PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

I had to wait a while for March’s football watching, but it wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield slumped to a League defeat at Glenavon then lost the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month got a bit better when Linfield defeated Institute 2-0 at Windsor Park.

The month ended with a flurry of games, three in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening two Euro 2020 Qualifiers, both at home, against Estonia and Belarus.

Glenavon v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

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NORTHERN IRELAND 2-1 BELARUS 24.3.2019

If Estonia’s last visit to Windsor Park was one of Northern Ireland’s lowest points in recent years, Belarus only previous visit to South Belfast was one of the highest points.

It was a gloriously warm Friday night in late May 2016. We didn’t know if the heat was because of the sunshine or because of Will Grigg. We were seeing the team off in their last home game before heading to the European Championship in France, we were on an unbeaten run, we were going to win it.

If you hadn’t seen such riches, you could live with being poor.

We loved the experience of going to a major tournament, and all the little spin-offs such as sticker books, send-off home matches and newspaper pull-outs, we want to do it all again in Euro 2020.

It will be tough though, with Northern Ireland in Pot 3 behind two former European Champions and two heavyweights. However, Germany and Holland are two heavyweights trying to rebuild their reputation after humiliating failures in recent years.

However, 3rd place may not be enough for Northern Ireland to secure a Play-Off place thanks to the farce that is the Nations League.

If the group goes to form based on the seedings, Northern Ireland finish 3rd and Belarus 5th, Northern Ireland won’t be guaranteed a Play-Off whole Belarus will be on the basis of winning their group in League D.

There were idiots in our support who kept saying the UEFA Nations League was a great opportunity to help Northern Ireland qualify. How? It is nothing more than a reward for mediocrity.

There will be a 3rd place team who misses out to a team who finishes 5th or 6th in their group. This will blow up in a big way in November.

Northern Ireland would be guaranteed a Play-Off if Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria qualify automatically. Bosnia-Herzegovina blew a 2-0 lead at home to one of their main rivals, while Austria have lost their opening two games in the weakest group. Useless showers.

Northern Ireland can only help themselves, and they found themselves camped in the Belarus half in the opening minutes of the game, but the best they could offer was a Paddy McNair shot saved by the keeper.

Kyle Lafferty had a shot turned around for a corner, a corner which brought Northern Ireland their opening goal when Jonny Evans found himself free in the box to head home from close range.

Pointless stat, but it was Northern Ireland’s first goal in the first-half of a competitive game since Chris Brunt scored against Czech Republic in 2017, nine games ago.

All the clichés about not giving Belarus something to defend and the floodgates opening for Northern Ireland were soon wiped out within a couple of minutes when a shot from Ihar Stasevich was deflected and looped up and over Bailey Peacock-Farrell. It was like a recreation of Andreas Brehme’s goal against England at the 1990 World Cup.

I was behind the goal it was scored in, and you knew what was going to happen as soon as the ball looped up. Windsor Park fell silent, apart from a small pocket of Belarus fans in the corner of North Stand and Railway Stand.

This was a game that Northern Ireland had to win, and the best way of making that happen looked like it was going to come down the left hand side with the duo of Jamal Lewis and Jordan Jones, where most of Northern Ireland’s play was going to.

Jones looked like he was going to set up a second for Northern Ireland but his cross went agonisingly across the box but nobody was able to get on the end of it.

Paddy McNair had a shot blocked as Northern Ireland’s pressure continued in search of a second goal that would not come.

As each minute passed, it became inevitable that Northern Ireland would turn to their bench.

First up, was Josh Magennis for Niall McGinn, then it was Liam Boyce for Kyle Lafferty.

You might say i’m being biased, but I was hoping that the third sub would be Paul Smyth.

It wasn’t, as Shane Ferguson came on for Jordan Jones. It was a sub that made sense though, as Jones was getting into good position out the left but the final ball was missing. If Ferguson could get into the same position, his left foot could provide a final ball that could be productive for Northern Ireland.

A small section of supporters in the quadrant between The Kop and North Stand began singing “Kop Stand Kop Stand, sing us a song”, to which The Kop responded “Who are ya? Who are ya?

Good point actually, who are they? Are they Kop? Are they North Stand? What stand are they in?

It looked like the winner was never going to come.

With just minutes remaining, the ball fell to Josh Magennis. It was set up for him to shoot but he couldn’t get a clear strike on goal.

He ended up passing it, and within seconds, was on the end of a cross, finding that elusive space to turn the ball home. Windsor Park erupted in celebration.

He doesn’t score many, but when he does, it’s vital. That second goal against Greece, breaking the deadlock on a frustrating night in San Marino.

Even his consolation goal against Germany felt important at the time.

The common consensus, would that this would be enough for Northern Ireland, but it almost wasn’t.

With less than a minute of injury time remaining, Bailey Peacock-Farrell had to save at the feet of a Belarus striker who looked set to score from a few yards out.

Northern Ireland held on and got the win, making it two wins out of two.

They were two games they were expected to win, but they still had to go out there and get the win.

Elsewhere in the group, Germany beat Holland 3-2.

It’s hard what to want when Germany meet Holland. Logically, a draw wouldn’t be bad, but it might not be a bad thing if Germany win both games.

That means that if Northern Ireland win away to Belarus and Estonia, and even if they lose home and away to Germany, they will effectively be in a Play-Off with Holland.

Given the choice, you’d rather be in that situation with Holland than Germany.

Even though Holland and Germany are both trying to rebuild their reputations after humiliating failures in recent years, it is Holland who have had the greater fall, and failure to reach the last two tournaments will still be on their mind until they get over the line in this one.

Due to their involvement in the UEFA Nations League, Holland won’t be playing any qualifiers in June while Northern Ireland play twice. This makes them even more of a must-win set of games than they already are.

If we do, we’ll have a nine point advantage over the Dutch, and put all the pressure on them come September.

For once, the UEFA Nonsense League will be doing Northern Ireland a favour.

Northern Ireland v Belarus 2016

Photo Album

 

2016 IN PICTURES – MAY

May 2016 began for me by going to see Space. Not the planet, but the band, doing a gig at The Empire.

The following day, was the Irish Cup Final between Linfield and Glenavon, the less said about that game, the better.

The following weekend, I was in Manchester and managed to get some Street Art photos, including one of a mural of David Bowie in the Northern Quarter.

It certainly made up for not seeing any football, after the Manchester United v Bournemouth match that I travelled over for was postponed.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Belarus in their final home game before heading to Euro 2016.

Two days later, I headed to Dublin on a day trip, taking lots of Street Art photos and going to see Bohs take on St Patrick’s Athletic, my first visit to Dalymount Park in six years.

Space live at The Empire

Space live at The Empire Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glenavon Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

Dublin Street Art

Dublin Street Art Photo Album

Bohemian FC v St Patrick’s Athletic

Bohemian FC v St Patrick’s Athletic Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – MAY

And so to May, the final month of the season.

My football watching for the month began with the Irish Cup Final, as Linfield disappointingly lost 2-0 to Glenavon.

The following weekend, I was inside Old Trafford, getting ready to watch Manchester United v Bournemouth, until a forgetful security guard put paid to that.

That meant that it was three weeks until my next game, Northern Ireland v Belarus.

Two days after that, I took advantage of there being a full League Of Ireland fixture list on a Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend, by heading on a day trip to Dublin, and taking in Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic, my final game of the 2015-2016 season.

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glenavon Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic

Bohs v St Patrick’s Athletic Photo Album

NORTHERN IRELAND 3-0 BELARUS 27.5.2016

Just 16 days before their opening Euro 2016 game against Poland, Northern Ireland warmed up with a friendly at home to Belarus, on a night that would see the air in South Belfast filled with smoke, and it was only partly caused by Will Grigg.

It was the first meeting between the two sides, meaning that Northern Ireland need games against Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Macedonia to have played against every other country that is a member of UEFA.

Northern Ireland were straight on the attack, with Kyle Lafferty putting the Belarus keeper under pressure from a cross in the first minute.

A free-kick was awarded for that incident, but Lafferty’s next involvement was to put the ball in the Belarus net when poor defending from Belarus allowed Kyle Lafferty the opportunity to toepoke home from close ranger to make it 1-0.

It was his 17th international goal in 50 appearances, only the 19 behind record holder David Healy.

The game died out a bit after that bright start, with Belarus almost equalising via a Jonny Evans own goal when a cross hit him and looped over, but it was enough to cause Roy Carroll concern.

That was the best that Belarus offered. Any time they got into Northern Ireland’s final third, the danger was easily snuffed out, and any through balls were easily shepherded out for a goal kick.

As the half neared it’s end, Belarus gave Northern Ireland another gift when their keeper punched a cross straight to Conor Washington, who headed home from a few yards out for his second goal at Windsor Park in two appearances.

At the start of the second-half, there were the inevitible substitutions, including Alan Mannus replacing Roy Carroll, Linfield past for Linfield future.

Despite the changes in personnel, the second-half continued to be dominated by Northern Ireland.

Will Grigg, the man on fire, almost scored with his one of his first touches, a header from a free-kick, after coming off the bench.

Also coming off the bench, was Aaron Hughes, winning his 99th cap, meaning he is on track to win his 100th cap for Northern Ireland next weekend against Slovakia, the country he won his first cap against, way back in the last century.

The crowd got what they all wanted to see, when The Man On Fire scored after another gift from the Belarus keeper, who punched a cross straight to him, leaving him only needing to put the ball into the empty net.

And that, was the end of the action, as Northern Ireland recorded an easy win against poor opposition.

After the final whistle, the players made their way back onto the pitch for Michael O’Neill to say a few words to the fans before a fireworks display

For me, that is almost my 2015-2016 season over. I’m planning to do a day trip to Dublin tomorrow, so might take in a League Of Ireland game while i’m there.

In just over two weeks, my 2016-2017 season will start, watching Northern Ireland take on Poland in Nice, and then a few days after that, the fixtures for English and Scottish football get published.

I’m not sure if i’m going to Edinburgh this August, so might not get to any Scottish games.

In terms of Manchester United, i’m at a wedding in the North West of England in September, so hope for a home Sunday game that weekend, while i’ll be hoping the UEFA Cup draw is kind enough to offer the possibility of Thursday and Sunday back to back home games, which I might do.

That can wait though, it’s all about Northern Ireland v Poland. It can’t come soon enough.

We’ve been waiting thirty years for this, another two weeks isn’t going to hurt.

Photo Album