This was a match that should have been played on New Year’s Day. Linfield were hoping that this match would kickstarted their 2018, four weeks later than anticipated.
If Linfield take any longer starting this year, they might as well join the Chinese Super League.
Glenavon and Cliftonville dropped four points in their games on Friday and Monday, which meant that Linfield could make up ground on the two sides above them with a win.
While Linfield’s ambitions were to make up ground to try and climb into 3rd. Coleraine’s was a bit more lofty, looking for three points to go top of the League.
It is Coleraine’s strong finish to last season which sowed the seeds for this season’s title challenge that is now what Linfield are aiming to replicate, rather than the Cliftonville 2014 model that did for them last season.
Kirk Millar whipped a cross in the early minutes which had nobody end of it, while Josh Carson had a shot just wide for Coleraine.
Ciaron Harkin’s cross evaded everyone and went out for a goal kick as Coleraine piled on the pressure. There was no immediate danger for Linfield, but the shots were tallying up. Far too many shots for Linfield’s liking.
Darren McCauley had a shot saved by Gareth Deane, deputising for the injured Roy Carroll, while Kirk Millar tried to replicate his goal at Ballinamallard on the opening day of last season after a kick out by Chris Johns, but only managed to put his shot wide.
Jamie McGonigle’s goalbound header was tipped over by Gareth Deane as it looked only a matter of time before Coleraine scored.
That came when McGonigle finished after a quick counter-attack after Linfield lost possession. It was another poor goal to concede.
The goal had been coming, and every time Coleraine attacked, it looked like they were queuing up to score. Even if Linfield had more defenders, Coleraine always looked likely to win out in the situation.
Linfield survived and were relieved to only go in at half-time 1-0 down. They made a strong start to the second-half, with Ryan Strain and Stephen Lowry coming on for Andrew Mitchell and Kurtis Byrne. Kirk Millar looked the more obvious player to make way for Strain.
Stephen Lowry was having an impact. Linfield were now more creative and believable when they attacked.
Andrew Waterworth thought he had equalised but his low shot was saved by Johns. Despite all their possession, this was Linfield’s best attacking moment.
Soon after, Coleraine went 2-0 up when Ian Parkhill was played through and finished. It was another poor goal to concede, as Parkhill didn’t have to move a lot in order to get clear.
The goal had come slightly against the run of the play in the second-half, and it looked like it secured the points for Coleraine.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, it looked like Coleraine were going to surge on and win 3-0, or possibly more, as their fans taunted David Healy with chants of “Sacked in the morning”, not that it was a realistic scenario.
However, there was to be a late twist, as a cross from Niall Quinn was headed home by Andrew Waterworth with a few minutes to go to make it 2-1. It was the first real moment of attacking quality in the game from Linfield, and suddenly, it was game on.
In February 2016, Coleraine led Linfield 2-0 at home in the first-half. When Linfield pulled it back to 2-1, Coleraine didn’t seem to fancy the fight.
Looking at the body language of the Coleraine players after Waterworth’s goal, it looked like being a repeat situation.
As the board for injury time made an appearance, Linfield had a free-kick out wide.
Stephen Lowry overhit the free-kick, but unbelievably bounced off the bar and hit a Coleraine player and went in. Linfield had got an unlikely equaliser. It was hard to see who scored it from where I was, it didn’t really matter. If you care, it was credited as a Gareth McConaghie own goal.
Various times this season, Linfield have conceded farcical goals and lost games they never looked like losing until they went behind. Now they were on the right side of ridiculousness.
Seasons can turn on the strangest things. Hopefully, Linfield can now use this lucky break as a springboard for the rest of the season.
When the equaliser went in, thoughts went back to a live Sky game in October 2012, when Linfield were deservedly 2-0 down before pulling it back to 2-2 late on, only to lose it 3-2 immediately.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. In fact, if the game last five more minutes, Linfield probably would have won it. If it lasted for ten more minutes, Linfield definitely would have won it.
The draw didn’t help either sides League position. The draw will have cheered up Crusaders fans after they left Stangmore Park following their side’s exit from the NIFL Cup. You have to be a very special team to do a Clean Sweep.
NIFL will have breathed a sigh of relief after that result, avoiding a fixture shitstorm that would have followed a Crusaders win, with them being scheduled to face Inverness away on the weekend of the Final.
It’s a Final that will be played at Windsor Park.
That looks like a lazy one size fits all option, due to the NIFL being backed into the corner by the short turnaround between the Semi-Final and Final.
Crusaders v Cliftonville or Ballymena could have been accommodated at one of the participants home grounds, like in 2014. I could understand using Windsor Park for either of those two combinations though.
Dungannon v Ballymena could be played at Seaview while Dungannon v Cliftonville could be played at Mourneview Park.
Windsor Park being used for the Final means that Linfield now won’t be able to bring forward their League match against Glenavon if they have a free weekend due to Cliftonville reaching the Final.
NIFL were praying that Ballymena v Cliftonville wasn’t postponed. It was. I’ll write about the fall out on that and the knock-on effect for Linfield in my Warrenpoint blog.
Since I last wrote, the draw for the UEFA Nations League was made. Bad news for those wanting to visit Wales, but thankfully bad news for gutter press with no interest in football as Northern Ireland avoided Republic of Ireland.
Unfortunately, we decided to arrange a friendly against them instead. How very underwhelming.
Who we did get was Austria and Bosnia, representing a great chance of promotion.
Austria away is very tempting, especially as you can do a Vienna/Bratislava double header, as there is only one hour between the two cities. Slovakia are at home to Czech Republic the day after Austria v Northern Ireland, but I would guess it would be a bit difficult getting tickets for that game.
Definitely in the calendar is An Evening With Eric Cantona in October. I’ve already sorted myself with a ticket for that.
Linfield have already begun the overhaul of their squad with Ross Clarke being loaned to Ards, Joel Cooper signing in the Summer and the arrival of Joe Crowe from Sandy Row. Yes, actually. That’s his name and that’s where he’s from.
This match was followed by a 1-0 win over Newry in the Irish Cup. I wasn’t at it so can’t comment on it.
It was a match disrupted in the second-half by a floodlight failure. Funny how there’s never a floodlight failure when Linfield are getting beat.
In the Quarter-Finals, is a home tie against Cliftonville, who beat Crusaders. After that match, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter spoke on Radio Ulster about how his players were cynically fouled and that the Fourth Official was influenced by the opposition bench.
I’m not going to make any comment on any possible irony whatsoever.
Cliftonville have scored four goals in each of their last two games, losing to the team at the bottom and beating the team at the top.
There’s nothing to fear, we can beat them. We’ve got previous against them in Quarter-Finals, beating them at that stage en route to the Final in 1992, 1994 and 2016.
It’s Semi-Finals against Cliftonville when the year ends in 9 that are a bit of a problem. We can worry about that next year.