Linfield did their best to pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement by blowing the title with a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders just as they did a few days after it was signed.
At least in 1998, they created enough chances and could feel aggrieved about the result. Not so much in this game.
Just need Wes Lamont to come out of retirement for Coleraine to seal the deal.
Having cut Larne’s lead at the top to five points in the last matchday, they were feeling confident of a remarkable title win.
All they had to do was win their final five games and they needed just one result to go their way. It has happened before, in 2017.
As fans left Dungannon a few weeks previously, there was a sense of frustration that Larne weren’t Linfield’s first opponents after the split. It turned out to be a sense of relief after these ninety minutes.
Linfield’s starting eleven was unchanged from their 5-0 win at Dungannon. Not that unsurprising.
The substitutes bench raised a few eyebrows, with a welcome return for Stephen Fallon.
There wasn’t a lot of attacking options though. The most obvious ones if needed would be Andrew Clarke, Max Haygarth and a welcome return after injury for Eetu Vertainen.
Linfield had two headed chances in the early stages of the game.
Sam Roscoe headed just wide from a corner while Jimmy Callacher headed over from a free-kick just a few yards out.
My initial reaction was that it was a bad miss. In truth, it wasn’t as easy a chance as it looked.
It was one of those where you had to stick a head on it, there was no time to set yourself up, he just had to stick his head on it.
If there was anyone on a blue shirt you would want on the end of a cross, it would have been Jimmy Callacher.
Those two chances would suggest that it was a bright and positive start from Linfield. It was anything but.
It was mostly even, but Linfield were slow and lethargic, creating very little in open play.
What made it worse, was that there was two weeks preparation for this game.
The previous three games had seen a trophy, a goal difference boost of twelve and, most importantly, Larne’s gap at the top reduced.
News travels fast. If Linfield could get an early goal while Larne were drawing 0-0, everybody at Inver Park would have known about it.
Linfield were dealt a blow when Jamie Mulgrew went off injured, with Kyle McClean coming on to replace.
Even though Stephen Fallon was available, he was never going to come on at this early stage. If you’re going to play him for 70 minutes, you might as well start him.
Crusaders had the first real effort on goal of note when a free-kick from Jordan Forsythe hit the bar.
It was obvious that this was a game where the first goal would be vital.
You felt if Linfield got it, they would comfortably go on and win the game.
If Crusaders got it, you honestly couldn’t saw with any confidence that Linfield could come back to even got a draw. Not the way the game had been going.
Linfield hadn’t created anything of note in open play.
In fact, the one big chance they had was gifted to them by a defensive mix-up, but when Joel Cooper got the ball out wide, he was unable to get himself into a position to either cross or shoot.
0-0 at half-time in a game that Linfield needed to win. Even more so as the half-time scores announced saw Larne leading 2-0 against Glentoran.
Normally, news of Glentoran trailing at half-time would raise a cheer, but not tonight.
Linfield needed to vastly improve in the second-half.
That response didn’t exactly appear in the opening minutes of the second-half. There was no improvement. It was still lethargic from Linfield.
Thankfully, Crusaders didn’t punish Linfield for that, being mostly restricted to long range shots.
It just needed one of them to get lucky though.
Linfield thought they had gotten lucky when Kyle McClean finished from close range but Ethan Devine was judged to be offside in the build-up as he headed .
There wasn’t much celebrations as the flag went up straight away.
The replay of it is hard to tell.
It was becoming obvious with each passing minute that Eeru Vertainen would soon be entering the pitch.
You had the feeling he was being kept until the hour or if Crusaders went 1-0 up, whichever came first.
Turns out that feeling was wrong, his appearance was to come just after the hour, as part of a double substitution which saw Stephen Fallon return from injury. Ironically, his last appearance was a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders in November.
The changes didn’t have an immediate impact.
Linfield’s best chance came when Sam Roscoe headed against the angle of post and bar from a free-kick. That was one each in terms of woodwork related frustration.
That looked like being Roscoe’s last major involvement in the game as he was set to be substituted for Andrew Clarke. A last minute signal from Daniel Finlayson that he was struggling with injury soon changed that, and it was he who made way instead.
Although, this changed seemed to confuse the person in charge of the LED Board, who signalled for Finlayson to replace Roscoe.
That change meant Chris Shields coming back into defence to accommodate Clarke in midfield.
Linfield’s formation was now basically bodies. As many in the box as possible. The problem was, getting that right pass. No point in having bodies if you can’t get the ball to them.
It was disappointing not to see Max Haygarth come on. It might have worked, it more than likely wouldn’t have, but Linfield just needed something different. They were too predictable and easy to play against.
There was still time for one more chance for Linfield, in injury time. Kirk Millar managed to cut inside and find space but his shot hit his own player.
That was only ever going to be the only conclusion to that situation. It was one of those nights.
Except, you couldn’t say it was “One of those nights”. Linfield didn’t do enough to justifiably have such a grumble.
There was never a moment in the game where you thought a Linfield goal was imminent. That was the problem.
Linfield should have been going at Crusaders from the start, taking the initiative and laying down the gauntlet. They should have been playing like a team battling for the title.
Even when news filtered through that Larne were 2-0 up, the mission was now keeping in touch rather than cutting the gap. You can’t cut the gap if you don’t keep in touch. There would still be four more matches left to cut the gap.
It’s strange for a team that are the top scorers in the League to complain about a lack of goals. The problem is, the goals haven’t come when they’ve been needed.
The biggest stat to back this up is that Linfield have drawn 0-0 with four of the other five clubs in the Top Six.
And the one they haven’t had one against are next at Windsor Park.