Good things come to those who wait. For Linfield fans, it was a first win against Coleraine this season. It could lead to something bigger that Linfield fans have been waiting a bit longer for. I can’t even say it for fear of jinxing it.
As with most of the season, Linfield simply had to win and hope. There was no margin for error. Defeat today could have seen Crusaders declared Champions.
Linfield began like a team determined to get three points, Paul Smyth getting free of his man in the opening minute but his cross evaded everyone.
Linfield piled pressure on Coleraine’s goal in the opening minutes, and looked to have been rewarded when Andrew Waterworth scored from close ranger after Coleraine keeper Chris Johns dropped a shot.
Celebrations were cut short when the goal was disallowed for a foul. The keeper only had one hand on the ball and Waterworth was entitled to go for it. It was a soft decision and an incorrect one.
Even though they didn’t get the goal they wanted, Linfield were able to shut out Coleraine, limiting them to speculative long range shots.
After a dry period as an attacking force, Linfield ended the half as they started it, by piling pressure on Coleraine’s goal.
Aaron Burns headed over from close range from a corner, before he tried to recreate Alessandro Del Piero’s goal against Germany in the 2006 World Cup, except that he fired well wide.
Some neat passing play saw Andrew Waterworth fire just wide, while Aaron Burns volley over from the edge of the box. It was not his day so far.
Linfield had endured a frustrating half. As they headed to the dressing room, news was filtering through that Ballymena and Crusaders were also drawing 0-0 at half-time.
Linfield were making the chances, they just needed to start taking them.
The first goal of the day came in the opening minutes of the second-half, but for Coleraine, when James McLaughlin headed home from a corner, the third time he had scored against Linfield this season.
As things stood, Crusaders were one goal away from the title. Questions were being asked of Linfield, they had no choice but to answer them.
Linfield fans got behind their team, urging their team on.
As players waited in the penalty area after some build-up play, Linfield fans were screaming for a cross into the box. Aaron Burns played the cross in, and it went straight in. It will look good on TV, but it was a fluke, not that Linfield fans cared. You do have to appreciate the irony of him scoring when he didn’t mean to, after enduring a frustrating first-half when he was trying to give Linfield the lead.
The game was back to square one, and Linfield were in to mood to charge to victory.
Paul Smyth was leading that charge, and was denied a penalty when his heels were clipped from behind. A few minutes later, Smyth got on the end of a cross from the left that was just asking to be scored to put Linfield 2-1 up.
With the score at Ballymena still 0-0, Linfield were top of the league as it stood, and their fans begand chanting “WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!”
Not me. We’d been through this the last two games. I didn’t want to tempt fate.
Smyth did eventually get his penalty, which was converted by Aaron Burns. From 1-0 down to 3-1 up in the space of ten minutes. The pressure was now all on Crusaders.
At 3-1 up, it was time to do nothing silly, just see the game out and don’t even give Coleraine the encouragement of a comeback.
Coleraine were shut out, as all of Linfield’s fans attention turned to Ballymena.
The news came through that Ballymena had went 1-0 up. The celebrations in the Linfield end got louder.
There was even more celebrations when a cross from the left went to Andrew Waterworth with an open net. He didn’t make perfect contact with it. There was a look of horror on his face as he readied himself for the ball coming off the post. That then turned to relief and celebration as it was now 4-1. It was most definitely Linfield’s day.
With the game won, David Healy looked to his subs bench. Mark Stafford came on for Mark Haughey and Kirk Millar came on for Aaron Burns. They were the obvious and most sensible substitutions as Burns and Haughey were a yellow card away from missing the Irish Cup Final.
Jamie Mulgrew then made way for Sean Ward. Just a precaution, with Mulgrew going off injured on Tuesday night.
It would have been nice to see teenage striker Ryan Strain get some game time, but protecting those most at risk from suspension or injury was the bigger priority.
A handball gave Linfield a second penalty. With Aaron Burns now off the pitch, it fell on Paul Smyth to take it.
His shot was saved but Coleraine couldn’t clear it, and Andrew Waterworth headed home from a resulting cross to make it 5-1.
The news from Ballymena just got better, with the hosts going 2-0 up. Linfield fans could now relax and party, which they did in the final minutes of the game, by chanting the name of former manger David Jeffrey in gratitude, before doing the same of David Healy.
The final whistle blew and some people were on the pitch, they think it’s all over. The way this season has gone, the title race definitely isn’t.
Next weekend for Linfield, is a trip to Solitude. It’ll be my first this season having not gone to the midweek game in October.
Cliftonville might have lost four games in a row and have been generally rotten since Christmas, next Saturday’s game is anything but a guaranteed three points.
Having seen Crusaders win the League at Solitude in the past two seasons, and then be guests at Glentoran (2009) and Linfield (2010) title parties in recent years, Cliftonville fans will be sick of the sight of teams winning the League against them.
They also know that 4th will secure home advantage if they make the UEFA Cup Play-Off Final.
To use a Boxing analogy, Cliftonville will (metaphorically) throw a lot of punches early on. Linfield have the capabilities of withstanding them and throwing a few KOs of their own.
There is a slight margin for error in that a draw will do the job for us. We simply have to go for the win and not leave it to chance.
Elsewhere, in England, Leyton Orient got relegated from the Football League. It was only just over three years ago I went to see them when I was in London for a weekend. They were chasing promotion to The Championship. Before you say anything, I didn’t jinx them.
For Linfield, it comes down to the final game at Solitude with Linfield fans getting behind their team, those in the away end more vocal than those Linfield fans who will be paying into the home end.
I almsot envy them, as they’ll miss out on the pre-match ritual of Linfield fans waiting for buses.
Hopefully, at 4.45pm, it will be buses waiting for Linfield fans. We’re hoping to stay behind after the game to have a party.