CRUSADERS 1-3 LINFIELD 7.2.2017

It was the same competition, same venue and the same opponents as the last time Linfield won a trophy in 2014, David Jeffrey’s last as Linfield manager. If you believe in things going full circle, you could say that the Post Jeffrey Era ended, and the David Healy Era truly began. That will be for future historians to decide.

It could be Linfield’s only trophy this season, it could be the first of two. It could even be the first of three. That outcome will decided over the next three months.

The final of the County Antrim Shield isn’t a new experience for Linfield fans, it was the seventh time in nine years they had reached the final of the competition. Mostly, they hadn’t been positive experiences though, only celebrating a win in 2013-2014, their first since 2005-2006, and having to watch opponents lift the trophy in 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2015-2016.

There were two names that stood out in the pre-match teamsheets. Colin Coates back for Crusaders after injury and Gareth Deane in goals for Linfield, taking some pundits in the media by surprise (though, there were people sitting behind me in the first-half who were shocked to see Roy Carroll not playing).

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to see Deane on the pitch, as he had played in every round of the competition so far.

The occasion wouldn’t have overawed him, having played in last season’s Irish Cup Final, and been thrown in against Cliftonville at The Oval, and played at The Oval during the run-in at the end of last season. Despite his lack of games of Linfield, he doesn’t lack big match experience.

Crusaders had the first attack of the game, snuffed out by Matthew Clarke in the full-back position.

Linfield then took control of the game, as Crusaders couldn’t defend a free-kick and had to concede a corner. They couldn’t defend that corner and had to concede another corner.

It was third time lucky for Linfield as Cameron Stewart headed home from the corner. Three was very much the magic number, as the player wearing 3 scored for the third successive match.

Before anyone complains about a Forward wearing 3, we had a Defender wearing 11 for years. Linfield don’t do numerical convention.

It was a unique achievement for Stewart, having scored in the Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Eve, meaning he had scored in both of the County Antrim FA’s showpiece finals in the same season.

I have a lot of useless football stats in my head, but I don’t know if he is the first player to achieve this in the same season or even in a career. Feel free to leave a comment if you know.

Stewart almost had a second soon after but he couldn’t get his head onto a cross. Paul Heatly hit a shot wide at the near post but it was a rare Crusaders attack in the opening minutes.

Kirk Millar had a goalward shot blocked after a corner was cleared before Mark Stafford soon afterwards bundled the ball into the net from close range after a corner to make it 2-0.

It was a pefect start for Linfield. Jamie Mulgrew was running the show. Crusaders players couldn’t even get close to him to cyncially foul him and get a final final final final warning from the referee.

Andrew Waterworth was played through but couldn’t get a clear strike at goal, eventually firing over.

2-0 down, Crusaders responded in the way they know best, with thuggery. Paul “not that kind of player” Heatley got sent-off for elbowing Mark Stafford.

It was his second red card against Linfield, having been sent-off when the sides met at Seaview in April 2014. It would have been his third red card against Linfield if the referee had done his job properly in the final minutes of the League match at Windsor Park in October after his excuse of a tackle on Andrew Waterworth. I’m sure there’s more lucky escapes that i’ve missed.

Things were going perfectly for Linfield. Almost too perfectly.

It looked like Crusaders would be going down to nine men when Howard Beverland grabbed Cameron Stewart after an aerial tussle. The referee booked both players under the “I haven’t a clue so i’ll just book both of them rule”.

Beverland chanced his arm by dragging down Cameron Stewart as he looked to head goalwards. No free-kick was awarded, and within seconds, a long hoof upfield saw Jordan Owens head home.

As good a header as it was, it was unstoppable – going in from the moment it left his left, Jimmy Callacher shouldn’t have been beaten to the ball so easily.

Instead of having a free-kick in an attacking position and facing nine men, Linfield were now pulled back to 2-1.

Linfield had a few wobbly moments after that goal, but there was never a moment when Crusaders looked like equalising.

Defenders didn’t help themselves by passing it back to Gareth Deane’s weaker left foot (after passing it back to Ross Glendenning’s weaker right foot when he was playing for the club – they’ll get it right some day) which resulted in cheap throw-ins being conceded. It was especially dangerous on a pitch as bumpy as the Ballymena Showgrounds was.

Michael Carvill almost made history by being sent-off in two County Antrim Shield Finals, but the referee bottled it after his late challenge on Matthew Clarke when he was already on a yellow card.

Jordan Owens hitting the side-netting was the best moment Crusaders had in the final moments of the first-half. Linfield were more than happy to go in at half-time 2-1 up and have a chance to clear their heads. If they kept their heads in the second-half, they secure the win.

Naturally, Crusaders went out at the start of the second-half in search of an equaliser. They had a lot of the ball, but the best they could offer was a speculative long range shot from David Cushley. This was one of the ninety-nine out of a hundred that fly over the bar.

Jamie Mulgrew also fired over as he ran goalwards, continuing where he left off in the first-half. Andrew Waterworth and Cameron Stewart both had chances to kill off the game as Linfield searched for that third goal that would clinch the game.

They had a glorious chance when Sean O’Neill misjudged the ball as he tried to shepherd it out for a goal kick, pulling back Andrew Waterworth as he tried to put the ball in the net, before Howard Beverland lunged in an fouled him. Take your pick as to which foul the penalty was awarded for.

And yet, there was still no second yellow card for Beverland. If you’re partial to a bet, stick some money on Michael Carvill or Howard Beverland to score the winner for Crusaders on Saturday. Free money.

With Ross Gaynor and Aaron Burns not on the pitch, all eyes were on who would take the penalty for Linfield. It was Stephen Lowry, who made no mistake, to make it 3-1.

That was it, game won for Linfield. Crusaders barely looked like scoring at 2-1, they were never going to come back at 3-1.

Things got even better for Linfield, with Paul Smyth now being introduced from the bench after missing two months through injury, and he picked up where he left off, running at Crusaders defence, causing them panic. Just like Jamie Mulgrew, they couldn’t get close enough to kick him.

Before the final whistle, there was still time for one more act of thuggery, as Jordan Owens barged Jimmy Callacher from the touchline onto the tarmac at the side of the pitch. There’s nothing Crusaders players specialise in more than a barge on the touchline designed to cause injury.

During the final minutes, Linfield continued to attack as they sought a 4-1 lead that would not have flattered them.

Linfield sent out a message to the rest of the league. Not about their own capabilities, but that Crusaders can be beaten if you stand up to them. Crusaders seven point lead has been partly due to too many teams not believing that they can beat them.

That attempt to overtake them will continue at Carrick on Saturday. Hopefully, another road trip as productive as the ones to Dungannon, Drumahoe and Ballymena over the past ten days.

Photo Album

 

2016 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER

November 2016 began with an eventful trip to Lurgan to see Linfield recover from being both two goals and two men down against Glenavon to secure an unlikely draw.

It was followed by a busy week. I was out on the road again to see Linfield take on Ballymena, before heading to The Odyssey to see Bastille in concert.

Two days later, I was at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Azerbaijan, before heading back on the road to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

I then headed to near the Royal Mail’s office to photograph a new mural of various popculture icons such as David Bowie, Christopher Walken, Kes and Adam Ant.

The following midweek, I was back at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Croatia in a friendly, before heading back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

November ended with a weekend in Manchester, going to see United take on Feyenoord and West Ham, see Bury take on Millwall via Broadhurst Park, as well as capturing Street Art in Manchester and Salford Quays, and some stickers left by Feyenoord fans around the city.

Those trips to Old Trafford were my first since Jose Mourinho became United manager.

Glenavon v Linfield

Ballymena United v Linfield

Bastille live at The Odyssey

Bastille live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Down By The Royal Mail II

Down By The Royal Mail II Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Croatia

Northern Ireland v Croatia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Feyenoord

Manchester United v Feyenoord Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Feyenoord Stickers

Feyenoord Stickers Photo Album

Bury v Millwall

Bury v Millwall Photo Album

Broadhurst Park

Manchester United v West Ham United

Manchester United v West Ham United Photo Album

BALLYMENA UNITED 1-4 LINFIELD 8.11.2016

Last Tuesday night, the eyes of the world were focused on a battle for supremacy between red and blue.

The polls had Crusaders in a six point lead, with Linfield hopeful of overcoming that ahead of Polling Day on April 29th 2017.

It would have been a seven point lead until Linfield held a successful rally in Lurgan on Saturday, as a former occupier of the Oval Office watched from the sidelines.

David Healy, riding on a ticket of Make Linfield Great Again took his side to the battleground state of Ballymena, hoping for a better result than his last visit, a 4-1 defeat in the League Cup last month.

Like events in the US, we even had an exoneration in the build-up with Roy Carroll being cleared to play after his red card against Glenavon, and he didn’t even have to delete an e-mail. Matthew Clarke was not so lucky.

It could have been easy for Linfield not to fancy it on a cold and wet night. The evidence at Mourneview on Saturday suggested they would have been relishing it.

Both sides lined-up level on points, but it was Linfield who had the early pressure. The goal they deserved came in 20 minutes when Andrew Waterworth’s header went over Alan Blayney, returning after injury just in time as Ross Glendenning was ineligible to play against his parent club.

Linfield couldn’t make their dominance count, and it was Ballymena who equalised from a Tony Kane free-kick. Not even Donald Trump could have built a wall to stop it going in.

Level at the break, Linfield dusted themselves down and went about regaining the lead, having most of the ball in the early minutes of the second-half, Paul Smyth being involved is most of these attacks.

It was Smyth who was involved in Linfield’s second goal, when his shot was a wide angle was put in by Stephen Lowry, getting there just before a defender trying to clear.

For scorer and assister, it was a case of getting their rewards for taking a chance. Smyth could have thought it was too wide to shoot, and the opportunity would have been gone. Lowry could have thought it was going in, only to see the defender clear it.

In the lead for the second time, Linfield weren’t in the mood to give it up.

It got better when Mark Haughey put the ball home from close range after Ross Gaynor’s inviting cross. Haughey was preferring to do his heroics in the opposition six yard box with a white shirt rather than his own six yard box with an orange shirt this time.

Linfield then had a chance to make it 4-1 but Ross Gaynor missed a penalty. Gaynor has a mixed record at Ballymena Showgrounds with a goal, a red card, and a penalty miss on his three visits there.

Something like this could re-energise a trailing team for the final ten minutes, but all Ballymena fans could muster was a half hearted roar after the miss. All Linfield had to deal with was a brief flurry of corners, which was easily cleared.

It looked like the perfect opportunity to bring Aaron Burns on off the bench, but David Healy resisted that opportunity.

The last meaningful kick of the game came from Jamie Mulgrew when he fired home from the edge of the penalty area to add some icing to a delicious cake.

At Mourneview Park, Glenavon continued to be useless when they blew another two goal lead to draw 3-3 with Crusaders, two of Crusaders goals coming from a player who should have been serving the second of a three match ban.

As supporters were leaving the ground, news emerged that Glenavon had a penalty. I didn’t even get excited because I knew they would miss it.

The important thing was, that Linfield won, and the gap at the top of the table had been reduced to four points a few days after it increased to six.

The second of an away day trilogy had brought three points, getting closer to Crusaders and pulling away from Ballymena and Cliftonville.

We all know what happened in America on Tuesday night. The Democratic Party will have to wait for years to get a chance of getting back into power. Linfield will be hoping they will only have to wait five months.

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

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)

BALLYMENA UNITED 1-3 LINFIELD 19.12.2015

Like last season, Linfield spent the Saturday before Christmas playing the reverse fixture of their opening game of the season, except that it was a role reversal from this time last year.

This time last season, Linfield recovered from being bottom of the league on day one to win a crunch game against Portadown to go into Christmas top of the league. Instead, it was a good start gone awry this year.

Linfield weren’t quite bottom of the league, though it did feel like it, languishing in 5th at kick-off.

Linfield started off on the front foot, with Paul Smyth and Niall Quinn going close, as well as Sean Ward getting more advanced than usual and starting attacks.

After the early flurry, not a lot happened after that. That was, until Ballymena went 1-0 up through David Cushley.

A ball played behind Linfield’s defence was cleared to the halfway line by Ross Glendinning in the full-back position which fell to David Cushley, who fired home. Sat at that side, it was in as soon as he hit it.

At the game, I felt a defender should have taken control of the situation and got the ball and leave Glendinning to come off his line, or even made themselves available for a pass.

Having viewed the TV footage, I was perhaps too harsh.

It didn’t really matter who was to blame, it was a perfect summary of Linfield’s matches since the start of November, as Ballymena took the lead with their first shot on goal, and a speculative one at that.

The goal was celebrated by Ballymena players in front of the Linfield fans. It’s reassuring to know that “The worst Linfield team of the last fifty years” (Copyright, every non Linfield fan on the internet) are still seen as a career highlight to score against.

Soon after, an Alan Blayney headed clearance offered Paul Smyth the chance to do something similar from a closer range, but his effort went over the bar.

Naturally, we were treated to very little football after that and lots of timewasting, Ballymena players kicking the ball away up the pitch whenever Linfield had a free-kick, paying tribute to Mwepu Ilunga doing so against Brazil in the 1974 World Cup, antics I haven’t seen since I spent my lunchtimes having a kickabout in the school playground.

Half-time couldn’t come quick enough for Linfield in the aftermath of going 1-0 down, such was the downturn in performance.

A recurring theme of the first-half was quick free-kicks going astray and becoming wasted. Passes in open play weren’t much better.

Linfield came out for the second-half and were slightly better, but Ballymena saw out the early flurry.

On the hour, Linfield got the equaliser when Sean Ward was put through on goal. All he had to do was lift the ball over Blayney. He did, and Linfield were level.

Niall Quinn and Jimmy Callacher went close as Linfield chased the goal that would put them in front. Andrew Waterworth was barging his way goalwards but not getting the chance to get a clear strike on goal.

Eventually, Linfield got their second goal when a cross from Quinn came to Paul Smyth, who neither shot or crossed when he touched the ball, but the ball bounced for Andrew Waterworth to fire home first time.

Finally, a lucky bounce fell Linfield’s way.

Despite there being only one goal in it, there was no way back for Ballymena. Their only effort on goal was Cushley’s speculative shot for their goal. They had a few corners but they were easily cleared.

Guy Bates came on as a late sub and managed to pack a lot into his brief appearance, smashing home in injury time to make sure of the points.

Players and fans celebrated together at the final whistle, as one win in six has turned into four games unbeaten in the space of a week. Things can change very quickly in football.

Linfield’s run of four successive defeats coincided with Crusaders, Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glenavon hitting top form, making the run of results even worse.

Barring Crusaders, all of the teams above Linfield dropped points this weekend, meaning Linfield are now up to 3rd, just three points (albeit with a game more played) behind Cliftonville.

Up next, is Boxing Day. Never mind keeping up the recent run in the fixture, three points are a must if European football is to be secured for next season.

It would be nice to end 2015 on a high. A year that saw Linfield lose the title, a stand, and a manager. That was a bit careless.

I didn’t blog about it last week as I was still digesting it, but the Euro 2016 draw was a bit, well, underwhelming. Well, for me at least.

As i’ll be based in Paris, I now face a six hour train journey to see Northern Ireland’s opening match against Poland.

And the match I have a ticket for is Republic of Ireland v Sweden. At least i’ll get to see Zlatan in the flesh.

I’m going to apply for the Northern Ireland match, but the relatively low allocation makes it tight if i’ll get one.

If I don’t, i’ll try the ticket exchange for the match i’ve got.

If I do get a ticket for Northern Ireland v Poland, i’ll try to swap the ticket for the other match for Albania v Switzerland in Nice on Saturday 10th, and spend a bit more time in Nice on the Monday.

There’s still a lot of football watching before then, starting with The Oval next Saturday.

I know what I want for Christmas, and i’m prepared to wait until 4.45pm on Boxing Day for it. Oh, and a shiny cup for Linfield in May, even though the Gibson one is a bit ambitious. Oh, and a Binlid in January. Well, it’s up for grabs, might as well.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading my football blogs in 2015, have a great Christmas. Except if you support Glentoran, in which case I hope your Christmas is ruined by your team getting stuffed on the 26th.

Photo Album

2015 IN PICTURES – APRIL

Damage to The Kop at Windsor Park meant that my photo adventures were delayed in April.

The first shots I got were of Street Art in Belfast City Centre, outside Red Barn Gallery.

On Easter Tuesday, finally some football action, as Linfield beat Glentoran at The Oval. Four days later it was a home game against Ballymena, and a defeat that finally ended Linfield’s title challenge.

With Linfield’s fate now decided, I went to see Carrick Rangers travel to PSNI in their attempt to get promoted the following midweek.

I had a change of heart the following weekend, travelling to Shamrock Park to see Linfield take on Portadown, mainly as it was Peter Thompson’s last game for the club.

Red Barn Street Art

Red Barn Street Art Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PSNI v Carrick Rangers

PSNI v Carrick Rangers Photo Album

Portadown v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April was supposed to start at Windsor Park on Easter Saturday, but damage to The Kop stand meant my footballing month would begin at The Oval instead. I wouldn’t get to visit Windsor Park at all this month.

After Linfield’s win over Glentoran at The Oval gave some life to the title race, defeat at “home” to Glenavon at Ballymena put an end to that four days later

With the title gone and European football secured for Linfield, my attention turned to the Championship promotion race, where I headed to Newforge (a first time visit) to see PSNI take on Carrick Rangers.

The month ended with a trip to Shamrock Park for Linfield’s last game of the season. It was a late decision to go, influenced by the fact it would be Peter Thompson’s last game for Linfield.

We didn’t get the goal we all wanted, but we did get a chance to applaud and thank him for his service.

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PSNI v Carrick Rangers

PSNI v Carrick Rangers Photo Album

Portadown v Linfield

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