BALLYMENA UNITED 1-4 LINFIELD 14.2.2020

Why spend Valentine’s Day with the one you love when you can spend it with the eleven that you love? We’ve had our ups and downs lately, but things are going well. Although, we’d rather have been putting our feet up and getting ready for the League Cup Final.

That trophy may be gone, but the League was still up for grabs. With three rivals all inactive in the League this weekend, Linfield knew they could put a lot of pressure on them with a win here.

Linfield’s starting eleven showed one change from their last game, with Jordan Stewart coming in for the injured Shayne Lavery, as Linfield reverted to 4-2-3-1.

The game got off to a slow start, for both teams, a lot of the game being played in midfield as both defences were on top.

Linfield’s first chance was a header from Andrew Waterworth that couldn’t be diverted goalwards.

Ballymena’s first chance was a shot from Joe McCready that forced Rohan Ferguson into a save. A reminder to Linfield that for all their possession, the object of the game is to put the ball into the back of the net.

They certainly got a reminder of that when Joe McCready created space for himself on the edge of the box to shoot. It looked set up perfectly for a left foot curler, but he went for the right foot, and got the outcome he wanted, putting Ballymena 1-0 up.

I was sat at the other end and had a perfect view of it as he set himself up. It was in from the moment he hit it.

Worryingly, this was the sixth time in seven games that Linfield had conceded in the League, five in a row and seven in eight in all competitions. This is something that will need to be addressed in the run-in if Linfield have any ambitions of winning the League.

Remarkably, despite this run, Linfield have the second best clean sheet record in the League, only one behind Coleraine.

Although, it should be pointed out, that the last time Linfield kept a clean sheet, people were moaning that day, because it came in a 0-0 draw against Dungannon Swifts.

Having already ruined my birthday by not being in the League Cup Final and playing on this date, Linfield were now ruining it again by losing.

The response, was instant. Well, not as instant as the response to going 1-0 down against Dungannon earlier in the month. We had to wait five minutes for it.

Ballymena’s goal kickstarted Linfield into life, adding more intensity and urgency into their attacking. That was rewarded when Mark Haughey headed home from a header by Kirk Millar. Just like with McCready’s goal, it was in from the moment he sent it goalwards.

Earlier in the day, Millar had passed his Driving Test, and was now hoping that this would kickstart a three point turn, with the points now going to Linfield rather than Ballymena.

On his previous appearance at Ballymena, Haughey was sent-off, so this was a welcome change in fortune.

Credit to the Referee as well, for playing advantage in the attack that led to the corner after a foul on Jordan Stewart, before going back to book the Ballymena player who committed the foul.

Jordan Stewart then escaped the attention of a couple of Ballymena players in the penalty area, before hitting a left foot shot that was tipped over by Ross Glendenning.

Adam Lecky was then lucky to only to shown a yellow card for a high foot when going for the ball.

As it looked like the sides were going to go in at half-time level, Linfield took the lead with just fifteen seconds of injury time remaining when Joel Cooper ran into the box and saw his shot saved, then bounced off a defender perfectly for Jordan Stewart to finish from a few yards put.

The mood in both Dressing Rooms had now changed. For Linfield, it was no longer about winning the game, it was about finishing the game off.

Half-time leads at Ballymena have been precarious for Linfield in recent years. 2017 and 2018 had seen them go in 1-0 up but find themselves 2-1 down early in the second-half, so nothing would be taken for granted.

Linfield needed a third just to be sure, and looked the most likely to score.

A free-kick from Stephen McCullough which went just wide was a reminder to Linfield that they needed it.

Eventually it came, when a Ballymena player headed a corner towards his own goal. From where I was sat, it looked like it was going in, but TV replays suggested it might have been hitting the post.

Jimmy Callacher wasn’t waiting to see, nipping in to make it 3-1.

You sensed that if Linfield could make it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

Even though they drew 3-3 after being 3-1 up in 2010, and had a tense 3-2 win after being 2-0 and 3-1 up in 2014, Ballymena didn’t look like they had a two goal comeback in them.

Something that has been a bit of an issue for me in recent games has been the lack of substitutions. None at Warrenpoint and only one against Dungannon.

Though there was nobody who deserved to be taken off, we have a squad and we should be using it, especially to bring on fresh faces in attacking areas.

The third goal did bring a sub for Linfield, not one I would have made, as Matthew Clarke came on for Jordan Stewart where there were like for like options who could have come on for Stewart.

Within a few minutes, it was 4-1 as a run from Joel Cooper was frustrated by a save from Glendenning, then the crossbar, before Andrew Waterworth finished from close range, his fifth in three matches.

The 4-1 lead allowed a few more substitutions for Linfield, as Bastien Hery came on for Kyle McClean, who had needed treatment earlier in the half.

Rory Currie came on for Andrew Waterworth, his brief involvement saw him create an opportunity for Joel Cooper.

Points are vital, but so are goals. Linfield have the best goal difference in the League, but are only two better than Crusaders, so were thankfully for a Niall Quinn clearance from a Ballymena header on the line, even if it wasn’t important in the context of the match.

As the final whistle blew and scores were announced over the PA System, with a fancy new ringtone that sounds like you’re in a Supermercado, Linfield fans were celebrating even more good news from East Belfast, that Glentoran had drawn 0-0 with Carrick Rangers.

A shock to an extent, but not as much. Carrick have been one of the best teams Linfield have faced this season, their naivety being their undoing. After the game against Linfield in November, I felt they would get a big result against a Top 5 team this season, now they’ve got two. Hopefully, not a third when Linfield visit Taylor’s Avenue on 7th March.

That result puts Linfield six points clear of Glentoran. Glentoran still have the title race in their hands as they face Linfield twice (but have to make up twelve goals over nine games), but they have no margin for error. As long as Linfield keep winning, Glentoran have to keep winning just to stay alive in the title race.

The six point lead at the top is deceptive as Coleraine hand a game in hand, which could cut the lead to four points. Good, but not comfortable.

Friday night’s results meant that the identity of the Top 6 has been confirmed, although i’m still expecting Glenavon to somehow have a late surge to 3rd.

That means Linfield will know their final five opponents but not the order, is this will be determined by League positions after Matchday 33.

I have a suspicion dates might be confirmed in advance of that at the request of PSNI/Health and Safety due to some matches that may require ticketing.

One last note about this game, but with the League Cup Final kicking off at 7.30pm, there’s no reason why the Friday night games couldn’t have been played on Saturday afternoon as there’d be no clash, even if the games had earlier starts of 1pm or 2pm.

That said, Friday worked out well for me as I had something to go to on the Saturday afternoon (You’ll see that in the next blog) and the weather on Saturday afternoon may have resulted in a postponement.

Up next, is a home match against Crusaders. This is a big game, an opportunity to not quite kill off Crusaders, but leave them well behind this.

Far too many times this season, Linfield haven’t been ruthless when given the chance to pull away from teams. Not only will a win see Linfield pull further clear of Crusaders, it will put pressure on Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran as they prepare for their Saturday games.

Although, those three play Bottom 6 teams, they should win, it might not be so simple if Linfield have added some pressure on them.

With two defeats in a row, including the League Cup Final, Crusaders are there for the taking. Attack them, don’t play to their tactics, and keep your heads.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October 2019 began with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield take on Crusaders.

A busy month of concerts began a few days later with a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy.

There was even some Street Art spotted during the month, heading to Stephen Street to see a mural of The Joker and Catwoman

The next day, I was on the road to Dungannon to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 4-1.

From there, it was another concert, a first visit to The Telegraph Building, to see Two Door Cinema Club.

The flipping between football and concerts continued as I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballymena United. The following midweek saw a football/concert double header, seeing Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town, before seeing OMD at Ulster Hall.

October’s photo adventures ended with a trip to see Linfield take on Coleraine, the month beginning and ending for me with a 1-0 defeat.

Crusaders v Linfield

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Joker and Catwoman Mural

Joker and Catwoman Mural Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

OMD live at Ulster Hall

OMD live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

2019 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2019 began for me with a trip to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 1-0 to all but secure the Irish League title.

The next day, I made the most of a football free Saturday by heading to East Belfast to get some photos of some newly painted Street Art.

The following Saturday, I was back on the football trail, seeing Linfield secure the point they needed, against Crusaders, to become Champions.

The week after, came the trophy presentation, following a forgettable 4-0 defeat against Glenavon.

My last Linfield game of the season was a lot better, a 5-1 win over Cliftonville on Easter Tuesday.

April ended with a trip to Lisburn to Island Arts Centre for an art event where murals were painted live.

Ballymena United v Linfield

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Celebrations

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Presentations

Linfield v Cliftonville

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February didn’t get off to the best start, as I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield exit the Irish Cup against Crusaders.

Things got better the following Saturday as Linfield came from 2-0 down to score a last minute winner against Coleraine.

It got a lot better the following Saturday as Linfield beat Ballymena United to win the NIFL Cup.

Finally, it was time for my first concerts of the year, going to see Chvrches at Ulster Hall, then Razorlight at The Limelight the following evening.

That was followed by some more football, as Linfield took on Ballymena United again, this time in the League, and then a midweek trip to Newry to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Coleraine

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Chvrches live at Ulster Hall

Chvrches live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Razorlight live at The Limelight

Razorlight live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Newry City v Linfield

LINFIELD 2-1 BALLYMENA UNITED 19.10.2019

When Linfield fell ten points behind Crusaders at the top of the table at the start of the month, the idea that they could be two points behind them two and a half weeks later seemed far fetched, but that is how Linfield could be kicking off next Saturday.

This season has swung from one extreme to the other for Linfield, and today was no different. What looked like being a routine afternoon’s work suddenly became nervous as 5pm approached.

The team news was a mixed bag for Linfield. Niall Quinn was missing, but Bastien Hery was back from injury and Shayne Lavery back after international duty, and there was a place on the bench for Jordan Stewart after injury.

Quinn’s injury meant that Ryan McGivern came in, with Linfield going three at the back just as they did in the League meeting in February.

Though Linfield won that day, the formation didn’t really work.

There was a dramatic shock early on, but it was Linfield’s fans who got caught out, rather than their players.

In the last few years, Linfield usually attack The Kop in the first-half, but today, they were attacking the Railway Stand.

Those of us who like to sit where the team is attacking had to make a quick dash to the other end of the South Stand.

I was one of those, and missed the opening minute, and arrived just in time to see Shayne Lavery hassling a defender and dispossessing him in order to create an opportunity. It was as if he’d never been away.

Linfield had a lot of early pressure, but the closest they came to scoring was a Kirk Millar effort that went wide.

Ballymena rode out that pressure but the best that they could offer was a Leroy Millar shot that hit the top of the crossbar. I was at the other end and it looked closer than it actually was.

After a lull, Linfield got back on top, and took the lead when Joel Cooper created space for himself on the right and fired home with his left foot. That meant he had scored both times he had faced Ballymena at Windsor Park, having scored the winner at Windsor Park last September.

A lot of Linfield’s attacking play was coming from the right hand side, with Cooper and Hery having a lot of joy specifically. Every time they got the ball, there would usually be a Ballymena defender (or defenders, in a lot of cases) bamboozled as to how he got away from them.

As half-time approached, Kirk Millar found himself free on the right hand side. He only had one person to find, Joel Cooper, but he found him, a chest touch from Cooper giving him enough space to fire home and make it 2-0.

Not much happened in the second-half. The only moment of note in the early stages was a Joel Cooper shot that was blocked as he chased his hat-trick.

Cooper didn’t get the full 90 minutes to get a hat-trick as he limped off after a series of robust challenges. At 2-0 up, there was no need to take risks, especially with midweek games over the next two weeks.

The good news, was a return to action from the bench after two months out for Jordan Stewart. He looked like he was going to put Linfield 3-0 up when a clearance landed perfectly for him, only for a Ballymena defender to get in the road and block the shot.

Before that, Andrew Burns hit the side netting after a free-kick was punched away. However, a crowd of Linfield players blocking his sight at goal, it was the only place he could put it.

Linfield responded with Matthew Clarke bursting through Ballymena’s defence, only to shoot over. Clarke was having an enjoyable afternoon playing a lot more forward than he usually does.

Linfield needed a third goal just to be sure, despite Ballymena not offering much of an attacking threat.

For the final minutes, Andrew Waterworth and Charlie Allen came on from the bench.

As injury time approached, the game took a sudden swing when Jimmy Callacher diverted a cross goalwards, his momentum forcing the ball through Rohan Ferguson.

It was a goal that came out of nowhere. Looking at the footage, if Callacher doesn’t go for it, a Ballymena player scores anyway.

Even though Ballymena had a lot of the ball in injury time, they never looked like getting an undeserved equaliser, as Linfield held out for the win.

There would be an injury time goal in Belfast that affected the top of the table, thankfully not at Windsor Park.

Coleraine’s 2-0 win over Crusaders put them top of the table on goal difference.

On Radio Ulster, Liam Beckett said a Coleraine win would have been a perfect result for Linfield.

To be honest, a draw would have been perfect, but a win for either side could have had a spin put on it by Linfield fans, as long as their side did the business, which they did.

The table is now starting to take shape, as the second round of fixtures have kicked off.

The bottom three are who you expect them to be, while Glenavon are stuck in a no man’s land due to their games in hand. If they lose them, they’ll officially be in a relegation fight.

Ballymena United, Larne and Dungannon Swifts are battling it out for 6th. I know I wrote Ballymena United out of the title race after defeat at Windsor Park in September last year and looked very stupid a few months later, I think it is safe to do so this time around.

Despite only getting one point from four games against teams above them, somehow, Glentoran are only six points off the top. I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Despite only one point from three games against the Top 4, Cliftonville are only one point off the top. Like with Glentoran, I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Crusaders are there for the taking and have hit a brick wall. That makes the defeat to them even worse. Out of them and Coleraine, Linfield should be more than concerned about Coleraine,

On Tuesday night, Linfield are at home to Warrenpoint in the first of their three rearranged games from late Summer.

If Linfield can win that (they should, even though Warrenpoint have drawn two of their last three visits), they will be only two points off the top with two games in hand.

It will be a huge psychological blow to strike, as for the first time since the opening weeks, Linfield will be in touching distance of the top, and Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville will start having to worry about us.

That would set things up nicely for next Saturday’s trip to Coleraine. Six points over the next week would send out a message to the rest of the League, especially with the next two League matches coming against two of the bottom three.

With one game in hand set to be played, another will have to be rearranged due to the Unite The Union Cup.

That means the home match against Dungannon will have to be postponed.

To be honest, the matches against Dundalk feel like an unnecessary distraction.

I’ve not sure if there is a TV deal for it, but I thought such a fixture would have been played in May, at the end of the Irish League season, which would be more attractive for broadcasters.

Unfortunately for me, i’ll miss the game at Windsor Park on the Friday night as i’ll be flying back from Manchester. Hope it finishes 0-0, with Linfield winning at Oriel Park obviously.

I’ve never been to Oriel Park, but i’ll wait on the arrangements before I decide if I go.

Talking of United matches, the game against Burnley i’m going to has been confirmed for Wednesday night at 8.15pm. It means I won’t have a day trip with a free Wednesday as I did earlier this year.

Thankfully, it wasn’t moved to Thursday night like Wolves v Liverpool, as I would have missed out altogether. I’ll keep an eye out for a game in Greater Manchester on the Tuesday.

The next Football Trip for me is Coleraine away next Saturday, i’ll be getting the train. How very exciting.

Linfield will be hoping to reach their destination at the top of the table. They’ll need other results to go their way to get their on Saturday, but hopefully, they’ll be on track.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April 2019 meant the run-in was approaching, and my first football match of the month saw Linfield get a crucial 1-0 win against Ballymena United to virtually secure the Irish League title.

The following week, Linfield got the job done with a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders.

A week later, Linfield lifted the title, on a day they lost 4-0 at home to Glenavon.

My last Linfield match of the season was a lot better, a 5-1 win over Cliftonville on Easter Tuesday.

That wouldn’t be my last match of the season, as I headed to Old Trafford in mid May to see Manchester United lose at home to Cardiff City. Not the way I wanted the season to end.

Tomorrow, you’ll get your chance to vote for your favourite.

So, that’s 2018-2019 over. Here’s to more football photos in 2019-2020.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Win Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Celebrations Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Cardiff City

Manchester United v Cardiff City Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching was spent at Windsor Park, where I spent every Saturday of the month.

It began with Linfield exiting the Irish Cup to Crusaders, then come from 2-0 down to beat Coleraine with a last minute winner, beat Ballymena United to win the NIFL Cup, and then beat them again in the League.

The month ended with a trip to Newry to see Linfield secure a late and dramatic 1-0 win.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Ballymena United (NIFL Cup)

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United (League)

Newry City v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Ballymena on the first of the month and a top of the table clash, which Linfield lost 2-1.

Thankfully, the rest of the month did get better, including the following Saturday, where Crusaders were disposed of 4-1.

Postponements meant I wouldn’t be at another match for two weeks, as Linfield drew 0-0 with Glenavon, though it was still better than Crhistmas shopping.

The next match was a bit decent, as Linfield thrashed Glentoran 4-0 on Boxing Day.

The month, and the year, of football watching ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield secure a 2-0 win.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glentoran

Cliftonville v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

I didn’t have to wait long for some football action in September, with Linfield taking on Ards on the first day of the month. I would have to wait a while for a first goal of the month, as that match finished 0-0.

The goals flew in during my next match, as Linfield beat Warrenpoint 5-0, before taking in Northern Ireland’s first ever UEFA Nations League match, a 2-1 home defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The month ended taking in three further Linfield matches, home wins against Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United, as well as a draw at Coleraine.

Linfield v Ards

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina

Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

BALLYMENA UNITED 0-1 LINFIELD 5.4.2019

Almost there, not quite job done. Linfield can still be caught on Goal Difference. Yep, i’m being that guy.

The first game of the split, Linfield’s trip to Ballymena in early April was being earmarked as a potential title decider when the sides were within touching distance of each other.

As the weeks leading up to this game ticked by, the situation suddenly changed with Ballymena’s home defeats to Glentehran and Warrenpoint Town. It was no longer an opportunity for Ballymena to pull level with Linfield, it was now about just keeping in touch with Linfield, and having a small glimmer of hope kept alive.

A draw wouldn’t have been the worst result for Linfield, but to set up like that would have been disastrous. Linfield simply had to go for the win.

If they got it, they would be twelve points clear with four games to go. You do the maths. Goal Difference? That was seventeen in Linfield’s favour, and a win for Linfield would make it at least nineteen in their favour. Yep, that’s boring Linfield who grind out 1-0 wins having a vastly superior Goal Difference to free flowing attacking Ballymena United.

A win for Linfield would as good as seal the title. That was the simplicity of the situation.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s starting eleven was unchanged from the win at Dungannon Swifts. Surprisingly though, there was no place on the substitutes bench for Kyle McClean or Michael O’Connor after they both missed the game against Dungannon due to International Duty.

The match kicked-off a couple of minutes late, which worked out handy for me due to being held up at Applegreen by people who are too stupid to order food and insist on paying for everything by Credit Card.

Those opening minutes saw decent build-up play from Linfield with Jordan Stewart getting a lot of joy out wide as both teams struggled on a bobbly pitch, as both sets of players tried to work out how to pass the ball with this uncontrollable variable.

It was Ballymena who had the first chance of the game when Adam Lecky fired over from the penalty spot when pressure from a Linfield. Despite the pressure he was under, he really should have scored. It was a let off for Linfield.

Shortly afterwards, Joel Cooper looked like he was going to put Linfield 1-0 up from close ranger but fired wide under pressure from a Ballymena defender.

Despite not creating anything further of note, Linfield were looking good as an attacking force, with good build-up play.

However, they needed a goal, though i’m not sure that would have been a good idea, after visits to Ballymena in November 2017 and December 2018 saw an early 1-0 lead become a 2-1 defeat.

Midway through the first-half, Ballymena started to gain control of the game, with a flurry of corners, keeping Linfield in their defensive third.

The best opportunities those set pieces brought was an effort smashed against the bar with Jude Winchester’s follow-up being turned behind for a corner when he should have scored.

It looked like Ballymena were going to make the breakthrough when Andy McGrory’s free-kick looked to be going in, only to be denied by a top class one hand save from Gareth Deane.

Linfield were able to ride it out and ended the half with some pressure of their own, Ross Glendenning having to make a save to deny an own goal, while Joel Cooper’s attempted header saw a penalty appeal. I was screaming for it at the time, but TV pictures showed that it wasn’t.

0-0 at half-time, you began to wonder and hope if Ballymena would regret not scoring when they were on top. You had a feeling this was the best they could offer.

Even though Linfield weren’t quite the attacking force they hoped to be, that didn’t mean that Linfield were absent as an attacking force in the first-half.

The main talking point in the final minutes of the first-half was the lack of a yellow card for Andrew McGrory for taking down Jamie Mulgrew as he raced towards Ballymena’s defensive third. I know, I know.

Whatever David Healy said at half-time, it had the desired effect as Linfield went 1-0 up after just 46 seconds of the second-half.

Ballymena only touched the twice between Linfield kicking off the half and scoring, and they were both headed clearances.

Joel Cooper played a through ball to Andrew Waterworth who finished low first time. It was the only thing he could do, but when you get a clean strike, you don’t even have to look. I was at that end, and it was a goal before he even struck the ball.

The game had swung in Linfield’s favour, and they started to take control of the game.

Ballymena suddenly got back into the game, and Gareth Deane had to be forced to come out of his box and make himself big to deny Andy McGrory just as he looked set to level.

Deane might have been busy in the League Cup Final and the League match against Ballymena in February, but you could argue he was making saves he should be expected to make. Not in this game, he made two big saves at key points in the match.

Jimmy Callacher then went on a run which saw him have a shot from outside the box which was turned around for a corner while Andrew Waterworth had a low shot saved as Linfield looked to get the second goal that they needed, even though they were snuffing out Ballymena’s attacking threat.

Callacher then had a header over the bar from a free kick that was awarded for a wild challenge by Jonathan Addis, who was lucky to escape with only a yellow card.

David Healy then turned to his bench. There was nobody who really needed to be taken off, and there was nobody we were desperate to get on, but fresh legs to see the game out would always be welcomed.

Kirk Millar came on for Joel Cooper before Matthew Clarke came on for Jordan Stewart.

Clarke for Stewart wouldn’t be a sub I would make, but bringing Clarke on and pushing Niall Quinn forward has been done before, and it proved effective against Cliftonville in November and then again in December.

As the game approached injury time, Ballymena got a free-kick in the centre circle for a foul by Daniel Kearns which resulted in Jim Ervin embarrassing himself sprinting to get involved and get Kearns sent-off. It was a foul, free-kick, maybe a yellow card, and you just get on with the game.

It was a sign of desperation from Ballymena, a team who had run out of ideas and were trying anything to get something. It was Kearns last involvement in the game as he came off for Stephen Fallon.

Andrew Waterworth saw a spectacular effort go just over the bar but Linfield didn’t need to worry about not getting a second, as they were able to see the game out and win 1-0.

As Linfield players prepared to celebrate a vital win with their fans, Ryan Mayse seemed to take the result badly and had to restrained by Darren Murphy.

It wasn’t going to dampen the celebrations, even though they were a warm-up to the main event (Yes, i’m still being cautious), we even got a Jeffrey-esque fistpump from David Healy.

What it means is that Linfield need one more point from the last four games to secure the title. Three will do next Saturday to do it in style.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Irish League is in danger of losing a UEFA Cup spot due to it’s co-efficient, so naturally, the League is insisting on giving a place in that competition to lottery winners rather than on merit.

Not that Linfield will have to worry about that, as this result secured European Football and qualification to the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Next season can wait, it’s all about next Saturday, Crusaders at home, the first of three successive home games. And people said that Ballymena were going to have an advantage of home games in the run-in when they have the same amount as Linfield.

Even though we have lost our last two games to Crusaders, they were two games we’ve thrown away. Don’t forget, we’ve beaten them three times in the League already this season.

We’re a better team than Crusaders, we’ve proven it over 34 games, let’s do this in style and get the celebrations started.

Photo Album