COLERAINE 2-1 LINFIELD 14.10.2017

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.

Photo Album

Advertisements

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.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MAY

There wasn’t a lot of football for me in the last month of the season.

May began for me with the Irish Cup Final between Linfield and Coleraine, which Linfield won 3-0.

My final match of the season, was a trip to Old Trafford to see a much changed Manchester United side beat Crystal Palace 2-0.

And that, was the end of 2016-2017 season for me.

2017-2018 is not too far away.

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April’s football watching began in Lurgan on the first day of the month, heading to Mourneview Park to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in a Irish Cup Semi-Final.

The following week, was another 1-0 win for Linfield, this time at Windsor Park in a key title decider against Crusaders.

Easter arrived in the middle of the month, and a double header of wins for Linfield, against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The following Saturday, I headed Coleraine to see Linfield win 5-1 and go top of the League for the first time all season, with just one game to go.

That game was at Solitude, which Linfield won, and I captured the post match celebrations, as well as the celebrations later that day at Windsor Park.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, a match which resulted in a disappointing 1-0 defeat for Linfield.

It was then the Irish Cup for me, heading to The Oval to see Linfield get an extra-time win over Glentoran.

The following Saturday, another away game for Linfield, this time to Glenavon, and another 2-1 win for Linfield.

It was back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My football watching for the month ended with a trip to Stangmore Park to see Linfield secure a 4-1 win against Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield play awful but still grind out a 2-1 win.

The following weekend, was a double header. First up, was Northern Ireland v San Marino, the first game a fully redeveloped Windsor Park. After a few hours sleep, I was on an early boat to travel to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

It was then back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United before a road trip to Coleraine.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield and Crusaders draw 0-0.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

On the first weekend of August, I headed to Ballinamallard for Linfield’s opening league match of the 2016-2017 season.

It was a flurry of Linfield matches in August, seeing them in action against Coleraine, Crusaders, Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts before the month was over.

Balinamallard United v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

LINFIELD 3-0 COLERAINE 6.5.2017

Having won two of the three trophies they finished runners-up in last season, there was still one more prize up for grabs for Linfield to rectify the disappointments of last season as they faced Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park, the first to be held at the fully redeveloped stadium.

Despite not winning any of their last four League games, Coleraine wouldn’t have feared coming to Windsor Park, having got a win and a draw in their two League visits this season. That draw saw Linfield get a controversial late equaliser.

There was only one change for Linfield from last week’s title winning game at Solitude. It was an unsurprising one with Paul Smyth coming back in after a one match suspension. Chris Casement was the man who missed out.

Linfield were in control in the early minutes of the game while Coleraine looked nervous. A sloppy header back conceded a soft corner. That resulting corner saw a goalbound Jimmy Callacher header be headed away by a defender in his six yard box.

Just over a minute later, a Mark Haughey header forced Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns into a spectacular save.

It wasn’t all one way traffic with Coleraine having their own attacks, but they were usually snuffed out by Linfield, or Coleraine being forced to take speculative shots.

Aaron Burns was looking for a goal, having a shot go over before his header caused a scramble in the penalty area which saw the ball bundled wide by Mark Stafford.

Niall Quinn was next to be frustrated as he headed goalwards from a Paul Smyth cross. He was able to get the ball up but not down in time, as the ball hit the top of the net rather than the back of it.

The game followed a similar pattern to the League meeting two weeks previous. Linfield had most of the ball and were creating chances, but nothing clear cut, while also nullifying Coleraine as an attacking threat. There was no way Linfield could create that many chances and not score.

There wasn’t long to wait for that Linfield goal as Paul Smyth was played in down the right wing and crossed for Andrew Waterworth to score from close range.

It was the second time he had scored in an Irish Cup Final having scored twice for Glentoran in 2013.

Curiously, scoring for two different teams in an Irish Cup Final isn’t a unique feat having been done this century by Glenn Ferguson (1991, 2007) Mark Dickson (2007, 2009) Kyle Neill (2002, 2014) and Kevin Braniff (2010, 2016)

Just as curious, was the fact that it was the first goal scored by Linfield in an Irish Cup tie this season. In fact, going back further, it was only the second time that Linfield scored a first-half goal in their last eleven Irish Cup ties and first in their last eight Irish Cup games.

A few minutes later, Aaron Burns got in behind Coleraine’s defence. His shot was saved but it fell perfectly to Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close range.

It was two goals in the space of five minutes. For the forth successive match, Linfield had taken control of the game with a quick goal spree. Just the two in a short timeframe though instead of the usual three.

Stephen Lowry had a long range shot go wide in first-half injury time as Linfield went in 2-0 up.

Despite this lead, the game was far from won. Coleraine would be attacking their fans in the second-half and knew if they could get a quick goal, anything could happen.

There was no onslaught on Linfield’s goal, as they were able to ride out what Coleraine threw at them. There were crosses into the box that caused concern for Linfield, but nothing more.

Matthew Clarke had a shot saved from a wide angle while Jimmy Callacher headed over from a free-kick as Linfield looked for a third goal that would win the game.

Jamie McGonigle had Coleraine’s best attacking moment but his free header went wide. If he got it on target, he surely would have scored.

As each minute passed, the possibility of a Coleraine comeback became less and less, but Linfield still needed a third goal just to be sure.

Niall Quinn thought he was going to get it, only to see his header go wide.

On 88 minutes, that third goal came when Paul Smyth got free down the right and crossed for Andrew Waterworth to complete his hat-trick from close range. Eight goals in his last three games. He must be gutted the season is now over.

His moment got slightly spoiled when the Stadium Announcer gave the goal to Paul Smyth, i’m not sure how he managed it, before quickly correcting himself.

If that tannoy announcement had Linfield fans confused, the next one gave them all a laugh as it was announced that Football Specials from Adelaide to Coleraine were being brought forward. It’s not as if they would be staying behind to see their team parade the trophy.

A big cheer went up from Linfield fans when it was announced. Ouch.

Cameron Stewart had a chance to make it 4-0 but couldn’t get his feet set up to finish.

The match finished 3-0 and Linfield added the Irish Cup to the League Title and the County Antrim Shield.

Their players walked up the South Stand to lift the trophy, before heading over to a packed North Stand, where the majority of their fans were based.

A few things on the trophy presentation.

Linfield players stood on a podium with their back to the South Stand. It would have been better to have the podium with the players backs to the North Stand for photos, and then for them to turn around to their fans to parade the trophy.

It was also great that there was no pitch invasion. It doesn’t matter if it’s your 1st match of the season or your 51st, we all want to see the trophy paraded.

It was great that fans in the North and Railway Stands were able to see the trophy, bearing in mind previous successes this decade saw the trophy parade ended prematurely due to people entering the pitch.

So, what next for Linfield?

Same again I guess. Oh, and try to win the League Cup. It’s been ten years since we won it.

Hopefully, to try and get to the Third Qualifying Round in the European Cup and hope for a kinder draw in the Scottish Challenge Cup, should we be in it again. And a couple of decent away games in the Scottish Challenge Cup as well.

And there’s our first participation in the Charity Shield since 2000 to look forward to as well.

That is me finished as far as Linfield are concerned, but I still have one more match this season as i’ll be heading to Old Trafford in two weeks time to see Manchester United take on Crystal Palace.

At the moment, i’m not going to the Northern Ireland v New Zealand game in early June, but, you never know.

Just think, if that FIFA Congress in December 2010 had worked out differently, I could have been excitedly telling you that I was going to see Mexico v New Zealand at Villa Park next month in the Confederations Cup. But i’m not.

So, pre-season wishlist time. Away friendlies at grounds I haven’t been to for a while. Larne, PSNI, Moyola Park, Comber Rec then.

Don’t worry, i’ll manage to survive Saturday afternoons over the next few months. I’ve got an audio recording of Roy Carroll shouting “GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!” which i’m going to play between 3pm and 5pm every Saturday between now and August.

Photo Album

2016 Irish Cup Final

2015 Irish Cup Final

2014 Irish Cup Final

2012 Irish Cup Final

2011 Irish Cup Final

2010 Irish Cup Final

COLERAINE 1-5 LINFIELD 22.4.2017

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.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 COLERAINE 3.1.2017

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.

Photo Album