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.