It was the Irish Cup for Linfield today, and a trip to Drumahoe to face Institute, with a place in the Quarter-Finals up for grabs.
Having successfully negotiated lunch at Applegreen without children holding up the queue, I found roadworks to be a much bigger obstacle, causing me to miss the opening ten or so minutes.
As I walked down the hill towards the ground, I could see an Institute player on the ground and the referee blowing his whistle. I feared a penalty. The referee said it was a dive. TV replays proved it to be a correct decision.
Linfield then began to dominate the first-half, Stephen Lowry having a shot saved from the penalty spot, Cameron Stewart having an attempt at goal just wide before setting up Andrew Waterworth, whose shot was saved when he really should have scored.
It wasn’t all one way traffic, as Chris Casment was forced into a block to deny Institute on one of their rare attacks.
Not even a succession of corners late in the half could bring a Linfield goal, as they had to make do with a half-time score of 0-0.
There wasn’t long to wait for a goal in the second-half, as a quick free-kick from Lowry found Niall Quinn in acres of space, his cross was deflected goalwards, Institute’s keeper palming it away, but only to Cameron Stewart who made sure from close range.
It was Stewart’s second goal for Linfield, coming from a combined distance of one yard out. It doesn’t matter how and how far they go in, as long as they go in.
Linfield were finding it out the hard way as they failed to get a second goal that would kill the tie, Institute knowing that while there was one goal in it, the tie was still very much alive.
A header from a free-kick appeared to level the scores for Stute, until their players started to surround the referee, the crowd only realising that the goal was disallowed.
I was at the other end of the pitch and couldn’t see why it was disallowed. TV replays showed it to be for a push. Soft, but the correct decision.
Aaron Harkin took his protests too far and got a second yellow card.
Chris Casement had a free-kick well saved as Linfield looked to take advantage of their extra man. There wasn’t long to wait as Andrew Waterworth was played through and made it 2-0.
It was job done. A lot later than hoped, but job done, despite Institute having some attempts at goal in the final minutes.
The only concern was Jimmy Callacher going off injured ahead of the County Antrim Shield Final on Tuesday.
Talking of Cup Finals, there is one which might be taking place at Windsor Park in 2019. It appears to have snuck under the radar of the Northern Ireland Media, but Windsor Park has submitted a bid to host the European Super Cup Final.
This has come as no surprise as it was previously reported that a bid would be made as soon as the redevelopment was complete.
That would be fantastic. I went to the European Super Cup Final in Cardiff, and really hope this event comes to Belfast.
It’s a game UEFA want to bring to “smaller” stadiums. Capacity isn’t an issue. Windsor Park is only sightly smaller than Eden Arena which hosted the final in 2013.
The competition comes in the form of Tirana, Toulouse, Budapest, Haifa, Astana, Gdansk, Warsaw, Glasgow and Istanbul.
The first six cities have never hosted a European final, so they have that as a USP, though Tolouse hosted Euro 2016 and Budapest will host Euro 2020 games. That may count against them.
One of the Polish bids will have to be withdrawn, while Glasgow, Istanbul and Astana may withdraw to apply for the UEFA Cup Final or the Women’s European Cup Final.
Suddenly, the shortlist could be very short.
Hampden Park is also in the running for that year’s UEFA Cup Final. Sounds like a good excuse for a trip to Glasgow.
If Hampden Park hosts the 2019 European Super Cup, I could console myself by basing my trip to the Edinburgh Festival around being in Glasgow in this day.
Bids have to be submitted by 6th June and the winning bids will be known in September 2017.
Forget about 2019, it’s 2017 that matters, and up next is the County Antrim Shield Final against Crusaders. The past three meetings this season have shown that Linfield have nothing to be afraid of (well, apart from Raymond Crangle influencing the game from 4th Official) and if they play like they have in those three games, they’ll get their rewards.
There won’t be long to wait for the next meeting against Crusaders, with the sides being drawn together in the Irish Cup Quarter-Finals. Linfield fans have good memories of Irish Cup Quarter-Finals in North Belfast, and a packed crowd willing their team on just as they did at Solitude last year gives us more than a chance.
Hopefully, by then, there’ll be nine more points on the board from wins against Carrick, Ards and Glentoran, as well as the County Antrim Shield.
If there is, the final months of the season could be very interesting indeed.