Five was very much the number on people’s minds at Windsor Park today. Linfield were looking to get two wins this week to reduce Crusaders five point lead at the top of the Irish League, and get a win over Glentoran in the traditional Boxing Day fixture for five years in a row.
The festive period had already got off to a good start for Linfield. The first team had a dramatic late win last weekend, while a very young Linfield Swifts team won the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas Eve, against a team from East Belfast.
One of the goalscoring heroes from Christmas Eve, was rewarded with a place on the bench for this game.
It was a slow start from Linfield, all of the play was in their half, as Glentoran dominated possession.
Eventually, Linfield began to take control of the ball, almost scoring when an attempted Glentoran clearance hit the top of the crossbar.
Aaron Burns and Marj Haughey then went close from a corner.
Soon after, Kirk Millar broke away. A tee up to Stephen Lowry seemed the obvious opportunity but he flashed it across goal, Elliott Morris parrying the ball to Aaron Burns, who fired over via a Glentoran defender. He really should have scored.
It didn’t matter, as Mark Haughey headed home from the resulting corner to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Aaron Burns then created space for himself but fired wide via a deflection. It looked like being a matter of time before Linfield made it 2-0.
It looked like happening when Andrew Waterworth created space for himself, but he shot wide, or when Aaron Burns fired a shot goalwards, which was saved.
Glentoran had moments in Linfield’s half, but nothing to worry Roy Carroll.
Linfield had a deserved half-time lead, but couldn’t get a two goal lead that surely would have secured the points.
A slow start to the second-half by Linfield allowed Glentoran back into the game. They might not have had a chance, but if Linfield weren’t going to kill them off, all it needed was for one chance to come their way.
Just before the hour, a headed clearance fell perfectly for Aaron Harmon to head into the net.
Linfield couldn’t say they weren’t warned. The only positive was that they still have half an hour to do something about it.
There was a brief flurry from Linfield after the goal, but not enough to suggest a 2nd goal was inevitable. David Healy turned to his subs bench, bringing on Josh Carson for Kirk Millar, who suffered an injury in a challenge.
Even if he wasn’t injured, Millar would have been a prime candidate to be substituted, having endured a frustrating afternoon.
Cameron Stewart came on from the bench, hoping to get a second vital goal in just over 48 hours.
Chris Casement fired a free-kick wide as Linfield searched for a winner. They weren’t getting the bounced. They weren’t making their own luck like against Ballymena United the previous week.
On 86 minutes, Stephen McAlorum was sent-off for a late tackle. It was the second Boxing Day game in which he had been sent-off in. At least he lasted 80 minutes longer today than he did in 2012.
Linfield couldn’t make the most of the one man advantage. For all of the ball being in Glentoran’s defensive third, they never looked like putting it in the back of the net. There would be no repeat of last Saturday’s dramatic late heroics.
It was two points dropped. Failing to kill the game off when on top and then giving away a soft goal.
With Crusaders winning 4-0 at Solitude, it means Linfield trail the leaders by seven points.
Not all hope is lost. Linfield travel to Seaview knowing that a win will reduce the lead to four points, meaning they will be one point better off than at kick-off today. Small progress, but it is to be welcomed.
There is no reason why Linfield can’t beat Crusaders. Both meetings this season have finished 0-0, with Linfield being the better team on both occasions. There is nothing to fear. A vast improvement in performance is needed though.
It’s bad enough the other ten clubs in the league having defeatist attitudes against Crusaders, that should never be the Linfield way.
Meanwhile, i’m still digesting the League Of Ireland fixture announcement. I’m looking at Friday 14th July 2017 as a game to go to.
Being off work on Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th, it seems a bit pointless to come in that day.
I might book it off and try and find a reasonably priced hotel and spend Friday and Saturday in Dublin. The fixtures scheduled that day are Bray v Cork, St Pat’s v Derry and Shelbourne v Wexford Youths.
The first two games could be postponed due to European commitments, meaning I go to Shelbourne v Wexford Youths by defeault. Still, it would mean one last trip to Tolka Park before it gets consigned to history.
July can wait, it’s all about Saturday now. Time for Linfield to step up.