performance, but it was enough to say Linfield deserve the points.

It’s all about getting wins, it doesn’t matter it you grind out an away win or rack up the goals at home to compliant opposition like Ballymena.

The games come thick and fast, with Coleraine visiting Windsor Park in the now traditional (you can call three years a tradition?) Wednesday night fixture list for matchday 2, before games against Crusaders and Glenavon before the end of the month.

Coleraine’s match being postponed today means Neil McCafferty will be suspended on Wednesday, so it will be ok to concede a free-kick in injury time if we’re a goal up.

I’d prefer it if we did the business well in advance of the 90th minute to be honest.

Photo Album

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2015-2016

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look at the 2015-2016 season just past. The 2016-2017 is only a matter of days away. Scary, I know.

Before I wrap up the 2015-2016, it’s time for my favourite photos. Hopefully, you’ll agree. Feel free to vote for your favourite.

BRAY

Taken at my very first game, back on 27th June 2015, I like the composition and framing of this.

TAYLOR’S

Taken on my first visit to Taylor’s Avenue, I love how everyone is focused on the player with the ball (I think it’s Guy Bates)



FANS

Taken at Ballinamallard in September. I don’t know why I love this photo, I just do.

ENCOURAGEMENT

I was taking a photo of the corner, but this guy just got up and started to encourage Linfield players, which made the photo for me.

A photo of just the corner kick would actually have been boring.



GREECE

Taken on that famous night against Greece just after Davis first goal, and trying to capture what it meant.

RED SKY

No filtering or magic tricks, that’s what the sky was like when Linfield travelled to Ballymena in December. Just had to get a snap.

CELEBRATIONS

Taken after the Irish Cup tie at Solitude in March, what it means to win at a ground you haven’t won for four years, and to do so in a convincing manner.

TERRACES

Taken at Dalymount Park, terracing that isn’t used anymore, other than to hang flags on. I like the composition of this.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – DECEMBER

After a horrible November, the hope was that December would be a bit better. It got off to a good start, with Linfield beating Coleraine at Windsor Park.

That proved to be a false dawn as Linfield could only draw at home to Ballinamallard United the following week.

Thankfully, the month ended a bit better for Linfield, with wins on the road against Ballymena United and Glentoran.

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Ballinamallrd United

Ballymena United v Linfield

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – SEPTEMBER

My football watching for September began in sunny Fermanagh, watching Linfield get a 1-0 win away to Ballinamallard, to keep up their 100% start to the season.

Two days later, it was Windsor Park to see if Northern Ireland could get the win they needed to reach Euro 2016. They didn’t get it, but a late 1-1 draw sent the crowd home more than happy.

The following Saturday, I went to Seaview to see Linfield lose their 100% start to the season with a 3-0 defeat.

Thankfully, Linfield were able to return to winning ways over the next two Saturdays, getting wins against Warrenpoint Town and Glenavon at home over the following two Saturdays.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Hungary

Northern Ireland v Hungary Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Glenavon

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2015

My football watching for 2015 is now over, so, it’s time for a statistical look back at the football I watched.

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 143

Red Cards : 10 (Doesn’t include Caoimhin Bonner being sent-off in the tunnel after the game)

Missed/Saved Penalties : 6

Hat-Tricks : 2 (Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Dungannon Swifts. Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 40

Arsenal, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Bray Wanderers, Carrick Rangers, CE Europa (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee (1st time), Dunfermline Athletic (1st time), Dungannon Swifts, Espanyol (1st time), Finland, Glenavon, Glentoran, Greece (1st time), Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hungary, Institute, Latvia (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Masnau, Northern Ireland, NSI Runavik (1st time), Partick Thistle (1st time), Portadown, PSNI, PSV Eindhoven (1st time), Qatar (1st time), Rangers, Romania (1st time) Scotland, Sligo Rovers, Spartak Trnava (1st time), Tobermore United, Valencia (1st time), Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 23

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Drumahoe, East End Park (1st time), Estadi Cornella y Prat (1st time), Ferney Park, Fortwilliam Park (1st time), Gresty Road (1st time), Hampden Park, Ibrox, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newforge (1st time), Nou Sardenya (1st time), Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue (1st time), The Oval, Tynecastle, Windsor Park

Competitions : 13

European Championship, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, La Liga, League of Ireland, Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup (1st time), Scottish Premier League, Tercera Division (1st time), UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

No real curiousities, other than a match with kick-off delayed for an hour due to the weather

UEFA 102 Club : Espanyol, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia (now at 35 clubs)

2015 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …)

There’s still another week of the month to go, but this pictorial round-up will end in time for Christmas with a look back at the final month of 2015. So far.

The months began at The Limelight, as Marina and the Diamonds made a welcome return to Belfast after a five year absence.

Five was also the number on people’s lips on the 5th of the month, as Linfield took on Coleraine, aiming to avoid a fifth successive defeat, which thankfully they did.

Unfortunately, it was a false dawn, as I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield play out a drab draw against Ballinamallard.

The following Saturday, it was a lot better, as I headed on the road to see Linfield win at Ballymena.

The day afterwards, there was The Ash Christmas Bash, at The Empire.

There’s still a week left of 2015, but that’s a round-up of what i’ve snapped so far this year.

I’ll be snap snap snapping away in 2016. I’ve got high hopes that June will be memorable.

Marina and the Diamonds live at The Limelight

Marina and the Diamonds live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Ballymena United v Linfield

Ash live at The Empire

Ash live at The Empire Photo Album