CLIFTONVILLE 1-1 LINFIELD 25.8.2018

With Matchday 4 being split across three games on Friday and three games on Saturday, Linfield fans expected to arrive at Solitude on Saturday afternoon with their side knocked off the top of the table on Friday night.

What may have surprised them was that it was Glenavon rather than Coleraine who led the table, with Coleraine missing the opportunity to do so with a 2-2 draw at home to Institute.

Linfield and Cliftonville had identical starts this season to what they had last season. Linfield with three wins and three clean sheets, while Cliftonville followed an opening day win with a defeat to Coleraine and a draw against a Bottom Six team.

Cliftonville’s start to 2018-2019 also mirrored 2017-2018 as Matchday 4 over the August Bank Holiday saw them welcome the dethroned champions, as Crusaders got a 2-1 win.

A similar result for Linfield would see them pull eight points clear of Cliftonville. Even at this early stage, it would be hard to see that being overturned.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had an unchanged team from the previous Saturday in North Belfast. There was no need to change anything.

The game began in a relatively subdued manner and atmosphere. That soon disappeared when Ryan Catney made a reckless tackles on Daniel Kearns and got away with a yellow card.

Yellow cards were plentiful for Cliftonville in the first-half. Cynical fouls with no intention of winning the ball, such as Garry Breen taking out Jamie Mulgrew (another foul for the counter, there will be a presentation for the player who commits the 5,000th foul on him, expected to be at some point this season).

The sort of fouls that frustratingly were yellow cards, even though you wanted more for them.

A well worked free-kick saw Andrew Waterworth go just wide, while Daniel Kearns thought he had played in Waterworth only for his pass to be intercepted. He probably should have shot at goal himself.

Not a lot was happening in the early minutes of the game, neither side having any real attempts at goal, but Linfield having more of the ball in the opposition half.

The game was to change just before the half hour when Jamie Mulgrew was sent-off after challenging for the ball with Jay Donnelly. A yellow card at worst, if there was to be a card. There is absolutely no doubt that the referee was influenced by Cliftonville players running to the scene of the foul, and it happening not far from the main stand where Cliftonville fans were housed.

He bottled it and allowed himself to be intimidated. One thing that Linfield could exploit was that so many Cliftonville players were on yellow cards, and could be targeted for second yellow. The only question was would the referee have the guts to issue that card.

The last time Linfield played Cliftonville, they had a first-half red card and went to pieces in the immediate aftermath, which ultimately cost them any chance of getting something from the game. Thankfully, that didn’t happen today. The knew they had to summon the spirit of Mourneview Park 2016.

Mulgrew became the fourth player to be sent-off at Solitude since 2013, joining Michael Gault, Robert Garrett and Sean Ward.

It could have been tempting to introduce Robert Garrett from the bench, but there was no need as Niall Quinn had started the season in centre midfield, so was able to slot in there.

Josh Robinson had a couple of headed chances as Linfield sought to make the most of any set pieces they had. The vast majority of set pieces were poor, often failing to beat the first man, or Linfield losing out on the second ball.

The half ended with Joe Gormley getting a yellow card for shoulder barging Roy Carroll as he held onto the ball. Carroll was targeted throughout at set pieces by Cliftonville players.

Linfield would have been glad to get in at half-time to take a breather. Despite only having ten men, at no point did they look like they were playing with ten men. They never looked like being troubled, but never really troubled Cliftonville.

They had promising situations, but just needed to get that pass right, or make that run on time.

This game was there for the winning.

Joel Cooper, already on a yellow card by this point, was lucky not to get a second yellow for a foul on Levi Ives in the Cliftonville penalty area. If he wasn’t already booked, he probably would have been booked there.

Michael O’Connor then came on for Andrew Waterworth, as Linfield searched for a winner.

On 73 minutes, Cliftonville took the lead when a throw-in bounced over Jimmy Callacher, and Linfield couldn’t get the ball off Jay Donnelly, who crossed for Joe Gormley to head home from close range. It was Cliftonville’s first chance of note in the game.

Callacher wasn’t the only Linfield player having problems on a very bouncy pitch. Every time a backpass went to Roy Carroll, you had your heart in the mouth as you didn’t know where the ball was going to go.

Linfield responded with an attacking substitution, Kirk Millar coming on for Matthew Clarke.

Despite only having ten men, it was Linfield who were outnumbering Levi Ives, with Millar, Kearns, Casement and Mitchell working opportunities down the right.

Kearns and Millar created space for Andrew Mitchell to cross right into the six yard box for Michael O’Connor to get a touch to divert the ball past Richard Brush.

It wasn’t a clean touch, but it was enough to go past the keeper, which is all that matters.

From where I was standing, I thought it was going just wide.

There was still time for either side to win the game.

Thankfully, Linfield had that extra bit of energy to see out Cliftonville’s attacks. They almost won it when Joel Cooper got in behind Cliftonville’s defence, shooting across Richard Brush, who saved it. If he parried it, Michael O’Connor would have had an open net to win the game for Linfield.

It finished 1-1, Linfield’s first dropped points, but it was Cliftonville who were left feeling that they dropped points, from two positions of strength, with a goal and a man advantage.

The draw sent Linfield back to the top of the League, one point clear of Glenavon. With three difficult away games against Top Six teams, you’ll take that, especially as they only managed two points from three games in 2009 and two points from four games in 2013 with similar starts.

Up next, is a League Cup tie at home to Moyola Park. I’ll be giving that a miss. If it was away though, i’d be all over that.

Next Saturday is the start of a new month, and my first visit to Windsor Park of the season for the match against Ards, with the mood more upbeat that the last time I headed to Windsor Park in April.

Ards is a must win game. Obviously, but especially when you look at upcoming fixture lists.

On Monday 3rd September, Matchday 5 will conclude with Crusaders watching Coleraine on Sky Sports. I may watch it if there isn’t a railway documentary on Channel 5.

One or both of them will drop points, Linfield have to win to take advantage of that.

On Matchday 5, Linfield travel to Warrenpoint while Crusaders and Coleraine are in Scottish Challenge Cup.

If Linfield can win those two games, they will pull away from at least one of their rivals.

And then in upcoming weeks after that, Glenavon will have to face Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville. More guaranteed points droppage for Linfield to take advantage.

Three points seperate 1st to 7th, there’s a traffic jam at the top of the League, led by Linfield. Long may that continue.

Thursday will see the draw for the Group Stages of the European Cup, and i’ll hope to take in one of United’s group games at home.

Hopefully, it will be a competition Linfield will be playing in during 2019-2020.

Photo Album

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PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2017-2018

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look back at the 2017-2018. The less said about what happened on the pitch, the better.

I took a lot of photos, so i’ve rounded up my favourites.

Feel free to vote for your favourite.

PLATT LANE

This was taken in June last year when The Oval was being used for filming a movie about Bert Trautmann, and was decorated to look like Maine Road. I went to get some photos.

I specifically wanted one with 1950s Maine Road and 2017 Oval both in the same shot, and this was my favourite from that day.

CLANDEBOYE

You have roadworks to thank for this photo.

I was held up heading to Ards v Linfield and missed the first couple of minutes.

This was the scene that greeted me as I entered, a crowd with their eyes fixated on the pitch on a warm summer evening.

GARRETT

I like the composition of this photo.

You may be surprised that Robert Garrett is attacking and not defending, he had just kept the ball in play and was now being surrounded by two Dungannon defenders.

PHOTOGRAPHER

I just like the composition of this shot. Taken during Spartans v Linfield in Scottish Challenge Cup.

RAINBOW

Me being arty farty. I love trying to get pictures of rainbows over football grounds. Taken at half-time during Ballinamallard v Linfield in November. A rare time that afternoon when it wasn’t raining.

HAUGHEY

Same match, everyone huddled in the stand to avoid the rain. I like the composition of this shot.

FLEGS

Taken during the Northern Ireland v Switzerland match in November, green and white flags were left out before the game for fans to wave. I decided to take a shot as they were being waved and got lucky.

CELEBRATION

Everything fell into place for this shot, the sky, a well worked goal, and the whole team coming together to celebrate.

GOAL

I like this shot because it captures the emotion of a last minute equaliser as part of a late comeback that never looked like coming.

TIPTON

I was heading to the exit for a quick getaway (in my defence, it was an away game on a weeknight) and stumbled upon this framing as Matthew Tipton looked on as Warrenpoint took on Linfield.

CAMPION

Taken during Cliftonville v Linfield in February, the guy in the red coat makes it makes it with his celebration as Linfield players celebrate in front of their fans.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April’s football watching began with a trip to Mourneview Park on Easter Tuesday to see Linfield grind out a 3-2 win away to Glenavon.

That was followed on the Saturday afterwards by going to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

Good start to the month, but that was as good as it got, as Linfield could only managed one point from their next three games against Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville, which would cause them to eventually miss out on European football.

There was only one match for me in May, a trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Watford.

And that, was the 2017-2018 over for me.

Here’s to more football and photos in 2018-2019.

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Watford

Manchester United v Watford Photo Album

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

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me with a midweek trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

That was followed four days later by Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

Two away games followed for Linfield on the following weekends, against Cliftonville and Ards, before finishing the month with a midweek home match against Glenavon.

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park, a place where I would spend four of the five Saturdays during the month, to see Linfield scrape a 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

Postponements would then frustrate my football watching, as Linfield’s trip to Carrick was postponed, as was the FA Cup Replay between Crewe Alexandra and Blackburn Rovers, which I had planned on attending.

The reason for this was that I was in North-West England to see Manchester United take on AFC Bournemouth, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

I then headed to Windsor Park on successive Saturdays to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville.

That was then followed by a Boxing Day trip to The Oval, the less said about that, the better.

After that, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Crusaders. The less said about that, the better.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Manchester Untied v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

September’s football watching began for me in Edinburgh, seeing Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup. That was followed two days later with World Cup action, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

After that, it was all about Irish League action, taking in Linfield’s matches against Glentoran, Crusaders, Ballinamallard and Cliftonville.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Cliftonville v Linfield

LINFIELD 1-2 CLIFTONVILLE 28.4.2018

Last week, I entered Windsor Park to the sound of Some Kind Of Bliss, it was a song title not in keeping with Linfield’s season.

This week, the song on the tannoy as I entered the ground was You’re In A Bad Way by Saint Etienne. Sadly, apt, but the season was still retrievable.

This was one of five games on the final day with something riding on it.

Linfield were in the hunt for 3rd place, that would guarantee automatic qualification to the UEFA Cup if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.

Linfield kicked-off one point behind Glenavon, but while Glenavon faced a side going for the title, Linfield were facing a team locked in 5th and looking forward to the Irish Cup Final. That was reflected in their starting eleven.

Linfield’s starting eleven had three changes from their last match. Mark Haughey was suspended and replaced by Joe Crowe and Josh Robinson was replaced by Stephen Lowry.

Goals from Achille Campion and Kurtis Byrne against Coleraine gave David Healy a selection headache with Andrew Waterworth returning from a one match ban.

On Monday morning, young Ryan Strain was injured in a car collision. I don’t know any more about that other than what was posted on the club’s website. Naturally, best wishes to him.

It’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but he played well against Coleraine, making his absence even worse for him. His place was taken by the returning Waterowrth.

Cliftonville’s starting eleven was full of a lot of unfamiliar names. The names that stood out were those not in it – Neeson, J Donnelly, R Donnelly, Gormley, Curran.

This was a match watched from the South Stand. The experiment of allowing Linfield fans to watch from the Railway Stand lasting only one match.

Inside the opening thirty seconds of the match, Linfield had their first promising attack when Achille Campion looked set to get behind Cliftonville’s defence but he just couldn’t get clear of his defender to have a shot.

A goalmouth scramble saw a Jimmy Callacher overhead be blocked by a Cliftonville defender. Shouts for handball by Linfield fans were ambitious.

It was a good positive start by Linfield, though that was something we’d heard before this season.

Cliftonville rode out that storm. Well, it wasn’t really a storm, more of an inconvenient breeze if you want to use a weather analogy, and began to have some attacking possession of their own. No clear opportunities, but Linfield forced into clearances, mostly caused by sloppily giving possession away.

It was being sloppy in possession that would cost Linfield, not a goal, but a player, as Robert Garrett was sent-off for a late tackle on Jude Winchester after miscontrolling the ball.

It was a tackle that he had no chance of winning and didn’t need to be made. It kept up his record of being sent-off every four years against Cliftonville after red cards in 2010 and 2014.

If you’re looking free money in 2022. you know what to bet on.

If Linfield were to play in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, Garrett would miss the Semi-Final, possibly the Final as well if Linfield get there. As it was his second red card this season, his ban will probably extend into next season.

With Josh Robinson starting a ban on Monday, i’m not sure how many games Andrew Mitchell has been banned for after his red card against Crusaders. With Jamie Mulgrew also injured since mid March, if Linfield do have to face a UEFA Cup Play-Off, they’ll have a crisis in terms of who to pick in midfield.

Discipline has been a serious issue for Linfield this season. In four out of five Post-Split matches, Linfield have had at least one, in some cases two, players suspended.

It’s blatantly obvious why that is not a good thing, key players missing in key games, as well as unnecessary disruption in terms of team selection.

You could see Cliftonville players get a boost from this, and Linfield heads go down. There was no rolling up the sleeves and getting on with it, like against Glenavon in November 2016.

With 80 minutes to go with ten men, it was always going to be tough. Linfield didn’t have to look back to November 2016 for inspiration in getting a result with ten men for most of the game, as Atletico Madrid held their own away to Arsenal with ten men for 80 minutes less just two days previously.

How apt, as you could say, as you could say that Cliftonville are the Arsenal of the Irish League. They have a soft centre and you always think they will drop points against lower ranked opponents. When they’re bad, they’re bad. When they’re good, they’re good. Over the next ten minutes, Linfield were to make Cliftonville look very good.

During that period, they went 2-0 up with goals from Jude Winchester and Daniel Reynolds. An already tough task had just got tougher for Linfield.

The only response that Linfield offered was a shot from Andrew Waterworth that went just wide after a pull back from Achille Campion.

You would have thought it was Cliftonville who needed the points to secure 3rd. It was frankly embarrassing from Linfield. This wasn’t even Cliftonville’s first choice team.

It wasn’t just Linfield who were being given the runaround by Cliftonville Reserves, so too was referee Keith Kennedy, who took no action as Clifonville timewsted at will.

The most embarrassing incident came when he stopped the game to allow a Cliftonville player to go into the concourse of The Kop to retrieve a ball that went out for a throw, even though a ballboy standing right beside him offered him an alternative ball.

You wouldn’t see a game being stopped like that in park football.

In truth, Linfield were thankful to be only 2-0 down at half-time.

Cliftonville fans had a more arduous afternoon walking to the Top Tier of the North Stand than their players were having on the pitch.

On the last game of last season, Linfield trailed Cliftonville at half-time. Back then, it was never in doubt that Linfield would come back and win the game, despite how bad they had played in the first-half.

Today, nobody had that belief.

You would have expected a Linfield response in the opening minutes of the second-half. Like most of the season, expectations were not met.

In fact, it was Cliftonville who looked most likely to score, with Conor McDonald firing a long range shot wide, while Ross Lavery had a low shot saved by Roy Carroll, while Carroll had to save a header from Stephen Garrett that looked like it was going to loop in.

Linfield’s response? Erm …….

By now, Stephen Fallon and Louis Rooney had come on for Joe Crowe and Achille Campion.

Out of nowhere, Linfield got a goal back, a header by Jimmy Callacher on 74 minutes. There was only half hearted celebrations from Linfield fans.

That suggested it was just a consolation rather than the start of a fightback.

Mark Stafford had a shot blocked on the line before having a goal disallowed for a foul on Cliftonville’s goalkeeper. It was a soft decision.

Linfield never looking like making it 2-2 to make the disallowed goal an issue.

Cliftonville held out and won the game 2-1.

It was another game that emphasised how badly Linfield miss Jamie Mulgrew when he doesn’t play. There was nobody to keep spirits up after the red card. There was nobody driving the team forward when they needed a goal.

When he gets the ball, you feel like something will happen. That’s why he gets fouled so much. Teams are scared of what he can do when he gets the ball.

There is nobody on the squad who can do what he does. He’s not getting any younger. It’s an issues that will have to be addressed on a long-term and short-term basis.

The result condemned Linfield to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs alongside Ballymena United and Glentoran. The final place will be Cliftonville (If Coleraine win the Irish Cup) or Glenavon (If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup)

It really should have been Linfield hanging on the result of the Irish Cup Final. They only have themselves to blame. Six points dropped against Glentoran, Ballinamallard United and Coleraine cost Linfield, as did the surrender at Seaview two weeks ago.

And that was just the last six weeks.

If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Glentoran while Cliftonville will be at home to Ballymena United.

If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Ballymena United while Glenavon will be at home to Glentoran.

Hear me out, but i’m leaning towards a Cliftonville win in the Irish Cup Final next week.

Mainly because the dates of the games don’t suit me.

The Semi-Finals will be on Wednesday 9th May. I’ve got a ticket for Noel Gallagher at The Odyssey that night. If we’re playing Glentoran, I may be stupid enough to sell my ticket for Noel.

The Final is Saturday 12th May. I’ll be going to Manchester that day for Manchester United v Watford.

It’s my own fault for suggesting last year that the Final should be on a Saturday rather than a Friday, as it was last year.

However, it is still out of order for NIFL to arrange fixtures without consulting my social diary first.

Can’t say i’m feeling optimistic about the Play-Offs. Can’t say any of the following scenarios seem appealing:

Linfield 0-0 Ballymena United (0-1 on penalties)
Linfield 1-2 Glentoran AET
Glenavon 1 (Joel Cooper 90+3) Linfield 0

If Linfield aren’t going into the Play-Offs in great shape, it’s some consolation that neither are any of the other teams. Here’s the form

Glenavon : 1 win in 10 games
Linfield : 0 wins in 3, 6 goals conceded in 3 games
Cliftonville : 1 win in 5 games
Ballymena United : 0 wins and 1 goal in 5 games
Glentoran : 3 defeats in 4 games

The Play-Offs are a farce. It’s a reward for mediocrity. It’s equivalent to the team that finishes 17th in The Championship having an opportunity for promotion to the Premier League.

Check my archive, my view has been consistent on this, even though Linfield would be potentially benefitting from this if Cliftonville win the Irish Cup.

I had the choice of going to United v Arsenal or United v Watford. I’m beginning to think I should have given this game a miss and gone to Old Trafford instead.

If you care about results elsewhere, Crusaders won the League. A victory for hoofball and thuggery. There are too many teams in the League who are scared of Crusaders. Shamefully, Linfield are one of those teams. I thought that nonsense was put to bed in 2016-2017.

On the plus side, they have a lot of players in or approaching their 30s, so it will be fun over the next few years watching them struggle when they all hit a brick wall at the same time.

Ballinamallard got relegated. I do enjoy travelling to Ballinamallard, especially the Retro/Vintage Store in the town. Can’t say I feel too sorry for the tramp that operates the turnstiles who smokes away as you enter the ground.

Carrick Rangers will play Newry City in a Play-Off. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010, so i’m long overdue a visit.

In other Play-Offs, Cover Rangers beat Spartans 4-0 in the SPFL Play-Offs, meaning that there won’t be a new Edinburgh team in the SPFL, so i’ll just have a choice of three teams when I visit Edinburgh in August.

I’ll miss most of the Irish Cup Final as i’ll be going to see David Hepworth at CQAF. I wish I was having a vested interest in that game. Or even, better, going to that game to see Linfield play.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 CLIFTONVILLE 14.3.2018

It’s not often that people are jealous of Loughgall fans, but that was the case on Tuesday night, as they put their feet up while six other teams battled to join them in the Irish Cup Semi-Finals.

Two of sides were Linfield and Cliftonville. Side by side in League mediocrity, it was perhaps inevitable they would be paired together in the Irish Cup at some point, especially having avoided their annual (paired together eight times in the previous ten seasons) County Antrim Shield meeting this season.

Quarter-Finals against Cliftonville had been historically good for Linfield. The three previous meetings at this stage (1992, 1994, 2016) had seen Linfield wins en route to the Final.

Both sides had reason to be optimistic. Linfield had beaten Cliftonville in the League the previous month, while Cliftonville had beaten Crusaders inside sixteen minutes the previous Saturday. The truth was, neither result was relevant. This was a standalone match.

It was Linfield who were straight on the attack, the ball mostly in Cliftonville’s half, the first opportunity came when Kirk Millar’s header looked to be looping in, to everyone’s surprise, only for Cliftonville keeper Brian Neeson to save at the cost of a corner.

Within a few minutes, Cliftonville had their first attack when an inswinging free-kick was punched clear by Linfield’s teenage goalkeeper Alex Moore. It was, as pundits like to say, a good touch for the young keeper.

I’m old enough to remember the closest Linfield match to a current player being born. In the case of Alex Moore, he was born two days before a 4-1 win away to Crusaders. I was at that match. Tommy McDonald scored a screamer.

Not that Moore had lacked big match experience, having played in a Steel and Sons Cup Final, and made his first-team debut at The Oval.

The only shaky moment during the game for him was a sliced clearance that conceded a corner, though it looked to me (I was at the other end) that the defender who passed it back to him and out him under pressure had more questions to answer.

Moore was playing because if an injury to Gareth Deane, who himself was thrown into an Irish Cup Quarter-Final against Cliftonville in 2016.

That’s the second time that Deane has suffered an injury just as he looked set for an extended run in the team. That really is rotten luck.

Cliftonville looked nervous in the opening moments, conceding cheap throws in their own half under no pressure. The opportunity was there for Linfield to capitalise.

Kurtis Byrne was involved in most of Linfield’s attacking play, in creation and being on the end of, having a header saved before being found in space only to see his first time shot saved.

Mark Stafford was next to try his luck, having a header saved, before heading off the bar from a corner. Sandwiched inbetween those was a shot from Mark Haughey (after an advantage played by Arnold Hunter. You read that right, praise for Arnold Hunter) which brought about the corner for Stafford to hit the bar.

Byrne then had a header saved on the line by Neeson, as Linfield failed to get the goal their dominance deserved.

0-0 at half-time but no reason to panic. Same performance again, and Linfield would win.

We didn’t get the same performance from Linfield in the second-half. It was a scrappy affair, but Cliftonville were spending more time in Linfield’s half than they did in the first-half.

It took them until just after the hour to have a chance, Garry Breen heading wide from a free header. It was a warning for Linfield.

Cliftonville were now having their best spell of the game and Linfield were now struggling.

There are two main criticisms of David Healy throughout his reign as Linfield manager so far. One is that he goes too defensive too quickly when holding onto a narrow lead, and the other is that he is reactive rather than proactive with his substitutions when the game is in the balance.

Far too often players have been brought on in response to an opposition goal, rather than to get the goal that Linfield need.

With seven subs allowed in the Irish Cup, the options were there. Mitchell or Lowry for Garrett. Fallon for one of the wide players. Rooney or Strain for Campion. It was obvious that Linfield were crying out for fresh blood.

Eventually, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garret. The score was still 0-0, but the change should have been made a lot earlier.

Lowry almost put Linfield in front when he tried to force the ball home after a Niall Quinn header was saved, only the hit the post.

In a game where it looked like there would be only one goal, Linfield had thrown away another opportunity to get it.

It was as if they were doing their own Ken Dodd tribute when they went forward, The Dithermen.

Minutes later, it was Cliftonville who got it when Joe Gormley was played through and made no mistake. There was only one outcome as soon as he got the ball, and it looked like being only one outcome of the match once the ball hit the back of the net.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Louis Rooney and Ryan Strain for Matthew Clarke and Achille Campion. Already hampered by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury, when Linfield needed a goal, they were relying on a young player yet to score, and a striker low on confidence who hasn’t scored since September.

The chances that were plentiful at 0-0 had now dried up at 0-1. Linfield didn’t take them when they were there, and were made to pay for it.

For all their possession in the final ten minutes, Linfield never looked like equalising. There was one monent that summed it up.

A Cliftonville clearance in injury time went into Linfield’s half and a Linfield defender waited for the ball to come to him, rather than going to the ball and starting another attack. Those few second gave Cliftonville enough time to reorganise their shape and defend the situation. It’s the little things that can make such a big difference.

It was a feast of chances but a famine of goals. A whole season summed up in a match.

It got worse when the draw was made. As Jim Bowen would say, here’s what you could have won – a Semi-Final against Loughgall while Coleraine face Larne in the other Semi-Final.

This result is going to get a lot worse when Cliftonville capitulate to Coleraine in the Final. That’s if they don’t lose to Loughgall.

Cliftonville fans who believe in omens may be cheered by the fact that six of the last seven teams to beat Crusaders in the Irish Cup have gone on to win the trophy. The only one not to though, was Cliftonville in 2013.

Cheering on Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final is something we may have to do if we want to qualify automatically for Europe and avoid the farce of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, though part of me is hoping we finish 5th and win the UEFA Cup Play-Offs purely to laugh at the amount of pantwetting from opposition fans.

To be honest though, I prefer opposition fans to be pantwetting when we win the League.

If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, 3rd place will secure automatic entry to the UEFA Cup. Linfield are only four points off Glenavon, who hold that spot.

They are catchable. To do that, we’ll have to do something we haven’t done since August/ earlySeptember – Go on a winning run.

Elsewhere, three countries have applied to host the UEFA Nations League in June 2019. Portugal and Poland have recently hosted European Championships, which may let Italy in, while all three have hosted European club finals in the last five years.

I’ll keep an eye on that to see if it’s affordable and travelable whoever hosts it.

Next on my footballing agenda is Glentoran’s visit to Windsor Park on Saturday, as David Healy faces the only Irish League manager he hasn’t beaten as Linfield manager in the shape of Ronnie McFall.

McFall’s last visit to Windsor Park was in 2015 to a half built stadium to face a Linfield team managed by Warren Feeney, with Guy Bates pulling the strings. It really feels like a different century.

Hopefully, Glentoran fans will be keeping up one St Patrick’s Day tradition at Windsor Park on Saturday …… of people dressed in green feeling a bit sick at 5pm.

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CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 17.2.2018

It was a far different scenario than when Linfield made their second visit of the season to Solitude last season.

Of course, as you will remember, that game in April 2017 saw Linfield needing three points to secure the title. This time around, the three points were needed to put pressure on Glenavon in the race for 3rd, while a defeat would see them drop to 5th.

As recently as last Saturday, Linfield fans didn’t know if or when this match was going to take place. I’ll be touching on that later.

I headed to my usual spot for lunch when I go to Solitude. Every time I go there, we win. Well, apart from the last time I visited Solitude. I’m blaming it on my trip to The Co-Op afterwards to get a banana for jinxing us.

It definitely wasn’t us playing defensively and trying to hold onto a lead and giving the initiative to Cliftonville.

I had to take a carry-out lunch as there were two Linfield players (not in the matchday squad) hogging a table. Shameful behaviour that brings the game into disrepute. Okay, it’s not quite stealing a taxi, but still.

Linfield got off to a good start, putting Cliftonville on the back foot, with Andrew Waterworth flicking the ball over a defender only to see his shot saved. Kurtis Byrne then had instinctive close range shot saved.

Jay Donnelly then had Cliftonville’s first shot, but it was easily saved.

Achille Campion, recalled to the starting eleven, was involved in most of Linfield’s attacks, making life uncomfortable for Cliftonville’s defenders, as was Niall Quinn, with most of Linfield’s attacks coming down their left.

Campion fired over from inside the penalty area after the ball came to him after a Kirk Millar shot was blocked.

Gareth Deane was then forced into his first real save when he made himself big to deny Chris Curran after the ball fell to him.

Cliftonville were then denied when Jamie Harney hit the bar after a header from a free-kick.

Both sides had reason to feel aggrieved that it was still 0-0.

It was becoming clear that this was a game where the first goal would be vital. Five minutes before the break, Linfield got it when a Kirk Millar corner was headed home by Jimmy Callacher

It was the second time he has scored for Linfield at Solitude, having scored there, and at the same end in March 2016.

Paul Smyth made it 2-0 and secured the points that day. He did the same yesterday, but unfortunateley for Linfield fans, it was at Loftus Road, setting up Matt Smith to give QPR a 2-0 win over Bolton.

The opening minutes of the second-half saw some desperate defending from Linfield, with Mark Stafford blocking a shot on the line, and then blocking a shot from outside the box.

Kurtis Byrne then had a shot saved by Brian Neeson as Linfield looked for the second goal that they needed.

Byrne then made way soon afterwards, replaced by Ryan Strain.

At the same time, Cliftonville made a change, bringing on Rory Donnelly for Joe Gormley, the second successive match against Linfield that Gormley had been substituted just after the hour mark.

With fifteen minutes to go, Linfield got the two goal lead they needed when a Niall Quinn free-kick went in. It wasn’t Quinn who scored it, somebody got a touch to put the ball in. Who? That is up for debate.

I was stood to the left of the goal and thought it was headed in by Achille Campion. He celebrated like he scored it. Some media outlets have given the goal as a Tomas Cosgrove own goal. The TV footage is inconclusive.

It will probably go to the Dubious Goals Committe, which in the Irish League is if the attacking player shouts loud enough for it to be awarded to him.

What’s the French for “Oi! That’s my goal?”

2-0 up and coasting, Linfield fans started taking the piss out of Cliftonville goalkeeper Brian Neeson. He responded by offering one of them out, and it wasn’t for a date.

He even managed to do his own Conor Devlin tribute by booting the ball away (like for his red card in the Irish Cup tie in 2016) as Linfield had a corner. He managed to get a yellow card.

It was hilarious to see a goalkeeper getting so wound up and distracted so easily. This is something our players should be looking to exploit in two weeks time. It’s a pity we won’t have fans in the Railway End for that game.

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, Cliftonville pulled a goal back on 81 minutes from a low Jay Donnelly shot. It looked a goalkeeping mistake from where I was stood. On looking at the TV replay, it looks like a small deflection off a Linfield player which took the ball over Deane.

Gareth Deane has made some errors earlier in the season but there’s been absolutely no complaints about his performances since he came into the team against Coleraine in late January. Don’t forget, he made a vital save from Chris Curran when the score was 0-0.

The goal also ruined his own personal record against Cliftonville. Prior to this game, he had faced them three times, won every match (by an aggregate of 10-0) and obviously kept three clean sheets.

Four clean sheets in a row was gone, but he was still on course for four wins out of four.

It was around this point in the game that Cliftonville began their comeback in September.

At that game, you could feel a bad vibe at what was going to happen next.

At this game, it was more of an inconvenience.

Cliftonville fired a lot of crosses in, but that it what Linfield had to deal with. Both of their Donnellys had headers, but they went well wide of goal. Gareth Deane wasn’t troubled, and neither were Linfield.

Special mention to new signing Joe Crowe who was solid and reliable and kept it simple. He already looks like a decent acquisition to the squad.

However, David Healy appeared not to learn the lessons of September by bringing on Josh Robinson for Achille Campion. You could argue that Andrew Mitchell would have been a better choice. The real answer was, Stephen Fallon or Brandon Adams. Going defensive to hold on to a lead doesn’t work. It’s bitten us on the arse too many times in recent seasons.

Linfield were able to see the game out and get the win. There was no real danger of points being dropped, as Cliftonville couldn’t get hold of the ball in injury time.

Thankfully. Having been at the Ulster match the night before, I wasn’t in the mood for last minute heartbreak on two successive days.

This match was originally scheduled for the Friday night but was played on the Saturday afternoon. The confusion regarding arrangements for this game has been utterly farcical.

When the fixture list is done in June, the games I look out for are International Weekends and the NIFL Cup Final for possible postponements. The further that Cliftonville advanced in the competition, the more this game was in doubt.

Linfield also had another motive for monitoring Cliftonville’s cup progress as we could have used any potential free weekend to play their oustanding (Postponed from 7th October due to International Call-Ups and also Linfield playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup) League match against Glenavon.

Cliftonville’s NIFL Cup Semi-Final against Ballymena United was postponed three times. That was unfortunate. The fact they were having the third go just ten days before the Final was stupidity on behalf of NIFL.

There were three spare midweeks between week commencing 10th December and week commencing 5th February that weren’t used.

I can understand clubs being reluctant to play on week commencing 17th December as it led into two successive Saturday-Tuesday double headers.

There was a free midweek on week commencing 8th January. Clubs might have been reluctant to play that midweek having played Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, but Linfield played Carrick Rangers on Tuesday 9th January.

If it was good enough for Linfield and Carrick Rangers, it should have been good enough for Cliftonville and Ballymena United.

The third midweek not used was week commencing 29th January.

On Monday 29th January, Cliftonville played Glenavon in a game that was broadcast on Sky Sports, having been postponed on it’s original date of Saturday 9th December 2017.

It is worth noting that Cliftonville v Glenavon on Saturday 9th December was not to have been broadcast on Sky Sports.

Sky Sports schedule their Irish League games on either International Weeks, Midweek Premier League Fixture Lists, European Weeks or FA Cup Weekends as their have no games to show, or don’t have the rights to broadcast games.

We are now in peak season in terms of knockout European football. There are plenty of midweeks in the next month where Cliftonville v Glenavon could have been scheduled for broadcast.

Why was a competition that is timebound for late March (So that 33 games can be played before the split) given priority over a competition that is timebound to be completed for mid February?

Why was Ballymena United v Cliftonville not scheduled for week commencing 29th January 2018 just as Dungannon Swifts v Crusaders was?

The knock on effect was that Linfield fans didn’t know if their team would be playing until 5pm last Saturday.

It wasn’t just any normal game. It is a game where we have to buy tickets and be bussed in. This all had to be arranged in a week.

Linfield fans were expected to purchase tickets during the working week. Thankfully, the club was open late on Tuesday evening for supporters. I was able to take advantage of this but others might not be able to.

The club deserves credit for making this option available to fans.

Linfield fans have all sorts of lifestyles and arrangements and should be given more than one week’s notice as to wether a match is on or off, and what day of the week it is taking place on, so that they can make arrangements to go to the game if they wish, and if they have anything that needs arranged in order for them to do so.

Ballymena United v Cliftonville being postponed three times was unlucky, but the point stands that three spare midweeks were not used to schedule this game into. Linfield fans have been inconvenience by utter incompetence by fixture schedulers.

As a result of Ballymena United v Cliftonville being played last Saturday, Cliftonville’s League game against Warrenpoint Town was postponed to Tuesday, and Cliftonville and Warrenpoint’s Friday games were put back to Saturday, presumably, to allow for more recovery time.

If I was Glentoran and Ards, i’d be asking questions as to why they were expected to play Tuesday and Friday, but other clubs were allowed to play Tuesday and Friday.

Upon heading home from this game, I watched the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts on Sky Sports. Well, flicking between that and the United match on BT Sport.

I was tempted to go to the NIFL Cup Final as a neutral but I was never going to make it from Solitude in time.

I’ve already said in a previous blog that Windsor Park was a poor choice for the Final due to it being too big. It was a lazy choice because they were backed into a corner because they had to choose a venue without knowing who the finalists are.

It was even more hilarious that the link for tickets was being advertised on my Social Media feeds, despite the fact that my own team was playing earlier that day.

Now it has been established (Well, it was established in 2012 when two League games were played at the same time as the Final) that League games can be played on the same day as the League Cup Final, hopefully, this will put an end to Friday night games on this weekend in future years.

Regular readers will know that I go to Edinburgh every August for the Festival, but I also like to take in a match while i’m there.

Last August, I went to see Edinburgh City.

They currently groundshare with Spartans due to the redevelopment of Meadowbank Stadium, which now won’t meet SPFL criteria. I’ll be monitoring this one. Hopefully, it all gets resolved.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Ards followed by a home double header against Glenavon and then Cliftonville in the Irish Cup.

So that’s the short-term goal for Linfield. Win the next three games and we’ll be (at worst) level with Glenavon and into the Semi-Finals of the Irish Cup.

Linfield’s season began to go awry after the visit to Solitude in September. Hopefully, it will get on course for a strong finish after the visit in February.

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