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.

Photo Album

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2017 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …)

Here we are, the final photo round-up of 2017, looking back at my adventures in December. Well, December so far.

December began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

That was followed by a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

I was hoping to follow that with a trip to Carrick to see Linfield play Carrick Rangers, but that was postponed due to snow.

I decided to make the most of a football free Saturday, by going out and getting pictures of the snow in Belfast.

There was one final concert for 2017, as I headed to The Limelight to see The Charlatans.

The following day, I flew to Manchester, to see United take on Bournemouth primarily, but I also managed to squeeze in some Street Art photos from Manchester and Salford Quays.

Upon my return, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield play Warrenpoint Town and draw 3-3.

The following Saturday, it was another visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville 2-0.

There’s still eight days left in December, i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day, and then back to Windsor Park next Saturday for more photo adventures.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series looking back at 2017 In Pictures. I’m already looking forward to see what 2018 will bring in terms of photo adventures.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Belfast Snow December 2017

Snow – Friday 8th December Photo Album

Snow – Saturday 9th December Photo Album

Snow – Sunday 10th December Photo Album

The Charlatans live at The Limelight

The Charlatans live at The Limelight Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

LINFIELD 2-0 CLIFTONVILLE 23.12.2017

Regardless of Coleraine and Crusaders results on Friday night, this was always going to be a must-win game for Linfield and Cliftonville. Both had hoped that they would be aiming to capitalise on dropped points by one or both. The reality that they woke up to on Saturday morning was that they were needing to win just to keep in touch after Crusaders beat Ballymena and Coleraine beat Warrenpoint.

Three points seperated these teams in Cliftonville’s favour at kick-off. Despite that, the two clubs had near similar records with the same amount of goals conceded but Linfield with one goal more scored. That meant that a win by any score would see Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville in the table.

The two clubs had one unwanted similarity this season, their records against fellow Top 5 teams.

5th at kick-off, Linfield were the highest ranked team that Cliftonville had beaten this season. They might have arrived at Windsor Park on a run of seven wins in a row and eleven wins out of the last twelve, but the run was perhaps deceptive.

Impressive you might think, but that run includes games against Carrick (x2), Warrenpoint (x2), Glentoran (x2), Dungannon Swifts, Ballinamallard, Ards and Ballymena. To be honest, you would expect them to be on that sort of run with that fixture list.

There were four changes to Linfield’s starting eleven after last week’s draw with Warrenpoint, with Robert Garrett, Josh Robinson, Cameron Stewart, Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon coming in for Chris Casement, Andrew Mitchell, Stephen Lowry, Jordan Stewart and Kirk Millar.

None of the players who were left out could really complain.

Cliftonville made a good start to the game, Linfield weren’t really at it. Inside the first couple of minutes, a Cliftonville corner was cleared, with the resulting play seeing Levi Ives play a through ball to Rory Donnelly, whose shot when clean through was easily saved by Roy Carroll. It was far too easy for Cliftonville.

That would turn out to be the only moment of worry for Linfield fans in the first-half. Cliftonville’s only main attacking moment of note came when Rory Donnelly was played into a good shooting position but sliced wide when the obvious thing to do was to shoot across Carroll.

Linfield couldn’t get the ball. Anytime they got a free-kick, Cliftonville wouldn’t give them the ball to restart the game. They knew what they were doing, they were trying to get a reaction from Linfield players, Robert Garrett getting needlessly involved.

Linfield players weren’t buying it, but they were worryingly browsing at the shop window.

Eventually, Linfield were able to get more of the ball and had their first attacking moment when a corner from Niall Quinn bounced over. If it hit the woodwork or the ground, Josh Robinson would have been in prime position to score into an empty net.

Another promising attack saw Niall Quinn cross for Andrew Waterworth. Waterworth couldn’t quite get into himself into a shooting position, ending up getting tackled, but the ball fell perfectly for Stephen Fallon, who fired home.

You could say that it was a lucky goal, but you make your own luck, and Fallon did that by being in the right place. Far too many times this season, the ball has fallen to an opposition player. This time, it fell to a Linfield player.

Suddenly, Cliftonville were looking shaky, struggling to cope with Cameron Stewart. The game had turned in Linfield’s favour.

Soon after, Robert Garrett got himself booked. Cliftonville players were now targeting him, trying to get a reaction from him and a second yellow card. It hard worked before for them, in February 2014.

Garrett has been sent-off four times as a Linfield player – 2008 (Glentoran), 2011 (Glenavon), 2014 (Cliftonville) and 2017 (Ballymena)

Logically, it would seem that he’s not due a red card until 2020, so he has two years, one week and two days left to kick all round him.

In all seriousness, as the half-time whistle blew, Linfield fans were expecting to see Stephen Lowry introduced from the bench in place of Robert Garrett. As the teams entered the field for the second-half, that would prove not to be the case.

It was a second-half that Linfield would start strongly, attacking Cliftonville and testing their defence. Cameron Stewart was able to get in behind them but his cross was blocked.

It came was no surprise when Linfield made it 2-0 on 56 minutes. The start of the move may have been though.

An inswinging Cliftonville free-kick was caught by Roy Carroll, who threw it to Niall Quinn, who cut inside his man, played it to Jamie Mulgrew, who played in Andrew Waterworth, who made it 2-0, off the post.

As Waterworth ran through on goal, there was only going to be one outcome. Hoever, as the strike was hit, from where I was sat, it looked like it was going agonisingly wide. Thankfully not.

Returning from injury, it was business as usual for Mulgrew. That included being fouled, making up for lost time as he looks to win the award of most fouled player for the umpteenth time in succession.

It was noticeable during the first-half that when Roy Carroll caught a cross or set piece, he was looking to release the ball straight away for a counter attack, barking at his team-mates for not being on his wavelength. His willingness to launch a counter attack was rewarded.

Not long after that, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garrett. David Healy had gambled on keeping Robert Garrett on until Linfield increased their lead. It was a gamble that paid off.

Stephen Fallon blasted over from a similar position that he scored from as Linfield tried to make it 3-0.

Cliftonville’s response was to take off Joe Gormley and replace him with Daniel Hughes, to ironic cheers from the home support.

A surprising substitution to some. If you’re chasing the game, you’d rather have Joe Gormley on the pitch, no matter how bad he was playing.

It didn’t matter who was on the pitch, as Cliftonville never looked like scoring, though Daniel Hughes did force Roy Carroll into a save from outside the box, that was as good as it got for Cliftonville.

Stephen Fallon was replaced by Kirk Millar for the final minutes. Nobody has really claimed right midfield this season since Paul Smyth, the vacancy is there. Fallon has given himself an excellent opportunity of making it his over the past two Saturdays.

Kirk Millar would be facing a Cliftonville side that by now had lost their discipline, falling for the type of tricks that they were trying to pull on Linfield players in the first-half.

Brian Neeson barged into Louis Rooney after a challenge. The ball was still in play and the game was still live. It should have been a penalty. Cliftonville were rattled and frustrated, and Linfield players and fans knew it.

A much needed win for Linfield, that sees them jump above Cliftonville into 4th, both those sides below Glenavon, who beat Dungannon.

This was Cliftonville’s first defeat in seven games. Ending runs but not really going on one of their own has been a Linfield trademark this season. They had previously ended Coleraine’s unbeaten start and Glenavon’s unbeaten home record.

The challenge that is next, is ending Glentoran’s one match unbeaten run, Crusaders unbeaten recent run (Sorry Cliftonville, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day) and Coleraine’s unbeaten home record (Sorry Ballymena, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day)

There is also Linfield Swifts on Christmas Day against Newington in Steel and Sons Cup Final, so hopefully they can win the trophy for the second successive year. I’m not going, but if you are, enjoy yourself.

Curiously, last year was the last time the trophy was used and a new replica will be used in the future. It would be a nice curiousity if Linfield Swifts were to be the last and first winners of each trophy.

I forgot to mention last week, that Easyjet have announced routes to Valencia and Naples from Belfast. I think they will only be seasonal and only on a couple of days a week, so that put an end of my dreaming of a football weekend.

Closer to home, this week saw the announcement of the 2018 League Of Ireland fixture list.

The date I was looking out for was Friday 13th July, as i’ll be off for the July Holidays. I might book an overnight to Dublin that day, and take in a football match while doing touristy stuff.

The matches on in Dublin I will have to choose from if I go down that day will be Bohemians v Sligo Rovers or Shelbourne v Drogheda United.

Also, a full fixture list on Monday 12th March with Wateford at home interests me as I have to use excess carry-over Annual Leave by the end of March and I do want to see Waterford Walls.

Back to Linfield, and dates for the two outstanding League matches were announced this week, with a trip to Carrick on Tuesday 9th January and a home match against Glenavon on Tuesday 27th February.

That trip to Carrick is concerning, as it is added to an already packed fixture list, making it six games in seventeen days. Expect to see a lot of changes for the Irish Cup tie against Glebe.

Tuesday 16th January is the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals, why not play that night? Can’t say anything about the competition wanting sole billing as there’s a full fixture list on the weekened of the Final. Or even just play it on the Wednesday?

Tuesday 23rd January is the County Antrim Shield Final. Can’t say anything about that competition wanting sole billing as Cliftonville played Carrick Rangers on the night of the Final in 2016.

I just think we’re not helping ourselves by agreeing to that date.

However, we can flip it around to our advantage. If we win the next three games, we’ll probably be desperate to play Carrick on January 2nd, and use it as an opportunity to get some points on the board after a productive Christmas. Hopefully.

So, I sign off by wishing you a Merry Christmas, except if you support Newington, Glentoran, Crusaders or Coleraine. May you have an awful 25th December, 26th December, 30th December or 1st January, whichever is applicable.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

September 2017 began with a road trip, and a long one at that, to Edinburgh, to see Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Two days later, it was another football match with an international feel, an actual international, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

The following weekend was busy, taking in Ryan Adams at Ulster Hall and then Linfield’s match against Glentoran.

There was more football to follow, taking in Linfield’s matches against Crusaders and Ballinamallard.

The following weekend was football free but not photo free, as I was out capturing Culture Night, and Street Art painted as part of Hit The North.

The month ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield take on Cliftonville. The less said about which, the better.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Culture Night 2017

Culture Night 2017 Photo Album

Hit The North 2017

Hit The North 2017 Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

2017 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April began for me with a trip to Lurgan for the Irish Cup Semi-Final, to see Linfield secure a late 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend was another 1-0 win for Linfield and just as important, a League win against Crusaders that blew the title race wide open.

April saw the launch of a new mural in Belfast City Centre, in the Cathedral Quarter, which I went and got photos of.

On Easter Saturday, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena 2-0.

On Easter Monday, I cycled to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos from the City Centre.

The following night, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield secure vital win over Glenavon.

On the following Saturday, the football continued, heading Coleraine to see Linfield beat Coleraine and finally get to the top of the Irish League.

Towards the end of the month, a mural of The Two Ronnies appeared in Belfast City Centre, so I headed out to get photos of this.

The penultimate day of the month saw me head to Solitude where Linfield needed to avoid defeat in order to win the Irish League. It didn’t look good at half-time, but a Andrew Waterworth hat-trick in the second-half saw the trophy head to Windsor Park.

Immediately after the game, there was a celebratory event at Windsor Park so that supporters unable to get into Solitude could join in the celebrations. Naturally, I was there getting photographs.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Pure Here, So It Is

Pure Here, So It Is Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

And It’s Goodnight From Me

And It’s Goodnight From Me Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2017 began for me with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield beat Crusaders in an Irish Cup tie. That was followed a few days later by my first concert of 2017, seeing Blossoms at The Limelight.

It was then back to football for a Monday night match between Linfield and Cliftonville, and then returning to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ards.

I was then out on the trail of Street Art, getting photos of a mural of a Dancer in Belfast City Centre.

The following weekend, I headed to Fermanagh to see Linfield get a late win against Ballinamallard.

I then headed out again in search of Street art, getting photographs of a new mural of East Belfast legends.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Blossoms live at The Limelight

Blossoms live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

The Dancer

The Dancer Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

East Belfast Wall Of Legends

East Belfast Wall Of Legends Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 3-2 LINFIELD 30.9.2017

I thought the days of Linfield blowing two goal leads against Cliftonville were over. Seemingly not, as they made a worrying return today at Solitude.

Linfield went into today’s game boosted by Glenavon’s draw on Friday night against Dungannon, where they could have went top with a win, the draw only putting them into third, one point behind Linfield.

Last weekend, Linfield pulled the gap to Coleraine to one point, today represented a chance to put pressure on Coleraine, and move seven points clear of Crusaders before they travel to The Oval on Monday night.

This was a return to the venue that Linfield won the title at last season. Linfield fans arriving will have been glad to have seen the hat-trick hero that day Andrew Waterworth out on the pitch, albeit only taking part in the warm-up as he continues his recovery from injury.

It was a slow start by Linfield, Cliftonville having a lot of possession but not doing a lot with it. That said, they had two situations where Mark Stafford was forced to take no chances and put the ball out for a corner.

The closest they came was from a quick counter-attack after a misplaced Linfield pass which saw Joe Gormley get enough space to shoot from the edge of the box, going just wide.

On 15 minutes, Linfield took the lead with their first attack of the game, Chris Casement found enough space after taking a throw in to cross for Aaron Burns to finish, in a repeat of his goal against Warrenpoint Town last week.

Having done nothing of note and then potting up with a goal, it was perhaps an apt goalscorer for Linfield, a thirs in four games for him.

Cliftonville’s defence had failed it’s first examination.

We were then treated to yellow card inconsistency from the referee, with three of Linfield’s midfield – Kirk Millar, Robert Garrett and Jamie Mulgrew walking on a yellow card tightrope, while Cliftonville players were being given final warnings for similar (and in some cases, worse) fouls.

Joe Gormley sliced a shot over, before getting in behind Linfield’s defence, only to be denied by a save from birthday boy (40 today) Roy Carroll.

In first-half injury time, Chris Casement had a free-kick go just wide as Linfield aimed to go in 2-0 up. They had to make do with 1-0. They should have been thankful for it.

It was a performance similar to their last visit to Solitude, although this time, they had a 1-0 lead this time.

Louis Rooney was replaced at half-time by teenage striker Ryan Strain. I can only presume it was due to an injury. Rooney didn’t have the best performance in the first-half, but he wasn’t bad enough to be taken off at half-time.

Strain was a busy player but suffered from isolation in a 4-5-1 instead of being part or a duo.

Joe Gormley soon had another shot that was easily saved by Roy Carroll. Linfield were still giving Cliftonville far too much encouragement.

Just before the hour, another susbtitution for Linfield, with Stephen Lowry coming on or Jordan Stewart. Too early to be so defensive, albeit there being an obvious benefit of having a centre midfielder not on a yellow card out there.

Midway through the second-half, Aaron Burns got enough space in the box with the ball, only to be fouled.

I shouted for a free-kick (in my defence, the line markings at Solitude aren’t the clearest) but TV replays proved it to be a penalty.

As well as Cliftonville had played, you felt a second goal for Linfield would kill the game.

Aaron Burns finished it, just about, as Cliftonville’s keeper got a hand on it, to make it 2-0 for Linfield.

Despite that setback, Cliftonville were straight on the attack, trying to get back into the game. It was soon clear that Linfield might need a third just to be sure of the three points.

David Healy then turned to his bench, bringing on Andrew Mitchell for Kirk Millar. Another defensive minded sub when the obvious player to bring on was Ross Clarke.

You don’t have to fill the pitch with defensive players to defend a lead, as Healy struggles to fit four centre midfielders into his team.

On 80 minutes, Cliftonville got back into the game when Chris Curran fired home from outside the box. The last ten minutes were more nervous than they should have been.

Strangely, despite all their possession and chances (all bar one of Carroll’s saves were ones you would expect him to make), Cliftonville had never looked like scoring, with Linfield doing a lot of clearing and blocking but doing enough to get rid of the danger.

On 85 minutes, Jay Donnelly got enough space in the box to head home. You could see his run a mile off (literally, from the away end at the other end of the pitch) but nobody on the pitch did. It was now two dropped points.

Cliftonville went in search of a winner and were denied by a Mark Stafford header on the line.

The resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly by Linfield, a cross being headed home by Garry Breen to win it for Cliftonville.

Linfield responded by going forward in search for a third goal, something they should have done ten or twenty minutes earlier. It was too little too late. They never looked like scoring once they went behind, as Linfield paid the price for being too defensive, and throwing the points away against a team who were there for the taking.

It was a game Linfield should have seen out. Curiously, it was another defeat against a team beginning with C. The last League defeat against a team who didn’t start with C was against Portadown in February 2016.

They’d better remedy that soon, as their next two League games are against teams beginning with C.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine won at Ballymena to open up a four point lead at the top of the table, the first time this season they’ve had what you would consider to be a significant lead.

Crusaders didn’t play today, as they play Glentoran on Monday night on Sky Sports. I’m hoping for a draw in that game. I might watch it, but there is a documentary about Paddington Station on Five at the same time.

Next Saturday, sees the top four inactive as Linfield (and Glenavon as a result, as they were due at Windsor Park) and Crusaders in Scottish Challenge Cup action, while Coleraine’s match against Ballinamallard has been postponed due to international call-ups.

That last one is a stroke of luck, as it denies Coleraine the chance to open up a seven point lead at the top of the table before Linfield visit on October 14th.

That is followed by a free Saturday as the home match against Crusaders has been put back to Monday 23rd to be broadcast on Sky Sports.

Now would be a good time to remedy the problem of playing against teams beginning with C ahead of the games against Oleraine and Rusaders.

Before then, is two cup games, against Ballinamallard in the League Cup and Dundee United in the Scottish Challenge Cup, both away.

I won’t be at Ballinamallard or Dundee. I would have loved to have gone to Dundee but the flights back on the Sunday are just too expensive. Oh well, I guess Stranraer away in the next round will make up for it (positive thinking)

Since the last blog I wrote, Windsor Park was in the running to host the 2019 European Super Cup Final. It didn’t win. it was awarded to Besiktas ground. Booo.

Talking of European hosting and all that, Cardiff has entered the running to host finals games due to problems with the new stadium in Brussels. One to keep an eye on for me, even though I have an eye on going to games in Dublin and Glasgow.

And that neatly links into the new competition set up by UEFA called the UEFA Nations League, due to take place in 2018-2019.

It sounds like UEFA had a pot party and somebody went “Wouldn’t it be like, cool man, is, like there was a League for international teams?”

Northern Ireland look set to be in League B, AKA The Championship.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t see this having a long term future, especially with the calendar having to be rearranged due to the 2022 World Cup being held in Winter.

It looks like something to fill up the summer calendar in the years when there isn’t a World Cup, European Championship or Confederations Cup.

The game against Crusaders being moved for Sky means the County Antrim Shield match against Ards has been put back to Monday 30th, meaning we play them twice in forty-eight hours.

It means i’ve gone from missing it due to going to OMD to missing it to going to Liam Gallagher.

A few weeks back, Sunday Life doorstepped a Celtic fan from Portadown who tried to attack a PSG player a few weeks back.

Like with the Linfield fan in July, that behaviour is out of order and not in any public interest. Report on his charge, report on his sentencing and punishment, but there’s no need to harrass someone going about their business.

Back to today, a setback but not a disaster, but improvements must be made, and that would have been the way even if we won.

However, win the next two games, the worst that will happen will be that we are one point behind Coleraine and four behind Crusaders and all will be well.

We hope.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NI FOOTBALL – WINTER 2008

David Healy is the cover star as he gives an interview to NI Football during the Winter of 2008.

In news, Martin Donnelly of Crusaders wins Player Of The Month, Roy Coyle celebrated his retirement at a dinner attended by Howard Kendall, and Brendan Rodgers has just been appointed manager of Watford.

Elsewhere in news, David Healy has just launched his own DVD.

Keith Gillespie gets interviewed having just joined Charlton Athletic on loan from Sheffield United.

Also getting a profile is Jonny Evans, having just broken into the Manchester Untied team in the early months of 2008-2009.

Glentoran had just reached the final of the Setanta Cup, losing narrowly to Cork City, 2-1, and this match gets a full page review.

David Healy gets a double page interview, revealing that Jonny Evans could be Norther Ireland’s key player during World Cup Qualification.

Healy’s strike partner at international Kyle Lafferty gets profiled, after enduring a difficult opening months to his career at Rangers.

Another player getting profiled at a new club is George McCartney, although he is in his second spell at Sunderland.

Steven Robinson has just announced his retirement aged 33, and is profile after taking a job with the IFA coaching underage teams.

There is a profile of another 33 year old making his mark in coaching, recently appointed Coleraine manager David Platt.

There is a full page profile of Linfield player Paul Munster, who has returned to Northern Ireland after spending time playing in Sweden, Czech Republic and Canada.

There is a double page profile on the comparisons between set-ups in the Irish League and League Of Ireland.

At Junior Level, there are club profiles of Killymoon Rangers, Lurgan Celtic and Newington.

Staying in North Belfast, there is a feature on Cliftonville, who have just won the County Antrim Shield.

 

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : TOTAL FOOTBALL – SUMMER 2004

Three models in the kits of England, Northern Ireland and Wales is the cover image of Total Football, with all three home nations in the same World Cup Qualifying Group starting in a few months.

In news, the Northern Ireland team have announced a kit supplier deal with Umbro, and a sponsorship deal with Nationwide.

There is a profile of new Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez and the impact he has already had in his first three games in charge.

There is a profile of Irish League referee Andi Regan, as she gets ready to head to Greece to officiate at the Olympic Games football tournament.

Having just made his debut for Southampton, Alan Blayney gets profiled where he reveals he had spent a period of time training with Glentoran the previous year after suffering from homesickness.

Another player leaving Glentoran for full-time football in England was Andy Smith, who had just signed for Preston North End, and he gets a full page profile.

The models in the cover make a reappearance as they review the new kits of both local and national sides.

Getting ready for a second season of top flight football, Ballymena United manager Kenny Shiels gets interviewed.

Over the page is an interview with Loughgall manager Jim Gardiner, as the club gets ready for their first season of top flight football.

In news, Linfield have announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Umbro to run alongside their kit supplier deal.

Linfield are one of three clubs, the others being Glentoran and Portadown, whose upcoming European ties get previewed in a double page feature.

There is a double page feature with new Cliftonville manager Liam Beckett as he gets to grips with the job at Solitude.

The magazine ends with a preview of the Milk Cup.

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

So, the 2016-2017 season is over for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic look back at the season just gone.

I’ve selected some of my favourites, so feel free to vote for the one you like the best.

POLSKA

Taken back in June 2016 at Northern Ireland v Poland, I like the composition, how everyone is fixated on the action at the other end of the pitch, and the colour co-ordination of both sets of fans.



WILGAR

Taken at a pre-season game between Linfield and Dundela, it captures the joys of going to football matches in pre-season, sunshine and relaxation ahead of the hard slog ahead.



SEAVIEW

I like the framing of this, as the crowd is in position, awaiting kick-off in a big match.



CELEBRATION

Linfield fans celebrating Jimmy Callacher’s winner against Glentoran in October. I just like this for some reason other than the obvious.

PALMERSTON

There’s just something about the architecture of old football grounds that does it for me. This is out of use turnstiles at Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South.

APPEAL

Linfield fans appeal in unison, all making the same hand gestures, for a goal to be allowed. The goal was disallowed for a foul.



ELF

Taken at the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Some people like getting dressed up for Christmas.

GAYNOR

I like the composition of this, from Ross Gaynor’s posture, to substitutes chatting to each other while the game goes on.

UNITED

I like the composition of this, all eyes fixated on the penalty area and the incoming corner.

SPOT THE BALL

I like the composition of this shot, it looks like a Spot The Ball image, except that the ball is in the shot, with two players getting ready for an aerial tussle.



COLERAINE

I love the framing and seeing players in the background running to join the celebrations.

WATERWORTH

Celebrations after Andrew Waterworth’s second goal against Cliftonville, capturing the joy of the event and the achievement just about to happen.