The last thing you want after New Year’s Eve celebrations is to have a hangover three days later, and that is what Linfield were hoping to avoid when they hosted Coleraine on Tuesday night.
There was only the one change from Saturday’s starting XI, an enforced one as Chris Casement came in for the suspended Jamie Mulgrew. It didn’t work when David Jeffrey was manager, and it didn’t work again last night. If he is to play, it has to be in defence, his natural position.
Thankfully, Sean Ward was on the bench again after injury, which will be handy when the extra games of Mulgrew’s ban come into effect.
Both previous meetings between the two sides were 1-1 draws. While Linfield were drawing those games, Crusaders were winning theirs on the same matchdays. Those four points were all that seperated the sides at kick-off.
Linfield were hoping to arrest a slide of disappointing home results, only winning two of their last five games at Windsor Park.
There were not a lot of chances in the early minutes of the game – Coleraine having a flurry of corners dealt with by Linfield, while all Linfield could offer was a speculative long-range shot from Niall Quinn.
The game took a dramatic turn on 34 minutes when Jimmy Callacher was sent-off for a second yellow card after coming together with a Coleraine attacker on the halfway line. It was soft.
Unsurprisingly, referee Raymond Crangle couldn’t get his red card quick enough.
Call me a cynic, but if a Coleraine player on a yellow card committed that foul, he would have only got a talking to and a final warning.
We got to see that theory in action, when Stephen Douglas clipped Andrew Waterworth’s heels as he ran forward. No yellow card. He did get booked later on, but that would have been his second if Crangle applied the rules properly. Then, after getting a yellow card, Douglas continued to remonstrate with officials. A Linfield player would have been booked for that.
It seems that some players can get sent-off for two offences, while some can only get a yellow card for three offences.
That’s Crangleism in action for you.
This was not a new situation for Linfield. Worryingly, it’s become a regular one over the past two seasons, but we’ve managed to emerge from matches against Cliftonville, Glenavon (x2), Crusaders (x2) and Ballymena unbeaten with ten, and in one case nine, men on the pitch.
The difference from Saturday was, Linfield had something to hold on to. On Tuesday, they had to balance getting into the lead, with holding on to it.
Linfield’s best chance in the first-half was an Andrew Waterworth shot which was easily saved by Chris Johns.
At half-time, Kirk Millar came on for Jonny Frazer. I’m a big fan of Millar, but he is a frustrating player. It didn’t happen for him on Tuesday, and that’s me being polite, wating too many crossing opportunities in the final third, and losing possession too easily in the final third.
With a man less, Linfield needed to make the most of every opportunity that came their way. Set pieces were poor all night. Not one of them troubled Coleraine.
On 74 minutes, Coleraine took the lead when a cross was headed home by Jordon Allen.
Despite a brief flurry after the goal, Coleraine never looked troubled. Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s subs were attacking, with both Cameron Stewart and Kris Bright coming on. I couldn’t tell you what formation Linfield were playing, but it was attacking.
Despite that, there never seemed to be enough bodies forward or options to pass to when Linfield went forward.
As the minutes ran down, Coleraine unsurprisingly started to timewaste, the classic trick of kicking away the ball they were given and demanding the ball that went out be given to them. Unsurprisingly, Raymond Crangle allowed this, and Coleraine players were only encouraged to make a mug out of him, safe in the knowledge the time wouldn’t be added on.
You don’t seriously expect the attention seeking tit to get the basic things right?
Crusaders win over Ards means the gap is now back to seven points, undoing all of Saturday’s good work. By a quirk of mathematics, Linfield could have got four points (draw on Saturday, win on Tuesday) from the last two games and still been seven points behind.
In a strange way, this is starting to feel a lot like David Jeffrey’s early years. If last season mirrored 1997/1998 (give themselves too much, and a late surge was all in vain), then this is mirroring 1998/1999 (winning the head to head against the leaders, but allowing the gap to increase whenever we get within touching distance of the top)
Hopefully, next season will be a lot like 1999/2000.
This season, however, is far from a right off. There’s far too much to play for. Remember, Cliftonville won the league from a relatively similar position in 2014.
The only positive from last night was that Cliftonville could only draw at home to Carrick, meaning they are three points behind Linfield.
The league is on the backseat for this weekend and all focus is on the Irish Cup. Probably a relief after last night. A big performance is needed. If it is delivered, we’ll be fine.
As mentioned, Linfield’s home form in recent weeks has been dodgy. Thankfully, four out of the next five scheduled matches are away from home. Hopefully, there’ll be an Irish Cup tie on 4th February as well in that run.
Naturally, there’ll be questions as to wether Linfield have problems adjusting to playing at the newly redeveloped Windsor Park. What nonsense, nobody was complaining when Linfield won their final home games of last season 3-0 and 4-0, the first time Linfield fans were in the South Stand.
I’ve done a bit of research into this, and home form has been a problem for Linfield over the past four years, before and during the redevelopment. The suggestion that this is a recent problem is pure laziness.
In 2013/2014, David Jeffrey’s last season as manager and the last before redevelopment, Linfield dropped 19 points (5 draws, 3 defeats) at home. 6 of those points were dropped from winning positions. Linfield finished 2nd by 6 points.
Though Cliftonville had better goal difference, there is no way Linfield would have lost at home to Glentoran on matchday 37 with a 3 point lead instead of a 3 point deficit and in inferior goal difference.
In 2014/2015, Linfield lost 21 points (3 draws, 5 defeats) including 12 from winning positions. Linfield finished 2nd by 10 points. The maths is very simple there.
Those statistics include the two “home” matches played at a neutral venue due to subsidence in The Kop.
In 2015/2016, Linfield dropped 12 points at home (3 draws, 2 defeats), 6 from winning positions. Even though Crusaders winning margin was 8 points, there’s no way Linfield lose at Seaview in April if they have a 1 point lead instead of a 5 point deficit.
Three titles lost through bad home form, and they could have afforded 2 home defeats in each of those seasons.
Curiously, Cliftonville’s last title winning team in 2013/2014 had 4 home defeats that season, so perhaps home records leading to title wins is a bit of a myth.
One area I don’t want Linfield 2017 to emulate Cliftonville 2014 is in the Irish Cup, where they exited at the first hurdle after being beaten finalists the year before.
Meanwhile, Linfield’s appeal was successful regarding the choice of venue for the County Antrim Shield Final, meaning it will be played at a neutral venue, decided next week. I bet they rearrange the final for the midweek i’m in Manchester at the end of the month.
I find all the outrage over this rather amusing.
Five years without a major trophy and we can still boil people’s piss.
Good to see Linfield showing who’s boss off the pitch. Time to start doing it on the pitch.