The last time Linfield travelled to Coleraine, they had to win just to stay in the title race. It wasn’t quite the same situation this time around, although defeat wouldn’t have been fatal for Linfield, it would have given them a massive mountain to climb, chasing a Coleraine side looking for their first title since 1974.
We didn’t get a 1970s throwback, but rather, a 1987 throwback, with a controversial winner that would have been the subject of much discussion between Ian St John and his good friend Ray Coyle.
It was one two top of the table clashes on the milestone point of matchday eleven as 3rd place Glenavon travelled to 4th place Crusaders. Linfield in 2nd knew that there would be points dropped below them, they had to make sure that the only team above them would drop points as well.
As clashes of shorts appear to be more strictly monitored in the Irish League these days, Linfield arrived in Coleraine wearing their white away top with white shorts, slightly resembling the Allies kit in Escape To Victory. Linfield just wanted to escape with victory.
There were two noticable additions to Linfield’s starting eleven from their last League game, with Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Waterworth making their first League starts of the season, having both missed the start of domestic action due to injury.
The first attack of the game came about in bizarre fashion when a goal kick from Roy Carroll was headed behind by a Coleraine defender as he tried to clear it upfield. It looked closer to a goal on the TV footage than it was in reality.
For most of the first-half, Coleraine were restricted to speculative long range shots. Too many for my liking. If you keep inviting the opposition to shoot, they will get one eventually. Remember Solitude?
Eventually, Linfield began to put some pressure on Coleraine’s goal, the closest they came was when a Niall Quinn free-kick was tipped over.
There was another attack where Coleraine’s defence was stretched to the point that they had to concede a corner just to get some respite.
The attack came about after a good advantage played by Anderlecht Arnie, refereeing this game, after a Linfield player was taken out at the start of the attack.
Having got a decision right, Anderlecht Arnie then forgot or neglected to book the Coleraine player who committed the foul once the play had stopped. If only that was the worst decision he made in this game.
For the rest of the first-half, Linfield were able to snuff out Coleraine’s attacks. The only moment of worry for Linfield fans came when Josh Robinson headed back to Roy Carroll. In the end, it was an easy catch for him.
There was a big incident in the final minute of the half as Andrew Waterworth was fouled by Stephen O’Donnell as he raced towards goal. Linfield fans screamed for a red card. My own opinion was that the wide position would work in the Coleraine defender’s favour, and so it proved as only a yellow card was awarded.
In the first-half, I was in the stand at the side of the pitch so didn’t get a clear view, and the incident was left off the BBC’s highlights. We’ll just have to wait and see it on Linfield TV, which is embargoed until Tuesday.
A goalless first-half, mirroring the pattern of the game at Coleraine in April with Linfield having most of the ball and not doing much with it while restricting Coleraine to long range shots.
Hopefully, the second-half would follow the same pattern as that game in April.
Well, the early minutes did, as Coleraine took a lead when Brad Lyons headed home from a free-kick.
It was a cheap free-kick conceded after losing possession cheaply.
You know when you’re watching a football match and get a bad vibe before a set piece is taken? That.
Just like in April, Linfield’s response was immediate with an equaliser coming in a more conventional method than a cross that got lucky, with Mark Haughey heading home from a Kirk Millar corner.
Jordan Stewart and Brandon Adams were brought on from the bench as Linfield searched for a winner.
They never looked like getting it, but neither did Coleraine, as both teams cancelled each other out, as the game meandered towards a draw.
That was until injury time approached when Jamie McGonigle was played through, Roy Carroll came out to save the shot, got a hand on it but couldn’t stop it going goalwards, however, he got enough to slow down the trajectory of the ball, to allow Josh Robinson the opportunity to clear the ball on the line, and save a point for Linfield.
Or so we thought.
To everyone’s amazement, a goal was awarded.
I was at the opposite end of the ground, wear glasses, and could clearly see the ball wasn’t over the line. TV footage backed me up. How on earth did the officials make such a wrong decision?
Controversy doesn’t just follow this ref, it stalks him.
In the aftermath of this, the 4th Official held up his board to indicate five minutes of injury time, mainly due to an injury to Brad Lyons. We had then (at least) two minutes delay between a Coleraine substitution and David Healy being sent to the stand. Only one minute to the five was added.
Not that Linfield looked like getting an equaliser, it would have been nice if they had the full amount of time to get it.
Having failed to make the correct call on a major issue, you couldn’t really expect the officials to get a basic act of housekeeping right.
There are questions to be asked of Linfield’s defending, especially as to how Jamie McGonigle was able to get so much space to run through on goal. The point is, Linfield’s defence retrieved the situation and cleared the danger. They were let down by incompetent decision makers.
No doubt, there will be reactionary suggestions that we need VAR in the Irish League. We don’t. We just need competent officials.
I’m not going to pretend that Linfield played well or deserved to win. They didn’t. A draw was a fair result in a game where both sides largely cancelled each other out.
You obviously want to win, but a draw wasn’t a disaster. We might have dropped to 3rd, but Coleraine and Glenavon would have been catchable, and we’d have gained a point on Crusaders.
Now, a seven point gap has emerged. It could be ten by the time Linfield play their next League game on Monday night.
I would expect it to be a ten point deficit by the time Linfield face Crusaders as Coleraine head to Solitude.
Cliftonville might have won their last four League games, three of games are games you would expect them to win. I’ll be surprised if Coleraine don’t beat them next weekend.
Linfield might have overcome a nine point deficit last season, you don’t want to be giving teams a head start.
There seems to be a Cliftonville 2012/2013 vibe about Coleraine where they took an early lead in the table, and gradually increased their lead in the table by a couple of points every few weeks.
Suddenly, next Monday’s game against Crusaders at Windsor Park is a title eliminator rather than a title decider many would have predicted when the fixture list was drawn up.
October has been a turbulent month for Linfield in recent years. We need to put a stop to that as soon as possible.
You may remember the refereeing farce at Mourneview Park last season, and Linfield’s response to that with two of their best pre-Christmas performances in the week that followed.
We’ll have to wait nine days to get it out of our systems. It might have been a good idea to have brought the County Antrim Shield match against Ards forward instead of back.
But waiting is what we’ll have to do, and if Coleraine go ten points clear of us, that is the challenge and we must accept it.
The next change in points difference has to be in our favour if we have ambitions of winning the League.
Again, it was a poor result against a Top Six team. You can’t afford to be a flat track bully in a League where you play each other three to four times a season. This needs to be remedied as soon as possible, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon visiting Windsor Park in November.
I was astounded to have a browse through the Sunday Life’s coverage of the game, where the reporter appeared to be more outraged by Linfield players not doing post match interviews than a high profile game being decided by refereeing incompetence.
It was probably for their own good that they didn’t do interviews, as they’d probably be banned for bringing the game into disrepute.
Talking of outrage, the match report seemed to focus on so called outrage about a Social Media post by Jamie McGonigle. Social Media offence is ever the basis of a news story and when you look at the replies, nobody is actually “outraged”.
Talk about glossing over and missing the big issue.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have since secured their place in the World Cup Play-Offs. They will play one of Croatia, Denmark, Italy or Switzerland. Avoid Italy, and you have a chance. Even if we do, it will still be a tough tie where we will be the underdogs.
People got giddy with the September rankings. Northern Ireland needed to win both October games to stand a chance of being seeded.
There was so much nonsense spouted last weekend, FIFA Rankings and UEFA Co-Efficients should be made a GCSE subject.
When you look at the ranking of 2nd place teams, it is tight between 3rd and 9th.
Ultimately, it all came down to last minute goals in June 2017. If Northern Ireland had drawn with Azerbaijan, they would have been the 9th place team and missed out.
If Scotland had beaten England, they would have finished 2nd and Republic Of Ireland would have been that 9th team.
If Republic Of Ireland had lost to Austria, they would have finished 3rd in their group.
If Sweden had drawn with France, they would have finished 3rd in their group.
It turns out, that was the pivotal matchday in the whole European Qualifiers.
In fact, Republic Of Ireland have England to thank twice. If Adam Lallana didn’t score his winner in Trnava on matchday 1, Slovakia would have got that Play-Off place ahead of Republic Of Ireland.
I presume all the Republic Of Ireland fans will be cheering on England in Russia next Summer as a thank you.
It just goes to show how small the margins are between success and failure.
As I said previously, all matchday 10 games should be played at the same time.
If they were, imagine being a Slovakia fan, watching your own team’s match, Slovenia v Scotland, hoping that Scotland fail to win, then Ukraine v Croatia and Wales v Republic Of Ireland hoping on of them ended a draw. That would have been fun.
This week, UEFA confirmed the divisions for the UEFA Nations League.
As expected, Northern Ireland will be in Section B, AKA The Championship. It is a bit of a farce that Holland can fail to qualify for two successive tournaments and be in Section A, AKA The Premier League.
Looking at Northern Ireland’s possible opponents, Wales away in November 2018, make a weekend of it in Bristol, see some Street Art and maybe even go to a Bristol Rovers match, or possibly a Bristol City match if they get relegated to League One for those goal gifs
Looking at the format, a team from Section D is guaranteed a place at Euro 2020. Azerbiajan, Belarus and Latvia have all been easily beaten by Northern Ireland in recent years. It is quite galling that Northern Ireland could lose out to one of them in Euro 2020.
I guarantee that whoever qualifies from Section D will lose all their matches at Euro 2020.
When you look at the rankings, Finland appear to have jumped into Section C with a drw against Croatia and a win over Turkey. They shouldn’t have bothered. They should have just lost both games and gambled on winning the Play-Offs.
If they did, that would have had ramifications regarding who qualified from Group I, further emphasising the farce of this competition.
If the UEFA Nations League is a farce, it certainly isn’t as big a farce as Coleraine’s winner.