As a mid season slump continued last weekend with a 2-1 defeat at home to Coleraine, Linfield will have been glad to be facing a team they have beaten twice this season by an aggregate of 8-0, but maybe not so glad that they would be facing them at a ground they haven’t won at since the 1960s.
Damage to Drumahoe caused by flooding in the Summer of 2017 meant they will be playing this season at The Brandywell (Soon to be renamed Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium), which meant there would be a new ground for me to visit.
The Brandywell wasn’t a new ground for Linfield, with a flurry of visits between 2005 and 2012. They didn’t bring joy for Linfield, with three draws and two defeats from those five games, though they were awarded a 3-0 win when Derry were thrown out of the Setanta Cup in 2009-2010. If anyone asks, I scored a hat-trick.
Jamie Mulgrew and Robert Garrett started the last time Linfield played at The Brandywell, but only Mulgrew would be doing so in this match, with Garrett dropping down to the bench with Michael O’Connor, Josh Robinson and Stephen Fallon coming into the team.
Joel Cooper was one of those who dropped to the bench, having suffered a dip in form since being kicked out of the game at The Oval a few weeks back. Purely coincidental.
O’Connor missed last week’s game against Coleraine due to suspension, in farcical circumstances due to the club having to flag it up. We might have disadvantaged ourselves against Coleraine, but it would have bitten us in the arse later down the line, so honesty was the best policy.
Linfield were almost punished again for a poor refereeing performance thee months later.
Pre-match arrangements meant meeting at Drumahoe Park and Ride, just past Drumahoe as you drive into Derry City Centre.
A 1pm kick-off wasn’t surprising, but if it was a 3pm kick-off, I would have headed up early and spent some time in the City Centre.
Popping to a local shop to get some lunch meant that I didn’t get a chance to have a nosey around the ground, which stands abandoned. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Linfield struggled in their first visits to Drumahoe, losing their first two visits and drawing their third, which was almost costly in the title race in 2004. Since then, they’ve been unbeaten there.
I had visited Drumahoe three times, all of which were tricky games for Linfield, a 1-1 draw in 2014, a 1-0 win in 2015, and a 2-0 win in 2017 which sounds a lot more comfortable than it was.
Those with a sense of humour will have noticed that Linfield were lining up at The Brandywell wearing red and white, in a game that had a slow start, the first real attacking moment of note coming when Chris Casement found space down the right, but Andrew Waterworth couldn’t get on the end of his cross.
A few minutes later, a quick Institute counter attack saw Michael McCrudden fire home after a shot was saved by Roy Carroll.
The goal was timed at 13 minutes. It was the fifth successive Saturday that Linfield had gone 1-0 down. Four of those were in the first twenty minutes. I keep saying it, it’s a bad habit to get into, and we don’t appear to be getting out of it. We won’t come from behind every time we go 1-0 down, the last four weeks have shown this.
This week was different, the response from Linfield was more positive. They actually looked like scoring in response.
Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth both had shots saved as Linfield searched for an equaliser.
It wasn’t all one way traffic, as Michael McCrudden curled an effort just wide. For a moment, it looked in from where I was.
It was already tough enough coming from 1-0 down, we really could have done without going 2-0 down.
Crosses were coming in quicker, not giving Institute a chance to defend it properly, and second balls were being picked up, usually by Jamie Mulgrew.
One of those saw a goalbound shot which was denied by a world class save, before a run was halted by a foul on the edge of the penalty area.
Chris Casement and Niall Quinn were around the ball, but it was set up perfectly for Quinn. It wasn’t a clean strike, but it was enough for the ball to go into the back of the net for 1-1.
Importantly, it meant that unlike the previous four Saturdays, Linfield had remedied the 0-1 deficit in the first-half.
They almost went in at half-time in front. They had enough chances, with a Kirk Millar header from the byline being unable to be finished, while Michael O’Connor headed just wide.
In the early minutes of the second-half, Andrew Waterworth finished from close range, only to be denied by an offside flag to little progress.
There was a roar from Linfield’s fans, to urge their team on, but that soon changed to a goal roar, as the Referee overruled the Linesman and awarded the goal. TV footage revealed this to be the correct decision as the ball hit an Institute defender last.
Andrew Waterworth had a shot deflected over while Kirk Millar had an overhead kick saved as Linfield searched for a third goal that would surely secure the points.
It was Millar who got that goal when he headed home from close range to make it 3-1.
Millar was then replaced by Joel Cooper, who went straight on a run which set up a shot for Jordan Stewart, as he looked to recover his form to get back into the starting eleven.
Jamie Mulgrew fires just wide as Linfield searched for a fourth goal.
Robert Garrett then came on for Stephen Fallon who was superb, usually making himself available for a pass, or making things happen when he got the ball.
One final sub for the closing minutes, as Matthew Clarke came on for Jordan Stewart to see out the game.
As the final minutes approached, Andrew Waterworth was played in by Michael O’Connor to make it 4-1. It’s a pity the goal didn’t come before the third sub, as a 4-1 scoreline could have given Daniel Reynolds or Brandon Doyle some gametime.
One advantage of the 1pm kick-off was that as Linfield fans were leaving The Brandywell, other games were just about to kick-off.
The fixture list was kind to Linfield in terms of other games, as there were two games between clubs in the Top Six. Linfield had the points in the bag, and would be able to sit with their feet up.
As it turned out, Crusaders beat Glenavon while Ballymena United beat Cliftonville.
That means Linfield leapfrog Glenavon at the top, though Glenavon have a game in hand. Ballymena United play twice before Linfield play again, and two wins will send them top.
Those games are against Glentoran and Newry City. I’d be surprised if they weren’t.
Linfield are now eight points clear of Cliftonville. A win next Saturday against them, will make that eleven, and we’d be almost out of sight in relation to them.
One result that didn’t happen today was Bohemian v East Fife in the Scottish Challenge Cup, which has been postponed indefinitely due to scheduling conflicts. What an absolute farce.
Surely the Scottish FA could have had something in place for scheduling a Quarter-Final involving an Irish team. It also craps over East Fife fans who will have to plan travel arrangements to Dublin. At some point in time.
Talking of farces, we move onto the NIFL Cup.
You may remember last season when I spent two months talking about how the Semi-Final postponements dragging on was affecting Linfield.
Due to Portadown’s Quarter-Final (against Linfield) being postponed, the Semi-Finals have been put back a week to December 11th.
Portadown or Linfield have been drawn away to Cliftonville or Dungannon Swifts.
That could mean Linfield fans having to get tickets and buses to Solitude arranged at seven days notice. That will be fun.
One positive if that situation did arise would be that Linfield have a home game sandwiched inbetween.
One thing that is guaranteed will be that Linfield will play Cliftonville next Saturday.
We’ll have to be up for this, and be smart. They’ll try to bully us, and we’ll have to stand up for ourselves and not react. A strong ref would be a good start. A repeat of the performance at Seaview in August would be even better.