CRUSADERS 2-0 LINFIELD 14.4.2018

After two successive wins at the start of the split, Linfield headed to Seaview looking for a third successive win to keep control of third place, and possible automatic qualification for next season’s UEFA Cup.

Next season’s UEFA Cup is a competition that Crusaders want to avoid playing in, currently top of the League only on goal difference.

Both teams were going for goal early on, with Jordan Owens and Andrew Waterworth both having shots on goal saved.

Linfield were holding their own, but it was Crusaders whose attacks were causing the most concerning, always having an option to pass or cross to every time they went forward.

On 15 minutes, Crusaders took the lead when a cross landed at an unmarked Jordan Owens, who had enough time to set himself up to finish from close range.

Questions have to be ask how Owens was unmarked in the six yard box. It wasn’t even a quick attack, why didn’t somebody get close to him?

Once again, Linfield concede a goal to Crusaders that is basic, and of their own doing.

The important thing was that heads didn’t go down.

Linfield almost got an instant equaliser when a neat passing move between Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth played in Stephen Fallon whose shot was smothered by Crusaders goalkeeper Brian Jensen.

Linfield were creating chances and were encouraged by this. Mark Stafford intercepted just as Jensen was going to pick up a free-kick, with Andrew Waterworth being unable to finish when the ball fell to him.

Despite Linfield’s attacking encouragement, it was clear that they were missing Jamie Mulgrew.

When Mulgrew gets the ball, his first intention is to go forward. Well, until he is fouled.

Neither Stephen Lowry or Andrew Mitchell were doing that. Nobody was driving forward from midfield.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy Carroll was the Linfield player who received the most passes, such was the lack of imagination going forward at times.

Stephen Fallon had another shot saved by Jensen, pouncing after he spilled a shot from Kurtis Byrne.

Billy Joe Burns almost scored from a cross come shot before a snapshot from Andrew Waterworth forced Jensen to turn it behind for a corner.

That resulting corner was the final actions of the first-half. The whistle blew with a Crusaders player injured in the penalty box. As Andrew Waterworth went to check on his welfare, a pack of Crusaders players surrounded him like feral wolves.

After midweek events in Madrid, this is a topical issue in football. However, the referee did nothing about it. Waterworth was already on a yellow card and the Crusaders players were targeting him. They knew what they were doing.

As the teams left the pitch, Colin Coates and Jordan Owens were trying to generate cheers in front of the home stand, like it was WWE or Panto. The absolute state of them.

That should have been David Healy’s half-time team talk sorted.

You can laugh at all of Cristano Ronaldo’s posturing, he can back it up by being one of the greatest players of all time with individual achievements and winners medals to go with it.

Watching a bunch of nobodies like Coates and Owens acting like Billy Big Balls should have been motivation to put them back in their box where they should have been put back in 2014.

Despite being 1-0 down, there were signs of encouragement for Linfield. They had chances and were creating chances. There were goals for Linfield if they went at Crusaders and attacked them, especially as their were playing towards where their fans were based.

Those attacks, never materialised.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Gavin Whyte had a free-kick saved by Carroll while Carroll saved a Jordan Owens header.

Linfield’s response. Um, ahhhh, erm ……

Kirk Millar had a free-kick which was overhit and went out for a goal kick.

Even if he did get it towards the penalty spot, there probably would have been a Crusaders head getting there first.

That was a theme throughout the game, Crusaders were first to every ball. Even though the wind was blowing and the pitch wasn’t bouncey, Linfield players were anticipating the ball, they weren’t in position to get the second ball. Too many Linfield attacks were ended because Crusaders players were first to the clearance.

David Healy was slow to change things. Probably because there weren’t a lot of options.

There were three attackers on the bench – Ryan Strain, Louis Rooney and Achille Campion, but not a lot of goals. You didn’t look at anyone on the bench and think “Yes, he’ll get us a goal”.

It’s quite damming that the biggest goal threat on Linfield’s bench was Jimmy Callacher.

Strain and Campion came on for Byrne and Fallon.

The grandstand finish never materialised as the game meandered. You would have thought it was a mid table clash between two sides with nothing to play for.

Having seen how vulnerable Crusaders were last weekend when 1-0 up, Linfield should have been grabbing the game by the throat and pushing for an equaliser, especially as they were attacking their own fans.

Even more so as by this point, Glenavon were 3-1 up at Solitude, putting them 3rd, one point ahead of Linfield. The race for 3rd was now being decided by the fact that Glenavon got a point at Seaview and Linfield didn’t.

This game at Solitude was Glenavon’s first win in seven games. There was no way they were going to go the final two months of the season without a win. Linfield had to grab every point that they could.

With two minutes remaining, Jordan Owens headed home to make it 2-0 and make sure of the points for Crusaders, not that they were in any danger of surrendering them. Linfield never looked like scoring.

What made it worse was the lack of ideas, hoofing the ball upfield, playing right into Crusaders.

In the space of one season, Linfield players have regressed into fearing Crusaders, just as they did between 2012 and 2016.

How many times do they need to be told? Do not be afraid of Crusaders. There is no need to be afraid of Crusaders.

Louis Rooney came on for Matthew Clarke as Linfield went to 3-4-3. Too little, too late.

By now, away fans were heading to the exits. They didn’t miss much, apart from an Andrew Mitchell red card, giving the Crusaders fans what they wanted. Once again, Linfield had been outsmarted by a stupid team.

For most of the game, the main saving grace for Linfield was that Cliftonville and Glenavon were drawing 0-0.

That meant that despite the defeat, Linfield would be one point clear of Glenavon and four points clear of Cliftonville in the race for 3rd.

Four goals and a red card in the space of ten minutes gave Glenavon a 3-1 win.

Glenavon are now 3rd, a point clear of Linfield and six clear of Cliftonville. Cliftonville can still catch Glenavon, but a goal difference of eleven in Glenavon’s favour which would be need to be overturned in four matches makes that unlikely.

Glenavon boosted their goal difference by four goals today, giving them five over Linfield. If Linfield are to get 3rd place, it won’t be on Goal Difference.

Next weekend, Glenavon are at home to Ballymena United. Once again, Linfield are looking for a favour from Ballymena United on Matchday 37. I would expect Glenavon to win that game. The only hope is, Ballymena must surely be due a win.

Next Saturday, Linfield are at home to Coleraine. I can’t say i’ve much expectation going into this game.

If Linfield were to win next Saturday, it would present the title to a bunch of Hoofball Thugs. In truth, the title was always going to be won by an unbearable shower. Linfield’s interest in the title race ended a long time ago. They didn’t even look like making much of an impact on it today.

Not going to lie, I really can’t be arsed with the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, it’s an utter farce. It should be Top Three in the League plus the Cup Winners, or Fourth if the Irish Cup win won by a team in the Top Three.

If that is the fate we are given, then we must be ready. When that is, is anyone’s guess, as the dates haven’t been announced. I would expect Tuesday 8th May and Friday 11th May.

Even if Glenavon finish 3rd, it would still be advantageous for Linfield if Cliftonville lose the Irish Cup Final, as they would be going into the Play-Offs on the back of a major disappointment and could struggle to life themselves for it. Plus, it would give Linfield home advantage (assuming they finish 4th) should they reach the Final.

Elsewhere, it was announced that Brandon Adams has left the club with immediate effect. That was no real surprise. He’s seemed to score for fun for Linfield Swifts but could never do it for the first team.

I know he has been restricted to substitute appearances, but there’s never been a time he has come off the bench where I have thought that he has to start the next game.

This week, saw St Patrick’s Athletic announce plans for a new stadium meaning i’ll have to try and fit in one last visit to Richmond Park on a future annual day trip to Dublin.

That may not be the smartest idea, as I have been to Richmond Park twice, in 2010 and 2013, with both games ending 0-0.

I’m doing a day trip to Dublin in July. The two matches on while i’m there. The options are Bohemians v Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne v Drogheda United. I’ll keep you updated on that.

Elsewhere, Spartans won the Lowland League. You may remember them facing Linfield in the Scottish Challenge Cup in September

Regular readers will know I keep an eye out for their results as I go to Edinburgh every August, and plan on seeing them if they get promoted to League Two, if they are at home when I am in Edinburgh.

All they have to do is win a Play-Off against the Highland League Champions (Cove Rangers), and then win a Play-Off against the side that finished bottom of League Two (Cowdenbeath).

Not going to lie, I can’t wait for this season to end. At least the World Cup will distract me from how farcical this season has been.

Photo Album

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LINFIELD 1-2 CRUSADERS 30.12.2017

After defeat at The Oval on Boxing Day, David Healy said that Linfield were out of the title race. Wether he actually believed that though, is another matter.

They might have kicked off fifteen points behind morning leaders Coleraine, but with two games in hand, that gap could be reduced to nine points, the gap that Linfield clawed back from February onwards last season. Obviously, points in the bag are better to have than games in hand.

However, defeat at home to Crusaders would surely have put them out of the title race, and they would have to believe it.

It seems to be a tradition in recent years that Linfield and Crusaders meet after Boxing Day, this being the fourth successive season that the two sides have met on New Year’s Day or the last Saturday in December.

Linfield fans will have had fond memories of the last time they faced Crusaders after a Boxing Day defeat at The Oval, a 5-0 win at Windsor Park on 29th December 2007. A repeat scoreline would have been wishful thinking.

As I arrived at Windsor Park, Disappear by INXS was on the stereo. I’m not sure if that song was in relation to Linfield’s title fans, as they looked to Baby Don’t Cry over a team that has continued to Mystify this season.

They were hoping that Ryan Strain being brought into the team would be a New Sensation.

Results against Crusaders this season have been disappointing so far. That would be an understatement. Two games where we surrendered to them by playing 4-5-1, and then a third decided by a horrendous refereeing decision to send off Mark Stafford for being fouled when the game was in the balance.

Those games have seen Linfield gift goals to the opposition.

Linfield made a positive start to this game and were straight on the attack, winning a free-kick which was headed home by Josh Robinson just as sixty seconds appeared on the clock. It was the perfect start, and the first time this season that Linfield had led against Crusaders.

Linfield continued the positive start, Stephen Fallon having a shot saved after Sean O’Neill rushed out to deny Ryan Strain. There were groans that he didn’t get height on it, he really needed to in order to scored. The problem was, getting the right amount of height, so he gambled and hit it low. It didn’t pay off.

Strain and Fallon were getting a lot of joy against Crusaders defence, as was Matthew Clarke. The start was similar to the County Antrim Shield Final. Except, that Linfield couldn’t get a second goal when they were on top.

Crusaders then had chances. Jordan Owens hit the bar from a header after a soft free-kick given for a foul on Paul Heatley. For a player renowned for going down at the slightest touch, Linfield players were giving him too many excuses to go down, and the officials were buying it.

In the opening minutes, it appeared that someone had given Arnold Hunter a rulebook for Christmas as he was actually awarding free-kicks and punishing Crusaders tactical fouling.

He might have had a rulebook, but it appeared he didn’t get a yellow card for Christmas.

That was until midway through the half when his yellow card appeared frequently but his rule book seemed to disappear.

Well, not for Howard Beverland, who seemed to be able to foul without consequence throughout the first-half.

A big second-half performance was needed from Linfield, but they couldn’t get the early goal like last week against Cliftonville.

Just before the hour, Crusaders equalised when Billy Joe Burns fired home from long range. As good as the goal will look on TV, questions have to be asked of Linfield’s defending.

It came from a clearance from Matthew Clarke clearing it inside across the pitch rather than the way he was playing.

It’s literally schoolboy stuff, the first thing you learn when learning to play football.

Yes, Matthew Clarke was under pressure, but he had options. He could have won a cheap foul or gone safety first and just conceded a throw.

By clearing the ball across the pitch, he put his own team under pressure that they didn’t need to be under. Even so, questions have to be asked why Billy Joe Burns was allowed so much freedom to run with the ball, especially when it was so glaringly obvious what he was going to do.

Even more worrying, was the body language of the Linfield players after the goal. They looked like they didn’t believe they could go 2-1 in front, they looked like a beaten team when the score was 1-1.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Robert Garrett and Ross Clarke for Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon. I’m not sure if Jordan Stewart is injured, but if he’s not, he should be in the matchday squad.

He had an awful game on his last appearance against Warrenpoint, and no player should be an automatic selection, but surely he should be on the bench. Boxing Day and today were crying out for him when the score was 1-1.

Crusaders then hit the bar twice, albeit the top of it. They were getting too close for Linfield’s liking.

On 80 minutes, came a goal that summed up Linfield’s season, as a long ball was allowed to bounce, Robert Garrett and Josh Robinson tackled each other, before Garrett stands on the ball when trying to win it back, while Robinson backs off Gavin Whyte, allowing him to shoot into the bottom corner via a deflection.

If you are Alan Hansen, this is porn for you.

We’re not even losing to good goals. We’re losing to the absolute worst in Pub League goals.

You don’t to single players out but that’s the second goal this week we’ve conceded that you look at Robert Garrett and think “Hmmmmm”. He’s not the worst offender this season or in recent weeks. Josh Robinson’s contribution in this goal is also questionable.

Worst thing was, it was game over. You just looked at the players and they believed it was game over. It was like the worst games between 2008 and 2010, when Linfield went three years without winning a League game from behind. It was like the worst games in David Jeffrey’s final years, when we used to bend over for Cliftonville for fun. Not our fun, might I add.

Cameron Stewart came on for Ryan Strain. It was a substitution that had seemed obvious for about ten minutes before. It should have been proactive rather than reactive.

Colin Coates did have to head over on his own goal line when it looked like Andrew Waterworth was going to head home. It was the only thing that Linfield could offer rather than being the start of the siege.

There was nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck for Linfield, nobody looking like they were going to make something happen, to offer something different.

Crusaders were able to see out the final ten minutes, aided by Sean O’Neill timewasting at goal kicks, the referee being too stupid to do anything about it. Naturally, the time wasn’t added on at the end of the game.

Linfield players looked too defeated to protest. I’m not sure how many times i have to mention it, but the players should be making an issue of it, putting teams under pressure when taking their own throws and goal kicks, getting players on yellow card tightropes, to have it in the referee’s head that the appropriate amount of injury time needs to be added when Linfield need a goal.

We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams, because opposition teams aren’t slow in raising it if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

Yes, Linfield are missing Paul Smyth, but there’s no point in having Paul Smyth when you concede the goals we concede. Basic stuff. Do they even practice defending at training?

Jay Donnelly not being tracked, Jamie McGonigle being allowed a free run in the last minute, Curtis Allen allowed to roam the penalty area unmarked, take your pick from the Crusaders match in October, take your pick from the Warrenpoint game a few weeks back.

Teams don’t have to do a lot in order to score against us.

It seems to be a perfect storm, as the goals aren’t going in at the other end, which seems to be a strange thing to say about the only team in the League to have scored in every game this season.

We’re not killing teams off when we’re in front, and not seeing the game out when we need to.

We have options up front, but nobody seems to be making the most of the opportunity when they get a game or a run of games.

Brandon Adams has been scoring for fun in the Reserves but has been anonymous when he’s made a first team appearance. Louis Rooney needs a goal but hasn’t looked like getting one.

We’ve conceded last minute winners to Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran. They were all games we never looked like losing. Even those three points could give us a glimmer of hope.

We’ve thrown away leads against Cliftonville, Ballymena, Glentoran and Crusaders. We led at half-time in three of those games (the other was a late first-half goal) and never looked like losing when we went in at half-time in any of those games.

We wouldn’t be top with those twelve points, but we’d be in a far better position.

Where has all the self-belief gone? Where has the concentration in the final minutes of games gone? All the bad habits from David Jeffrey’s final years have returned. Why are we not turning up in big games?

For the second successive matchday, Coleraine have dropped points and we haven’t taken advantage. Now we’re eying up Glenavon instead, hoping to finish 3rd to possibly secure European Football.

We can’t let heads go down and for the season just to drift. If Cliftonville in 2014 were our reference point last season, Cliftonville in 2015 have to be our reference point for how not to do things, they let the season drift once the title had gone, finishing 5th and have never recovered.

Up next, is a trip to Coleraine on Monday afternoon (Or, New Year’s Day, if you prefer), starting 2018 at the venue of my favourite football match in 2017 (The one in April, not October, in case you hadn’t worked it out)

Before the match, I purchased the addendum to Every Other Saturday, to include last season’s three trophies.

I’d held off purchasing it in case Santa got it for me. He didn’t.

I’m hoping the players got a copy and read it on the long journey to Coleraine. They could do with the inspiration, and a reminder that they are a far better team than results and league position suggests.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

In the first week of October 2017, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier.

That was sandwiched inbetween me going out around Belfast to check out Street Art which was painted as part of Hit The North, these pieces were still works in progress when I went to photograph them in September

The following day, I went to my one Rugby match a year, as Ulster beat Wasps in the European Cup.

It was back to football the following day, seeing Linfield take on Coleraine.

There was a glut of concerts towards the end of the month, going to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, OMD and Liam Gallagher, with Linfield’s matches against Ards and Crusaders sandwiched inbetween.

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Hit The North Mop-Up

Hit The North Mop-Up Photo Album

Ulster v Wasps

Ulster v Wasps Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at The Limelight

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders

OMD live at Mandela Hall

OMD live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

Linfield v Ards

Liam Gallagher live at The Odyssey

Liam Gallagher live at The Odyssey Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

September 2017 began with a road trip, and a long one at that, to Edinburgh, to see Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Two days later, it was another football match with an international feel, an actual international, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

The following weekend was busy, taking in Ryan Adams at Ulster Hall and then Linfield’s match against Glentoran.

There was more football to follow, taking in Linfield’s matches against Crusaders and Ballinamallard.

The following weekend was football free but not photo free, as I was out capturing Culture Night, and Street Art painted as part of Hit The North.

The month ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield take on Cliftonville. The less said about which, the better.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Culture Night 2017

Culture Night 2017 Photo Album

Hit The North 2017

Hit The North 2017 Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

2017 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April began for me with a trip to Lurgan for the Irish Cup Semi-Final, to see Linfield secure a late 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend was another 1-0 win for Linfield and just as important, a League win against Crusaders that blew the title race wide open.

April saw the launch of a new mural in Belfast City Centre, in the Cathedral Quarter, which I went and got photos of.

On Easter Saturday, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena 2-0.

On Easter Monday, I cycled to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos from the City Centre.

The following night, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield secure vital win over Glenavon.

On the following Saturday, the football continued, heading Coleraine to see Linfield beat Coleraine and finally get to the top of the Irish League.

Towards the end of the month, a mural of The Two Ronnies appeared in Belfast City Centre, so I headed out to get photos of this.

The penultimate day of the month saw me head to Solitude where Linfield needed to avoid defeat in order to win the Irish League. It didn’t look good at half-time, but a Andrew Waterworth hat-trick in the second-half saw the trophy head to Windsor Park.

Immediately after the game, there was a celebratory event at Windsor Park so that supporters unable to get into Solitude could join in the celebrations. Naturally, I was there getting photographs.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Pure Here, So It Is

Pure Here, So It Is Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

And It’s Goodnight From Me

And It’s Goodnight From Me Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2017 began for me with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield beat Crusaders in an Irish Cup tie. That was followed a few days later by my first concert of 2017, seeing Blossoms at The Limelight.

It was then back to football for a Monday night match between Linfield and Cliftonville, and then returning to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ards.

I was then out on the trail of Street Art, getting photos of a mural of a Dancer in Belfast City Centre.

The following weekend, I headed to Fermanagh to see Linfield get a late win against Ballinamallard.

I then headed out again in search of Street art, getting photographs of a new mural of East Belfast legends.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Blossoms live at The Limelight

Blossoms live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

The Dancer

The Dancer Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

East Belfast Wall Of Legends

East Belfast Wall Of Legends Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2017 began for me in Manchester, heading over to see United take on Hull City, while also getting some Street Art photos.

Back in Northern Ireland, I was on the road to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute in the Irish Cup.

The next day, I was out on my bike for my biannual (usually February and August) visit to Belfast Peace Wall to get some photos of the Wall Art on the walls.

The following Saturday, another road trip, to Carrickfergus to see Linfield at Taylor’s Avenue

The following weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield, and a disappointing draw against Portadown.

The morning after, I was out on my bike to get photos of a Jamie Dornan mural in Belfast City Centre.

Later that day, it was another cup final, the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena and Carrick.

The following weekend, I was Oval bound to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Be My Valentine

Be My Valentine Photo Album

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

LINFIELD 2-5 CRUSADERS 23.10.2017

After conceding last minute winners on the previous three Saturdays, Linfield will have been glad to have seen their match against Crusaders moved to the Monday night for broadcast on Sky Sports.

After six successive away games, they would have been doubly glad this game was at Windsor Park.

Having drawn two and lost one of their last three home games, Crusaders wouldn’t have been too disappointed this match was at Windsor Park.

It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see these two sides separated by a point at this stage of the season. It may have been a surprise that both were in the chasing pack looking to keep in touch with Coleraine at the top, with Linfield kicking off ten points behind Coleraine and Crusaders eleven points behind.

Forget about Coleraine, both sides were simply looking to keep in touch with 2nd place Glenavon, five points ahead of Linfield and six points ahead of Crusaders at kick-off.

Despite the absence of Jamie Mulgrew through injury, Linfield lined-up with three centre midfielders, despite it not working against Crusaders the previous month.

Linfield started off slow and sluggish and Crusaders were more up for it. Crusaders had an early chance when Gavin Whyte burst through and crossed for Jordan Owens, whose shot was blocked, and Paul Heatley fired over. Linfield’s defence was all over the place.

Linfield were so slow and sluggish, Crusaders didn’t even have to do any tactical fouls in the opening 15 minutes.

Linfield then began to show more as an attacking force, with both Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth having shots saved after runs towards goal.

It was Crusaders who took the lead when a low cross saw Paul Heatley fire home.

Just after the half hour, it was 2-0 when a low cross from Mark McChrystal was headed into his own net by Mark Stafford. There wasn’t a Crusaders player anywhere near the six yard box.

Within a few minutes, Linfield’s best attack saw Kirk Millar get in behind Crusaders defence and his low cross forced Billy Joe Burns into a last ditch clearance just as Matthew Clarke looked set to put it into the net.

The respite was brief for Crusaders as Mark Stafford headed home from the resulting corner.

It was the second successive match against Crusaders that Stafford had scored a prequaliser. This time, Linfield had more time to do something about it.

It was no coincidence that the first time Linfield really attacked Crusaders, they got a goal. It also meant that Linfield had the momentum going into half-time.

Or so we thought.

Linfield had a free-kick in Crusaders half, an opportunity to apply pressure, which was easily cleared after a poor delivery. Crusaders countered which resulted in them hitting the bar, with Gavin Whyte having enough time to control the shot and set himself up to score to make it 3-1.

The attack should have been halted on the halfway line when Robert Garrett had an opportunity to do a tactical foul. Take one for the team, and we go in 1-2 down and can regroup.

Also, there were enough defenders in the box to react when the ball hit the bar, to get there first, to get in the road, to do anything to keep the ball out of the net.

Crusaders were set up to counter attack, and it was working a treat.

That wasn’t the end of the action in the first-half, as Stephen Lowry had an opportunity to head home from inside the box. He should have been hitting the target at least.

Crusaders appeared to stop playing the start of the second-half, similar to Glenavon when they had a half-time two goal lead in November 2016.

Aaron Burns chased a lost cause and was able to win possession and play the ball across goal. Nobody reacted quick enough, or thought he would win the ball. If they did, they would have had a certain goal. The attack ended with Stephen Lowry having a low shot blocked.

Burns then pulled a goal back for Linfield to make it 3-2. Linfield now had the momentum. They now looked the most likely team to win.

Looking an equaliser, Jordan Stewart came on from the bench. Like at Seaview last month, this was a game he should have been starting.

He came on for Kirk Millar. It should have been both on the pitch instead of one for one.

Crusaders knew that Linfield had them where they wanted them. We were then treated to timewasting at every free-kick, throw-in and goal kick.

As per usual, the officials were too thick or inept to do something about it.

While the Ballboys were quick in returning the ball to restart the game, Crusaders players were either kicking the ball away, or walking away from the scene to retrieve the ball that had just gone out.

A couple of yellow cards could have sorted this, but the referee did nothing. They knew they could make a mug out of him, and they made the most of the invitation to do so..

Linfield need to get smarter about this and start chipping away at officials to get it in their minds that it needs to be addressed. Let’s face it, opposition players aren’t slow in letting referees know if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

With the momentum lost, Linfield needed inspiration from somewhere, to get that golden chance. It didn’t look like coming. The closest they came was when an Andrew Mitchell cross evaded everyone and went just wide.

On 78s minutes, saw the introduction of Louis Rooney from the bench. You could be justified in asking why he wasn’t brought on earlier, especially when Linfield had so much momentum in their favour just after pulling it back to 3-2.

With less than ten minutes to go, a quick throw-in set Paul Heatley free and his cross was diverted into his own net by Jimmy Callacher to make it 4-2.

It got worse a few minutes later when they made a hash of the most basic of clearances, the ball falling to Philip Lowry to make it 5-2. It was getting silly now.

If you think Linfield fans were annoyed, Dundalk fans were just as annoyed as local media erroniously proclaimed this the first time that Linfield had conceded five at Windsor Park since 1994.

There is something not clicking at Linfield. It just seems to be a perfect storm, with players struggling for fitness and form at the same time.

Is it clutching at straws to blame Eventsec? I mean, our results have taken a downturn since they started sponsoring the back of our shirts. I’m sure it’s purely coincidental.

As much as Andrew Waterworth is trying to get back to fitness, goalscoring isn’t a problem. We’ve scored in every League game this season. We scored two in defeats to Cliftonville and Crusaders. We shouldn’t be needing six goals to win at home.

Interestingly, this match was the first time that last season’s first choice back four played together this season. That shouldn’t really be an excuse. All five goals were shocking and embarrassing to concede. Four of them were simply being second to the ball.

It was bad in the ground. I didn’t realise how bad until I watched it back on TV, and yes, I am aware it’s not Halloween until next week.

The defensive shambles was made even worse when you saw how defensively Linfield lined-up in midfield with three centre midfielders.

We might have options in that position, but we don’t have to play them all. Pick two, and get on with it. Let other teams adapt their line-up for us rather than picking our team to stifle others.

Crusaders could live with us when we attacked them in the County Antrim Shield Final. Glenavon, Coleraine and Cliftonville couldn’t handle us in the title run-in when we attacked them.

It’s easy to say that Linfield miss Paul Smyth. They do, obviously. It must be pointed out that he missed two months during last season, and we won eight out of the ten matches he missed.

When he returned from injury, he was phased back in, only making a sub appearance in the County Antrim Shield Final. Don’t forget, he missed the game at Solitude when Linfield secured the title.

We can play without him, we have players (Ross Clarke, Jordan Stewart) who can take on his role. We need to get them into the game and not stockpiling centre midfielders.

When you turn up defensively in big games, you don’t stand up, you fall back. We need to start standing up in big games.

Thankfully, we have a generous fixture list coming up. You’d like to think that games against Ards, Ballinamallard and Ballymena would result in nine points, and a confidence boost ahead of a big run of games in November.

We play Ards twice in three days, with a County Antrim Shield match on the following Monday. I’ll be missing that as i’ll be at Liam Gallagher. Have I mentioned that i’m going to Liam Gallagher? Yeah, i’m going to Liam Gallagher next week.

Bad runs of form aren’t new in recent years for Linfield. Thankfully, they’ve recovered well from them.

Three successive defeats in October 2014 were followed by eight wins and a draw from the next nine games.

Four successive defeats in November 2015 were followed by seven wins a draw from the next eight League matches.

Football came change very quickly.

November sees a run of games against Crusaders (League Cup), Coleraine and Glenavon. That match against Glenavon has been brought forward to the Friday night.

That’s away games against Warrenpoint, Ballymena and Glenavon all moved to Friday nights this season. If we’re going to start playing away matches on Friday nights in pain in the arse locations, we might as well join the League Of Ireland.

Windsor Park’s first game in November will be Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off against Switzerland. We avoided Italy, that was key. There were no byes after that.

There are two ways of looking at it.

Switzerland were the 2nd place team with the best record and thus the toughest opponent.

Or, they were in a poor group and aren’t as good as their stats suggest.

I’ll let you decide what way you want to look at it.

Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of the draw included a story about a so-called outrage about the introduction video for Northern Ireland featuring the team’s name in Irish.

Nonsense clickbait. Who exactly was outraged? When you watch that video, people are usually screaming at the screen for them to hurry up and do the bloody draw, never mind paying attention to captions.

If we qualify, they can out our name in Klingon for all I care.

Meanwhile, i’ve booked a weekend in London for late January. Obviously, i’ll be hoping to take in a football match while i’m there, even though it’s not a football trip.

Brentford, Millwall and Leyton Orient are at home that weekend, but it is also the FA Cup 4th Round. So, watch this space.

TV games for December in the Premier League were announced, with United v City being moved to Sunday, meaning United V Bournemouth will be a Wednesday. My preferred cay, even though i’ll be there from Tuesday to Thursday. Hoping for another game in Greater Manchester to take in on the Tuesday.

Hopefully, by the time I head to Manchester, this will all be a bad memory and Linfield’s season will be back on track.

Photo Album

CRUSADERS 2-1 LINFIELD 12.9.2017

Football has a strange way of repeating itself. In 2015, Linfield arrived at Seaview with a perfect record (six wins out of six) and a lead over Crusaders, knowing that a win would open up a gap between them at the top of the League.

In 2017, the same thing happened, although this time, it was five wins out of five for Linfield.

In 2015, Linfield lost that day. They recovered quite well after that, winning their next two matches, scoring nine goals in the process, but it was one of three defeats to Crusaders that cost them the title.

The following season, roles were reversed, with Linfield won the head to heads and the title.

Recent form suggests that whoever wins the head to heads between these two wins the title. However, this season, there’s a third party wanting to muscle in on the title race, with Coleraine looking down on everybody after winning all six of their opening games.

It wasn’t about getting an advantage over the other, Crusaders wanted to keep in touch with Coleraine while Linfield wanted to draw level with them. Linfield knew that a win would open up a six point lead over Crusaders, even at this early stage.

If things had worked out differently over the Summer, Linfield could have been lining up against PSG instead.

There was a change in personnel and formation for Linfield with 451 becoming 442 but not completely more attacking, as Jordan Stewart was sacrificed for Matthew Clarke, while Louis Rooney came in for Kirk Millar.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in Irish League football that players are immune from getting booked in the first fifteen minutes, a rule that Crusaders players were willing to exploit with a series of cynical and tactical fouls with the only cost being a free-kick.

It was no coincidence that the first yellow card came after sixteen minutes, when Louis Rooney was dragged down as he went down the right wing.

Jordan Forsythe and Aaron Burns both fired over in the early minutes as they looked to score spectacularly, an overhead kick and a chip respectively.

Despite the more defensive nature of the starting eleven, Andrew Mitchell and Jamie Mulgrew were making Linfield tick, running at Crusaders defence, both of whom fired wide as Linfield looked to get the breakthrough.

On 25 minutes, Crusaders took the lead when Jordan Forsythe fired home.

On 32 minutes, Crusaders made it 2-0 when a header upfield allowed Paul Heatley to fire home from outside the box.

As good as the finish was, it was a poor goal to concede, route one assist.

Linfield fans were hoping for half-time as Crusaders looked to make it 3-0, with Jordan Owens and Rodney Brown both having chances to do just that.

It was a big half-time talk in the away dressing room but all hope wasn’t lost. You never write off Linfield when they attack their fans. An early goal, and it was game on.

Getting that early goal, as each minute passed, a Linfield comeback was looking less likely.

They were helped by the fact that Crusaders were stepping back, happy to hold what they had.

Linfield’s search for a goal saw Kirk Millar and Brandon Adams introduced from the bench. The most obvious introduction, Jordan Stewart, was made to wait.

With twenty minutes to go, Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley went in recklessly on Aaron Burns on the halfway line. He knew what he was doing, and he wasn’t going for the ball. The referee bottled it and only showed a yellow card. That’s twice in successive seasons referees have let him away with it.

Within minutes, Linfield pulled a goal back when Aaron Burns crossed for Mark Stafford to put the ball into the empty net.

If there was any justice, Linfield’s search for an equaliser would have been against ten men.

For all there pressure, Linfield couldn’t get an equaliser, as Crusaders held out for the win.

It was a silly spell midway through the second-half that did it, Linfield gave themselves too much to do.

In truth, the performance wasn’t good enough, just like on Saturday. A wake up call. It’s never too early for one.

A sense of perspective is needed though, it was Linfield’s first domestic defeat in eight months. Not only that, Linfield have three more points this season than they did after six games last season.

The next two games against Ballinamallard and Warrenpoint represent an opportunity to amass six points and keep the pressure on at the top.

We’ll need those points with a run of games against Cliftonville, Coleraine and Crusaders to come, as well as a rearranged game against Glenavon to fit in as well.

Talking of rearranged games, the League Cup match against Ballinamallard has been brought forward a week. No idea why, and the away match against Ballymena has been brought forward to the Friday night.

It’ll be some fun if Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off (providing the next two matchdays don’t go wrong) at home is that night. Expect another rearrangement, although, this is Irish League football, don’t expect logic to be followed.

Anyway, that Ballymena game will be postponed because we’ll be playing in the Quarter-Final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. Got to be optimistic.

Up next, Ballinmallard, the first of two meetings in two and a half weeks. The second game, away from home, will be sandwiched inbetween away games against Cliftonville and Dundee United.

It says something that the trip to Cliftonville will be the hardest to get to of those three.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NI FOOTBALL – WINTER 2008

David Healy is the cover star as he gives an interview to NI Football during the Winter of 2008.

In news, Martin Donnelly of Crusaders wins Player Of The Month, Roy Coyle celebrated his retirement at a dinner attended by Howard Kendall, and Brendan Rodgers has just been appointed manager of Watford.

Elsewhere in news, David Healy has just launched his own DVD.

Keith Gillespie gets interviewed having just joined Charlton Athletic on loan from Sheffield United.

Also getting a profile is Jonny Evans, having just broken into the Manchester Untied team in the early months of 2008-2009.

Glentoran had just reached the final of the Setanta Cup, losing narrowly to Cork City, 2-1, and this match gets a full page review.

David Healy gets a double page interview, revealing that Jonny Evans could be Norther Ireland’s key player during World Cup Qualification.

Healy’s strike partner at international Kyle Lafferty gets profiled, after enduring a difficult opening months to his career at Rangers.

Another player getting profiled at a new club is George McCartney, although he is in his second spell at Sunderland.

Steven Robinson has just announced his retirement aged 33, and is profile after taking a job with the IFA coaching underage teams.

There is a profile of another 33 year old making his mark in coaching, recently appointed Coleraine manager David Platt.

There is a full page profile of Linfield player Paul Munster, who has returned to Northern Ireland after spending time playing in Sweden, Czech Republic and Canada.

There is a double page profile on the comparisons between set-ups in the Irish League and League Of Ireland.

At Junior Level, there are club profiles of Killymoon Rangers, Lurgan Celtic and Newington.

Staying in North Belfast, there is a feature on Cliftonville, who have just won the County Antrim Shield.