CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 13.1.2020

After five games in fourteen days over the Christmas/New Year period, a nine day break allowed Linfield to get the benefit of the Three Rs ahead of the second half of the season as they looked to win back to back titles – Rested, Refreshed and Ready.

You could add a fourth R to that list – Reds Beaten Again.

To say that the Christmas/New Year period did not go well for Linfield is a bit of an understatement, as they looked to bounce back from their Irish Cup defeat to Queen’s University, the biggest shock in Irish League Football since Liam Beckett started up an ASMR Channel.

Bizarrely, Cliftonville would have been perfect opponents for Linfield on the back of the game against Queens, having beaten twice after cup exits, in September after exiting the UEFA Cup and then in December after going out of the NIFL Cup.

Now, Linfield need to invent a cup competition that they can go out of just before they play Cliftonville in April.

Linfield’s run of results over Christmas/New Year showed how quickly fortunes can change in football. After victory at Warrenpoint, taking advantage of draws from Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders to pull clear at the top. The title was in the bag and the open top bus was ordered.

Three weeks later, Linfield were in crisis.

Yet on Sunday afternoon a Tweet of the recent form in the Irish League made for interesting reading. Linfield sat 4th in the Form Guide, over the last ten games, just two points behind in-form Cliftonville and only four less points than unstoppable Glentoran, both of whom only managed one more win that crisis club Linfield in that period.

There have been times in recent years where Cliftonville have went on winning runs, but that has been as a result of a generous run of games. Their current winning run of four League games saw wins over Coleraine, Crusaders and Larne, a statement of intent that they believe they can win big games.

A win over the reigning Champions, who they lost to in their last five meetings, would be the biggest statement, even though all the post match coverage would be of the continuing crisis at Windsor Park

It wasn’t quite a must win game, but it definitely was a must not lose game for Linfield. Defeat wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it wasn’t a conversation they wanted to be having.

Two televised games meant that this matchday would be staggered across four days.

Friday night saw Coleraine take on Crusaders on BBC Two. Whatever happened, at least one of Linfield’s rivals would be dropping points. A draw would have been perfect, but I could live with a Coleraine win if it meant Crusaders getting adrift. As it turned out, Crusaders won, but Linfield could live with it, as we could pull clear of Coleraine instead.

That defeat for Coleraine allowed Glentoran the opportunity to go top on Saturday afternoon.

If you find Saturday afternoons without a Linfield match to be unbearable, you had better get used to it, as a combination of cup exits and TV scheduling means that was the first of five Saturdays over the next eight weeks where Linfield would be inactive.

Glentoran took their opportunity to go top of the League with a 2-1 win over Warrenpoint. Just about. They were 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go when Warrenpoint’s keeper got sent-off, the third successive Saturday they’ve enjoyed a bit of luck (after goalkeeping error and then a dodgy penalty). I see those days are back.

Glentoran’s reign at the top would only last 48 hours, as the result of this match would see new leaders. Avoiding defeat would do the job for Cliftonville while only a win would do for Linfield.

Storm Brendan, it turned out, was not a Glentoran supporter. If he was, he would have got this match postponed to let them enjoy being at the top of the table for a little longer.

Other TV options on Monday fitted in nicely with this match. Getaways on BBC, which is what Linfield want to be doing in July and August, jetting off around Europe, ideally in the European Cup.

Cold Feet on ITV was what the crowd got, as they watched this match in chilly temperatures. Though, if you wanted to watch something that would make James Nesbitt grumpy, Coleraine’s defeat a few days earlier would have been a better option.

For me, this was my first night visit to Solitude. It meant a change to my pre-match superstitions.

Usually, I go to Papa Drew’s on Oldpark Road for lunch prior to a Saturday game, but it was closed. As was Cod Almighty a few shops down.

So, I had to make do with a Chinese. Not ideal. Though, if we won 10-0, it was have been Chinese all the way in future.

Despite Christmas being long gone, Linfield set up with a Christmas Tree, with a midfield three of Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Fallon and Andrew Mitchell being a midfield set up for a battle.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield had a bench with a lot of attacking options – Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin, Kirk Millar, Daniel Kearns and Bastien Hery being on call should they be needed.

It was Cliftonville who had the first shot with a Conor McMenamin shot from outside the box that was easily saved.

Ruaidhri Donnelly then headed against the bar. However, it was the top of the bar so it looked closer than it was. However, it was worrying that Cliftonville were winning headers in Linfield’s penalty area.

Linfield’s first real spell on the ball saw them get a penalty when Liam Bagnall handled a goalward shot.

Jordan Stewart looked as though he wanted to take the penalty, but it was left to Andrew Mitchell.

I was slightly worried when he stepped up as he was due a miss. Cliftonville fans were hoping that would be the case. They would be left disappointed as Mitchell put Linfield 1-0 up.

Cliftonville had the next attacking moment when a Joe Gormley cross went tantalisingly across the six yard box, but Ryan Curran couldn’t get on the end of it.

It was Gormley who made it 1-1 when Ethan Boyle was disposed and he ran through to score, despite protests for offside from Linfield.

It was Gormley’s first goal against Linfield since since November 2018. His record against us is bizarre. He either goes ages without a goal against us or scores in successive matches, so this is a bit ominous ahead of future games.

That goal seemed to make Linfield lose their discipline and shape, running about after the ball as if somebody had thrown a toy into a Dog Pound.

They were glad to get in at half-time at 1-1, to calm themselves down and go at it at half-time.

The half-time break saw a change for Linfield, with Mark Stafford coming on for the injured Mark Haughey.

The second-half saw a lot of early pressure, which got rewarded when Mark Stafford jabbed the ball home after a flick on from Ethan Boyle.

It wasn’t what he was brought into the team to do, but just like at Dungannon last season, it was a contribution that was welcomed. Just like at Dungannon last season, it was a goal that came when Linfield really needed it.

The goal came from an outswinging corner. It’s always good to have a bit of variety at corners instead of always going for an inswinger. That was probably due to them always being taking by a right sided player. It has been a bit surprising that neither Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper have taken corners in the absence of Niall Quinn.

You got the feel that if Linfield made it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

It looked like they were going to get it when Shayne Lavery burst clear after a defensive mistake, only to be denied by a save from Richard Brush, with the rebound going out for a corner after the ball went to wide to stick the rebound in.

Joe Gormley then left the pitch to ironic cheers from Linfield fans, as he made way for Michael McCrudden to make his debut for the club. It turned out that Gormley was injured, as it seemed odd that he would be substituted when they needed a goal most.

Linfield turned to their bench and freshened things up with a like for like change up front, with Kirk Millar coming on for Jordan Stewart.

Despite the narrow lead, Linfield were mostly comfortable and never really troubled in defence.

Jamie Mulgrew was having what I thought would be described as a silent influence on the game, the sort that goes unnoticed. However, a quick browse through Social Media proved me to be wrong, the general consensus that this was his best performance in a long time.

Every time Cliftonville got near or over the halfway line, they were usually to get the ball off Jamie Mulgrew within the next five seconds. Thou shalt not pass.

Not tonight lads, you’re not getting near our goal.

Despite holding out for most of the second-half at 2-1, it was only natural that Cliftonville would have more of the ball in the final minutes, as they had the greater need.

And so it proved, as Linfield had to survive a flurry of corners.

And penalty shouts. Well, you know what I mean. I’ve been to Solitude enough times to know that Cliftonville fans claim for everything when they attack their fans, it still makes you nervous.

That flurry of corners and possession would bring one big chance for Cliftonville, when a cross set up Aaron Donnelly perfectly for a header, but he made no contact with the ball.

Rohan Ferguson looked well positioned if he did, but Donnelly should have been asking the question.

As the ball went out, the clock hit 94 minutes. That was it, the game was gone. Rohan Ferguson completed the formalities, the final whistle blowing as soon as he took his goal kick.

At 2-1, Cliftonville looked short of ideas and self belief against a team they have struggled against in recent years. It was like watching this fixture between 2012 and 2016, but with the roles reversed.

If you like stats, here’s some for you.

This was Linfield’s 4th win in their last 5 games at Solitude, the other being a draw.

Since Cliftonville’s last title in 2014, Linfield have played 13 games at Solitude, winning 7 drawing 4 and losing just 2.

This was Linfield 6th successive League win over Cliftonville.

Most importantly, this was a result that saw Linfield go top of the League on goal difference ahead of Glentoran and Cliftonville.

If the result against Queen’s taught us anything, is that you can’t take any win for granted. However, upcoming games give Linfield an opportunity to go on a winning run and build momentum, putting pressure on the teams below us, as five of the next six games are against teams in the bottom half.

I didn’t want to say it at the time, but I was hoping that the free weekend in February could be used for a friendly away to a League Of Ireland side. No footballing value to it, I just wanted the prospect of a trip away somewhere to cheer me up.

Cork possibly, so I could lay flowers at the site where Billy Murphy fell and died and his brains were coming out of his mouth.

Derry City had similar ideas, with one paper running a story about a possible friendly between the sides after Declan Devine said they were trying to face an Irish League side that weekend.

It’s hardly an earth shattering revelation that League Of Ireland sides monitor the Irish Cup to see who is free in early February.

Such a game wouldn’t have been that appealing to me. I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, and I’ve already been to The Brandywell this season, so as a trip it didn’t offer me somewhere I hadn’t been before. As it turned out, Portadown got that honour.

As it turned out, Linfield are using that free Saturday to play midweek games around it. They’ve been a bit crafty about it. Other clubs have been happy to manipulate the fixture list for their own agendas, so why not Linfield?

We’ll be facing Larne on the back of games against Crusaders and Glentoran and just before their Irish Cup tie, which is what their season is about now. If they are the slightest bit tired or off focus, we must capitalise on it.

The following Tuesday, is Dungannon at home, with Dungannon coming off the back of an Irish Cup tie against Newry, which let’s be honest, has extra-time and penalties written all over it.

Midweek football is going to be quite frequent for me during January, as next week I head to Manchester to see United take on Burnley.

While i’m there on the Tuesday, Salford City face Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy, and FC United face Sheffield in the Integro Cup, the Northern Premier League’s version of the League Cup. Might take in one of those games.

Talking of football trips, the League Of Ireland First Division fixture list was announced and Bray won’t playing at home when i’m staying there during Euro 2020. I’ll have to make do with a Dublin game on the Monday night.

St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork is looking likely as Richmond Park is easier to get to, although it is tempting to get one last game at Dalymount Park, although I thought that when I visited it in 2016.

Coincidentally, government funding was announced this week for that redevelopment. I didn’t realise they had to wait for the Northern Ireland Assembly to get back together to release funding.

You’d think there was an election in the Republic of Ireland next month.

I’m still looking for somewhere to go over the July Holidays. I spent a miserable Sunday night looking for somewhere to go and got nothing. Estonia might night be happening.

Waterford might, it is very tempting. They play at home over that weekend too, against Cork. I know, what is it with this urge to see Cork City?

More immediate, is Linfield v Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, as part of a busy day where i’ll be going to see Badly Drawn Boy in the evening.

Hoping that the Linfield match can be described as Something To Talk About rather than a Silent Sigh or Pissing In The Wind.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December’s photo adventures had to wait a full seven days, when I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville.

A few days later, I headed to Ulster Hall for my final concert of the year, to see Primal Scream.

The following Saturday, I headed to Warrenpoint to see Linfield get a 2-0 win.

That was followed by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield draw 1-1 with Crusaders.

December so far hasn’t been that busy so far, but there’s still some photo adventures to come in the final week.

It’s unlikely that i’ll be at Seaview tomorrow for the Steel and Sons Cup Final, but i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day. As if i’d be anywhere else.

Boxing Day is the start of three busy days, as i’ll be heading to Ulster v Connacht the day after, and then Coleraine v Linfield the day after that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed by look back at my photo adventures in 2019. Of course, there’ll be more photo adventures in 2020.

In terms of concerts, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Blossoms and Badly Drawn Boy are already on the horizon.

Travelwise, Manchester and Bray are confirmed. I’m planning to walk up Bray Head. While in Bray, i’ll sneak in a trip to Dublin. I’m hoping to see a Euro 2020 game while i’m there, but i’ll definitely catch some League Of Ireland action.

May is the new date for Hit The North, so i’ll be photographing that, and any other Street Art I spot during the year.

And i’ll be crossing my fingers for some snow to photograph at some point because i’m a big kid.

Linfield v Cliftonville

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

2019 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

My first photo adventure of September 2019 was a trip to Solitude to see Linfield get a 1-0 win on their return to domestic competition after their European adventures the previous month.

That was then followed by a Windsor Park double header, taking in Northern Ireland v Germany and Linfield v Glentoran.

The day after that match saw me have an adventure, taking in some Street Art in Belfast, and Edwyn Collins doing an instore gig at Strange Victory.

My next adventure came the following Friday with Culture Night.

It was then two football matches, seeing Linfield get wins over Carrick Rangers and Glenavon.

The month ended with a trip to Yorkgate to check out a new mural.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Ulster Sports Club Street Art

Ulster Sports Club Street Art Photo Album

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory Photo Album

Culture Night

Culture Night Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Yorkgate Street Art

Yorkgate Street Art Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2019 began for me with a trip to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 1-0 to all but secure the Irish League title.

The next day, I made the most of a football free Saturday by heading to East Belfast to get some photos of some newly painted Street Art.

The following Saturday, I was back on the football trail, seeing Linfield secure the point they needed, against Crusaders, to become Champions.

The week after, came the trophy presentation, following a forgettable 4-0 defeat against Glenavon.

My last Linfield game of the season was a lot better, a 5-1 win over Cliftonville on Easter Tuesday.

April ended with a trip to Lisburn to Island Arts Centre for an art event where murals were painted live.

Ballymena United v Linfield

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Celebrations

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Presentations

Linfield v Cliftonville

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-0 CLIFTONVILLE 7.12.2019

It doesn’t quite make up for the fact i’ll be spending my birthday in Ballymena, but it’s a start.

Two trophies already gone, Linfield weren’t in the mood to let a third slip away. Defeat today wouldn’t have been a fatal blow in the title race, but it would be a setback Linfield could do without.

Kicking off in 4th, just two points off the top, every time Linfield have got close to the top, a defeat to a rival has seen them fall further away. With matches against the Top 5 before 2019 is over, this habit of losing big games was something that needed to be kicked. A new year’s resolution before the new year has started.

A win could see Linfield jump up to top spot, but that would need two results to go in their favour. That would be nice, but they needed to help themselves. If they did, they would be 3rd at least.

Today’s fixture list would guarantee a result going in Linfield’s favour as 2nd place Coleraine faced 5th place Glentoran. A draw would be perfect, but you could live with a winner, as you would pull closer to Coleraine, or further away from Glentoran.

That, would be on the condition of Linfield winning.

They would be playing a Cliftonville who have hit a slump in form in their last two games, a draw with Larne and a defeat to Glentoran. You could argue that it was not unexpected, as their winning run coincided with a run of games against Bottom 6 teams.

They were there for the taking, although the only teams that Glenavon and Coleraine have beaten recently have been Linfield. We don’t do well against teams who are on bad runs of form recently.

That was not the case against Cliftonville last season, with wins in November and December coming against a Cliftonville side who were on the back of successive defeats. Linfield were ruthless on those days. They had to be just as ruthless in this match.

There was an extra pressure on Linfield as I was going to this over the Ulster match. I usually do one of Ulster’s group matches, but they’ve all been arranged for the same time as Linfield matches. It was never going to be a contest, but I was hoping they would make it worth not considering the Rugby, unlike when I was at the Glenavon match a few weeks back.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw a return to four at the back, hallelujah, and a return to the starting eleven for Bastien Hery.

In the early minutes of the game, Linfield had a lot of the ball but couldn’t make much of it. Cliftonville looked like they were going to have the first chance of the game when Joe Gormley looked like he was getting in behind Linfield’s defence, only to be denied by a hooked clearance from Matthew Clarke, with Jimmy Callacher’s header back to Rohan Ferguson mopping up any danger.

It was a first-half dominated by overzealous refereeing, not playing advantages when a team was on the attack, or awarding free-kicks for the most minimal of physical contact.

Shayne Lavery’s presence in their defensive third was enough to cause concern for Cliftonville, especially at set pieces. On one such occasion, his presence in the six yard box caused Richard Brush to drop a cross, but was first to react to his own error, managing to grab the ball immediately.

It was Cliftonville who had the first clear opportunity on goal when Jimmy Callacher lost possession to Rory Donnelly, who ran through on goal. Thankfully, Josh Robinson was on the scene to put pressure on him, forcing him into a rushed shot which was saved by Rohan Ferguson.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield began to show themselves as an attacking force, being camped in Cliftonville’s half. A neat passing move saw a Kirk Millar cross just evade Joel Cooper as he set himself up for a bicycle kick.

By this point, Cooper and Millar had switched wings. Cooper was getting a lot of joy cutting inside and running with the ball, causing panic in Cliftonville’s defence.

Despite that, Linfield couldn’t get a goal before half-time.

As the teams left the pitch, fans were digesting scores from elsewhere, as Crusaders were drawing 0-0 with Ballymena United and Coleraine were 2-0 down to Glentoran. It was set up to be a great day for Glentoran. Linfield and Cliftonville knew that if the scores stayed as they were, a win would see them go top of the League.

The second-half began with more Linfield pressure, again being camped in Cliftonville’s half. The best moment came when Richard Brush missed a free-kick, but Jimmy Callacher headed onto the top of the bar.

On 56 minutes, Liam Bagnall got sent-off for a second yellow for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew as Linfield attacked, with no advantage played as the ball broke to a Linfield player and a promising attack was about to start.

Linfield fans had sensed the game was now swinging in their favour. Cliftonville had been struggling to get out of their half and a Linfield goal looked inevitable. Now they had to push on and show no mercy.

The pressure continued, and eventually a goal, when a cross was missed by Brush, and fell perfectly for Chris Casement, the ball hitting him and going in, a replica of Josh Robinson’s goal against Larne the previous week.

Brush had a few hairy moments, no pun intended, from crosses during the game, especially in crowded penalty areas, and Linfield made one of them count.

Just like when Conor Devlin struggled with the presence of Mark Stafford last week, Linfield saw a weakness and ruthlessly exploited it. They had also made their extra man count.

Linfield needed a second goal, just to be sure. Matthew Clarke had a low shot blocked and Bastien Hery hit the post as Linfield went in search of it.

They were given a reminder that they needed a second goal when Rory Donnelly pulled clear but hit the top of the crossbar.

Andrew Waterworth came on for Shayne Lavery, on a yellow card and starting to be targeted by Cliftonville players desperate for the numbers to be evened up.

A repeat of his hat-trick last season would have been nice, but Waterworth has a habit in recent years of scoring against Cliftonville when they visit Windsor Park in Winter, having scored against them in November 2015, November 2016, December 2017 and November 2018.

With no Jordan Stewart available, Waterworth would be the only attacking option available from the bench for Linfield. If he was available, bringing him on for Millar or Cooper would have been an option.

Kirk Millar would be leaving the pitch early, but not through choice, as he was sent-off for a late tackle. After scoring in two of Cliftonville’s last three visits to Windsor Park, maybe he was due a downturn in fortunes in this fixture.

What it means is, as punishment, he will be spending the next two Saturdays and Boxing Day in the stands. Could be worse, he could be out shopping on those days. Now that would be a punishment.

Of more immediate concern, was the loss of Linfield’s one man advantage, and a gap down the right that Cliftonville could exploit.

That was immediately rectified with the introduction of Trai Hume for Stephen Fallon.

Despite a narrow lead and a reduced playing personnel, there was no real need for Linfield fans to be nervous, as their side were able to hold out. Cliftonville were struggling to get the ball out of their defensive third.

When they were able to, it was Jimmy Callacher who cleared the danger, with two headed clearances to keep the ball away from Linfield’s defensive third, to keep Cliftonville from getting any ideas that they could score.

It was probably appropriate that he had the last kick of the game, booting the ball back where it came from. Having given Rory Donnelly a Christmas gift in the first-half, Linfield’s defence were now taking the role of Scrooge. Like an Inn in Bethlehem in Christmas Eve, Cliftonville weren’t getting in.

It’s a stat that I never noticed until it was mentioned by Nicola McCarthy in the introduction to the NIFL Highlights, that Linfield have won six home League matches in a row, keeping five clean sheets. Make that seven home League wins in a row and six clean sheets. You know how much I love clean sheet stats.

Elsewhere, the scores in the two other games of interest to Linfield took a dramatic turn, with Coleraine coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Glentoran, a reversal of the game at The Oval in August.

As is tradition at Windsor Park, scores from other games were announced at full-time. Usually done in alphabetical order, announcing the score of Dungannon Swifts and no mention of Crusaders suggested something was up.

The final score announced was “Crusaders 0”, it could only be good news, and “Ballymena 1” was the icing on the cake.

This combination of results meant that Linfield were top of the League, on goal difference from Coleraine and a point clear of Crusaders and Cliftonville. Linfield have two games in hand though.

Those two games have yet to be rearranged, but there is no rush. December is already busy enough, there’s no need to make it busier. It’s a bit of a risk if we have games postponed during December/January due to weather that will necessitate further games needing arranged in the new year, but it is a risk worth taking.

This was the fourth successive weekend that leadership of the table has changed hands. Hopefully, Linfield will break that run next weekend and stay top.

Being out of action at the start of the season and playing catch up meant that the road to the top of the table was going to be long for Linfield. To get there before Christmas is probably ahead of schedule.

A traffic jam at the top is always welcome when you’re chasing, but there comes a point when you have to charge ahead, like Crusaders did in 2015.

With games coming up against Crusaders, Glentoran and Coleraine before the new year, Linfield can pull clear.

It was their form in December and January (well, after the defeat to Ballymena United on 1st December) that won the League for Linfield last season, a run of big games as well, including Cliftonville, Glentoran and Crusaders home and away.

Before this match, tickets for Boxing Day tickets went on sale. Well, some of them.

The first batch did, to Members only. Season Ticket holders will get their opportunity next Saturday, before they go on General Sale on 21st December.

I’ve no issue with the order of sales, and the club have to give people time to purchase, hence the week long window.

I’ve said it before, if a match is all ticket, there should be a rule that tickets should be on sale four weeks in advance.

It is inconveniencing a lot of people that they won’t know until five days before the match if they have a ticket.

If the tickets were put on sale last week (as they would have been under a Four Week Rule), Members could have purchased at the Larne and Coleraine matches, Season Ticket holders at this match, then General Sale from 14th December, which allows people purchasing under General Sale twelve days to get a ticket.

Boxing Day is still a long way off, it’s all about Warrenpoint.

Going off course with some TV recommendations for you, and RTE have two decent looking documentaries on Monday 9th December. Unfortunately, they’re on at the same time.

At 9.35pm on RTE1, there is a look back at a combined Bohs/St Patrick’s Athletic team playing in Libya, called In League with Gaddafi. While on RTE2 at 10.10pm is Wonder Walls, nothing to do with Oasis, but a look at Irish Street Art, where i’ll keep an eye out for places in Dublin and Waterford that I recognise.

I’ll record both and watch them at some point during the week.

As said earlier, up next for Linfield is a trip to Warrenpoint next Saturday. Hopefully, the most awkward part of the day is negotiating through traffic in Newry City Centre on the way home.

Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 0-1 LINFIELD 7.9.2019

To be honest, I’ve never really rated Andalucia or Cyprus as travel destinations and let’s be honest, Luxembourg is a bit dull.

Ok, so I haven’t got over Linfield’s UEFA Cup exit to Qarabag. I was mentally planning a long weekend in Barcelona if we drew Espanyol. I was thinking of basing myself in Birmingham if we drew Wolves, and was looking at sneaking in a day trip to Oxford.

The brutal reality is that Linfield’s European adventure is over. The only way they’ll get to relive it, is to qualify for European competition to get the chance to do it all again next Summer, preferably in the European Cup.

While Linfield were away, other clubs were playing, with Linfield kicking off in 9th position, ten points off the top of the table.

There is no margin for error. They would have been boosted by the fact they were playing a team they were looking to beat for the fourth successive time, a rare run of results in recent years considering how problematic matches against Cliftonville have been this decade.

In order to facilitate this return to domestic action, it was important to get the pre-match preparation done right. I am referring to my own.

Lunch at Papa Drew’s (We always win when I go there) and then a wee browse through Iceland and then into Ballysillan Leisure Centre to pick up some free newspapers for reading while sat on the bus.

Linfield’s line-up for this game was always going to be different from the European games. One change was enforced, with Shayne Lavery missing out due to being called-up to the Northern Ireland squad, with Andrew Waterworth taking his place.

The starting eleven was similar to that which began the early games of last season, the only ones weren’t regulars this time last year being Mark Stafford and Bastien Hery.

With Jordan Stewart also not in the eighteen, I presume due to injury, it meant that Linfield were light in terms of attacking options, though it did give new signing Matthew Shevlin a first opportunity to appear in a matchday squad.

Also appearing in a matchday squad for the first time this season was Gareth Deane, returning after injury. You would assume that midweek cup ties against East Belfast and Ballinamallard United over the next few weeks will allow him to get some game time.

Linfield had a lot of the ball early on, an early cross from Chris Casement flashed across the penalty area, although Linfield’s best opportunity came when a Cliftonville defender almost flicked the ball into his own net from a Kirk Millar corner.

Despite carrying the more believable attacking threat, Linfield couldn’t make it count. If they were able to get a goal, it could give them a platform to go on and win the game.

Garry Breen got a yellow card for a tackle similar to the one that Jamie Mulgrew got sent off for at Solitude last year.

Inevitably, Cliftonville began to see more of the ball as an attacking force, the big opportunity they created was Conor McMenamin getting in behind Linfield’s defence, having to take a first time shot which he dragged wide when he perhaps should have scored.

Every time Joe Gormley got the ball, Linfield’s defence weren’t getting close enough to him, giving him too much of a sight of goal for my liking. More often than not, he didn’t take the shooting opportunity that was there, but you don’t want to encourage him.

To be honest, Linfield would have been glad to see that out and go in at half-time 0-0, a chance refresh at the break and start again.

The game was similar to the recent game between Cliftonville and Crusaders, which was 0-0 at half-time, before Crusaders won 2-0.

It wasn’t a game that Linfield could win in 45 minutes, they would have to make use of the full 90 minutes. They would have to wear Cliftonville down to get their rewards.

The half ended for Linfield with an injury scare for Jimmy Callacher, who went down after defending a corner, having to receive medical attention on the pitch as everybody else was heading to the dressing room.

It was serious enough for Darren Murphy to arrive on the scene to assess the situation. Thankfully, all he needed was a bit of strapping on his wrist, and Linfield would be glad he was able to appear for the second-half.

The early minutes of the second-half didn’t do much to alter the analysis that this was looking like a 0-0 sort of game.

Just before the hour, Linfield broke the deadlock when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a corner. He seems to enjoy playing against Cliftonville for Linfield, this being the fifth time he had scored against them, the third time at Solitude.

However, it was his first goal at Solitude at the end where Linfield fans are based, so he got to fully enjoy the moment.

There was a small element of luck to the goal for Linfield. Daniel Kearns was looking to play a pass to the right, but it was intercepted by a Cliftonville player and fell back to him, meaning the attack had to move left. The resuling play saw Linfield win the corner that brought the goal.

Cliftonville’s instant response was a Joe Gormley header from a free-kick that was easily saved by Rohan Ferguson. That was all they offered in the minutes following the goal.

Stephen Fallon replaced Bastien Hery a few minutes after he was booked. In a fixture which has seen a lot of red cards for both teams in recent years, David Healy knew he could potentially be targeted and took evasive action.

Rory Donnelly had a shot over the bar as Cliftonville chased an equaliser. Their best opportunity came when a cross from Chris Curran went behind Ryan Curran, who could only scoop it into the hands of Rohan Ferguson.

Andrew Waterworth was substituted for Matthew Shevlin a few minutes after Cliftonville fans and players were screaming for a red card after a collision with Richard Brush. It never was.

Cliftoville fans were claiming for everything in the final minutes, such was their desperation. “Andbawl, Andbawl, Andbawl” should become their club anthem.

The chance for Ryan Curran aside, Cliftonville weren’t able to produce much from open play. As long as Linfield didn’t concede any soft or stupid set pieces, they would see them game out.

Matthew Shevlin didn’t do too bad on his debut. One chance passed him by when he couldn’t control the ball to get the shooting position he wanted.

He had one chance in injury time as he burst away on the counter attack. Had the option to pass or shoot, he crossed to Kirk Millar, whose close range shot was superbly saved by Richard Brush, who made himself big.

Linfield could really have done with a second goal to make the final minutes more relaxing, but it wasn’t costly, as they held out for a 1-0 win to lift them up to the heady heights of 8th.

It was also the first domestic clean sheet of the season. A good habit to start.

Elsewhere, there were no real surprises in other results. It’s too early to panic about the gap to the top. It’s important to note that three of Crusaders opening six games have been against the bottom three.

If Linfield had reached the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, the club would have had to play matches on a Sunday. Jim Allister was horrified by that prospect. I’m sure there would have also been negative points to this.

The first point is, it has already happened. Linfield’s Women’s Team played a Sunday match a few weeks back, and have played previously on a Sunday, while the Men’s Team played a match on a Sunday in 2016.

I prefer Saturday games, and this wouldn’t have been a permanent move, only facilitated by having to play matches on the previous Thursday.

The important thing is, the only people whose opinion matters is Linfield fans and Linfield fans only.

Maybe next year, we’ll be playing Thursday night games between September and December.

Postponing games in August is a one-off due to the nature of the matches, but it wouldn’t be sustainable to do it six times between September and December.

They might not say it publicly, but I think NIFL were glad that Linfield lost to Qarabag, as it eases some fixture scheduling dilemmas.

Something that hasn’t been noted about Linfield’s run in Europe has been the Co-Efficient points generated. It might take a few years to reap the rewards due to the way UEFA’s cycles work. It could end up potentially resulting in being seeded in the European Cup.

If Linfield had reached the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, there would be no free midweek to play the NIFL Cup match against Ballinamallard (originally scheduled for Tuesday 27th August) until October.

Despite Linfield not reaching the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, i’ll still be taking in a game at that stage of the competition as I’ve booked to see Manchester United take on Partizan Belgrade in October.

I’d hoped to make a long weekend as United are at home to Brighton the Sunday after, but the hotels that weekend were over £100 a night.

One time I did a Thursday-Sunday double header with United in 2016, I went to see Bury on my free Saturday, and it is sad to hear of their demise.

I’m needing some travel inspiration as i’m using up Annual Leave. Looking for somewhere from Belfast either Monday-Wednesday or Wednesday-Friday. The options from Belfast for Mainland Europe are shite, Vilnius is looking tempting though.

I know I think it every year, but this might be the year I finally decide to do a day trip to Dublin to take in the FAI Cup Final.

Outgoings from Windsor Park included Lorcan Forde, who has gone to Warrenpoint on loan, which will be a benefit to him to get games and fitness.

It’s a busy week at Windsor Park with three matches in six days. Linfield host Glentoran looking to rack up the points to continue their climb up the table. The highest they can get to next Saturday (if other results go their way) is 7th.

One step at a time.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April 2019 meant the run-in was approaching, and my first football match of the month saw Linfield get a crucial 1-0 win against Ballymena United to virtually secure the Irish League title.

The following week, Linfield got the job done with a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders.

A week later, Linfield lifted the title, on a day they lost 4-0 at home to Glenavon.

My last Linfield match of the season was a lot better, a 5-1 win over Cliftonville on Easter Tuesday.

That wouldn’t be my last match of the season, as I headed to Old Trafford in mid May to see Manchester United lose at home to Cardiff City. Not the way I wanted the season to end.

Tomorrow, you’ll get your chance to vote for your favourite.

So, that’s 2018-2019 over. Here’s to more football photos in 2019-2020.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Win Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Celebrations Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Cardiff City

Manchester United v Cardiff City Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Ballymena on the first of the month and a top of the table clash, which Linfield lost 2-1.

Thankfully, the rest of the month did get better, including the following Saturday, where Crusaders were disposed of 4-1.

Postponements meant I wouldn’t be at another match for two weeks, as Linfield drew 0-0 with Glenavon, though it was still better than Crhistmas shopping.

The next match was a bit decent, as Linfield thrashed Glentoran 4-0 on Boxing Day.

The month, and the year, of football watching ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield secure a 2-0 win.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glentoran

Cliftonville v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : NOVEMBER

November 2018’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield scrape a late draw at home to Warrenpoint Town.

It didn’t get much better the following Saturday, as I headed back to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose to Coleraine.

The weekend after, was a double header, the first of which was a first trip to The Brandywell, to see Linfield take on Institute. The next day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Austria in the UEFA Nations League.

The following weekend, it was yet another trip to Windsor Park, but finally a home win, as an Andrew Waterworth hat-trick saw off Cliftonville.

My football watching for the month ended with a midweek trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on BSC Young Boys in the European Cup, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Coleraine

Institute v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Austria

Northern Ireland v Austria Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v BSC Young Boys

Manchester United v BSC Young Boys Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

August began for me with the opening game of the 2018-2019 season, as Linfield travelled to Mourneview Park to take on Glenavon.

My next match was in the Scottish Challenge Cup, taking in Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers during a short break to Edinburgh.

Upon my return, it was back to Irish League football for me, with successive trips to North Belfast for Linfield, against Crusaders and Cliftonville.

Glenavon v Linfield

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield