PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

Football watching in March got off to a delayed start, due to Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville being postponed due to snow.

I had to wait a week to get to a match, Linfield’s home game against Carrick Rangers.

The following midweek, was that postponed Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville, resulting in a defeat for Linfield.

It didn’t get better the rest of the month as Linfield had to come from behind to get draws against Glentoran and Ballinamallard United.

At least the month ended on a high note, beaming with parental pride (sort of) as Paul Smyth came off he bench to score the winner for Northern Ireland against South Korea on his debut.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Glentoran

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v South Korea

Northern Ireland v South Korea Photo Album

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January 2018’s football watching was supposed to start at Coleraine on the first day of the month, but the weather saw to that, so I had to wait a week to visit Taylor’s Avenue for my first game of the month, to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win over Carrick Rangers.

There was another postponement in the middle of the month, at Warrenpoint, which meant I had to wait a whole week for my next match. It wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield lost 3-2 to Glenavon.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to London for a short weekend away. Naturally, I hoped to take in a game while I was there, and the game I chose was Millwall v Rochdale.

My final game of the month was a trip to Coleraine, which should have kicked off the month, to see Linfield score two late goals to secure a dramatic draw.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

August’s football watching began at Wilgar Park to see Linfield take on Dundela in a friendly. The following day, was another Pre-Season Friendly, but in different surroundings, as Manchester United took on Sampdoria at Lansdowne Road.

That weekend, I was in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival. While there, I make an effort to attend a game, and I saw Edinburgh City v Montrose while I was there.

Upon my return, was the start of the Irish League season, and I was out for Linfield’s opening week of matches against Carrick, Ards and Dungannon.

My football watching for the month ended by seeing Linfield take on Ballymena at Windsor Park.

Dundela v Linfield

Manchester United v Sampdoria

Manchester United v Sampdoria Photo Album

Edinburgh City v Montrose

Edinburgh City v Montrose Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 10.3.2018

It was the same opponents, scoreline and venue as when Linfield kicked off their domestic season in August. The mood was very much different. A second successive title is long gone, but qualification for European football next season remains open on two fronts.

It was a Linfield team that had four changes, with Alex Moore, Robert Garrett, Mark Haughey and Stephen Fallon all coming in to the Starting eleven. It’s unsure if it was a response to the last game against Glenavon, or if Linfield had one eye on the next match against Cliftonville in the Irish Cup on Tuesday.

For the teenager Alex Moore, it was a second appearance, having played against Glentoran in February 2017. Curiously, that was Linfield’s last game before an Irish Cup Quarter-Final, if you believe in omens.

He did what he had to do. That is the only assessment of his performance. He didn’t have much to do. Not even joking, I could have played in goal for Linfield today and kept a clean sheet.

The game began with a flurry of Linfield chances, as Robert Garrett, Jamie Mulgrew and Niall Quinn all had attemps on goal saved by Carrick keeper Harry Doherty. It was Attack v Defence, with the only way that Carrick could stop Linfield was by cynical fouls.

It looked like being a matter of time until Linfield scored, but Carrick were able to ride out the storm as Linfield struggled to keep up the pressure on the Carrick.

Linfield were looking the most likely to score without actually looking like scoring.

Linfield weren’t helped by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury midway through the first-half, having had to receive treatment a few minutes earlier. The one positive was, that he wasn’t hobbling off, so hopefully it was just a precaution ahead of Tuesday night’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville.

Not that Carrick could relax with Waterworth not on the pitch, as Ryan Strain entered the field. It was Strain who came off the bench to provide the cross for Kurtis Byrne’s winning goal when the sides met at Taylor’s Avenue in January.

Carrick had a header easily saved by Alex Moore, before Jimmy Callacher went close with a header in first-half injury time, as Linfield had to make do with a 0-0 scoreline at half-time

In the early minutes of the second-half, Gavin Taggart was lucky not to be sent-off for high feet in a challenge with Jamie Mulgrew. Taggart was substituted soon afterwards.

Also substituted was Achille Campion, who couldn’t mark his birthday with a goal. The closest he had was when he was played in when he was in a position similar to Marcus Rashford for his first goal against Liverpool earlier in the day. Unfortunately, he was unable to cut inside and finish like Marcus Rashford. He was replaced by Kurtis Byrne.

It was Linfield’s other substitute Ryan Strain, who thought he was going to break the deadlock when he created space for himself in the box, but he fired just wide.

On 65 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when Mark Stafford headed home from a free-kick. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that is was Stafford who opened this scoring, having scored in three of Carrick’s last four visits to Windsor Park.

With Mark Haughey always scoring against Warrenpoint Town, the two Marks will be keeping an eye on the battle to avoid relegation as their goal tally next season could be severely reduced.

The first thing that came to mind when Stafford scored was a match against Distillery in March 2013 (the fifth anniversary of that match was the day before this one) when Linfield struggled in the rain and eventually took the lead, only to be pegged back to 1-1 immediately. This match had similarities.

With only one goal in the previous eight League games against Linfield since promotion in 2015, there was no form to suggest that Carrick looked like scoring. Never mind stats on paper, the way the match was going, Carrick never looked like scoring.

Any such fears were quickly dispelled when Jamie Mulgrew ran with the ball and finished from outside the box. That was the three points secured.

Mark Stafford had a header well saved and Kurtis Byrne fired just wide as Linfield looked to make it 3-0. 2-0 was enough.

This was the first of three home games in seven days for Linfield, and a timely win for Linfield, their first home win since February 3rd.

Having not been to any of the two home Irish Cup ties this season, it meant that this was Linfield’s first home League win since December 23rd. 2017. Yes, you read that right, Linfield’s first home League win of 2018.

It was a win that breathed some life into Linfield’s League campaign.

Unfortunateley, the goal now is about finishing 3rd. After defeat to Glenavon in their last League outing, that looked a long shot, being six points behind them and having played a game more.

Since then, Glenavon have crashed out of the Irish Cup, lost their game in hand and drew today.

They are now only four points clear and the two sides still have to meet before the season ends. Suddenly, 3rd place is a realistic target for Linfield, one that will secure European football if there is a Coleraine v Linfield Irish Cup Final.

I’m not sure how, but Linfield appear to have somehow put the jinx on Glenavon’s season. Long may it continue.

Reaching the Irish Cup Final, nevermind choosing the opponents, is still a long long way away.

Elsewhere, Linfield remain six points clear of Cliftonville, albeit with a game more played.

That was because Cliftonville beat Crusaders 3-1. I’m not sure how, but Cliftonville have suddenly started showing some balls whenever they play Crusaders. It would be nice if Linfield did likewise when they played Crusaders, like we did so effectively last season.

Of more immediate importance, is that we do so when we play Cliftonville in the Irish Cup Quarter-Final on Tuesday. If we do that, i’d expect us to get the job done, as we have done in the last two meetings.

Curiously, it will be the second successive year we will have played Cliftonville on March 13th. A repeat of the 2-0 win on that date last year will be very welcome.

Also welcome was the news that Ross Clarke scored a hat-trick for Ards against Ballinamallard. Hopefully, his loan spell will give him a run of games to challenge for a first-team position, in the same way that Brian McCaul benefitted from a loan spell at Glenavon in 2012.

There’s a quality player there, that’s why Linfield are prepared to give him every opportunity to improve his fitness, but it will be three years since he was a first-team regular by the time the Summer arrives.

You may remember me saying I was hoping to go to Waterford for a short break in mid March. Well, I farted about for too long and didn’t book it.

My main purpose for visiting would be to see Waterford Walls, but you should know by now that I like to sneak in a football match wherever I travel.

On Monday, Waterford face Bohs, and they are currently sitting second in the table, level on points with Cork City. They’re probably glad i’m not going as they’d probably be bottom of the League.

So, a big week awaits for Linfield. A Cup Semi-Final and three more points is the goal.

Photo Album

CARRICK RANGERS 0-1 LINFIELD 9.1.2018

I headed to Carrick on Tuesday night for what was belatedly my first football match of 2018, following the postponement of the New Year’s Day game against Coleraine, and giving the Irish Cup tie at home to Glebe Rangers a miss.

On a belated theme, this was a match that should have taken place exactly a month earlier, having been postponed on it’s original date.

Back then, Linfield had come off the back of wins against the top two and we’re looking to set themselves up for a title charge. Eight points dropped in the month since then has forced them to reassess their ambitions. The three points on offer at Carrick were now to leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th.

There were a couple of shocks for Linfield fans as they entered the ground.

The first was that Achille Campion, Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth were all in the starting line-up together, when most would have expected two from three. Byrne would be deployed in a wide position throughout the game.

The second, was to see their team line up in all blue. I get that a change of socks could be required, but there was no shorts clash. I wouldn’t mind a season in all blue, we do look rather good in it.

Linfield fans were hoping that would be the end of the shocks. We simply couldn’t afford to have another one on the pitch.

Saturday was a rather good day for Linfield. As well as progressing in the Irish Cup and getting a home tie to Championship opponents in the next round, their two opponents this week, Carrick and Warrenpoint, both had to play extra-time with ten men.

Carrick’s match on Saturday was against Glenavon, who Linfield face the week after next, though if Glenavon players are still knackered two weeks later, they should really have a word with themselves.

The new boys, Byrne and Campion were involved in a lot of Linfield’s attacking play in the first-half. Campion was conceding a lot of free-kicks for minimal physical contact where there was no need to make it. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to learn quickly that this is a Defender’s League.

Andrew Waterworth was playing in a deeper role at times, which he did well, but it was taking him away from the areas of the pitch where he was needed most.

As well as battling a side facing relegation, Linfield were facing the elements as well, playing against the wind and struggling to do so.

What few attacks Linfield were having were falling short.

Denver Gage had Carrick’s two best moments in the first-half, heading over from an inswinging corner and firing a low shot straight at Roy Carroll after a free-kick found him free a few yards out. Even allowing for the fact he’s a Defender, he should have scored. You could say that Linfield got a long overdue lucky break.

Kurtis Byrne was Linfield’s man to be denied in the first-half, having a low shot tipped round the post by Harry Doherty. I was behind the goal and thought it was going in.

Later in the half, Doherty was beaten by Byrne only for a Carrick Defender to block it on the line.

It was 0-0 at half-time. Even though the weather was against them, it was poor from Linfield, they weren’t getting the basics right.

Part of me was hoping for a floodlight failure, match abandoned, and we’ll try again on a later date, and we can all be home in time to watch Inside Number 9.

Linfield were having more attacks in the second-half now that the weather was in their favour. Carrick’s big leveller had gone, and Linfield knew it. There was no clear chances, but lots of pressure on the Carrick goal.

The problem was, there didn’t appear to be any urgency or drive from Linfield, nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck. There were too many Hollywood Passes on a night when the wind either made them too short or too long. They had to just keep it simple.

They weren’t helped by the fact that Carrick were given licence to timewaste at will at goal kicks and throws. Roy Carroll would get booked in injury time for taking too long at a goal kick, the second time this season that it has happened. I can barely remember an opposition goalkeeper getting booked against Linfield this season.

If these rules are to be enforced, I’ve no problem with that, as long as it’s enforced consistently. If they are, it will be of no detriment to Linfield. If anything, it will be to our benefit, as most weeks we will be facing opponents who have had their Goalkeeper sent-off for two yellow cards.

Carroll almost gifted Carrick the lead when he passed a clearance to a Carrick Striker, but was able to recover the situation. Carrick fans were celebrating when a cross went over Carroll and hit the back of the netting, promting those at the opposite end to mistakingly believe it had hit the back of the net. Scundered for ye.

More Linfield pressure followed, with Josh Robinson heading against the side netting, to no cheers from fans at the opposite end of the ground.

It was clear that Linfield were crying out for subs to be introduced, especially with players such as Ryan Strain and Stephen Fallon ready to be introduce. They didn’t come, and neither did the Linfield goal.

Bad finishing or bad luck, the ball was staying out of the Carrick net. It was looking set to be a frustrating and costly 0-0 draw.

Eventually, Ryan Strain was introduced for Kirk Millar. Surprising to me, as Fallon would have been the obvious replacement if taking Millar off. It was a change that would work.

Strain was able to create space on the left, and cross to an unmarked Kurtis Byrne, who volleyed home from close range. It was a moment of quality not in keeping with the overall game. It didn’t matter, Linfield had the lead with 10 minutes to go.

They weren’t just going to sit on it, they went for a second but couldn’t get it. They didn’t need it, Carrick never looked like they were going to respond.

It was a win that saw Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th, with a trip to Warrenpoint coming up on Saturday, in the first game at the newly renamed Q Radio Arena. Yep, The Q Radio Arena.

Coleraine and Crusaders have winnable fixtures but Glenavon face Cliftonville, meaning that if we win, we’ll get closer to Glenavon or pull further away from Cliftonville. Small steps.

While we were making use of not having a game on New Year’s Day, we were all acting like proud parents (with a dash of envy) as Paul Smyth scored the winner for QPR against Cardiff, being interviewed by Colin Murray on Channel 5’s highlights programme that night, and then being the cover star of the following Saturday’s QPR matchday programme.

Anybody who has watched Linfield the last three years isn’t one bit shocked. We’ll be seeing him at Windsor Park again soon, but it will be in a green shirt. Thankfully, not for Glentoran on St Patrick’s Day.

That programme he was a cover star for was an FA Cup defeat. I’m in London on the FA Cup 4th Round weekend.

There’s not a lot of choice matches wise : Millwall v Rochdale or Leyton Orient v Aldershot in the National League.

I’ve been to Leyton Orient before, four years ago when they were chasing promotion to The Championship. Now, they are trying to avoid relegation to National League South. I’m probably banned for jinxing them.

The draw for the Irish Cup sees Linfield at home to Newry. It would have been more appealing as a spectator if we were away. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010.

Can’t say I miss the traffic in Newry City Centre. Hopefully, a Linfield win at Warrenpoint will make that experience more bearable on Saturday teatime.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August began for me at Wilgar Park, seeing Linfield take on Dundela in a Friendly.

The following night, was another Pre-Season Friendly, as I was on the road to see Manchester United take on Sampdoria at Lansdowne Road.

That weekend, I was travelling some more, heading to Edinburgh for a weekend away, getting some Street Art photos and taking in Edinburgh City v Montrose.

When I returned home, I was out getting some Street Art photos, the aftermath of Hit The East Festival in Eats Belfast.

The following weekend, the Irish League season started, with Linfield taking on Carrick Rangers at Windsor Park, followed by a midweek trip to Ards and a trip to Dungannon Swifts.

As soon as the final whistle blew at Stangmore Park, I was straight back to Belfast to see Amy MacDonald perform at Custom House Square.

A few days later, I was back at Custom House Square to see Blossoms warm up for Kasabian, or so I thought, as Kasabian pulled out at the last minute.

A few days after that, I was back at Custom House Square, to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My photo adventures for August ended by getting snaps of murals of Jimmy Cricket, Jimmy Nesbitt, Jimmy Young and Carl Cox.

Dundela v Linfield

Manchester United v Sampdoria

Manchester United v Sampdoria Photo Album

Edinburgh Street Art

Edinburgh Street Art Photo Album

Edinburgh City v Montrose

Edinburgh City v Montrose Photo Album

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Amy MacDonald live at Custom House Square

Amy MacDonald live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Blossoms live at Custom House Square

Blossoms live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Ocean Colour Scene live at Custom House Square

Ocean Colour Scene live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

The Three Jimmys and Carl Cox

The Three Jimmys Photo Album

Carl Cox Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2017 began for me in Manchester, heading over to see United take on Hull City, while also getting some Street Art photos.

Back in Northern Ireland, I was on the road to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute in the Irish Cup.

The next day, I was out on my bike for my biannual (usually February and August) visit to Belfast Peace Wall to get some photos of the Wall Art on the walls.

The following Saturday, another road trip, to Carrickfergus to see Linfield at Taylor’s Avenue

The following weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield, and a disappointing draw against Portadown.

The morning after, I was out on my bike to get photos of a Jamie Dornan mural in Belfast City Centre.

Later that day, it was another cup final, the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena and Carrick.

The following weekend, I was Oval bound to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Be My Valentine

Be My Valentine Photo Album

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 12.8.2017

After Crusaders win on Friday night, Linfield were already playing catch-up as they kicked-off their opening match of the season, just as they did for 37 out of 38 matches last season.

As Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park, they would face a Linfield side with five changes from their last domestic game, last season’s Irish Cup Final due to injury (Waterworth, Callacher, Clarke) and suspension (Burns, Lowry)

A team who usually struggles on the opening day, with five players missing and facing a team with ten men behind the ball. This had the potential of being a difficult afternoon for Linfield.

While Carrick were winning a lot of headers in the air, Linfield found other routes to get at their goal with low crosses, short corners and balls on the ground. Carrick could handle it, and it looked like a goal was coming.

Niall Quinn had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart fired over, before a low Niall Quinn shot hit the back of the net to put Linfield 1-0 up.

With only 15 minutes on the clock, it was the early goal Linfield needed to avoid getting frustrated.

Andrew Mitchell fired over as Linfield looked for a second goal, while a Jamie Mulgrew cross agonisingly evaded both Paul Smyth and Jordan Stewart when just a touch would have delivered a goal.

As half-time approached, Linfield got a second goal when Kirk Millar headed home from a Niall Quinn cross. That was surely the three points secured.

The second-half was attack against defence again, as Linfield aimed for a 3rd goal that would kill off the game, even though Carrick’s lack of attacking threat so far suggested that 2-0 would be enough.

Robert Garrett and Mark Stafford both had unsuccessful attempts at goal. Stafford was later substituted for Josh Robinson, denying him the opportunity to score against Carrick for the forth successive home game against them.

Linfield looked like getting that 3rd goal when Jordan Stewart won a penalty.

With Lowry, Burns and Waterworth not playing, there was no obvious taker. Paul Smyth had missed the only one he had taken.

Jordan Stewart stepped up and missed it, Carrick’s keeper gathering the ball on the line when it looked like he might accidentally score an own goal.

It was Linfield’s seventh penalty in their last thirteen matches, four of which have been missed. That stat doesn’t include the ridiculous penalty shoot-out against Glentoran in late July.

It didn’t matter as Linfield cruised to a 2-0 win. Carrick had so few attacks, we didn’t get to hear Roy Carroll shout “GET OUT!! GET OUT!!!”

The only disappointment was that Linfield couldn’t get more goals, a four goal win would have put them top. However, Linfield fans will know from last season that being top at the end of matchday 38 is all that matters.

Up next, a trip to Ards.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December 2016 began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and record a routine 3-0 win.

The following weekend, was a trip to Clandeboye Park, Linfield’s first competitive game there since February 2009, a routine 2-0 win over Ards.

The games got harder and more dramatic, with a late win over Ballymena United coming the following weekend, ruining David Jeffrey’s first return to Windsor Park.

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday in 2016, it meant that the Steel and Sons Cup Final was held on Christmas Eve, which I attended. Even more of a bonus was the fact that Linfield Swifts were in it, beating Dundela 3-1 to win the trophy for the first time since 1997.

Two days later came the highlight of the Christmas footballing calendar, Boxing Day. It was a bit crap in comparison to the previous four years.

The month, and the year, ended on a high, with Linfield going to Seaview and getting a vital win in the title race.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield