DUNGANNON SWIFTS 1-4 LINFIELD 28.1.2017

Four as very much the number that mattered today as Linfield began the first of four games on the road, hoping that results would go their way and the gap at the top of the table would be reduced to four points. The got four goals, but the gap remained at seven.

It was Dungannon who had the better of the play in the opening minutes, causing Linfield more problems with their attacks than Linfield were causing them, a couple of corners having to be cleared and Ryan Harper firing a shot just wide.

However, it was Linfield who took the lead with their first attack when Mark Haughey headed a Stephen Lowry freekick into the net. As soon as it left his head it was going in, Dungannon’s keeper didn’t stand a chance.

Haughey had put Linfield 1-0 up when the teams met in August, but Linfield put in a disjointed performance and only managed a 1-1 draw. Their performance today prior to the goal mirrored the performance that day. They were hoping this time they would kick on and put in a performance similar to their visit to Dungannon in November.

Unfortunately, we got a repeat of the performance in August, the biggest moment of worry coming when a misplaced Jimmy Callacher pass almost presented Dungannon with an opportunity.

Linfield were dealt a blow just after the half hour when Aaron Burns came off with a shoulder injury. Surprisingly, it was Cameron Stewart who got the nod to play upfront ahead of Kevin Amuneke.

A few minutes later, they were dealt and even bigger blow when Dungannon equalised after Ally Teggart scored from close range. It was too easy for Dungannon, from playing it out from the left-back position, to getting the ball crossed from a right wing position. It was deserved for Dungannon.

The only positive for Linfield was, that this situation came in the first-half when they could do something about it at half-time, instead of in the second-half when there was no chance to rectify the situation, as when the sides met in August.

Linfield had their chances to go in at half-time in front when Mark Haughey headed over from a corner, while Andrew Waterworth had a shot blocked behind by a Dungannon defender, but for some reason a goal kick was awarded.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s performance improved at the start of the second-half, with Andrew Waterworth volleying over in the penalty area, before getting on the end of a Stephen Fallon cross to fire home from close range to put Linfield back in front.

Within a minute, Cameron Stewart took advantage of a mix-up in Dungannon’s defence to head home from close range to make it 3-1.

That was the game almost won for Linfield. They had to make sure they did nothing stupid in defence to make the final moments more exciting than they should be.

With just over 20 minutes to go, Jimmy Callacher finished from close range to make it 4-1. That definitely was the game won for Linfield.

The game became a non event in the final minutes, as Linfield ran out 4-1 winners.

Wins for Crusaders and Cliftonville meant hat nothing changed at the top of the table, Linfield sit 7 points off top and are 6 points clear of 3rd.

Next week (for everyone barring Ards and Carrick) the league takes a break. Linfield face the bottom five in five of their next six games. That is an opportunity to go on a winning run and gather some momentum. If we don’t, we don’t deserve to win the league.

All we can do is keep winning and hoping. The title race is far from over.

Next Saturday, is Institute away in the Irish Cup.

For me, there is a midweek trip to England to see Manchester United take on Hull on Wednesday night. I’ll be there from Tuesday to Thursday. I’d planned on going to Wigan v Norwich on Tuesday night but that has been postponed, but now i’m toying with the idea of Burnley v Leicester. Still undecided.

I know what you’re thinking, BURNLEY CAN FUCK OFF.

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 – FEBRUARY

February began for me seeing Linfield beating Dungannon Swifts 6-0, a good start to the month.

The following weekend, I was on the road to Shamrock Park, to see Linfield lose 2-1.

Back on the road the following weekend, this time to Coleraine, with a better result, with Linfield coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The next day, I made the most of a free ticket to see Ulster take on Scarlets. Unfortunately, the game ended up in an agonising one point defeat for Ulster.

Two days after that I headed to The Limelight to see Foxes in concert.

The month ended with me heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Glenavon, a match that saw an outfield player go in goal and save a penalty.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Portadown v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield

Ulster v Scarlets

Ulster v Scarlets Photo Album

Foxes live at The Limelight

Foxes live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-4 LINFIELD 12.11.2016

Linfield concluded a busy week on the road with a trip to Dungannon hoping to build on the performances at Glenavon and Ballymena, totally contrasting yet both satisfying.

The game had an even start. Dungannon weren’t afraid to attack Linfield, having a header go wide of the post with their best opportunity and forcing Roy Carroll to be alert at set pieces. Linfield were doing just as much attacking.

Even in the early moments, it looked like being a game where the first goal would be vital. It would have been a bigger blow for Dungannong to concede it than Linfield, as even if Dungannon went 1-0 up, you would have felt Linfield could come back. If Linfield went 1-0 up, they always looked like they would take control and get the three points.

Stephen Lowry fired just wide from the edge of the box as Linfield went in search of it, while Mark Haughey headed over from close range.

Just before the half hour, Linfield got the breakthrough when a Ross Gaynor free-kick was bundled into the net. It looked like a Chris Hegarty own goal but Jimmy Callacher was claiming it. TV replays seem to back up that it was an own goal. However, there is no Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, and if the attacking player shouts loud enough, they generally get awarded it.

As Callacher ran away as if he scored it, he’ll probably get credited with it.

It was the second goal this week to come from an inswinging cross into the six yard box from Ross Gaynor.

Linfield instantly doubled their lead when a misplaced pass went to Paul Smyth who found space to play it to Jamie Mulgrew who fired home via a slight deflection.

Linfield were in the mood to wrap the game up, Paul Smyth firing over first time after a ball was played in behind the defence.

Another misplaced pass from Dungannon saw Niall Quinn get some space in a shooting position, replicating Chris Brunt’s goal against Azerbaijan less than 24 hours earlier, firing low into the net.

It should have been 4-0 when Jimmy Callacher blasted over after his original shot was cleared off the line.

Linfield continued on the attack in the second-half, and a Save Of The Season contender from Andy Coleman denied Stephen Lowry a Goal Of The Season contender when his first time shot from outside the box after a header clear was tipped onto the bar. It would have been a goal so good, it deserved commentary from Alan Partridge.

There wasn’t long to wait for a 4th goal, a cross wasn’t cut out and went straight to Ross Gaynor, who fired home.

You could argue that three goals were gifted to Linfield, but they weren’t in the mood to turn down gifts. Why should they? There’s already Christmas adverts on the TV, it’s the time of year for it.

Despite a 4-0 lead, Linfield weren’t in a reciprocal gift giving mood in defence. Long may this scroogeness continue.

After that, the game unsurprisingly meandered, giving Linfield an opportunity to give players a rest. Surprisingly, Aaron Burns was again made to wait on the bench.

Stephen Lowry seemed to be having a personal battle with Andy Coleman and Dungannon’s defence, unable to get a fifth goal. It didn’t matter, four was enough.

Crusaders won, so the deficit is four points still.

Linfield’s poor run of form in October means they’ll have their feet up in midweek while other clubs are in action in the League Cup. One of those is next Saturday’s opponents Cliftonville. Wouldn’t it be awful if their match on Wednesday against Glenavon went to extra-time? I suppose the same could be said for Coleraine v Crusaders but Crusaders play Ards next Saturday, and they would probably beat Ards even if they played a match on Saturday morning.

After Cliftonville, comes Portadown, Carrick and Ards. That is a generous run of games after next week, and a great chance to build some momentum ahead of a busy and potentially season defining run of games over Christmas/New Year.

Ten goals, three great performances and no lost ground. It’s fair to say Linfield have had a productive week on the road, though it will be great to be back at Windsor Park next week.

Photo Album

NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 AZERBAIJAN 11.11.2016

Northern Ireland faced familiar foes on Friday night, with Azerbaijan visiting Windsor Park for the third time in four World Cup Qualifying campaigns.

The two previous meetings, saw both sides battling it out to avoid finishing bottom of the group. This time around, they were battling it out for second place and a play-off spot. Victory for Northern Ireland would see them go into the Winter break in that position, which was currently occupied by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s opening three games had seen two wins and a draw, keeping clean sheets in all of them. A win over Norway and a draw against Czech Republic suggests they’re better than people think. Only managing to beat San Marino 1-0 suggests they’re not as good as their second place position suggests.

Azerbaijan is an ambitious country, determined to showcase themselves to the world, hosting Eurovision, European Games, European Grand Prix and Euro 2020.

One of their leading clubs, Qarabag, are regulars in the UEFA Cup Group Stages. What they really want, is for their national team to reach a major finals.

Northern Ireland’s past meetings with Azerbaijan have been associated with false dawns. Northern Ireland’s only win against them in September 2015 was a few days before the famous win against England which kickstarted the heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful Euro 2008 Qualifying campaign.

The draw at Windsor Park in 2012 had followed a draw in Portugal, bringing everyone back down to earth.

It was Azerbaijan who had the first attack of the game, with Chris Brunt being forced to head the ball out for a corner in the opening minutes as an Azeri attacker eyed up a cross.

There was a nervous moment (from where I was) when Shane Ferguson had a coming together during a challenge in his own penalty area, but the lack of Azerbaijan protest suggested they didn’t believe it was a penalty, which was fine by me.

After that, Northern Ireland took control of the game, which wasn’t disrupted when the game was stopped due to a clash of heads between Chris Brunt and an Azerbaijan player.

Both players were fit to return, embracing each other was they re-entered the pitch.

Shane Ferguson had Northern Ireland’s first real chance when he hit the side netting from close range.

Despite being on top, Northern Ireland had to be wary of Azeri counter-attacks.

Eventually, the goal came when a long throw was flicked to Kyle Laffety, who fired home, similar to his goal against Finland in 2015.

The pressure continued, and a second goal came via a header from Gareth MacAuley, who was in 4th Year at secondary school when Azerbaijan played their first competitive international in 1994.

Azerbaijan made a good start to the second-half as they tried to get back into the game, with Michael McGivern being forced out to make a save, while another shot went just over the bar.

The most flammible man in world football, Will Grigg, was introduced from the bench. Ironically, he probably should have been playing for Azerbaijan, which is known as “The Land Of Fire”

It wasn’t Grigg who got the third, but Conor McLaughlin, heading home from a corner. That was the three points wrapped up. There was no doubt any more.

That wasn’t the end of the scoring, as Chris Brunt made it 4-0, a second successive home win by that score.

Just a pity supporters in The Kop had to endure smelly tramps smoking throughout the game while stewards sat about doing nothing. It’s bad enough that the designers of Windsor Park pander to these arseholes by giving them their own area, but it’s still not good enough for them, that they don’t even have the basic consideration for other supporters to go 45 minutes without.

Elsewhere in the group, Czech Republic beat Norway 2-1. A draw would have been great.

Next up, is Norway. Northern Ireland can effectively put Norway out of the race by beating them at Windsor Park in March next year.

The only problem is, our record against Norway is awful, but those were friendly games. Maybe we are due a win in a competitive game? Norway’s last competitive visit to Belfast was a 3-0 win for Northern Ireland in 1975.

The fixture list is tantalising. After Norway is Azerbaijan away, then San Marino. Imagine the momentum if we won those games ahead of Czech Republic visiting Windsor Park in September 2017.

Anyway, it’s time to put thoughts of Russia to one side for a few months, but not before a friendly at home to Croatia to finish the year off.

Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012 Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-1 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 27.8.2016

It was October 2006 the last time that Dungannon Swifts avoided defeat in a league game at Windsor Park. Since then, they’ve lost all of their 13 league visits since. Their last 5 visits saw them concede 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 goals. So logically, Linfield were going to win and score 7? Recent form would suggest not.

Both teams went into this game on the back of good results in their last 2 games. Linfield have taken 4 points against their 2 main title rivals and had the motivation of knowing they would got joint top of the league with a win following Ards defeat on Friday night.

Dungannon arrived at Windsor Park with two successive wins, including a win at Solitude.

The game got off to a slow start, the only attempts on goal from Linfield came from a couple of speculative Aaron Burns shots, while Sammy Clingan failed to hit the target from a couple of free-kicks.

Josh Carson has Linfield’s best attacking moment in the first-half when he headed the ball goalwards from a cross, the ball going wide, neither being a goal or an assist for the oncoming Andrew Waterworth.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead when Mark Haughey headed home from a corner.

Straight away, Roy Carroll was forced into a spectacular save from a Jamie Glackin shot from outside the penalty area.

A reminded, if it was needed, that 1-0 would not be enough for Linfield.

In the early moments of the second-half, Dungannon had some sloppy moments in their defensive third, giving the ball away, but Linfield weren’t able to take advantage of their visitors generosity.

They were made to pay for that within minutes, when a cross from the left found Kris Lowe unmarked with an open goal.

He was probably thinking “What Have I Done To Deserve This? as he put the ball into the empty net. You can’t afford to give teams Opportunities like that. It’s A Sin was the only way to describe the defending by Linfield.

The goal was deserved for Dungannon on the balance of play. The only positive for Linfield was that there was still a lot of time to rectify it.

Unfortunately, the only response from Linfield came off the pitch, with Ross Gaynor and Paul Smyth coming on from the bench.

The came continued in the same pattern though, with Linfield struggling to create anything in open play and Dungannon looking comfortable.

It was set up for Kris Lowe, the New Zealand international, to make his Linfield debut from the bench. The only question was would it be Ward or Clingan sacrificed for him to come on? It was Ward.

Bright almost got a debut assist when he headed the ball to Ross Gaynor couldn’t connect with the overhead kick, to groans from the crowd.

To be fair, it’s hard to have any spatial awareness when you have your back to goal, it was all he could probably do.

The most damming fact was, it was Linfield’s best attaking moment of the second-half.

Dungannon’s best attacking moment came in the final moments whenever Roy Carroll was forced into a save whenever Ally Taggart burst down the left.

As injury time approached, Linfield suddenly had the urgency they had lacked in the previous 90 minutes, with Paul Smyth single-handedly taking on Dungannon’s defence without reward, especially when a cross from the left agonisingly went past everybody waiting in the box.

It was too little and too late for Linfield as Dungannon left with a deserved point.

Dropping 4 points from 3 home games is already a concern, especially with Linfield not in competitive action next weekend.

Neither are Glenavon though. Crusaders are, they play Ards. Those four clubs seperated by just 2 points in a traffic jam at the top, propped by Linfield.

Maybe the international break has come at a good time for Linfield?

Though perspective must be had, we’re only 2 points off the top and have the joint best defence in the league.

Upon Linfield’s return from their mid-season break, they’ll be facing two sides expected to struggle at the bottom, Portadown and Carrick in must-win games. I guess they are all must-win games.

Before that, is a League Cup tie at home to Larne, which will be far from easy, with the East Antrim side leading The Championship.

A win there would set things up for Jamie Mulgrew’s Testimonial, against Rangers, a chance to celebrate his 11 years with the club and to give some players game time, most notably Kris Bright, and hopefully Ross Clarke and Mark Stafford, if they are fit.

Meanwhile, the UEFA Cup draw was done on Friday, and I got the home game on Matchday 5 I wanted for United, as it means i’ll miss Portadown away rather than Ards away.

I’ve booked to go to the Feyenoord game, and then stay over for the West Ham game on the Sunday.

On the Saturday, i’ll have a spare day and will be planning to take in a game while i’m there.

The options are Bury v Millwall and Oldham v Peterborough.

To be honest, the Oldham one looks the more tempting. Oldham and Linfield have had some mutual players in recent years (Feeney, Tipton, Millar, Winchester) as well as the fact that both teams (Steven Robinson and Grant McCann) have managers from Northern Ireland.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began with Dungannon’s trip to Windsor Park for a match that was postponed in January, a 6-0 win for Linfield being a good start to the month.

At the end of the following weekend, I was off to Shamrock Park to see Linfield’s run of form come to a crashing end with a 2-1 defeat.

Eight days later, I was back on the road, to see Linfield get a come from behind win at Coleraine.

I ended the month at Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Glenavon, a match that saw an outfield player go into nets and save a penalty.

Just another dull month.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Portadown v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield and Cliftonville draw 3-3, amidst unceratinty over the future of Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Five days later, I was at Windsor Park to witness Northern Ireland get the win they needed against Greece to send them to Euro 2016.

The party continued for a few days, but the Irish League was back to work, as Linfield faced Glentoran at Windsor Park less than 48 hours later.

By now, Warren Feeney was gone, and it was apt that it was Warren(point) where his successor David Healy took charge of his first game in charge.

The final two games of the month saw Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Greece

Northern Ireland v Greece Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – AUGUST

After League Of Ireland and UEFA Cup football during June and July, the domestic season began for me in August, when Linfield welcomed Ballymena United to Windsor Park on the opening day of the season.

Four days later, I visited Taylor’s Avenue for the first time, as Linfield travelled to newly promoted Carrick Rangers.

To round off a busy week, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend, I was in Scotland for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival, and made the most of it by taking in matches at Hearts, Rangers and Dunfermline.

Upon my return from Scotland, it was back to Windsor Park, my third time this month, to see Linfield take on Portadown, and get a win that continued their perfect start to the season.

Linfield v Ballymena United

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Heart of Midlothian v Partick Thistle

Heart Of Midlothian v Partick Thistle Photo Album

Rangers v Hibernian

Rangers v Hibernian Photo Album

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown

LINFIELD 6-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 2.2.2016

When Dungannon Swifts were arranging a date for this match after it was postponed in the middle of January, i’m not sure that Groundhog Day was the date to choose, considering they would be visiting a venue they have lost on their last twelve visits.

Make that thirteen now. There was nothing unlucky about this for Dunganon. If it’s any consolation for Dungannon, they usually beat Linfield at home every three years (2007, 2010, 2013) so will get some sort of revenge in the early months of next season.

Wether Linfield will be defending champions whenever they suffer an early season defeat at Stangmore Park next season remains to be seen,

Both teams started with attacking intent, but it was Linfield who had the first effort on goal, with Paul Smyth firing goalwards from a wide position, his shot was easily saved.

Good play down the left resulted in a bit of pinball in the penalty area, the ball falling to Andrew Waterworth. There was only going to be one end result, 1-0 to Linfield.

Having been unlucky for the first goal, Dungannon shot themselves in the foot a few minutes later when Dermot McCaffrey lost possession to Paul Smyth, giving him a clean run at goal.

In recent weeks, Paul Smyth has missed a couple of chances when he has been through on goal. Young players learn from their mistakes, remedy them, and get better.

As he ran towards goal, there was no doubt that the score was soon to be 2-0, not even when he elected to go round the goalkeeper rather than shoot, leaving himself with defender on the goal line to put it past, which he did, to make it 2-0.

It was his first goal at Windsor Park, and he celebrated with a somersault. If that is his routine, here’s to more somersaults.

Dungannon, to their credit, continued to attack. Unfortunately for them, so did Linfield, with Reece Glendinning going close with a speculative shot, and Ross Gaynor unable to finish from a wide angle.

Mark Stafford made it 3-0 before half-time. A goal that Linfield needed, in order to stop Dungannon going in at half-time thinking “You know, if we can get an early goal in the second-half ……..”

He almost made it 4-0, as a cleared corner came to Kirk Millar on the left, crossing with his right foot for Stafford, whose header was saved. It was almost a cover version of his goal on Saturday.

The second-half was a slow burner, unsurprisingly with a 3-0 scoreline. Even though they were 3-0 up, Linfield’s players were still throwing themselves in the road and fighting for every ball whenever Dungannon attacked.

Andrew Waterworth was unable to finish from a wide angle, while Sean Ward had a shot turned around the post.

Guy Bates and Michael McLellan came on to give them gametime. Especially important for McLellan, as he adjusts to life back in the top flight, and life at Linfield.

On 80 minutes, Linfield made it 4-0 with a header from Mark Stafford, his second of the game and third in two games. Goal machine.

It was two substitutes who made Linfield’s final contributuons to the game, Aaron Burns flicking the ball over his twin brother (like Paul Gascoigne over Colin Hendry) to then fire home and make it 5-0.

Michael McLellan was then played through by Guy Bates and he finished as if he’s been playing up front for Linfield all of his career, despite the fact it was only his second substitute appearance.

Having spent most of the season (and last season as well) complaining about Linfield not having striking options off the bench, suddenly they had two strikers coming off the bench and combining for a goal.

It wasn’t that important in the context of this game, but it’s good to see a partnership coming together than could come to Linfield’s aid later on in the season.

Six goals, six successive league wins and only six points off the top of the league, albeit with a game more played than Crusaders. Linfield are looking devilishly good at the moment.

The league is on the backburner this weekend, as Armagh City travel to Windsor Park in the Irish Cup. Up next in the league – Portadown (away), Coleraine (away), Glenavon (home), Glentoran (home) and Cliftonville (away)

That is a tasty run of games. They’ll become even tastier if Crusaders fail to beat both Cliftonville and Glenavon this month and Linfield keep on winning, especially with Cliftonville inactive in league terms next weekend.

Photo Album