LINFIELD 1-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 26.8.2017

Just as they did when they kicked-off their last game at Windsor Park, Linfield kicked off against Ballymena United playing catch-up after Friday night results.

Two weeks ago against Carrick, they knew they had to win by a specific margin to go top. Against Ballymena, any win would do thanks to Glenavon’s draw against Glentoran.

In the space of a week, Five clubs at the top with perfect records was now just two, Coleraine and Linfield, with Coleraine already successfully navigated matchday four.

This season, nobody has stayed at the top of the league for long.

Crusaders went top after their first match before being replaced by Cliftonville, before Crusaders went top again three days later, only to replaced by Glenavon four days later, who only lasted six days before being replaced by Coleraine.

Even if Linfield did go top, that would only last seven days due to them not being in League action next week.

Both teams had contrasting starts to the season. Linfield had three wins out of three and three clean sheets while Ballymena had only one point from three games and eleven goals conceded.

Those stats suggested a routine home win. Reality would suggest otherwise.

The early stages of the game saw Linfield having a lot of the ball. A lot. There were some Linfield players who had touched the ball more times than Ballymena’s entire team.

Despite that, Linfield couldn’t make the most of it.

Whilst the score was 0-0, we were treated to the trademark Ballymena tactics of timewasting and cynical foulind, Jim Ervin and Kyle Owen being the worst offenders.

Everytime a Linfield attack came to an end, Ballymena’s keeper was out berating his defence. Except, it was all for show, anything to kill a bit of time. The referee fell for it on every occasion.

Paul Smyth, the centre of a lot of attention today on and off the pitch fired a low cross which evaded everybody, while a run and shot was saved by Conor Brennan in Ballymena’s goal.

There would be more emphasis put on Smyth when Jordan Stewart went off injured and was replaced by Aaron Burns.

Ballymena made a rare venture into Linfield’s defensive third when a Joe McKinney shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

Aaron Burns was unable to get a touch to divert a wide shot from Robert Garrett into the net, before shooting from a wide angle when a cross was the better option.

Linfield’s last chance of the half came when Mark Stafford fired over from a “Tottenham Corner”.

0-0 at half-time was the first time Linfield had failed to score a first-half goal in the League this season. Even more amazingly, it maintained Ballymena’s record of not conceding a first-half goal in the League this season.

As the half-time whistle blew, the tannoy blasted out Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers for those going to the concert at Custom House Square (there was someone sat near me who had an SLF badge on their coat) after the game.

We were all agreed that we wanted and Alternative Linfield in the second-half.

Ballymena had the first attack of the second-half when Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a Kyle Owens shot, before Linfield began to take control of the game.

Mark Haughey had a goalward header cleared. It looked like it was going wide to me, but the Ballymena defender couldn’t take the risk.

Ballymena will have been glad that Jimmy Callacher wasn’t playing, having scored in three of the five meetings last season, but Mark Stafford had scored in Ballymena’s last three visits to Windsor Park, and he was eager to make it four out of four.

Paul Smyth had a long range effort tipped over, before his gentle through pass set through Andrew Mitchell, who was fouled just as he set himself up to shoot. Penalty to Linfield.

Having scored at Dungannon last week, Mitchell made no mistake again to give Linfield the lead.

The only person in Windsor Park probably not celebrating was Cameron Stewart, who was getting readied to come on, only to be sent back to the dugout when the penalty was awarded and then scored.

You always had the feeling that Ballymena were so content on stopping Linfield, they would know how to react if Linfield got the lead and Ballymena had to take the intitiative and get a goal.

How Ballymena reacted was to lose their heads, with Andrew Burns being sent-off for a two footed lunge.

Despite 1-0 being a fragile lead, there was never any danger of Linfield not holding on.

That said, 4-5-1/4-3-3 doesn’t really work for Linfield, even allowing for Andrew Waterworth being injured restricting striking options.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to put up with it until there is a bad result or an injury crisis, like in November last season.

While this game was 0-0, the game was crying out for Cameron Stewart’s introduction in place of one of the three centre midfielders.

Having set up the penalty that won the game, it was perhaps apt that the final touch of the game was from Paul Smyth, holding on to the ball and securing the win for Linfield, as he looks set to sign for QPR on Monday. Good luck to him. Hopefully he’ll be back at Windsor Park soon in a Northern Ireland shirt.

To be honest, the word “Hopefully” wasn’t really needed in that sentence.

An immediate loan back would be great, as would a friendly at Loftus Road. I can dream.

With the game in the balance, he couldn’t be subbed for an ovation, he just got it at the final whistle instead.

He will be a loss but there are players who can come in and make the most of the opportunity presented to them, such as getting Ross Clarke back to full fitness and on form.

In anticipation of Smyth’s departure, Linfield have signed Louis Rooney from Plymouth. I know absolutely nothing about him, so, um ………

This week saw the confirmation that Spartans will face Linfield in the Irn-Bru Cup. The issue between them and Albion Rovers should have been resolved before the draw took place.

For future reference, perhaps the 1st Round of the competition should take place a week or two weeks earlier in order to allow supporters of the teams who have to travel to and from Scotland a chance to make arrangements.

Thankfully, Linfield are running a bus to the game for fans. Edinburgh? More like Edinblue.

Before Spartans, is the League Cup tie against Distillery, which will hopefully be used to allow the likes of Robinson, both Clarkes, Deane, C Stewart and Glendenning a chance to get some gametime ahead of a busy month.

With Coleraine facing Glenavon next Saturday, that guarantees Linfield will be knocked off the top of the table while they are Edinburgh.

Up next in the League is Glentoran on September 9th and our annual stupid home draw against them.

Might as well get it out of the way early on.

Photo Album

Advertisements

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : TOTAL FOOTBALL – SUMMER 2004

Three models in the kits of England, Northern Ireland and Wales is the cover image of Total Football, with all three home nations in the same World Cup Qualifying Group starting in a few months.

In news, the Northern Ireland team have announced a kit supplier deal with Umbro, and a sponsorship deal with Nationwide.

There is a profile of new Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez and the impact he has already had in his first three games in charge.

There is a profile of Irish League referee Andi Regan, as she gets ready to head to Greece to officiate at the Olympic Games football tournament.

Having just made his debut for Southampton, Alan Blayney gets profiled where he reveals he had spent a period of time training with Glentoran the previous year after suffering from homesickness.

Another player leaving Glentoran for full-time football in England was Andy Smith, who had just signed for Preston North End, and he gets a full page profile.

The models in the cover make a reappearance as they review the new kits of both local and national sides.

Getting ready for a second season of top flight football, Ballymena United manager Kenny Shiels gets interviewed.

Over the page is an interview with Loughgall manager Jim Gardiner, as the club gets ready for their first season of top flight football.

In news, Linfield have announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Umbro to run alongside their kit supplier deal.

Linfield are one of three clubs, the others being Glentoran and Portadown, whose upcoming European ties get previewed in a double page feature.

There is a double page feature with new Cliftonville manager Liam Beckett as he gets to grips with the job at Solitude.

The magazine ends with a preview of the Milk Cup.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April’s football watching began in Lurgan on the first day of the month, heading to Mourneview Park to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in a Irish Cup Semi-Final.

The following week, was another 1-0 win for Linfield, this time at Windsor Park in a key title decider against Crusaders.

Easter arrived in the middle of the month, and a double header of wins for Linfield, against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The following Saturday, I headed Coleraine to see Linfield win 5-1 and go top of the League for the first time all season, with just one game to go.

That game was at Solitude, which Linfield won, and I captured the post match celebrations, as well as the celebrations later that day at Windsor Park.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, a match which resulted in a disappointing 1-0 defeat for Linfield.

It was then the Irish Cup for me, heading to The Oval to see Linfield get an extra-time win over Glentoran.

The following Saturday, another away game for Linfield, this time to Glenavon, and another 2-1 win for Linfield.

It was back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My football watching for the month ended with a trip to Stangmore Park to see Linfield secure a 4-1 win against Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

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 : NOVEMBER

November got off to a dramatic start, as I headed to Mourneview Park to see nine man Linfield come from 2-0 down to get a late draw against Glenavon.

I was back on the road a few days later to Ballymena to see Linfield record a 4-1 in win.

Up next was a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland record a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan, before continuing Linfield’s road trip with a 4-0 over Dungannon Swifts before a midweek date at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s last game of 2016, a 3-0 friendly defeat against Croatia.

I was back at Windsor Park for Linfield’s only home game of the month, a 2-1 defeat to Cliftonville.

The following weekend, I went to see my first and second games at Old Trafford with Jose Mourinho as United manager, doing a double header of games against Feyenoord and West Ham United, with a trip to Bury (via Broadhurst Park) sandwiched inbetween.

As a bonus, I even got pictures of stickers left around Manchester by Feyenoord fans.

Glenavon v Linfield

Ballymena United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Croatia

Northern Ireland v Croatia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Feyenoord

Manchester United v Feyenoord Photo Album

Feyenoord Stickers

Bury v Millwall

Bury v Millwall Photo Album

Broadhurst Park

Manchester United v West Ham United

Manchester United v West Ham United Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NORTHERN IRELAND FOOTBALL – SPRING 2007

Dean Shiels is the cover star of Northern Ireland Football, as he has made a comeback after having an eye removed in early 2006.

In news, Mark Clyde of Wolves and Northern Ireland has had to announce his retirement at the age of 24 due to a succession of injuries.

At Burnley, Michael Duff and Kyle Lafferty have signed new deals that will keep them at the club until 2010.

Dean Shiels gets a full page interview, having made a comeback for both club and country, looking forward to a Scottish League Cup Final for Hibs against Kilmarnock.

Alan Shearer was recently in Belfast to present awards to Glenn Ferguson, Peter Thompson and Darren Kelly on behalf of Umbro.

Darren Murphy spills the beans on his Ballymena United team-mates, revealing that Mark Picking has the worst taste in music.

David Jeffrey gets a two page profile as he celebrates ten years as manager of Linfield.

The 2007 edition of the Setanta Cup has just kicked off, and a full page feature looks at the success of the competition so far.

Grant McCann gets profiled, as he hopes to get game time in Northern Ireland’s upcoming European Championship Qualifiers against Leichtenstein and Sweden.

The recent friendly against Wales, a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park, gets a full page picture special.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cup has announced a new sponsor, JJB Sports.

Northern Ireland’s Women are also in European Qualifying action, kicking off with an away game against England in May 2007.

Cliftonville get a double page profile, having just won the County Antrim Shield.

Across Belfast, there is a feature of Peter Thompson, Michael Gault and Paul McAreavey, who are settling into life as full-time professionals based in the Irish League, as they adjust to no longer having to combine playing with a full-time job.

McAreavey was selected for an Irish League Select XI who defeated the English Conference 3-1 at Mourneview Park.

Colin Murray and Neil Lennon were recently in Belfast to present the Football For All Awards.

BALLYMENA UNITED 0-2 LINFIELD 15.4.2017

The only two teams to win a trophy this season (Sorry Glenavon fans, i’m not counting your Charity Shield win) went head to head at Ballymena Showgrounds with both eyeing up further glory this season. For Ballymena, not a trophy, but Play-Off glory that would secure them UEFA Cup football next season. Linfield arrived in search of glory in both League and Cup. They left still in contention for the title but still trailing Crusaders by a point.

Whilst having my lunch, I spotted both Jimmy Boyce and Donald Duck in close proximity. It suggested it was going to be a strange day. It was anything but for Linfield.

Linfield issued a statement of intent in the first minute, going straight on the attack resulting in a Stephen Lowry shot going over.

Ballymena’s only attack of note in the opening minutes resulted in a shot which was casually shepherded out by Linfield’s defence and keeper. They were certainly more relaxed and confident about it than the fans in the stand were.

Linfield then took control of the game and it was no surprise when Jimmy Callacher headed home from close range from a Niall Quinn cross after Quinn’s free-kick was blocked.

At this time of year, scores in one match can affect another match (QPR downing tools on the last day of the 2011-2012 season once they knew Bolton had failed to win being a prime example).

Linfield were first to score today and led the as it stands table with Crusaders drawing 0-0.

Soon after, Stephen Lowry spotted Ballymena keeper Tim Allen off his line and went for a spectacular free-kick from his own half. It was going wide but it concerned Allen enough to make a save and put it out for a corner.

Aaron Burns hit the side netting from a wide angle as the chances piled up.

Andrew Waterworth had a left foot shot saved after being played in while Jamie Mulgrew had a shot just over and as the half neared it’s end, Stephen Lowry fired just over.

At this time of year, scores in other matches can make it look like the strangest things are being cheered. At one point, it looked like Linfield fans were overcelebrating the winning of a throw in. What it was, was that Cliftonville had equalised against Crusaders. Linfield fans began chanting “WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!”, mainly because as it stood, they were.

Linfield fans were celebrating again in the early minutes of the second-half, but not because of their own team. Incredibly, Cliftonville led Crusaders 2-1.

Despite the help from elsewhere, Linfield needed to help themselves an went about getting a second goal.

Paul Smyth seemed to be involved in everything. Firstly, having a header saved before a run almost resulted in a second goal but he shot went agonisingly wide.

He was then booked trying to win the ball back after his cross was blocked. Incredibly, far worse Ballymena fouls afterwards, most notably from Jim Ervin, were not getting the same result. The standard was set by Arnold Hunter, it was not being followed.

Despite nullifying Ballymena’s attacking threat, Linfield couldn’t afford to relax while the score was still 1-0. Niall Quinn and Andrew Waterworth were both denied trying to get that clinching goal, which eventually came on 88 minutes with a low Andrew Waterworth shot.

Linfield fans could relax, safe in the knowledge that the three points were secured.

Unfortunately by this point, Crusaders were 3-2 up at Solitude. The manipulation of the fixture list to give Crusaders an easier game after the trip to Windsor Park had worked, though they made hard work of it.

Up next, is a full Easter Tuesday fixture list, with Linfield at home to Glenavon, while Crusaders will face in-form Coleraine, a game that Crusaders should have played today.

Coleraine drew today but their unbeaten run continues. They know that a win on Tuesday will secure 3rd place for them and European football next season. Hopefully, they get that win.

Linfield just have to keep winning and keep winning. They just need one result to go their way. It wasn’t today. There are still three more opportunities.

Something I forgot to post last week was that St James Park in Newcastle will host the 2019 European Cup Final. That’s the Rugby one.

Very tempting. It will probably be on the last weekend of the Premier League season, so there’s the possibility of a double header that weekend with a football match. Newcastle will obviously be away, but Sunderland or Middlesbrough might be at home, dependent on them winning promotion in 2018 obviously. Let’s face it, they’re both gone this season.

Especially tempting, as I haven’t been to Newcastle since 1994, and I really want to visit Back Page Football.

One cup final more immediately on the horizon is this year’s Irish Cup Final. You’ve probably seen the media controversy about ticket prices.

People are right to be outraged. There is no justification for £20 tickets. A lot of people will be lost in the crowd. An absolutely ludicrous decision.

The worst thing was the short lead time between the announcement and the tickets going on sale, meaning there was no time to remedy it. I despair at some of the decision making by those in charge of football here sometimes.

There are three metaphorical cup finals before the literal cup final at the start of May.

Four wins means we’ll get something out of this season. It might even be two things.

Photo Album

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