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.