It was a win, but it was a tough watch. That’s all that matters, especially when there were two meetings between Top 6 teams and coming off defeat at The Oval. To say that Linfield will have to play a bit better in upcoming matches is generous. They will have to play a lot better.
Following defeat at The Oval, there were a lot of changes for Linfield, with welcome returns in defence for Jimmy Callacher and Ben Hall, with a first start for Ryan McKay and Max Haygarth being brought in on the other side.
Sat in position ready for the game to start, the Referee signalled for the teams to switch sides, meaning I had to get up and powerwalk to the other end.
The same thing happened when Carrick were at Windsor Park in December, and I got into my seat just in time to see Eetu Vertainen put Linfield 1-0 up.
I would miss a dramatic start again, of sorts, as I took my new seat just in time to see Robbie McDaid receiving treatment. Hearing the screams as he received treatment, it became obvious that a substitution was imminent.
So it proved, as Chris McKee came on, hoping to carry on from his performance against Cliftonville the previous week.
McKee had Linfield’s first big chance of the game when he controlled a through ball but his right foot saved by Ross Glendenning.
He would have been better smashing it with his left foot, but the way the ball was bobbling about, he was glad just to get any sort of shot on goal.
Ryan McKay would be next to be frustrated when he was played in but his left foot shot was saved at point blank by Ross Glendenning.
This was the sort of game where it was obvious that Linfield needed to get a lead as soon as possible. The longer it stayed 0-0, the more the frustration would set in.
Just like Robbie McDaid, Ryan McKay’s afternoon would end prematurely through injury, Joel Cooper replacing him.
Not wanting to miss out, Carrick even had a player go off injured.
It all added to the stop-start nature of the game. Carrick were skilled in winning cheap free-kicks. It felt at times, like a Linfield just had to look at a Carrick player to concede a free-kick.
In the few actual game time there was, Linfield weren’t really offering much. No urgency on the ball, if they managed not to lose it, as most of the time, first touches were just giving the ball to Carrick.
It soon became obvious that the first goal of this game was going to be key. If Linfield had got it, especially when McKee and McKay were denied, it could have been the springboard for a comfortable afternoon.
If Carrick got it, that didn’t bear thinking about. You just didn’t feel that Linfield had it in them to come back.
Unsurprisingly, with all the injuries, we had ten minutes of injury time at the end of the first-half. Linfield’s previous half of football only had ten seconds.
Ten minutes felt like a punishment for the crowd. Ten more minutes to wait before doing what they do at half-time.
Nothing of note happened during these ten minutes. Barely anything of note happened in the forty-five that preceded it.
Linfield responded with a double substitution, Ethan Devine and Kirk Millar coming on for Andrew Clarke and Max Haygarth.
It had to get better from Linfield. It didn’t. The expected response from a half-time rollicking didn’t materialise.
Eventually, Joel Cooper had an attempt on goal but was frustrated when he created space for himself but his low shot was easily saved.
Cooper would be making an impact on the game soon afterwards, setting up Eetu Vertainen to fire home to put Linfield 1-0 up.
The way the game had been going, everybody expected the pass to Vertainen to bobble, or for his shot to go well over the bar. It was one of those games.
As mentioned earlier, the first goal was going to be so important in this game. Thankfully, Linfield had it.
Chris Shields would be frustrated as his shot flashed just wide.
With only a one goal lead, this was looking like “One of those games”. You know what I mean. Late Carrick equaliser, too little time for Linfield to reply. This was something we could really do without.
Kyle McClean came on as a substitute for Eetu Vertainen. Not a change I would have made but what do I know, it paid dividends within a few minutes.
Linfield had a free-kick in a shooting position. Many had expected Ethan Devine to hit it, having scored one against Larne in October.
It was McClean who hit it, into the back of the net to secure the points.
For the first time all afternoon, the locals could relax.
After that, the game meandered as it finished 2-0 to Linfield.
Results elsewhere weren’t kind.
The draws that were hoped for didn’t materialise, with home wins for Crusaders and Larne.
Famous last words, but Coleraine look like they might be the first victims of the February Bloodbath.
There’s a danger that Larne might start to run away with it.
That’s why winning by any means is so important, the keep the pressure on Larne and Cliftonville and to stay ahead of Crusaders and Glentoran.
To keep on winning, it’s going to have to be a lot lot better.