Another win, and finally some progress, as Linfield moved up to the dizzy heights of 3rd.
Larne’s win at Glenavon on Friday night meant that the three points were needed simply to keep in touch, it would turn out that defeats for Glentoran and Cliftonville would mean it was about that and overtaking others.
Linfield’s starting eleven saw a return for two absentees, with Joel Cooper back from injury and Eetu Vertainen from suspension.
With both teams ready to start the game, the Referee signalled for a change of ends.
Fuck sake. As someone who likes to sit where Linfield attack, that mean a fast walk to the other end of the South Stand which is a bit of a task as I am full of chocolate.
You know the drill when this happens, no goals in the first minute.
This was an arrangement that Linfield kept to, but only just.
As I had just taken my seat, I was up out of it straight away as Eetu Vertainen got on the end of a Matthew Clarke cross with just ninety seconds on the clock.
A welcome development in a game like this. As Linfield found out in August, you don’t give a team like Carrick something to defend.
Despite the setback, Carrick didn’t capitulate and had a few attacks of their own in search of an equaliser.
A few of those attacks came from fouls on Linfield players clearing the ball not being given.
You know it’s bad when a free-kick for Linfield is universally met with sarcastic applause.
Linfield looked to capitalise on their early lead, and looked set to go 2-0 up as Ethan Devine set himself to head in, but it was saved from closed range at the expense of a corner.
There wasn’t long to wait for that second goal as Jimmy Callacher was allowed to run with the ball, and used the time and space to play in Eetu Vertainen to make it 2-0. One of those where you knew he was going to score as soon as he got the ball.
Robbie McDaid curled a shot wide and Joel Cooper had a goalbound shot blocked, the block taking the sting out of the shot so the ball could be saved at the expense of a corner as Linfield went in search of a third goal.
Despite that, 2-0 was a satisfactory half’s work.
Most of the second-half, the game meandered and became a non event, the League Cup Semi-Final against Glentoran looming large and the object being to get through this without doing anything stupid and save energy for the trip to The Oval.
David Healy took the opportunity to make use of his bench, with Chris McKee, Cameron Palmer and Liam McStravick all coming on.
Suddenly, Carrick Rangers got back into the game when a speculative shot that was going well wide suddenly became a great pass for Ben Tilney, who made no mistake to make it 2-1.
Suddenly, we had a game.
You could hear the collective groans around Windsor Park. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
There was still ten minutes to go, plenty of time for Carrick to grab an unlikely point.
As the game entered it’s final minutes, there was never any danger of Carrick getting an equaliser, but you can never be too confident when there is only one goal in it.
Especially as Carrick scored from a wayward shot that suddenly became a great pass.
Those of a nervous disposition weren’t helped by there being five minutes of injury time.
Their mood was improved during that injury time when Robbie McDaid was played through and made it 3-1. Points definitely in the bag now.
The best thing about this game? Not cringing at Balloon Unity, or whatever the fuck they are called, making arses of themselves.
I can’t remember the last match I went to where I didn’t cringe at the shite they sing. An embarrassment we can do without. The sooner we get rid of them, the better.
I’m long past the point of tolerating them, or even trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. They’ve proven time and time again that they can’t be trusted to behave themselves.
We’re all going to be punished for their shitty behaviour and I won’t be dragged down by them.
I’m sure they’ll embarrass themselves and every single one of us some time soon. Might as well enjoy this one.
As one of five teams at the top, getting four results in our favour every week is a tough ask, but two will do.
Up to third now, cutting the gap at the top gradually.
That’s the League on hold for a while for Linfield and a good way to send off ahead of two cup games.
The first of those, was an easy 3-0 win at The Oval to go through to the League Cup Final.
I was going to go, but having missed the County Antrim Shield Semi-Final a few weeks back, I was worried about jinxing them so I didn’t go.
You can all thank me for that result.
I’ll definitely be at the Final.
One of two Cup Finals to look forward to in 2023.
Hopefully, six points in the two League games that remain in 2022 will give us a title challenge to look forward to as well.
The first weekend of March 2022 saw me visit Carrick to see Linfield win a rearranged game, then the following morning, head up Cavehill.
Then the rest of the month was Linfield matches, against Ballymena United, Crusaders, Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town.
With the match against Warrenpoint Town being a lunchtime kick-off and the weather being nice, I decided to head to Warrenpoint Beach for some photos. I also headed to Carlingford, but I didn’t get any photos there though.
The month ended with my first Northern Ireland match in over two years, the friendly at home to Hungary.
It turned out to be the week that Linfield made history, although i’m not sure that a first defeat to Carrick Rangers since 1987 was what they had in mind.
Due to their European exertions, Linfield had fallen a match behind, not playing in the recent midweek fixture list.
As this match was put back to the Sunday, they were now two games behind rivals. The league table is now beginning to take shape, with the Top 6 being who you would expect it to be, starting to pull away from the rest.
The Top 4 were all separated by one point, Linfield kick-off 6th but would jump up to 2nd with a win, just one point off the top.
With a game in hand as well.
It was Carrick who had the first chance of the game when a mishit clearance fell to Curtis Allen who fired over when you expected him to score.
Eventually, Linfield started getting into their rhythm, and it looked like a matter of time before they took the lead.
Joel Cooper scuffed a shot wide before Ethan Devine headed wide on the stretch.
Kirk Millar was next to be frustrated when he created space for himself but his shot went just.
It looked like it was only going to be a matter of time before there was a goal.
Within a few minutes, there was, but to who you expected, as Carrick went 1-0 up when a speculative effort from Andrew Mitchell ended up in the back of the net.
It might look spectacular on the TV footage, but I was behind the goal at the other end and could see that it was going wide until it hit Jamie Mulgrew and changed direction.
So, it looks like it’s going to be one of those weeks then.
No need to panic. If Linfield could carry on playing as they were in the minutes leading up to the goal, they would be fine.
The problem was, they didn’t. There was no instant response.
Linfield’s first real chance fell to Andrew Clarke on the stretch after a flick on. He didn’t really do much with it, other than scoop the ball in the air.
Ehane Devine then headed across goal from a cross from a few yards out. It was already looking like one of those days.
Carrick did have ventures in Linfield’s half, when they weren’t taking an age over goal kicks and throws, as Curtis Allen had a low shot from the edge of the box that needed to be turned around for a corner.
As the half neared it’s end, David Cushley did a foul worthy of a yellow card whilst on a yellow card, meaning that would be his last involvement in the game.
After he was sub at half-time after getting a telling off from the Referee.
Of course, a Linfield player would be treated so leniently.
Linfield’s performance in the first-half was a strange paradox. They had a lot of chances without looking like scoring, but it would be hard to see them not scoring in the second-half.
If that makes sense.
Joel Cooper was having an off day and Kirk Millar wasn’t getting much out of Ben Tilney. As a result, there was no real attacking fluidity or cohesion from Linfield.
The start of the second-half didn’t see the expected onslaught from Linfield in it’s opening minutes.
Eventually, on the hour, Linfield got an equaliser when a Carrick defender missed a header, which gave Ethan Devine a clear view of goal, and he smashed it low into the back of the net.
Now to push on and get a winner.
Well, not quite, as Carrick replied with an effort stabbed goalwards from a corner.
A few minutes later, Carrick were back in front when Linfield couldn’t clear a throw, which fell for Emmett McGuckin to smash home to make it 2-1.
This was looking like a repeat of the game against Ards in 2018.
David Healy unsurprisingly turned to his bench, bringing on as many attacking players as possible to get an equaliser. It was hard to see what formation they were playing.
One of those subs, Robbie McDaid, hit the bar from six yards out when the ball was pulled back to him.
Carrick also managed to survive a goalmouth scramble. Looking like one of those days.
And so it proved, as Carrick held out for a win.
Despite the chances created and missed, it’s hard to make a case for saying that Linfield deserved to win the game.
You can use Europe as an excuse, but they weren’t doing the basics right.
The last time Linfield got so close to Group Stage Football, in 2019, they dusted themselves off and won four successive games in September.
Europe is gone. I can be generous and write this off as a blip.
Having been postponed last week, Linfield fans had to wait six days for this game.
Was it worth the wait? Well, they got three points, which is the only positive you can take from a match that was every bit as uncomfortable as the scoreline suggests.
Despite two wins from the previous two meetings this season, Linfield would have been well warned that Carrick would be difficult opponents.
The game in October was decided by a four goal blitz in ten minutes while the meeting in November was decided with a late penalty and an even later counter attack settled the game in Linfield’s favour.
And, of course, Linfield’s last visit to Taylor’s Avenue was a barely deserved 1-1 draw.
There were no Linfield fans at that game. There were no Carrick fans at it either. Such was the way things were in early 2021.
Although there was a County Antrim Shield meeting in October 2020, for most Linfield fans, this would have been their first visit to Taylor’s Avenue since March 2020.
It was a different world back then, on a day that would be the day the football stopped, without a single ball being kicked in Northern Ireland again until the Irish Cup Semi-Finals in late July 2020. Linfield weren’t involved, let’s not talk about that.
That day, I was talking to someone I hadn’t seen in a while, who told me he had just retired and was planning to use his free time going to more Linfield matches, while I walked past Rohan Ferguson, who missed the match through injury, telling a supporter that he would be fit to play against Larne the following weekend.
Nobody saw it coming.
When the postponement was announced, this was the obvious date to reschedule the game with both sides having a free weekend due to both sides being out of the Irish Cup.
Naturally, a Saturday would have been perfect seeing as this game was no longer going to be streamed.
With the weather being so good, I could have made a day of it by heading to Whitehead for a late morning stroll before the match.
Unfortunately, it would be Friday night, i’m guessing Linfield weren’t too bothered by that as they could claim it gave them a slight advantage over Ballymena United regarding their next match four days after this, with Ballymena playing on Saturday afternoon, and then into Saturday teatime with their Irish Cup tie against Larne going to extra-time and penalties.
When the game was originally scheduled, it presented Linfield with an opportunity to go three points clear at the top. With the postponement, and wins for Glentoran and Cliftonville, it meant Linfield were now trying to keep up instead of setting the pace. A win would have sent them top.
Linfield lined up 3-5-2, 3-4-3. Not for me. Maybe brought about through necessity with no left-backs, but hopefully the return of Niall Quinn will see the end of it.
Just three minutes was all it took for Linfield to take the lead when a cross from Jake Hastie was diverted into his own net by a Carrick defender.
Getting an early goal in a match like this was perfect, but it was just one minute later than the goal Shayne Lavery scored to put Linfield 1-0 up in a live Sky game at the same venue in February 2021. Linfield ended up having to settle for a barely deserved point. A warning, it it was needed.
If you were hoping for that goal would be a springboard, you would be wrong, as the ball was spending far too much time in the air in the minutes afterwards.
There was a point midway through the first-half where you realised that it actually wasn’t that great a performance, the early goal had just left a deceptive feeling that things were going great.
It looked like Linfield were going to get that second goal when Chris McKee followed up after a Kyle McClean shot was saved but he was denied by a last gasp tackle.
There was a handball appeal for Linfield (I didn’t have a good view of the incident) and there were brief celebrations when the Referee’s whistle blew after an appeal. Those celebrations were premature as it turned out he was stopping the game due to two Carrick players lying injured in the goalmouth.
Soon afterwards, it was 2-0 to Linfield, and it was Jake Hastie involved, three successive goals he has been involved in.
He worked his way into a crossing position from a short corner, the ball falling to Chris McKee after a scramble, and he backheeled it home.
McKee wasn’t being showboaty, it was all he could do on the ground with his back to goal.
It doesn’t matter how they go in, as long as they go in. Linfield now had a cushion.
A few minutes later, Christy Manzinga headed home to make it 3-0, but the joy was short lived as the offside flag went up.
If it did count, that would surely have been the game in the bag.
It looked like there would be an opportunity for a third when there was a penalty appeal after Conor Pepper tangled with Ben Tilney. I didn’t think it was to be honest. I would have happily accepted it though.
2-0 up at half-time without a vintage performance, now Linfield needed to kill the game with goal difference being so key. Glentoran won on this matchday by two goals so it was important for Linfield to at least match them.
The situation is so tight, that one big win for Glentoran against compliant opposition would blow away Linfield’s advantage in an instant. Every goal counts.
Forget about the goal difference, Linfield needed a third goal to just kill the game, ensure that there was no drama.
It looked like that was going to come when Christy Manzinga was played through on goal, but his low shot was saved by the legs of Carrick’s keeper.
A header that had to be cleared off the line by Chris Shields should have served as a warning that this game wasn’t won yet for Linfield.
It was a warning that was ignored as Jordan Gibson created space for himself and fired in off the post.
Suddenly, there was now a game on, and the last twenty minutes weren’t going to as comfortable as hoped.
You couldn’t say it wasn’t coming. Linfield were coasting, hoping to get away with doing the bare minimum.
Doing that at 2-0 was always a risk. You can get away with it at 3, 4 or 5-0 up.
In response, Linfield brought on Niall Quinn, Ethan Devine and Eetu Vertainen.
However, it was Carrick who had the last big chance of the game, an effort which hit the side netting.
Stood at the opposite end, it was enough to cause concern amongst Linfield fans.
They weren’t helping themselves. Far too often, Carrick’s defence and keeper weren’t put under pressure when on the ball, enabling then to set themselves up to launch the ball upfield.
As a result, there were quite a few scary moments for Linfield. All it needed was once bounce to fall Carrick’s way.
Thankfully, Linfield were just about able to see the game out and win 2-1.
However, it was a performance that was very concerning. They won’t get away with a similar performance in upcoming games against Ballymena United or Crusaders.
Two games that are massive. They all are at this time of year, but these two especially are.
While Linfield are at Ballymena, Glentoran and Cliftonville face each other at The Oval.
Guaranteed points droppage below Linfield that they simply have to take advantage of.
You could take a positive if there was a winner at The Oval, but Linfield simply have to win in order to be looking at what the best result is.
If they do that, they play first in the next matchday, an opportunity to put pressure on rivals before they play on Saturday.
Meanwhile, i’ve booked a weekend to Edinburgh for early May, the weekend of the Irish Cup Final, which i’ll have no interest in.
I may take in a football match there (No fixtures confirmed yet as it is post-split and Play-Offs) but it’s not specifically a football trip.
Let’s hope I go there with Linfield having another title in the bag.
November began with a day trip to Dublin. Naturally, while I was there, I took the opportunity to check out Street Art. Might as well, seeing as it was my first time there in two years.
Later that week, I did something else I hadn’t done for a long time. Not as long, just over eighteen months. I am of course referring to going to a concert, in this case, Lightning Seeds at The Limelight.
That was then followed by two road trips for Linfield away games, to Portadown and Crusaders.
Sandwiched inbetween that was another road trip, this time to Ards to get some Street Art photos, with a recent event having taken place.
It was a month of doing things I hadn’t done for a while. This time, going on a flight.
The destination was Gatwick, but not to go to London, but Brighton instead.
So many photo adventures, where to start?
Street Art in Brighton, of course. Also, a walk along Beachy Head, OMD in concert, and some sunsets while I was in Brighton.
Back home, a return to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville.
Two days later, I headed to The Limelight to see The Charlatans in concert.
The month ended with Linfield matches against Glenavon and Carrick Rangers.