BALLYMENA UNITED 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 18.2.2017

When Cliftonville exited the League Cup at the Quarter-Final stage in November, it was guaranteed that the League Cup would be leaving North Belfast after residing at Solitude since 2013. When it was announced that Seaview would be the venue for this year’s final, the trophy would be metaphorically and literally leaving North Belfast.

It wouldn’t be leaving too far, a short journey up the motorway to Ballymena or Carrickfergus.

Carrick were hoping that my presence would inspire them. I’ve been something of a good luck charm for them in recent years, being there when they won the Steel and Sons Cup Final, at Seaview funnily enough, in 2014, and for their penultimate game of the season in 2015 against the PSNI, a vital win which set them up for promotion if they won their final game, which they did.

The early minutes saw Ballymena pressure but nothing come of it. Despite that, there was still no opportunity for Carrick to relax. They didn’t help themselves, creating pressure for themselves when a clearance hit one of their own defenders and put them back under pressure. Later on, Brian Neeson punched a corner away, hitting one of his defenders. Fortunately for Carrick, the ball bounced out for another corner.

Allan Jenkins had Ballymena’s first attempt at goal when his header went over. It was Carrick who had the first real chance of the game when TJ Murray fired over from inside the penalty area when unmarked. It wasn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity but he should have done so much better, keep it low and at least make the keeper make a save.

Ross Glendenning was eventually forced into a save from a long range shot from Carrick’s other Murray, Martin. It was one of those saves usually referred to as a “Photographer’s save”. He did get lucky that there were no Carrick players close enough to capitalise on his parry, as he picked up the rebound.

Ballymena’s first real attempt on goal came when Johnny McMurray’s long range shot had to be tipped over by Brian Neeson. McMurray’s next attempt at goal was a snapshot that went just wide.

It looked like being a frustrating evening for Ballymena, until Willie Faulkner ran at Carrick’s defence to create space to get a cross in, which was finished by Allan Jenkins to put Ballymena 1-0 up. For the second successive Saturday, Carrick found themselves going in at half-time to a goal in the final minute of the half.

Carrick, who were set up to win 1-0, now had to win this 2-1.

Carrick actually made a good start to the second-hal, knocking Ballymena off their stride. Despite that, it never looked like an equaliser was inevitible.

There was more frustration for Ballymena when McMurray, Kane and Jenkins all missed chances to score. A 2-0 lead, no matter how long was left would have been enough to secure the trophy. Jenkins miss was the worst of the lot, firing over from close range when, like TJ Murray in the first-half, all he had to do was keep it low and get it on target.

It looked like Ballymena were going to be made to pay for it when a header from a free-kick fell to Adam Salley. He got enough to header it over the onrushing Ross Glendenning, but not enough for the ball to loop in. That was Carrick’s big moment. It never looked like Carrick were going to get another chance like that.

It was another set piece which provided Carrick’s next chance, a low shot from a free-kick teed to Nathan McConnell was saved by Ross Glendinning when it looked like it was going to sneak in.

Unsurprisingly, as the team trailing 1-0, Carrick had a lot of the ball in the final minutes of the game, but Ballymena always looked like holding firm, despite their unusually high amount of goals conceded this season for a team in the top half.

The biggest moment of worry for Ballymena came when TJ Murray went down in the box. I was not far from the incident and didn’t think it was a penalty at the time. Looking back at the incident, i’ve seen them given. If you’re Carrick, you’ll scream for it, if you’re Ballymena, you’d be fuming if it was given against you. It’s a decision that would be easier for the referee to give if the ball was in the middle of the park.

The Ballymena defender did just enough to get his body in the road to stop Murray getting through.

As the game approached injury time, Ballymena got a second on the counter attack when Conor McCloskey was played through and smashed it home from a wide position. It was a goal that deserved to have Alan Partridge commentary.

Carrick’s players were fuming as the game wasn’t stopped in the build-up for TJ Murray to get treatment for an injury sustained in the tackle which won the ball for Ballymena to counter.

For the second successive Saturday, Carrick lost 2-0 as a result of goals in the final minute of each half.

Interesting day in the Glendenning household, with Ross winners medal being trumped by Reece’s hat-trick for Linfield Swifts earlier in the day.

Ballymena fans celebrated their first major trophy since 1989, and now both teams turn their attentions to the rest of the season. Ballymena fans dreaming of Europe either via winning the UEFA Cup Play-Off Final or the Irish Cup. Carrick aren’t dreaming of Europe, but rather Linfield, Glentoran, Ballymena and all the other top flight clubs they will be hoping to visit for League games next season.

Photo Album

CARRICK RANGERS 0-2 LINFIELD 11.2.2017

After winning the County Antrim Shield on Tuesday, it was back to the League for Linfield as they travelled to Taylor’s Avenue to take on Carrick Rangers as they aim to keep up the pressure on Crusaders in the title race.

It wasn’t just Carrick that Linfield were up against, it was also the elements, as a constant wind caused problems for Linfield when they attacked into it, causing passes to be either overhit or underhit. Linfield’s players weren’t quite mastering conditions. Niall Quinn was denied an opportunity to set himself up for a shot when the ball held up in the air just as he was setting himself up.

The early minutes was all Linfield pressure. At the same time, it felt like it was a matter of time before Linfield scored, and it felt like a goal would never come, as both Jimmy Callacher and Niall Quinn had close range efforts saved. Quinn’s effort came after a Cameron Stewart shot was saved.

Carrick also had a couple of breaks which caused Linfield’s defence and keeper to have to be on alert.

Already a difficult afternoon because of the weather, it was important for Linfield not to concede during Carrick’s rare attacks. It was already a difficult afternoon, giving Carrick something to hold on to would have made it even more difficult.

Brian Neeson’s save filled afternoon was about to come to a premature end due to injury. With no goalkeeper on the bench, Mark Surgenor went into goals.

Linfield fans knew better than most that an outfield player having to go into goals doesn’t always result in a heavy defeat. Linfield still had to create the chances to score past him.

Those chances didn’t come as Carrick’s defence held firm, as the first-half looked set to end goalless, a first-half which mirrored my only previous visit to Carrick, in August 2015, where Linfield won 3-0 but took a long time to get the breakthrough.

As first-half injury time approached, Linfield got their best opportunity when a penalty was awarded after a Niall Quinn shot was blocked by a Carrick defender’s hand.

Penalties against Carrick have proved problematic in the past two seasons with Aaron Burns (October 2015), Andrew Waterworth (December 2015) and Ross Gaynor (September 2016) all having penalties saved by Brian Neeson.

Neeson wasn’t on the pitch to try and get a quadruple. This penalty incident was to be dominated by men who weren’t on the pitch. As on Tuesday night, with Ross Gaynor and Aaron Burns not on the pitch, it was left to Stephen Lowry to take the kick for Linfield.

Quite how it will be decided who takes the penalty if Linfield are awarded one when all three are on the pitch is anyone’s guess.

Like on Tuesday, Lowry sent the keeper the wrong way, but going to the keeper’s left this time.

It wouldn’t have been a disaster for Linfield to go in 0-0 at half-time, but going in 1-0 was a lot better. It could even have been 2-0, but Cameron Stewart’s headed chance went just wide.

The second-half got off to a slow start. Stephen Lowry had a long range shot go over, while a volley from the edge of the box went just wide.

Mark Stafford had a flick which hit the post while Niall Quinn also hit the post. Even when Mark Surgenor flapped at a cross from Matthew Clarke, he managed to get away with it.

If you were doing text commentary of this match, you could have just cut and pasted the phrase “Linfield should be 2-0 up, ……”

As each minute passed with the score at 1-0, you began to get that horrible feeling that Linfield would be made to pay for their missed chances. Even though Carrick didn’t look like scoring, when there’s only one goal in it, you always have a chance.

You could just see it, a cross that would normally have gone over gets held up in the wind and falls straight to a Carrick player to score.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Paul Smyth as he continues his recovery from injury.

Linfield fans horrible premonition almost came through when Roy Carroll had to save a long range shot after a Carrick break.

Linfield tried for the second goal that would make the final minutes more relaxing. Andrew Waterworth thought he was going to get it as he lined up a shot, only for a Carrick defender to get in and block.

Eventually, Linfield got the second goal. Appropriately, it came after two glorious missed chances, Mark Stafford having a header saved and then Cameron Stewart hitting the woodwork from that rebound before Paul Smyth eventually finished.

That was the game won, and some supporters headed for the exits just as injury time started, content that Linfield had the job done.

Without playing fantastic, Linfield were deserved winners. The elements could have been a leveller. Linfield made sure that it wasn’t.

A curious fact was that this was Linfield’s ninth successive away win. Ten if you change the stat to “Games away from Windsor Park” to include neutral matches. The good news is, there are two successive away games coming up after next weekend. The even better news for those who want to save on petrol, is that they are both in Belfast.

Next Friday is a home match against Portadown. Even though Linfield have lost Friday night games to Portadown in the last two years, a third is unthinkable. It’s a game we should be winning and winning comfortably. Wed need to finish a bit better than we did today though.

Between now and the split, Linfield will only face one team in the top half of the table. This represents an excellent opportunity to get points and momentum ahead of the split.

Unfortunately, the gap at the top remains seven points. That might seem like a lot but Crusaders can still be overtaken. They’re more disappointed when we win than we are when they do.

Cliftonville lost today, meaning that Linfield now have a nine point lead from 3rd place, now freeing them to concentrate on overtaking Crusaders, and not have to worry about dropping into 3rd.

While at Taylor’s Avenue, I got a ticket for next weekend’s League Cup Final, meaning I have football matches on Friday and Saturday. It could have been some fun if I had decided to head over for Man United’s UEFA Cup tie against St Etienne on Thursday as well.

Carrick will have a break from League duty next weekend as both clubs try to amass as many points between now and the end of the season for differing reasons. Carrick for the right to be hosting Linfield in the League next season, and Linfield to be able to travel to various grounds as champions.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December began for me with a trip to The Limelight, a venue I would be spending a bit of time at this month, to see Primal Scream in concert.

Two Days later, I was headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a routine win over Carrick Rangers.

I then headed out into Belfast to get some photos of a mural of Jack Nicholson

That night, I headed back to The Limelight to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following weekend, I was Bangor bound to see Linfield take on Ards, and then back to The Limelight (I know, becoming a regular) to see Cast in concert.

The morning after that, I was out on my bike to get some Street Art photos, in Great Victoria Street and a mural of Prince in Botanic.

On the middle Saturday in December, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield record a late win over Ballymena United.

The weekend before Christmas saw me being busy, taking in Ulster v Connacht for my annual Rugby match, and then the following morning heading to Seaview to see Linfield Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup.

There’s still a bit of the month left. Two big Linfield matches, against Glentoran and Crusaders. I’m also hoping to get a chance to head to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos.

And then, that will be me for 2016. Don’t worry, there’ll be Camera Adverntures in 2017.

Primal Scream live at The Limelight

Primal Scream live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Jack

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ards v Linfield

Cast live at The Limelight

Cast live at The Limelight Photo Album

Great Victoria Street Art

Great Victoria Street Art Photo Album

Prince Mural

Prince Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Ulster v Connacht

Ulster v Connacht Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

LINFIELD 3-0 CARRICK RANGERS 3.12.2016

Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park to take on a Linfield side looking to keep in touch with Crusaders at the top of the league, but most importantly, get back into second place after being overtaken by Cliftonville who won at Coleraine on Friday night.

It was Carrick who had the first chance of the game when Tiernan McNicholl fired well wide from outside the box.

For the rest of the first-half, the ball would be in Carrick’s half, like a training match between attack and defence, except it was defence who were winning, with Linfield not really creating anything of note.

That was, until Stephen Lowry intercepted a pass and immediately played in Andrew Waterworth who created enough space for him to fire Linfield in front.

More Linfield pressure followed, but they couldn’t get the second goal that would have settled everybody’s nerves, as they went in at half-time 1-0 up.

Linfield started the second-half in search of that second goal, and thought they were going to get it when Paul Smyth got on the end of a Kirk Millar cross, only to fire over from close range.

It was another Millar cross which brought the second goal, a cross which evaded Carrick’s goalkeeper, landing straight at Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close inside the six yard box.

Paul Smyth won possession on the edge of the box, setting himself up for a shot which was saved by Carrick keeper Neeson.

The reprieve was brief for Carrick, as Mark Stafford headed home from the resulting corner.

Stafford enjoys it when Carrick come to Windsor Park, the third successive meeting between the two sides in South Belfast that he has scored.

The bad news for him is, that unless Carrick have a run of form and get into the Top six or the two sides are drawn together in the Irish Cup, they won’t be back at Windsor Park this season.

Stephen Lowry tried to get in on the goalscoring act but his flick from a cross was tipped over.

With the game won, Linfield introduced some substitutes from the bench, Jonny Frazer getting rewarded for his hat-trick for the Swifts against Crumlin Star on Monday night.

Frazer looked like he was going to create a forth goal for Linfield but fellow sub Aaron Burns didn’t gamble on his low cross across the penalty area.

Up next, is a trip to managerless Ards, who lost 6-1 to Linfield last Tuesday in the County Antrim Shield.

Surprisingly, this game will be Linfield’s first competitive visit to Clandeboye Park in almost eight years. Looking forward to it. Without sounding arrogant, it’s a game Linfield should win.

In terms of the title race, it’s a must win game, to keep in touch with those above and not to give those below an opportunity to overtake, especially as Cliftonville have a generous run of games coming up.

The league table looking a lot better for Linfield today with the gap at the top cut to five points following Crusaders draw with Glentoran.

I’d planned on getting this blog published before the Irish Cup draw. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a big one – literally, meaning I missed out on my usual hope of a lower league team away, ideally a ground i’ve never been to or haven’t been to for a while.

Matching that criteria would be Loughgall, Crewe United, Knockbreda or Annagh United.

Glentoran away on 7th January can be put to one side for now, there’s far too many games between now and then.

Four games remaining for Linfield in 2016. Win all four of them and the worst situation is that they’ll be going into 2017 just two points off the top of the league.

It’s been a good week for Linfield, three wins and fourteen goals, through to a cup final and the reserves getting to the Steel and Sons Cup Final, to face Dundela.

That was a game i’d been planning on going to as it was on the more convenient date of Christmas Eve, Linfield being in it is a bonus.

Hopefully, the first of many silverware this season.

Photo Album

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2015-2016

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look at the 2015-2016 season just past. The 2016-2017 is only a matter of days away. Scary, I know.

Before I wrap up the 2015-2016, it’s time for my favourite photos. Hopefully, you’ll agree. Feel free to vote for your favourite.

BRAY

Taken at my very first game, back on 27th June 2015, I like the composition and framing of this.

TAYLOR’S

Taken on my first visit to Taylor’s Avenue, I love how everyone is focused on the player with the ball (I think it’s Guy Bates)



FANS

Taken at Ballinamallard in September. I don’t know why I love this photo, I just do.

ENCOURAGEMENT

I was taking a photo of the corner, but this guy just got up and started to encourage Linfield players, which made the photo for me.

A photo of just the corner kick would actually have been boring.



GREECE

Taken on that famous night against Greece just after Davis first goal, and trying to capture what it meant.

RED SKY

No filtering or magic tricks, that’s what the sky was like when Linfield travelled to Ballymena in December. Just had to get a snap.

CELEBRATIONS

Taken after the Irish Cup tie at Solitude in March, what it means to win at a ground you haven’t won for four years, and to do so in a convincing manner.

TERRACES

Taken at Dalymount Park, terracing that isn’t used anymore, other than to hang flags on. I like the composition of this.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – JANUARY

Like in the previous season, January began with a game between Linfield and Crusaders. Again, it was a home win, though this time, it was at Windsor Park instead of Seaview.

The following Saturday, it was the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, with Linfield edging out Ballymena United after extra-time.

Three days later, same venue, same two teams, but a different competition, the County Antrim Shield Final, with Ballymena winning 3-2.

A frozen pitch saw Linfield’s home match (YES! another match at Windsor Park) against Dungannon Swifts postponed, so my next football was the trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Southampton.

The football watching month ended with Linfield’s routine win over Carrick Rangers at, you’ve guessed it, Windsor Park.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield and Cliftonville draw 3-3, amidst unceratinty over the future of Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Five days later, I was at Windsor Park to witness Northern Ireland get the win they needed against Greece to send them to Euro 2016.

The party continued for a few days, but the Irish League was back to work, as Linfield faced Glentoran at Windsor Park less than 48 hours later.

By now, Warren Feeney was gone, and it was apt that it was Warren(point) where his successor David Healy took charge of his first game in charge.

The final two games of the month saw Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Greece

Northern Ireland v Greece Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – AUGUST

After League Of Ireland and UEFA Cup football during June and July, the domestic season began for me in August, when Linfield welcomed Ballymena United to Windsor Park on the opening day of the season.

Four days later, I visited Taylor’s Avenue for the first time, as Linfield travelled to newly promoted Carrick Rangers.

To round off a busy week, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend, I was in Scotland for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival, and made the most of it by taking in matches at Hearts, Rangers and Dunfermline.

Upon my return from Scotland, it was back to Windsor Park, my third time this month, to see Linfield take on Portadown, and get a win that continued their perfect start to the season.

Linfield v Ballymena United

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Heart of Midlothian v Partick Thistle

Heart Of Midlothian v Partick Thistle Photo Album

Rangers v Hibernian

Rangers v Hibernian Photo Album

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 30.1.2016

Linfield ended the month with their fourth game of the month at Windsor Park (it would have been their fifth if it wasn’t for the postponement against Dungannon Swifts), hoping that it would be better than the third game of the month, the County Antrim Shield Final.

Linfield were quick on the attack and took the lead from their first set piece, a corner which was cleared, but Kirk Millar made the most of his second opportunity to play the ball in, for Mark Stafford to head home from close range.

It was the early goal that Linfield didn’t get when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Carrick in October.

Within minutes, it should have been 2-0, when Paul Smyth got in behind Carrick’s defence, only to find his shot saved by Carrick’s goalkeeper.

Soon after, Ross Gaynor fired over from close range unmarked after a cross. The game could have been over before it had even begun.

Sean Ward headed over from a corner a couple of minute later.

Linfield needed a second goal, and it wasn’t long in coming. A series of short and quick passes saw the ball go from centre of defence to Ross Gaynor on the left wing to cross for Andrew Waterworth to touch the ball home.

That wasn’t the end of the first-half action, as Ross Gaynor had a goal disallowed for offside. It was all one way traffic.

Naturally, the second-half was a non event. Linfield just had to make sure they kept Carrick and didn’t ancourage them back into the game.

Bar a flurry of corners, Linfield’s defence had a quiet afternoon.

The main talking point of the second-half was a two footed tackle by Conor McCluskey on Mark Stafford which only got him a yellow card.

I was at the other end of the ground and didn’t realise how bad it was until I saw the TV footage, a very poor decision to only award a yellow card. And that’s me being polite.

The only thing you could say in the referee’s defence, was that he got distracted by the melee which followed and his judgement would have been affected by having to deal with two incidents at the same time. It wasn’t. He had his yellow card out ready to show whenever both sets of players were squaring up to each other.

Having scored his first goal for Linfield last week, Ross Gaynor was played through by Jamie Mulgrew and looked set to score his first goal at Windsor Park, only to find his shot was saved.

If Linfield had got a third goal, we would have seen the introduction of some new signings off the bench. They did come, but a bit later than hoped.

Michael McLellan came on for Paul Smyth, having scored a lot of goals in not a lot of games for Harland and Wolff Welders. Hopefully, an away pre-seasom friendly is part of the deal.

With the game won, the attacking wasn’t as intense as it would have been earlier, so he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase his abilities.

He got more than Stephen Fallon, who got the final minute of injury time.

Not the most exciting game, but that’s not a complaint. Carrick at home is the sort of game you should get the result and move on to the next game (even though Linfield didn’t actually do that in October)

That next game, is Dungannon Swifts at home, and an opportunity to go to within six points of Crusaders, with Crusaders facing Glenavon and Cliftonville in the next two matchdays, and Cliftonville not playing a league match until 20th February.

Three league wins in a row, three clean sheets and progress in the Irish Cup. Not a bad start to the year. County Antrim Shield would have been nice but it’s the League and Cup that matter.

Hopefully, February (and March, April and May) will be more of the same.

Photo Album

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2015

My football watching for 2015 is now over, so, it’s time for a statistical look back at the football I watched.

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 143

Red Cards : 10 (Doesn’t include Caoimhin Bonner being sent-off in the tunnel after the game)

Missed/Saved Penalties : 6

Hat-Tricks : 2 (Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Dungannon Swifts. Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 40

Arsenal, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Bray Wanderers, Carrick Rangers, CE Europa (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee (1st time), Dunfermline Athletic (1st time), Dungannon Swifts, Espanyol (1st time), Finland, Glenavon, Glentoran, Greece (1st time), Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hungary, Institute, Latvia (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Masnau, Northern Ireland, NSI Runavik (1st time), Partick Thistle (1st time), Portadown, PSNI, PSV Eindhoven (1st time), Qatar (1st time), Rangers, Romania (1st time) Scotland, Sligo Rovers, Spartak Trnava (1st time), Tobermore United, Valencia (1st time), Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 23

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Drumahoe, East End Park (1st time), Estadi Cornella y Prat (1st time), Ferney Park, Fortwilliam Park (1st time), Gresty Road (1st time), Hampden Park, Ibrox, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newforge (1st time), Nou Sardenya (1st time), Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue (1st time), The Oval, Tynecastle, Windsor Park

Competitions : 13

European Championship, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, La Liga, League of Ireland, Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup (1st time), Scottish Premier League, Tercera Division (1st time), UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

No real curiousities, other than a match with kick-off delayed for an hour due to the weather

UEFA 102 Club : Espanyol, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia (now at 35 clubs)