LINFIELD 2-1 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 4.2.2020

So far in 2020, Linfield had swung from good to bad to good to bad as regular as clockwork. The last game, at Larne, was bad, so logically this would be good.

Well the result was, if the performance wasn’t.

Having been playing catch-up since Matchday 2, Linfield’s famous games in hand were no more, all caught up.

All caught up on games, hopefully overtaking the rest on points. Linfield’s games in hand had always been part of an objective, to catch up, to overtake, to stretch their lead. The recent run of inconsistent results have rendered these games as establishing a lead rather than extending one.

Linfield had six changes from that match at Larne. A Suspension for Shayne Lavery presented an opportunity for a start for one of the strikers. Andrew Waterworth returned from injury to take advantage of that. He was one of two strikers coming into the team, with Rory Currie getting a first start.

Niall Quinn, Mark Stafford, Mark Haughey and Kyle McClean also made returns to the starting eleven.

Looking at the line-up when it was announced, I wasn’t too unhappy, the 4-4-2 that should have been on from the start of the 0-0 draw against Dungannon two and a half weeks earlier.

A benefit of Linfield’s squad is it’s versatility with players who can play in a number of positions. Only if it is utilised well.

I got a bit of a shock when the game kicked off and the 4-4-2 I expected turned out to be a 3-4-3. It didn’t work.

Three at the back left them exposed and vulnerable whenever Dungannon attacked, often being rescued by some soft free-kick awards.

At the other end of the pitch, only one player wide on each side meant that Dungannon were able to cope with Linfield’s attacking threat.

When Linfield did get in behind Dungannon, they almost scored the greatest goal in Irish League history when Stephen Fallon burst down the left and crossed for Kirk Millar, who rabonaed narrowly wide.

It looked fancy, but it was all he could do. If he hit it with his left foot, he would have scuffed it straight to the keeper and if he controlled it, Dungannon defenders would have immediately put him under pressure.

There wasn’t long to wait for a goal, but it came for Dungannon, when a neat passing move played in Daniel Hughes, who made no mistake to put Dungannon 1-0 up. This was not supposed to happen.

Windsor Park hoped for an offside flag, more in hope than expectation. Their hope was not met.

It didn’t take long for Linfield respond, less than ten seconds in fact.

An attempted pass to Kirk Millar from kick-off saw a stray header go in the direction of the penalty area. Andrew Waterworth started running towards it. The only question was if he would get there in time to score, not if he would score. He did, and Linfield were back level at 1-1 straight away.

It was an important goal, stating the obvious that. Linfield have struggled this season against teams who have had something to defend. Dungannon’s lead was wiped out straight away. However, they still had a point to hold on to.

Linfield didn’t kick on from there, lacking attacking cohesion in the rest of the half. The closest they came to going in ahead was a speculative backheader from Rory Currie after confusion in Dungannon’s defence.

Early in the second-half, it looked like Linfield were going to take the lead when Kirk Millar got in behind Dungannon’s defence but his attempted lob went over. He did the right thing, but didn’t do it very well.

There was another moment of frustration for Linfield when Rory Currie saw a shot get blocked.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead, in bizarre fashion.

A cleared corner was returned into the box by Niall Quinn and headed on by Andrew Waterworth. It looked like it was going over, and then the ball dropped down. Before you could say “Oh, that’s dropping down”, the ball dropped down in off the bar.

Two goals from Andrew Waterworth turning the game in Linfield’s favour after going 1-0 down to a goal from Daniel Hughes. Just like that day at Solitude in 2017. Any excuse to bring it up.

Linfield could have done with a third goal just to be sure like that day at Solitude. It didn’t specifically have to come from Andrew Waterworth. A third goal from anyone would have been welcomed.

Jordan Stewart came on for Rory Currie as Linfield searched for that goal. It didn’t really happen for Currie. I wouldn’t write him off just yet. He’s making the runs just not getting the goals.

Matthew Shevlin was very unlucky not to get the nod for Currie as a like for like sub, instead of Stewart.

Stewart almost got it when he created space for himself on the edge of the box and curled narrowly wide.

Earlier, Mark Stafford had a header saved and Dungannon survived the scramble.

A third goal would have secured the points, but Linfield just couldn’t get it.

They were almost made to pay for that when Dungannon broke, but thankfully, Mark Patton’s weak shot was easily saved by Rohan Ferguson.

Jordan Stewart was Linfield’s only substitute used, even though Joel Cooper was walking a disciplinary tightrope tracking back, and Linfield had other attacking options if they wanted to bring on a fresh face.

Thankfully, they weren’t made to pay for their lack of fresh faces in the final minutes, especially as Dungannon had played extra-time a few days earlier, and Linfield should have been taking advantage of that.

Job done, and back on top, which is the important thing.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Carrick Rangers to mean that the Top 5 are now separated by four points.

All five of those clubs will be cursing points dropped against clubs in the bottom half.

Linfield can’t afford to drop any more points, especially against clubs in the bottom half, who make up three of their next four opponents. A great chance to get winning momentum, especially with clubs around us facing each other, such as Glentoran facing Coleraine on Saturday.

As well as that, next week is the NIFL Cup Final, where Coleraine and Crusaders will be inactive in League terms, giving Linfield an opportunity to pull clear while others have outstanding games to play.

Just because Linfield are all caught up doesn’t mean everybody else is. The postponement a few weeks back between Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United means they haven’t played their full compliment of games.

The opening day of the season is the only time this season when everybody has played the same amount of games. Pointless stat for you.

Meanwhile, the game against Glentoran in March has been brought forward to the Friday night for live coverage on the BBC. No real surprise that to be honest.

Will be a bit of a scramble for me to get the train home after the game. I’ll have to run like Andrew Waterworth when he saw a Dungannon player make a loose header.

It might be a five team title battle, but if Linfield keep winning, others will start to fall behind.

Time for a 2017 style finish to the season.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 18.1.2020

Eighteen days into the year, and 2020 has still to get going for Linfield.

It’s been a case of one step forward and then one step back for Linfield in 2020. Although the steps back have felt like falls or head first tumbles.

One of those tumbles was the Irish Cup defeat at Queen’s, which was followed by a win at Cliftonville nine days later.

That win at Cliftonville looked to be setting Linfield back on track, as they looked to gain momentum to launch a title charge.

Matches against Dungannon Swifts usually go one of three ways for Linfield. There is an outright thrashing, which they have dished out in their last three meetings: 5-0, 4-0 and 4-1. Then there are undeserved scrappy wins, such as last season at Dungannon. And then there are draws, which Dungannon had achieved at Windsor Park in two of the last three seasons. After six defeats in a row to Linfield, they will have felt they were due something in this fixture.

The first result would have been great, the second would have been welcome. The third, well that would have been catastrophic in a season where the title race is so tight.

Linfield’s starting eleven showed only one change from that game at Solitude, with Mark Stafford coming in for Mark Haughey, having come on as a substitute for him in North Belfast.

Partly surprising, that Linfield stuck with the three man midfield they had at Solitude.

Even though none of Stephen Fallon, Andrew Mitchell or Jamie Mulgrew merited being dropped for this game, they were part of a team selected to beat Cliftonville. Linfield needed a team to beat Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield’s first opportunity in the game came when Shayne Lavery got into space and set himself up to shoot, but was denied by a last gasp tackle just as he was about to shoot.

Lavery then headed over under pressure in the six yard box as Linfield searched for an opener.

Any time they tried to start an attack, they were usually denied by a cynical fouls, which were not punished with a yellow card, which only encouraged, emboldened and empowered them to continue with it.

Despite that, it was too pedestrian from Linfield, as Dungannon were allowed to be comfortable when setting themselves up to defend.

It wasn’t until the final minutes of the half that Linfield had a flurry of attacks, the best moment coming when a Stephen Fallon shot from outside the box was tipped over.

0-0 at half-time, but no need to panic. However, there was a need to step things up and have more urgency in their attacks. Scores elsewhere saw Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders all winning, while Cliftonville were drawing.

Linfield’s pressure early in the second-half saw Mark Stafford head over from close range when he really should have scored. In a game where Linfield had created very few clear scoring opportunities, they really had to take them when they came their way.

Linfield’s next moment of frustration came when Shayne Lavery headed against the post. It looked like being one of those days for Linfield.

In order to avoid it being one of those days, David Healy turned to his substitute’s bench, bringing on Kirk Millar for Jordan Stewart, a like for like change.

One of the three centre midfielders should have been sacrificed instead to give Linfield more of a presence and more options in the final third.

Millar almost had an instant impact with a low cross which agonisingly evaded everybody, after an earlier cross for Shayne Lavery where he just couldn’t get his header across Dungannon’s keeper, the ball landing safely in his arms.

Mark Stafford then had a volley go just wide as Linfield searched for the goal that didn’t look like coming.

In fact, it was Dungannon who should have scored when the ball fell perfectly to Daniel Hughes after a counter attack, volleying over when he had (a short amount of) time to set himself up and then shoot.

By then, Daniel Kearns had come on for Andrew Mitchell to give Linfield more presence up front. He would be joined by Matthew Shevlin, who had come on for Ethan Boyle.

It looked like Shevlin was going to score a dramatic late winner when he was played through, only to be denied as the game was pulled back for a foul, and a yellow card to be awarded to a Dungannon Swifts player. Of course.

Shayne Lavery headed over in injury time with Linfield’s last chance on a day of frustration where they had to settle for a 0-0 draw.

It was a game that Linfield deserved to win, but one that they didn’t do enough to win.

There was a lack of urgency in attack and Dungannon were able to get comfortable when defending.

On a day when it wasn’t happening for Linfield in open play, Linfield had to make the most of their set pieces. They didn’t.

It didn’t help that they only had one player taking them. Dungannon knew what to expect and could defend accordingly. I find it incredible that Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper can’t provide a left footed option at set pieces.

This match reminded me of the draw against draw against Portadown in 2017. Hopefully, Linfield will have a similar response as they did in the aftermath of that match.

Of the other four games that day, only one provided a result of benefit to Linfield, with Cliftonville losing to Carrick Rangers. Wins for Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine meant that Linfield dropped to 3rd.

Those games in hand that they have, were now only giving them an opportunity to sneak ahead at the top, rather than consolidating a lead.

The week following this match saw some transfer activity at Windsor Park. Daniel Reynolds left on loan to Carrick Rangers to get some gametime, while Rory Currie came in on loan from Hearts.

Even though I hinted that I wasn’t happy with the selection of Andrew Mitchell for this match, I wasn’t suggesting that he be sold. I have a horrible feeling that we may regret this.

After this match, I headed to a concert, then I was off to England for a few days, so I didn’t get to finish this blog until after Linfield’s next match, against Glenavon.

It was a game that Linfield needed to win and perform far better in.

Spoiler alert, it was better. Much much better.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October 2019 began with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield take on Crusaders.

A busy month of concerts began a few days later with a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy.

There was even some Street Art spotted during the month, heading to Stephen Street to see a mural of The Joker and Catwoman

The next day, I was on the road to Dungannon to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 4-1.

From there, it was another concert, a first visit to The Telegraph Building, to see Two Door Cinema Club.

The flipping between football and concerts continued as I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballymena United. The following midweek saw a football/concert double header, seeing Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town, before seeing OMD at Ulster Hall.

October’s photo adventures ended with a trip to see Linfield take on Coleraine, the month beginning and ending for me with a 1-0 defeat.

Crusaders v Linfield

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Joker and Catwoman Mural

Joker and Catwoman Mural Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

OMD live at Ulster Hall

OMD live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

2019 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March began with a first concert at Elmwood Hall for me, to see KT Tunstall.

A few days later was my first football match of the month, as I travelled to Mourneview Park to see Linfield lose to Glenavon.

The football didn’t get much better, as I headed to Seaview to see Linfield lose the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, things got a bit better as Linfield beat Institute 2-0.

There was a flurry of football as the month ended, with three games in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 Qualifiers, at home to Estonia and Belarus.

KT Tunstall live at Elmwood Hall

KT Tunstall live at Elmwood Hall Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 1-4 LINFIELD 12.10.2019

Linfield enjoyed their visit to Stangmore Park on Tuesday night they decided to come back on the Saturday, and enjoyed themselves just as much.

This game was the second in a double header of away games against Dungannon Swifts. The objective on Tuesday was advancing in the NIFL Cup, this match was about getting three points and getting the title challenge back on track after defeat the previous weekend.

Linfield’s results in recent years against Dungannon have been decent, unbeaten since 2013, and winning the last four meetings. It’s been almost too good. Dungannon are due one against us, which makes me nervous going into games against them.

This run of results has gone one of two ways – a resounding win for Linfield by four or five goals, or an undeserved scrappy one goal win.

Curiously, the last time that 12th October fell on a Saturday was in 2013. Who did Linfield play that day? Dungannon Swifts, a 2-0 win at Windsor Park with both the goals coming from Andrew Waterworth.

The most memorable thing about that game was the fact it kicked-off at 3.45pm due to the motorway being closed that morning due to a bomb scare.

Six years on, Andrew Waterworth was still scoring against Dungannon, and arrived looking to score on his fourth successive visit to Stangmore Park, having been restored to Linfield’s starting eleven due to Shayne Lavery being unavailable due to being in the Northern Ireland squad.

He wasn’t the only Andrew returning to the starting eleven, with Andrew Mitchell coming in for the injured Bastien Hery.

Linfield had a lot of early pressure, the closest they came was when a Stephen Fallon shot was saved by the legs of Niall Morgan.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to take the lead, as Andrew Waterworth finished from close range after a Joel Cooper cross, the fourth successive game at Stangmore Park in which he scored. He also scored at around the same time he scored when the sides last met in March last season, if you believe in omens.

Even at this early stage, it was clear that Dungannon were struggling to handle Joel Cooper, and Linfield weren’t slow in exploiting it. Every time he got the ball he was usually clear, in space and looking to cross.

Despite this, Linfield needed a two goal lead, especially as Rohan Ferguson was forced into a save after Sean Noble got in behind Linfield’s defence.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to get a second goal, after Kirk Millar was played through on goal.

I was shouting for him to smash it low across the keeper, but what do I know, he chipped the keeper in an replica of his second goal against Sutjeska in August. His best goalscoring season at the club continues, long may it continue.

A few minutes later, it was 3-0 when Joel Cooper broke clear down the left and fired home low. That meant that all of Linfield’s front three had found the net.

That surely meant the points were in the bag, but Linfield made absolutely certain of it by going 4-0 up in the final minutes of the half.

As players were queuing up to score, Matthew Clarke cross for Kirk Millar to head home.

Pointless stat for you, but Linfield have scored at least four in a game on at least one occasion against every team they have faced in the League since David Healy became Manager in October 2015 apart from two. The answer may surprise you – Carrick Rangers and Newry City.

This was the sixth time Linfield had scored at least four against Dungannon Swifts during that four year period.

Having had a game in midweek and with midweek games in the next three weeks, it was no surprise that the second-half was a non event, with energy needing to be saved with big games coming up in the next few weeks.

A goalmouth scramble was the closest Linfield came to making it 5-0.

There would be a goal in the second-half, but it came for Dungannon Swifts when Daniel Hughes fired home to make it 4-1. Thankfully, there was never a danger of Dungannon making a comeback.

It was disappointing to concede in terms of Goal Difference. Linfield are seven worse than Crusaders and five worse than Coleraine in that regard, but with three games in hand, and a further twenty-seven to play after that, so there is no need to panic.

The only other moment of note in the second-half was when a cross was intercepted by a Dungannon defender, much to the frustration of Kirk Millar, who was set to put the ball home for a hat-trick.

The only thing of note, on the pitch that is.

During the first-half, an announcement was made over the tannoy for someone to remove their car as it was blocking a Farmer’s Field. A further announcement was made that the PSNI were arriving to remove the vehicle.

Whilst we were all waiting on the outcome of this situation, there is no announcement, so we’ll never know what happened.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield made three subs, with Joel Cooper, Andrew Waterworth and Kirk Millar getting an early rest, with a League debut for teenager Charlie Allen.

Other results saw Ballymena United draw with Crusaders, which was good for Linfield on two regards. Ballymena have snuck under the radar, but if they won this game and their game in hand (at home to Linfield), they would only be four points off the top of the table, so it is good to start opening up a gap on them.

We have a great opportunity to extend that next weekend when Ballymena United come to Windsor Park. It is a ground where David Jeffrey hasn’t won in his last eleven games there, including nine defeats in a row. Let’s make it ten.

This weekend should have been Matchday 11, when everybody should have played each other once, a good barometer of where teams are it.

It is for only five clubs, with the others having games in hand due to postponements caused by Linfield and Glenavon’s involvement in international competitions.

A few observations so far. Glentoran and Larne are at best going to be scrambling for Top 6 despite the hype. Larne’s only wins this season have come against the Bottom Four.

Coleraine draw too many games and Crusaders concede too many goals.

Cliftonville are doing better than I expected, but it is interesting to note their only defeats have come against Linfield, Crusaders and Ballymena United, so they come up short against the top teams.

Linfield can’t really say much with their only dropped points coming in defeats to Coleraine and Crusaders.

We’ll need to remedy that, and we’ll get a chance with a trip to Coleraine at the end of October.

Before that, Coleraine play Crusaders at Seaview. It makes a win against Ballymena even more vital. Not only will we pull clear of Ballymena, but we’ll take advantage of what happens at Seaview.

Whatever the outcome, there’s no bad result, but only if we win, as we’ll cut the gap on at least one, possibly two rivals.

And then, we’ll be ticking off one of our games in hand in the midweek after.

Talking of Glenavon, they lost 3-1 to Raith Rovers in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers Cup, with the first goal for Raith coming from a player called Bowie, who I believe was their Star Man.

Glenavon took Linfield’s place in the competition. As much as I would have enjoyed a weekend in Edinburgh (to base myself for the game in Fife) and a walk up Arthur’s Seat, I can see why the club decline the invitation to enter the competition.

If we were playing in it, wins over Cliftonville and Dungannon would be postponed and still to be played. We’d be six points worse off and 8th and fourteen points off the top, albeit with five games in hand.

If I was in Edinburgh, I may have been tempted to do a day trip in Glasgow to see Scotland v San Marino. That temptation would end at £30 a ticket.

If things had worked out differently, I may have been going to see a Euro 2020 Qualifier as a neutral.

I’m taking a short visit to Vilnius in November for a break. My original choice of date was this week (Sunday to Wednesday), to take in Lithuania v Serbia while i’m there. However, the flight dates didn’t suit as I needed to be back on Wednesday for Two Door Cinema Club.

Up next for Linfield, is a County Antrim Shield match at home against Cliftonville, after being drawn at home to Cliftonville in the NIFL Cup.

The big matches keep on coming. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo Album

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2018-2019

2018-2019 is now over and consigned to history. I hope you’ve enjoyed my month by month look back. I thought i’ll end with a look through some of my favourites. Feel free to vote for yours.

NEWFORGE

Taken during a Pre-Season Friendly, I like arty farty shots in the style of Stuart Roy Clarke, so I unashamedly try to copy him.

MOURNEVIEW

I like this shot because of the way everybody is lined up, and how everybody has their eyes fixed on Kirk Millar, being the man in possession

COLERAINE

This shot came about by fluke, I was hoping to capture a Linfield goal, but again, it’s the fans who make the picture for me, all heads in the one direction.

DUNGANNON

Got some good photos this day due to generous Winter Sun. Dungannon is always good for photos. I like the framing, getting the terraces in alongside the pitch.

JORDAN

Jordan Stewart makes it 4-0 against Crusaders in December. I like being able to capture the celebrations on the pitch and in the stand. Even a Steward joined in.

CLANDEBOYE

That spot at Clandeboye Park is handy for getting photos, as long as something interesting happens at that end during the game. Thankfully, Linfield scored while I was at this end. Not just in terms of phototaking, but the match, as it was looking like a frustrating afternoon against opponents who had already proved tricky earlier in the season.

SNOW TRAFFORD

Having got snow photos of Windsor Park in 2010, I couldn’t believe my luck when Manchester was hit with snow the day after United’s match against Burnley. Staying close to the ground, I was straight out with my camera to get photos.

McCLEAN

An explosion of emotion. 2-0 down and looking to be pegged back in the title race, to 2-2 and being frustrated, then a last minute winner, I managed to capture the reactions, of fans and players both going wild in unison.

RAIN

A weather based photo that just works. Bleurgh, an awful night for weather and football.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

I had to wait a while for March’s football watching, but it wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield slumped to a League defeat at Glenavon then lost the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month got a bit better when Linfield defeated Institute 2-0 at Windsor Park.

The month ended with a flurry of games, three in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening two Euro 2020 Qualifiers, both at home, against Estonia and Belarus.

Glenavon v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October’s football watching began at The Oval, to see Linfield get a win over Glentoran.

That was then followed by Newry City’s first League visit to Windsor Park since 2011, and we were treated to a hat-trick from Jimmy Callacher.

That was then followed by two road trips, firstly to Clandeboye Park, where Linfield suffered their first defeat of the season, and then to Stangmore Park, where Linfield came from behind to beat Dungannon Swifts.

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Newry City

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

I didn’t have to wait long for some football action in September, with Linfield taking on Ards on the first day of the month. I would have to wait a while for a first goal of the month, as that match finished 0-0.

The goals flew in during my next match, as Linfield beat Warrenpoint 5-0, before taking in Northern Ireland’s first ever UEFA Nations League match, a 2-1 home defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The month ended taking in three further Linfield matches, home wins against Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United, as well as a draw at Coleraine.

Linfield v Ards

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina

Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-5 LINFIELD 22.3.2019

When this game was chosen for live TV coverage, Dungannon Swifts were on a run of seven wins and a draw in eight games. It represented a major challenge to Linfield ahead of the split, a potential slip-up that would be captured live to the viewing public, just as it was against Glenavon a few weeks previously.

However, in more recent weeks, Dungannon’s form has gone on a downward trajectory, with defeats to Institute and Glenavon, and an Irish Cup exit to Ballinamallard United.

Even though Stangmore Park has been a kind ground to Linfield in recent years – Unbeaten since November 2013 and won on their last eight visits – the visits this season suggested this would be tight, with a last minute winner needed in October, and extra-time needed to end Dungannon’s grip on the League Cup in December.

Linfield went into this game missing two players due to international duty, though the two players in question, Kyle McClean and Michael O’Connor were substitutes last time out against Institiute, meaning that there was no disruption to the starting eleven. Their places on the bench were taken by Stephen Fallon, returning after injury, and Kirk Millar, returning after suspension.

Those absences didn’t affect them, going straight on the attack and spending the opening minutes in Dungannon’s half. They got rewarded with an early goal when Jordan Stewart created space down the right wing for Andrew Waterworth to nip in ahead of Joel Cooper and head home to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Having struggled at times against Bottom Six teams this season after not getting an early goal, Linfield now made sure that Dungannon didn’t have something to hold on to. It was also a timely goal for Waterworth, his first goal in five games.

Within a few minutes, he was making up for lost time when Jordan Stewart got in behind Dungannon’s defence to set him up to put it into the empty net. For the second time, Linfield had a situation that was going to result in a goal, the only question was who would score it. The answer each time was Andrew Waterworth.

Linfield must have been inspired by watching Kazakhstan score two in the early stages against Scotland the previous night.

Another cross from Jordan Stewart almost resulted in a goal but a Dungannon defender got to the ball ahead of Joel Cooper at the cost of a corner, while Cooper headed just wide from another cross.

All of Linfield’s attacking play was coming from the trio of Joel Cooper, Daniel Kearns and Jordan Stewart. Left or right, it didn’t matter which side Linfield went, one of those three would be setting something up.

A neat passing move resulted in Andrew Mitchell having a volley saved.

Linfield didn’t have to wait long to go 3-0 up, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick, ending a goal drought for him, his first goal since New Year’s Day.

The half ended eventfully for Andrew Mitchell with a yellow card and an injury, making him a prime candidate to be the first one substituted once the points were secured, if they weren’t already.

A run from Joel Cooper resulted in Niall Quinn having a shot go just wide.

Dungannon had some half chances towards the end of the half, but the danger was easily snuffed out by Linfield’s defence.

3-0 up at half-time, Linfield were a bit slow at the start of the second-half, perhaps not that surprising as they didn’t need to score, but they didn’t need to be giving Dungannon any encouragement that they could get back into the game.

Any possibility that Dungannon could launch an unlikely comeback disappeared when a bout of Head Tennis between Jimmy Callacher and Josh Robinson after a Daniel Kearns cross resulted in Andrew Waterworth heading home from close range to complete his hat-trick to make it 4-0. It was the second time he had scored a hat-trick against Dungannon, having scored one against them in 2015.

Waterworth then scuffed home an effort to make it 5-0, or so he thought, only to be denied by an offside flag.

The game won, Andrew Mitchell was replaced by Stephen Fallon to give him some vital minutes ahead of the run-in, as he returns from injury.

Andrew Waterworth would then get his fourth goal of the game, heading home from a Daniel Kearns cross to make it 5-0. It kept up a bizarre run of Linfield scoring five goals at Stangmore Park having won 5-3 there in 1995 and 5-1 in 2007. I’m already looking forward to Linfield scoring five away to Dungannon in 2031.

With the points definitely in the bag, Kirk Millar and Marek Cervenka coming on for Andrew Waterworth and Jordan Stewart.

Both of them were involved in attacking moments, with Millar hitting a shot wide after being caught in two minds wether to head it or shoot.

It finished 5-0, which put Linfield nine points clear, which they would expected it to be cut to six by Saturday teatime.

Except, that it wasn’t, with Warrenpoint Town recording a surprise win at Ballymena United.

It means that if Linfield win at Ballymena on 5th April, they will effectively be champions, with Ballymena United having to win their last four games, Linfield to lose their last four, and Ballymena to overcome a goal difference advantage of nineteen in Linfield’s favour.

What a win at Ballymena will definitely result in, will be European football and a return to the Scottish Challenge Cup for 2019-2020.

Friday night games on TV have been a mixed bag for Linfield this season. Hopefully, the game against Ballymena is a repeat of this rather than Glenavon.

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