CRUSADERS 0-2 LINFIELD 4.3.2017

Today at Seaview was not make or break for Linfield’s season. Defeat, though disappointing, wouldn’t have signalled the end of 2016-2017 as a competitive matter. However, a 2-0 win for Linfield means that, if they do the business in their three remaining League matches in March, April has the potential to be a very interesting month for Linfield.

Crusaders went into this game hoping for fifth time lucky, on two counts. They were hoping for a first win of the season against Linfield at the fifth attempt. If they did that, they would be hoping to reach the Irish Cup Final for the first time since 2012, after four successive Semi-Final defeats.

An Irish Cup Quarter-Final in North Belfast wasn’t a new experience for Linfield, having won 3-0 at Solitude on this weekend last year. Linfield went into that game looking to get a win against a team they had struggled againts in recent years and hadn’t beaten in a while. This year, they were facing a team they knew how to beat, winning three and drawing two of the last six games against Crusaders.

Linfield were boosted by the returns of Roy Carroll and Mark Haughey for this match, coming in for Alex Moore and Reece Glendenning, the only changes from last week’s win at The Oval.

The pre-match arrangements were farcical, as I looked for the turnstile on my ticket, a Police Officer told me what turnstile to go to, and when I got to that turnstile, I got told to go elsewhere. The very same thing happened when I attended the League Cup Final at Seaview two weeks ago.

It turned out that the turnstile I had to go to was a Fire Exit being used to let people in. Seriously, if you’re going to direct people to certain entrances on their ticket, at least have it signposted where it is.

And as a bonus, they put up segregation between Linfield supporters in the Shore Road Stand and the St Vincent Road Stand. One of the advantages of Seaview is being able to freely move position during the game. Can’t even do that now. For future reference, i’ll just make sure I have a ticket for the St Vincent Road Stand.

There weren’t many chances for Linfield, Mainly due to the fact that any time they did try to go on the attack, it was usually stopped by a Crusaders foul. The early minutes were dominated by Crusaders fouls, their players safe in the knowledge that referee’s cards would remain in his pocket due to it being “too early” to issue a yellow card.

Crusaders fired a lot of crosses into Linfield’s box which was mostly defended, barring a few shaky moments, resulting in a few needless corners and throws conceded.

Linfield’s first real quality attacking moment saw Andrew Waterworth get enough space to tee up an onrushing Steven Lowry, whose shot was saved by Sean O’Neill’s feet, with Paul Smyth firing over the rebound.

Crusaders best chance came when a Rodney Brown header was easily saved by Roy Carroll, while Linfield ended the half with Paul Smyth firing wide, Jimmy Callacher having an effort cleared off the goal-line (it was hitting the post anyway) and Steven Lowry heading over.

It was 0-0 at half-time, just as it was at Solitude last year in the Quarter-Final against Cliftonville. The big difference was the weather, with hail and rain falling from the sky for most of the first-half.

Gavin Whyte had Crusaders best chance in the early minutes of the second-half, but his near post effort was tipped wide by Roy Carroll, while Linfield belatedly got into the second-half, with Niall Quinn heading agonisingly wide.

As each minute passed at 0-0, it was clear that the first goal was going to be key. Jordan Owens had the ball in the net for Crusaders, heading home from a corner. The goal was rightly disallowed for a foul by David Cushley blocking off Roy Carroll.

Paul Smyth was the danger man for Linfield, whipping in a cross into the six yard box which agonisingly missed everyone. The next time he got free, would be the moment Linfield got the breakthrough.

Smyth got the ball on the right hand side and ran towards goal, making his way into the penalty area. As the crowd waited to see if he was going to pass or shoot, Billy Joe Burns attempted a last gasp tackle and brought him down, the referee pointing to the spot. It was such a clear penalty, even the Crusaders players didn’t complain, and they’ll complain about anything.

Crusaders had been the beneficiaries of penalty misses by the opposition this season. The County Antrim Shield Final wasn’t one of those games, as Steven Lowry put Linfield 3-1 up with a spot kick in that game.

Lowry went to the same side today, O’Neill guessed he might and went that way. It didn’t matter, the power beat him, and Linfield were 1-0 up. Three from three from the spot from Lowry in recent weeks.

Aaron Burns for Cameron Stewart was a substitution that was always going to happen in the second-half. It came a bit later than people would have expected, David Healy having an eye on the fact that this game might need 120 minutes rather than 90.

Despite an aerial bombardment, Linfield were relatively comfortable at 1-0 up. Like in the League game on New Year’s Eve and the County Antrim Shield Final, as long as Linfield did nothing stupid, they would see the game out.

Paul Smyth went off inured and was replaced by Sean Ward. The obvious replacement would have been Kirk Millar. One criticism I have of David Healy is that he is easily tempted to go defensive sometimes. If Crusaders did force extra-time, we would have no attacking threat (no offence to Sean Ward) in right midfield in the extra half hour.

In truth, Linfield were never in danger, and made sure of it as injury time approached as Jamie Mulgew charged forward. It looked like he was playing to win a corner, but got the the byline, got past a defender, and crossed to Niall Quinn to head home from close range to make it 2-0.

As soon as the ball went in, the home stands at Seaview emptied. Linfield supporters who had bought tickets for the Crusaders end were easy to spot. They were the ones still in their seat.

For the second successive season, Linfield had won an Irish Cup Quarter-Final in North Belfast. We even got a repeat of the sunshine that Linfield fans celebrated in at Solitude last year.

Unlike last season, we didn’t get a couple of comedy red cards in the final minutes. That would have been greedy. We did get Jordan Forsythe going in hard on Jamie Mulgrew on the touchline, a tackle that was born of frustration. Mulgrew just got up and laughed at him. It was the perfect response.

The other ten teams in the League might be scared of Crusaders. Linfield, certainly aren’t.

Naturally, attention turned to the Semi-Final draw, and Linfield were paired with Dungannon Swifts at Mourneview Park. Very happy with that choice of venue.

The other Semi-Final is between Coleraine and Glenavon. I’m glad that Coleraine won today as it continues their unbeaten run. They host Crusaders at the end of the month. That game can’t come soon enough as far as Linfield are concerned.

However, Linfield need to help themselves, starting with the home match against Cliftonville next Monday night. That game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports by the way.

Photo Album

CRUSADERS 1-3 LINFIELD 7.2.2017

It was the same competition, same venue and the same opponents as the last time Linfield won a trophy in 2014, David Jeffrey’s last as Linfield manager. If you believe in things going full circle, you could say that the Post Jeffrey Era ended, and the David Healy Era truly began. That will be for future historians to decide.

It could be Linfield’s only trophy this season, it could be the first of two. It could even be the first of three. That outcome will decided over the next three months.

The final of the County Antrim Shield isn’t a new experience for Linfield fans, it was the seventh time in nine years they had reached the final of the competition. Mostly, they hadn’t been positive experiences though, only celebrating a win in 2013-2014, their first since 2005-2006, and having to watch opponents lift the trophy in 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2015-2016.

There were two names that stood out in the pre-match teamsheets. Colin Coates back for Crusaders after injury and Gareth Deane in goals for Linfield, taking some pundits in the media by surprise (though, there were people sitting behind me in the first-half who were shocked to see Roy Carroll not playing).

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to see Deane on the pitch, as he had played in every round of the competition so far.

The occasion wouldn’t have overawed him, having played in last season’s Irish Cup Final, and been thrown in against Cliftonville at The Oval, and played at The Oval during the run-in at the end of last season. Despite his lack of games of Linfield, he doesn’t lack big match experience.

Crusaders had the first attack of the game, snuffed out by Matthew Clarke in the full-back position.

Linfield then took control of the game, as Crusaders couldn’t defend a free-kick and had to concede a corner. They couldn’t defend that corner and had to concede another corner.

It was third time lucky for Linfield as Cameron Stewart headed home from the corner. Three was very much the magic number, as the player wearing 3 scored for the third successive match.

Before anyone complains about a Forward wearing 3, we had a Defender wearing 11 for years. Linfield don’t do numerical convention.

It was a unique achievement for Stewart, having scored in the Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Eve, meaning he had scored in both of the County Antrim FA’s showpiece finals in the same season.

I have a lot of useless football stats in my head, but I don’t know if he is the first player to achieve this in the same season or even in a career. Feel free to leave a comment if you know.

Stewart almost had a second soon after but he couldn’t get his head onto a cross. Paul Heatly hit a shot wide at the near post but it was a rare Crusaders attack in the opening minutes.

Kirk Millar had a goalward shot blocked after a corner was cleared before Mark Stafford soon afterwards bundled the ball into the net from close range after a corner to make it 2-0.

It was a pefect start for Linfield. Jamie Mulgrew was running the show. Crusaders players couldn’t even get close to him to cyncially foul him and get a final final final final warning from the referee.

Andrew Waterworth was played through but couldn’t get a clear strike at goal, eventually firing over.

2-0 down, Crusaders responded in the way they know best, with thuggery. Paul “not that kind of player” Heatley got sent-off for elbowing Mark Stafford.

It was his second red card against Linfield, having been sent-off when the sides met at Seaview in April 2014. It would have been his third red card against Linfield if the referee had done his job properly in the final minutes of the League match at Windsor Park in October after his excuse of a tackle on Andrew Waterworth. I’m sure there’s more lucky escapes that i’ve missed.

Things were going perfectly for Linfield. Almost too perfectly.

It looked like Crusaders would be going down to nine men when Howard Beverland grabbed Cameron Stewart after an aerial tussle. The referee booked both players under the “I haven’t a clue so i’ll just book both of them rule”.

Beverland chanced his arm by dragging down Cameron Stewart as he looked to head goalwards. No free-kick was awarded, and within seconds, a long hoof upfield saw Jordan Owens head home.

As good a header as it was, it was unstoppable – going in from the moment it left his left, Jimmy Callacher shouldn’t have been beaten to the ball so easily.

Instead of having a free-kick in an attacking position and facing nine men, Linfield were now pulled back to 2-1.

Linfield had a few wobbly moments after that goal, but there was never a moment when Crusaders looked like equalising.

Defenders didn’t help themselves by passing it back to Gareth Deane’s weaker left foot (after passing it back to Ross Glendenning’s weaker right foot when he was playing for the club – they’ll get it right some day) which resulted in cheap throw-ins being conceded. It was especially dangerous on a pitch as bumpy as the Ballymena Showgrounds was.

Michael Carvill almost made history by being sent-off in two County Antrim Shield Finals, but the referee bottled it after his late challenge on Matthew Clarke when he was already on a yellow card.

Jordan Owens hitting the side-netting was the best moment Crusaders had in the final moments of the first-half. Linfield were more than happy to go in at half-time 2-1 up and have a chance to clear their heads. If they kept their heads in the second-half, they secure the win.

Naturally, Crusaders went out at the start of the second-half in search of an equaliser. They had a lot of the ball, but the best they could offer was a speculative long range shot from David Cushley. This was one of the ninety-nine out of a hundred that fly over the bar.

Jamie Mulgrew also fired over as he ran goalwards, continuing where he left off in the first-half. Andrew Waterworth and Cameron Stewart both had chances to kill off the game as Linfield searched for that third goal that would clinch the game.

They had a glorious chance when Sean O’Neill misjudged the ball as he tried to shepherd it out for a goal kick, pulling back Andrew Waterworth as he tried to put the ball in the net, before Howard Beverland lunged in an fouled him. Take your pick as to which foul the penalty was awarded for.

And yet, there was still no second yellow card for Beverland. If you’re partial to a bet, stick some money on Michael Carvill or Howard Beverland to score the winner for Crusaders on Saturday. Free money.

With Ross Gaynor and Aaron Burns not on the pitch, all eyes were on who would take the penalty for Linfield. It was Stephen Lowry, who made no mistake, to make it 3-1.

That was it, game won for Linfield. Crusaders barely looked like scoring at 2-1, they were never going to come back at 3-1.

Things got even better for Linfield, with Paul Smyth now being introduced from the bench after missing two months through injury, and he picked up where he left off, running at Crusaders defence, causing them panic. Just like Jamie Mulgrew, they couldn’t get close enough to kick him.

Before the final whistle, there was still time for one more act of thuggery, as Jordan Owens barged Jimmy Callacher from the touchline onto the tarmac at the side of the pitch. There’s nothing Crusaders players specialise in more than a barge on the touchline designed to cause injury.

During the final minutes, Linfield continued to attack as they sought a 4-1 lead that would not have flattered them.

Linfield sent out a message to the rest of the league. Not about their own capabilities, but that Crusaders can be beaten if you stand up to them. Crusaders seven point lead has been partly due to too many teams not believing that they can beat them.

That attempt to overtake them will continue at Carrick on Saturday. Hopefully, another road trip as productive as the ones to Dungannon, Drumahoe and Ballymena over the past ten days.

Photo Album

 

2016 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

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

The following Saturday, I went to see Northern Ireland take on San Marino, the first game at a fully redeveloped Windsor Park.

I then went home, and got a bit of sleep, before an early morning boat to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United.

Two days later, I was Limelight bound to see Feeder in concert.

There were then two frustrating weekends as I was then Coleraine bound the following Saturday to see Linfield held to a frustrating draw, just as they were at home to Crusaders the following Saturday.

The month ended by going to see KT Tunstall in concert at Mandela Hall.

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

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August began for me with a trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United in the opening game of the Irish League season.

The following day, I ventured to Cupar Way to check out the Peace Wall in Belfast, something I do every six months to have a look at the Street Art.

After that, came a triple whammy if Irish League matches, taking in Linfield’s games against Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon.

That was then followed by a triple whammy of concerts – Madness and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Belsonic, then Red Hot Chili Peppers at Vital.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall

Belfast Peace Wall Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Madness live at Titanic Belfast

Madness live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Catfish and the Bottlemen Photo Album

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields

Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Boucher Road Playing Fields Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

2016 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2016 began for me at The Odyssey to see Muse in concert.

The following Saturday, I headed for Seaview to see Linfield lose to Crusaders, a match that killed off their title hopes.

Another concert soon followed, this time it was to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott at Ulster Hall.

Back to football, and a double whammy of convincing Linfield wins, over Coleraine and Glentoran.

The match against Coleraine allowed me to check out the facilities in the South Stand for the first time since it was officially opened.

Towards the end of the month, Prince died, and Belfast wasn’t slow in paying tribute, a mural appearing within a day of his death.

I then headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

Around that time, I purchased a new camera as my camera was broken beyond repair. I was still getting used to it, so that’s why some photos towards the end of the month are a bit different.

Muse live at The Odyssey

Muse live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at Ulster Hall

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Purple Rain

Purple Rain Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

2016 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2016 began the same way as 2015, by watching Linfield take on Crusaders. Like the previous year, it was a home win, but thankfully the game was at Windsor Park this year.

Over the next ten days, there were two more visits to Windsor Park, with Ballymena United the visitors both times, once in the Irish Cup and once in the County Antrim Shield.

David Bowie died during the month, and he got a tribute mural in Belfast, which I went down to see get painted, and then snap the final results.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to Manchester, to see United take on Southampton. While there, I took advantage of some Street Art, plus I also went to see The Kooks in concert.

The month ended by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Carrick Rangers.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

David Bowie Mural

David Bowie Mural Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester

The Kooks live at Albert Hall Manchester Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

LINFIELD 0-0 CRUSADERS 29.10.2016

Linfield ended what has been a disappointing month with their biggest game of the month. Failure to win any of the last two league games made it so. This game would dictate if October would be a disappointing month or a disastrous month.

Kicking-off four points off the top of the league, it wasn’t quite must win for Linfield, but it was definitely not lose. Even though there is still a lot of football to be played, seven points would be a large gap to pull back, despite having to play Crusaders twice.

Linfield lined-up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Ross Gaynor and Kirk Millar supporting Andrew Waterworth. It was Linfield who had all of the early pressure, with Sammy Clingan firing just wide from a free-kick.

Most of their attacking invention came when Jamie Mulgrew had the ball. It was like a magnet to him in the opening minutes.

It looked like Andrew Waterworth was going to score when the ball fell to him in the penalty area, but Sean O’Neill was able to get down and block it.

It was the only time Crusaders were able to legally stop a Linfield attack, most of them were stopped by cynical fouling, which was dealt leniently by the referee who deemed it too early in the game to issue a yellow card. Naturally, it only encouraged Crusaders to commit moe fouls.

There were concerns that the referee had lost his yellow card. That panic was averted when he found it just in time for the first Linfield foul, by Mark Haughey on Paul Heatley.

No complaints about the yellow card, the only issue was that it was the first of the game.

Crusaders had their best attacking moment when Jordan Forsythe stretched to a cross and hit the bar. A speculative cross/shot had to be palmed out by Roy Carroll, but thankfully there was no Crusaders player to score when the ball was loose.

Linfield had a penalty appeal turned down for a cross being handled. It would have been soft. The irony was, seconds late, Kirk Millar got penalised when the ball hit him in the exact same place when the ball was in the middle of the pitch. Some decisions are easier to make than others.

Linfield didn’t enjoy the pressure they had in the first-half in the second-half, but Crusaders weren’t giving them any moments of worry, restricting them to speculative long range shots, all of which went over.

It was only a matter of time before Linfield turned to their attacking options on the bench, which included Paul Smyth and Ross Clarke, both recovering from (different lengths of though) injury.

It was Smyth who came on first, unsurprisingly for Kirk Millar, who didn’t have the best of games.

One Ross came on for another, Clarke for Gaynor.

The two substitutes combined for Linfield’s best moment of the second-half when Smyth crossed for Clarke, whose header was straight at O’Neill.

Andrew Waterworth ran down the right hand side to try and get a late winner before he was cynically taken out by Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley. It was cynical, no attempt to play the ball. Not only that, it was reckless and a straight red card. In line with the refereeing performance, only a yellow was awarded.

While the free-kick was awaiting to be taken, things got fiesty in the penalty area, which resulted in a few Crusaders players getting booked. 80 minutes too late some could say.

The incidents awoke those in the South Stand and fired Linfield up as they piled on the pressure in the final moments.

It was a pity this incident didn’t happen about 10-15 minutes earlier.

The final whistle blew, the second 0-0 between the sides this season. In both games, Linfield were comfortable and never in any danger. The title destiny is still in their own hands.

A draw wasn’t ideal, but it’s not a disaster. The situation is retrievable. Linfield have come through a difficult month relatively unscathed, even managing to get closer to the top of the table by a point.

We might have exited two cup competitions, but it was one we’ve never entered before, and one we haven’t win for ten years.

We did make progress in one competition, the County Antrim Shield, the Semi-Final draw taking place today, giving Linfield a home tie against Ards.

Another draw of interest to Linfield fans was the Steel and Sons Cup Semi-Final draw, pairing Linfield Swifts with Crumlin Star. The Final is on Christmas Eve this year, which makes it very tempting to go, regardless of the result.

In other cup competitions, Crusaders have been reinstated into the Scottish Challenge Cup due to Livingston playing an ineligible player, replaying their tie against Livingston on Tuesday.

Wouldn’t it be an awful shame if Crusaders won that and caused their leage match against Portadown on November 12th to be postponed.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Glenavon. Glenavon have struggled in the early months of this season. Let’s hope that continues, before games against Dungannon and Cliftonville.

It’s a tough run of games, but if you want to win the league, these are the games you have to win, especially as Crusaders have a game against draw specialists Coleraine coming up.

Linfield have survived a difficult month with only slight, but retrievable, damage to the league campaign.

November killed their title chances last season. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen this season.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – APRIL

April’s football watching began at Seaview, seeing Linfield lose to Crusaders in a game that ultimately killed off their title ambitions.

The following week, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, the first game that Linfield fans would be using the South Stand.

The month ended with two more Linfield games, both 4-0 wins against Glentoran and Cliftonville.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – JANUARY

Like in the previous season, January began with a game between Linfield and Crusaders. Again, it was a home win, though this time, it was at Windsor Park instead of Seaview.

The following Saturday, it was the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, with Linfield edging out Ballymena United after extra-time.

Three days later, same venue, same two teams, but a different competition, the County Antrim Shield Final, with Ballymena winning 3-2.

A frozen pitch saw Linfield’s home match (YES! another match at Windsor Park) against Dungannon Swifts postponed, so my next football was the trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Southampton.

The football watching month ended with Linfield’s routine win over Carrick Rangers at, you’ve guessed it, Windsor Park.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ballymena United

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Manchester United v Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – NOVEMBER

The early weeks of November 2015 were spent at Windsor Park, taking in Linfield’s matches against Crusaders and Cliftonville, as well as Northern Ireland’s match against Latvia

The final two Saturdays of the month were on the road to Mid-Ulster, but no upturn in fortune for Linfield

Sandwiched inbetween those two trips to Mid-Ulster was my first trip of the season to Old Trafford to see United play out a drab and ultimately costly draw against PSV Eindhoven.

It’s a good job I went to that Northern Ireland match, otherwise it would have been a totally awful month of football watching.

Linfield v Crusaders

Northern Ireland v Latvia

Northern Ireland v Latvia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glenavon v Linfield

Manchester United v PSV Eindhoven

Manchester United v PSV Eindhoven Photo Album

Portadown v Linfield