BALLYMENA UNITED 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 18.2.2017

When Cliftonville exited the League Cup at the Quarter-Final stage in November, it was guaranteed that the League Cup would be leaving North Belfast after residing at Solitude since 2013. When it was announced that Seaview would be the venue for this year’s final, the trophy would be metaphorically and literally leaving North Belfast.

It wouldn’t be leaving too far, a short journey up the motorway to Ballymena or Carrickfergus.

Carrick were hoping that my presence would inspire them. I’ve been something of a good luck charm for them in recent years, being there when they won the Steel and Sons Cup Final, at Seaview funnily enough, in 2014, and for their penultimate game of the season in 2015 against the PSNI, a vital win which set them up for promotion if they won their final game, which they did.

The early minutes saw Ballymena pressure but nothing come of it. Despite that, there was still no opportunity for Carrick to relax. They didn’t help themselves, creating pressure for themselves when a clearance hit one of their own defenders and put them back under pressure. Later on, Brian Neeson punched a corner away, hitting one of his defenders. Fortunately for Carrick, the ball bounced out for another corner.

Allan Jenkins had Ballymena’s first attempt at goal when his header went over. It was Carrick who had the first real chance of the game when TJ Murray fired over from inside the penalty area when unmarked. It wasn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity but he should have done so much better, keep it low and at least make the keeper make a save.

Ross Glendenning was eventually forced into a save from a long range shot from Carrick’s other Murray, Martin. It was one of those saves usually referred to as a “Photographer’s save”. He did get lucky that there were no Carrick players close enough to capitalise on his parry, as he picked up the rebound.

Ballymena’s first real attempt on goal came when Johnny McMurray’s long range shot had to be tipped over by Brian Neeson. McMurray’s next attempt at goal was a snapshot that went just wide.

It looked like being a frustrating evening for Ballymena, until Willie Faulkner ran at Carrick’s defence to create space to get a cross in, which was finished by Allan Jenkins to put Ballymena 1-0 up. For the second successive Saturday, Carrick found themselves going in at half-time to a goal in the final minute of the half.

Carrick, who were set up to win 1-0, now had to win this 2-1.

Carrick actually made a good start to the second-hal, knocking Ballymena off their stride. Despite that, it never looked like an equaliser was inevitible.

There was more frustration for Ballymena when McMurray, Kane and Jenkins all missed chances to score. A 2-0 lead, no matter how long was left would have been enough to secure the trophy. Jenkins miss was the worst of the lot, firing over from close range when, like TJ Murray in the first-half, all he had to do was keep it low and get it on target.

It looked like Ballymena were going to be made to pay for it when a header from a free-kick fell to Adam Salley. He got enough to header it over the onrushing Ross Glendenning, but not enough for the ball to loop in. That was Carrick’s big moment. It never looked like Carrick were going to get another chance like that.

It was another set piece which provided Carrick’s next chance, a low shot from a free-kick teed to Nathan McConnell was saved by Ross Glendinning when it looked like it was going to sneak in.

Unsurprisingly, as the team trailing 1-0, Carrick had a lot of the ball in the final minutes of the game, but Ballymena always looked like holding firm, despite their unusually high amount of goals conceded this season for a team in the top half.

The biggest moment of worry for Ballymena came when TJ Murray went down in the box. I was not far from the incident and didn’t think it was a penalty at the time. Looking back at the incident, i’ve seen them given. If you’re Carrick, you’ll scream for it, if you’re Ballymena, you’d be fuming if it was given against you. It’s a decision that would be easier for the referee to give if the ball was in the middle of the park.

The Ballymena defender did just enough to get his body in the road to stop Murray getting through.

As the game approached injury time, Ballymena got a second on the counter attack when Conor McCloskey was played through and smashed it home from a wide position. It was a goal that deserved to have Alan Partridge commentary.

Carrick’s players were fuming as the game wasn’t stopped in the build-up for TJ Murray to get treatment for an injury sustained in the tackle which won the ball for Ballymena to counter.

For the second successive Saturday, Carrick lost 2-0 as a result of goals in the final minute of each half.

Interesting day in the Glendenning household, with Ross winners medal being trumped by Reece’s hat-trick for Linfield Swifts earlier in the day.

Ballymena fans celebrated their first major trophy since 1989, and now both teams turn their attentions to the rest of the season. Ballymena fans dreaming of Europe either via winning the UEFA Cup Play-Off Final or the Irish Cup. Carrick aren’t dreaming of Europe, but rather Linfield, Glentoran, Ballymena and all the other top flight clubs they will be hoping to visit for League games next season.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 21.1.2017

After two Saturdays on the road, Linfield returned to Windsor Park hoping to rectify poor home form which has contributed to them kicking off seven points behind Crusaders. Today was the first Saturday game at Windsor Park since December 17th 2016, five weeks ago, when Ballymena united, incidentally, were the visitors to Windsor Park.

Linfield’s dramatic win that day saw them be five points behind Crusaders. Poor home results since then against Glentoran and Coleraine have seen the gap increase to seven points.

Linfield got off to a slow start, with Joe McKinney having the first shot on goal for Ballymena when his shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

Eventually, Linfield got more into the game and the pressure began to build. Aaron Burns had a head just wide from close range and he couldn’t get an opportunity to adjust his body.

That pressure was soon rewarded when Alan Blayney could only palm out a Ross Gaynor free-kick, and Stephen Lowry was first to the loose ball, creating enough space to drill the ball across, landing at Mark Stafford who guided the ball into the net via a Ballymena defender. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as his goal against Ballymena last month, but it was just as important.

Aaron Burns got a header goalwards from the next set piece, but a better execution didn’t bring a better result, as he was denied by a Ballymena defencer heading away.

The next time the ball was cleared off the line came at the other end of the pitch when Conor McCloskey was denied, before Johnny McMurray had a volley saved by Carroll, reminding Linfield that this game was far from won.

Sandwiched inbetween, Andrew Waterworth was able to pull away from Ballymena’s defence, but his low drive was saved by Alan Blayney.

Linfield went in search of a second goal that would clinch the game at the start of the second-half that would more than likely clinch the game.

Aaron Burns was played through but was on his right foot. The delay in setting himself onto this left foot allowed Jim Ervin to get a block in and deflect the ball over.

Burns was soon to get the feeling that today was not to be his day when he got in behind Ballymena’s defence, lobbed the ball over Blayney, only to see the ball hit the bar.

Linfield fans were soon feeling similar. That’s the sort of chance you rue when you drop two points.

As Linfield chased the clinching goal, David Healy turned to his bench, with Kirk Millar coming on for Stephen Fallon, while Cameron Stewart came on for Ross Gaynor.

That goal became even more essential as Linfield were soon reminded of the perils of a one goal lead when Conor McCloskey fired just wide from a good position.

Cameron Stewart’s first involvement in the game came when he got a yellow card for kicking the ball away at a free-kick. No complaints about that. However, a Ballymena player did the same thing in the first-half and wasn’t booked.

That’s the sort of consistency we all love from Irish League referees.

Finally, Linfield got the goal they needed, when Andrew Waterworth got in behind Ballymena’s defence, took his time, and then took some more time, before eventually putting the ball in the net.

Ballymena might have been able to score one, they were never going to score two. The game was won for Linfield.

The atmosphere soon reflected that around Windsor Park, as Linfield fans began to feel more relaxed.

Stewart created space for himself in the box, and decided to set up Matthew Clarke rather than going for goal himself, the shot going just wide.

It was now time for Kevin Amuneke to make his Linfield debut. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get many chances due to the level of attacking not being as intense when you lead 2-0 with less then ten minutes to go. He did get into some good positions when the ball was out wide, the delivery not quite going to him

Ballymena tried to make the final moments nervous for Linfield, with Roy Carroll once agains denying Johnny McMurray, as Linfield got a long awaited clean sheet, their first since the match against Ards on December 10th.

Sandwiched inbetween Crusaders and Cliftonville, there was always going to be a result going Linfield’s way at Seaview when the sides met.

A 1-0 win for Crusaders meant that Linfield pulled six points clear of Cliftonville but still remain seven points behind Crusaders.

However, fixtures over the coming weeks before the split (yes, it’s the time of year when we can actually start talking about the split) offer Linfield a chance to gather some winning momentum.

That’s not arrogance, Dungannon-Carrick-Portadown-Glentoran-Cliftonville-Ards-Ballinamallard is a run of games Linfield should be getting maxiumum points from going into the split.

Crusaders meanwhile, have games against Glenavon and Ballymena coming up, as well as a trip to Coleraine in March. Just a pity that game against Coleraine wasn’t sooner, given the run of form they are on.

That match against Ballymena is the week before the League Cup Final. Half assed saving themselves or highly motivated with cup final places up for grabs? Hopefully the latter.

Meanwhile, tickets for the County Antrim Shield Final went on sale, Linfield’s last home match before that game. Not sure why it needs to be ticketed when Linfield have never been ticketed at Ballymena for a League game.

Carrick Rangers have announced that Linfield’s visit there in February will be all ticket. Logically, that would suggest it will be all ticket for Linfield fans.

If it is, there are no home games for Linfield between now and then. You’d think they would have known about this and made tickets available for Linfield fans earlier, especially as Linfield’s visit there in August 2015 (at eleven days notice) was ticketed. I wasn’t at the game in September 2016 so I don’t know if that was ticketed.

Talk about making it difficult for people to attend.

Oh, and I finally got round to purchasing Every Other Saturday. Looking forward to getting stuck into this.

Up next, a trip to Dungannon, and hopefully the start of the charge.

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

LINFIELD 2-1 BALLYMENA UNITED 17.12.2016

David Jeffrey made his first return to Windsor Park as an opposition manager, and Linfield paid tribute by getting a dramatic late winner that would have made him smile during his 17 years in charge.

There wasn’t many chances in the opening moments of the game. Andrew Waterworth stretched to get on the end of a cross, but couldn’t get the direction to put the ball in the net, the ball going over, while a Kirk Millar cross went agonisingly across the penalty area. Ballymena’s best attacking moment came when Roy Carroll had to rush out of his penalty area to stop a through ball becoming dangerous for Linfield.

Like Andrew Waterworth, Niall Quinn got a foot on a cross but couldn’t direct it in, the ball again going over.

In the final minutes of the first-half, Waterworth had the ball in the net after a Sean Ward pass but it was ruled offside. I haven’t seen TV footage of it yet, but it didn’t look offside from where I was.

A score of 0-0 was bad enough for Linfield fans, but they were treated to the worst case of the continued deterioration of the music on the tannoy at Windsor Park. I was looking out for someone to sort me out for some Es and some glow sticks, that’s how bad the music was.

The second-half still had the same lack of urgency from Linfield, though it wouldn’t be long until a goal, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick, his third goal in two games.

Linfield couldn’t build on this advantage, with players having a lack of options on the ball, too often taking the easy option or being forced to play it backwards.

In short, Linfield had a lot of the ball but were not doing a lot with it.

Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a header, while Cahir Friel fired just wide from outside the box.

A reminder, if it was needed, that Linfield had not yet won this match.

One way Linfield were trying to wrap up the game was by getting Jamie Mulgrew on the ball, to run at Ballymena’s defence and trying to make things happen.

You could say it was Classic Mulgrew. Unfortunately, that meant he was usually fouled within five seconds of getting the ball. A lack of yellow cards only encouraged Ballymena with their tactical fouling.

Linfield sent on Aaron Burns from the bench to try and clinch the game. His first touch was to flick on for Stephen Lowry to run on to. Lowry made contact with the ball, unfortunately so did Alan Blayney, getting his body in the way to make a save.

Burns then had a shot saved in the penalty area, from the rebound of an Andrew Waterworth shot that was blocked from close range.

The one positive for Linfield was that Ballymena didn’t look like scoring in open play.

Unfortunately, the referee gave Ballymena a penalty on 87 minutes when Niall Quinn was judged to have handled the ball after a shot came at him from close range. A soft penalty, made even worse when you see the one Carrick didn’t get for a similar incident. Irish League referees never one for consistency.

Naturally, Tony Kane made it 1-1.

Linfield seemed stunned, and unable to raise themselves to win the game again.

However, in injury time, an Aaron Burns cross was headed in by Mark Stafford. The South Stand had it’s first LimbsAOTS moment. A lesson that if you take a chance and get the ball into the box, and take a chance by making a run, you will get rewarded.

There were two more lessons as well.

If you act the big lad running to the opposition fans after scoring, don’t concede an injury time winner, You’ll just look stupid.

If you boot the ball into an empty stand when the game is stopped for an offside decision, don’t complain if there is enough added time for the opposition to score.

New manager, same old Ballymena.

With Crusaders and Cliftonville winning, it was an understatement to say that Linfield needed to win as well.

It sets things up nicely for next Monday and a match so big it gets introduced as “The small matter …….” by the media. The small matter of Boxing Day.

With Cliftonville facing Crusaders, it means that if Linfield win, they’ll either get closer to Crusaders or pull away from Cliftonville. Or possibly both if it ends a draw.

No point worrying about the Half Scarf Derby, all that matters is that Linfield do the business, just as they did today. Just about.

Where Linfield are “Lucky”, Crusaders are labelled “Resilient”.

You may remember that I critcised the club for inconvenient arrangements for selling tickets. I think it’s only fair to congratulate them on having extended opening hours last Thursday for supporters to get tickets.

There is no first team match next Saturday, but the Swifts have the Steel and Sons Cup Final against Dundela. I was always planning to go this year as it was on Christmas Eve (won’t happen again until 2022, calendar fans) and Linfield being in it is a nice bonus.

Getting out of bed for a 10.45am kick-off will be fun after a week off (Sorry for the humblebrag that my Christmas Holidays began at 4pm yesterday)

Talking of Cup Finals, Ballymena United and Carrick Rangers will face each other in the League Cup Final in February at an as yet undecided venue. Tempted to go to this as a neutral. Well, in the Carrick end.

I am a sort of good luck charm for them, having attended the 2014 Steel and Sons Cup Final and the penultimate game of their 2014-2015 promotion season.

Over the next week, it is anticipated the 2017 League Of Ireland fixture list will be published, allowing me the opportunity to look at possible games to go to when the Irish League is in pre-season.

Already planning my football watching in 2017, there’s still three games for me to go to in 2016. Hopefully it brings six points and a trophy.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2016 began the same way as 2015, by watching Linfield take on Crusaders. Like the previous year, it was a home win, but thankfully the game was at Windsor Park this year.

Over the next ten days, there were two more visits to Windsor Park, with Ballymena United the visitors both times, once in the Irish Cup and once in the County Antrim Shield.

David Bowie died during the month, and he got a tribute mural in Belfast, which I went down to see get painted, and then snap the final results.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to Manchester, to see United take on Southampton. While there, I took advantage of some Street Art, plus I also went to see The Kooks in concert.

The month ended by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Carrick Rangers.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

David Bowie Mural

David Bowie Mural Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

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 – JANUARY

Like in the previous season, January began with a game between Linfield and Crusaders. Again, it was a home win, though this time, it was at Windsor Park instead of Seaview.

The following Saturday, it was the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, with Linfield edging out Ballymena United after extra-time.

Three days later, same venue, same two teams, but a different competition, the County Antrim Shield Final, with Ballymena winning 3-2.

A frozen pitch saw Linfield’s home match (YES! another match at Windsor Park) against Dungannon Swifts postponed, so my next football was the trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Southampton.

The football watching month ended with Linfield’s routine win over Carrick Rangers at, you’ve guessed it, Windsor Park.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

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 – AUGUST

After League Of Ireland and UEFA Cup football during June and July, the domestic season began for me in August, when Linfield welcomed Ballymena United to Windsor Park on the opening day of the season.

Four days later, I visited Taylor’s Avenue for the first time, as Linfield travelled to newly promoted Carrick Rangers.

To round off a busy week, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend, I was in Scotland for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival, and made the most of it by taking in matches at Hearts, Rangers and Dunfermline.

Upon my return from Scotland, it was back to Windsor Park, my third time this month, to see Linfield take on Portadown, and get a win that continued their perfect start to the season.

Linfield v Ballymena United

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Heart of Midlothian v Partick Thistle

Heart Of Midlothian v Partick Thistle Photo Album

Rangers v Hibernian

Rangers v Hibernian Photo Album

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown