PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April’s football watching began with a trip to Mourneview Park on Easter Tuesday to see Linfield grind out a 3-2 win away to Glenavon.

That was followed on the Saturday afterwards by going to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

Good start to the month, but that was as good as it got, as Linfield could only managed one point from their next three games against Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville, which would cause them to eventually miss out on European football.

There was only one match for me in May, a trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Watford.

And that, was the 2017-2018 over for me.

Here’s to more football and photos in 2018-2019.

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Watford

Manchester United v Watford Photo Album

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MANCHESTER UNITED 1-0 WATFORD 13.5.2018

As I travelled over to this match the day before, it occurred to me that it was the 25th anniversary of my first ever United match.

That match was a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Aston Villa at Windsor Park, as United fans were still celebrating their side’s first title in 26 years. Little did they know what the next 25 years would bring, albeit the first 20 years of that period being a lot more enjoyable.

Aston Villa’s goal that night came from Dwight Yorke. Little did we know that he would be a future goalscoring hero for United.

As fans left Windsor Park that night, little did they know that a future United goalscoring hero would be born the next day. This game fell on Romelu Lukaku’s 25th birthday, but he wouldn’t be getting a chance to celebrate with a goal, as he missed out through injury, an injury which restricted him to a role as a substitute in the FA Cup Final.

When I booked this trip, I thought it would be the second successive season that I would be seeing Marco Silva bring a team to Old Trafford, having seen United take on Hull last season. That wouldn’t be happening as Watford change their manager every three months. I had to check Google to see that it was Javi Garcia.

This game was also the last game for United for Michael Carrick before retirement, having made his debut against Charlton Athletic in August 2006. If he had waited a few days, his first and last game would have been against Watford.

If he had made his debut a few days earlier against Fulham, I would have been at his first and last games for United.

Being out of sync is a familiar theme to United’s season.

If this game was about paying tribute to Michael Carrick, the weekend before, it looked like being a tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson, but thankfully he is on the road to recovery, as announced in the days leading up to this match.

There was not a lot to play for in terms of the League positions. United had confirmed 2nd prior to this, their highest finish in the post-Ferguson era, while Watford were floating about in mid table, with a forth successive season of top-flight football confirmed, a feat they haven’t achieved since their glory days under Graham Taylor in the 1980s.

Watford made a positive start to the game, having a lot of possession in United’s half.

It was United who had the first attempt on goal of the game when an ambitious Alexis Sanchez volley went wide.

Marcus Rashford was causing problems for Watford’s defence, trying to get in behind them. United weren’t slow in trying to give him opportunities to do so. He only needed to get lucky once.

And that he did, after a through ball from Michael Carrick played in Juan Mata who set up Rashford to score from close range.

Sergio Romero, getting a rare start in goal, made an excellent save from a Richarlison close ranger header. I was at the end of the ground and thought it was sneaking in. Thankfully, it didn’t.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Marcos Rojo lost possession but was saved by an offside flag as the ball fell to a Watford attacker.

United searched for the second goal that would secure the game, the closest they came was an Alexis Sanchez cross which evaded Juan Mata.

Having spent the first-half trying to run behind Watford’s defence, Marcus Rashford was now not running at Watford’s defence every time he got the ball, to audible groans in the stands.

It was a very dull game, the only moment of note in the final minutes of the second-half came when Michael Carrick was substituted to a standing ovation.

The match finished 1-0 to United, as United finished the season with a win ahead of the FA Cup Final.

The FA Cup Final would ultimately decide if it has been a season of progress. The fact that United have had their highest League position since Sir Alex Ferguson was Manager shouldn’t be overlooked, nor should the fact that United have beaten every team in the League, including come from behind wins against Manchester City and Chelsea.

On the flip side, United lost away to all three promoted sides, as well as dropping points to relegated Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, as well as relegation threatened Southampton.

In those games, United only picked up the pace when they fell behind and the points looked set to be slipping away, when they should have been going at it from the start.

It was probably apt that the season should end with a similar performance and result in the FA Cup Final.

That attitude was the same against Bristol City in the League Cup, as United waited to win it in extra-time while Bristol City wanted to win it in 90 minutes.

United’s start to the season wasn’t that bad, but it was a run of dropped points in October and November killed off any hopes of a title challenge.

In any other season, United would only have been a couple of points off the top on New Year’s Day, but City’s start to the season put them out of reach.

The fixture list for the 2018-2019 season will be released on the morning of Thursday 19th June. Curious timing, as it is the opening day of the World Cup. That seems strange from a Marketing point of view.

When it is released, i’ll keep an eye out for possible games to go to, more than likely a midweek game. I’ll have to wait until the dates are released.

Pre-Season Fixtures have been announced and it looks unlikely there will be a Pre-Season game in Dublin, like there was in the Summer of 2017 against Sampdoria.

I forgot to mention in my last football blog that Institute will potentially be playing home matches at The Oval next season. Bit underwhelming that, was hoping to visit a new ground (for me).

In Scotland, unsurprisingly, Spartans failed to overcome a 4-0 deficit against Cove Rangers and will be playing in the Lowland League, meaning I won’t be seeing them in League Two action if I go to see them when I visit Edinburgh in August.

Meanwhile, the UEFA Cup Play-Offs went as disastrously as expected, with Linfield losing their Semi-Final 4-3 to Glentoran.

For a start, it is an absolute sham and it makes a mockery of the League that such a system is in place.

Could you imagine if the title was decided this way, and Linfield won the League after finishing 4th but winning two matches in May.

Imagine if something similar was in England, and Newcastle United were given an opportunity to play in Europe despite spending most of the season in the bottom half.

It’s not sour grapes me saying that, check my archives, my view has been consistent throughout.

Natural justice was done in 2016 and 2017, but sadly not in 2018. Having Play-Offs to decide UEFA Cup places is a reward for mediocrity.

As bad as Linfield have been this season, you can’t tell me that Cliftonville, Ballymena United and Glentoran are more deserving of a place in Europe.

Just wait five years when people are sitting about wondering why the Irish League’s co-efficient takes a battering because we let lottery winners play in Europe rather than deciding places on merit.

Having thrown away 3rd place during the regular season, Linfield should have been making no mistake in this Play-Off sham. We were 2-0 up at home to a team that finished 7th, and had lost three of their last four games – to the bottom three.

When it went to 2-1, you knew what was happening. Far too many times Linfield have capitulated and felt sorry for themselves after conceding a goal. Too many players hide when the going gets tough.

It is made even worse when you see how many times Linfield battled back from adversity to win the League in 2016-2017.

In November 2016, Linfield came from 2-0 down with nine men to get a draw at Glenavon. It spurred the team on for the rest of the season.

In October 2017, Linfield lost 2-1 at Coleraine due to a controversial goal. The response? a 5-2 defeat at home to Crusaders.

And on that note, being afraid of Crusaders. They can cut that shit out right away. I thought they had cut that out in 2016-2017.

A team of hoofers and thugs, and we made them look like Real Madrid. FIVE TIMES.

It’s a team of players approaching or in their 30s. It will need an overhaul over the next few years. There is a potential that this will blow up spectacularly for them. We have to be ready to pounce. Coleraine are no doubt ready to do so.

Departures have already happened. A new centre midfielder was a priority before Stephen Lowry left. It is even more so now. As is a striker who can put the ball in the net.

June 2018 will be the first month since June 2015 that Linfield haven’t played a competitive match. It’s simply possible that Linfield’s players experienced burnout this season, especially considering that players such as Jimmy Callacher, Mark Haughey, Mark Stafford, Niall Quinn, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Lowry, Kirk Millar and Andrew Waterworth have been with the club during this period.

Hopefully, we can use a Europe free summer to our advantage, and get players such as Jordan Stewart, Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Waterworth back to full fitness so that they can hit the ground running in August.

So, Pre-Season wishlist. All away, grounds i’ve never been to or haven’t been to for a while – Moyola Park, PSNI, Knockbreda and QUB. Am I being ambitious to hope for an away game against one of Queen Of The South, Ayr United or Stranraer?

It is a League next season that will feature away game(s) against Newry, a ground I haven’t been to since 2010. Looking forward to that.

Of the Irish League teams in Europe, they will enter the competition between Tuesday 10th July and Thursday 12th July.

Any team at home that week will play on Tuesday 10th July. It’s common sense. That won’t stop Northern Ireland’s gutter press going to work, especially if one or two of them draw Glasgow teams.

After a season of fixture scheduling farces, here’s two to look out for next season.

Carl Frampton is having a fight at Windsor Park on Saturday 18th August 2018. You would expect Linfield to be away that day. You’d hope. It would be an utter disgrace if they have a home game scheduled that day that needs to be rearranged.

Saturday 23rd March 2019 is a date set aside for Euro 2020 Qualifiers. The draw is yet to happen. I’d like to think contingency plans are in place should Northern Ireland be at home that day.

That’s me for my football watching for 2017-2018. In some parallel universe i’d be writing about how i’m heading to Villa Park to see Morocco v Iran or going to St James Park to see Denmark v Peru.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park, a place where I would spend four of the five Saturdays during the month, to see Linfield scrape a 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

Postponements would then frustrate my football watching, as Linfield’s trip to Carrick was postponed, as was the FA Cup Replay between Crewe Alexandra and Blackburn Rovers, which I had planned on attending.

The reason for this was that I was in North-West England to see Manchester United take on AFC Bournemouth, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

I then headed to Windsor Park on successive Saturdays to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville.

That was then followed by a Boxing Day trip to The Oval, the less said about that, the better.

After that, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Crusaders. The less said about that, the better.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Manchester Untied v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-0 AFC BOURNEMOUTH 13.12.2017

On Wednesday night, I made my first visit of the season to Old Trafford, as Manchester United took on AFC Bournemouth.

Win, lose or draw, I was hoping to have a better time than when I previously went to see United take on Bournemouth, having been evacuated from the ground prior to a match in May 2016, which was ultimately postponed.

United have made progress this season, but not as much as hoped. They’ve advanced in two cup competitions and are still to join in the FA Cup. It’s the League that matters, and United are chasing Manchester City and a gap of eleven points following defeat to them on the Sunday before this.

United sit 2nd in the table, but they’re not in a title challenge at the moment. A win on Sunday would have put them in one. Defeat means they’re the best of the rest, trying to swat off the teams below them instead of trying to overtake the team above them.

In short, this was a must-win game for United. Especially after Chelsea won the night before, and that Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool would be facing clubs in the bottom three and all looking likely to pick up victories.

Jesse Lingard had a spectacular attempt on goal that went wide in the first minute as United went straight on the attack. It was not to be the start of an onslaught.

In fact, it was Bournemouth who had the better of things in the early stages. Charlie Daniels being able to run at United’s defence to have a shot which was saved by De Gea, while Dan Gosling had a shot saved by De Gea after the original cross evaded him.

The best that United could offer was an Anthony Martial cross which narrowly evaded Juan Mata.

On 25 minutes, United took the lead when a header from Romelu Lukaku hit the back of the net. It was against the run of play, but United had the lead.

Lukaku’s only previous involvement prior to that was heading clear in his own box, to sarcastic cheers from a small section of the crowd, which United couldn’t totally get rid of, Phil Jones having to spectacularly head voer in his own six yard box.

The goal didn’t deflate Bournemouth, with David De Gea having to save from Ryan Fraser, who cheekily tried to exploit a gap he left when anticipating a cross.

United began the second-half looking for the second goal they needed to secure the points. Juan Mata had a shot blocked on the edge of the box while Anthony Martial fired over from a few yards out, after Lukaku’s shot was blocked, when he really should have scored.

I was sat in the back row, and one advantage of this was that the Corporate Boxes were right behind me, so I could have a sneaky look at the TVs behind me if I needed to see a replay.

It was Martial’s last involvement in the game as he was subbed for Marcus Rashford.

Rashford’s first involvement was to keep alive a Scott McTominay cross which evaded everyone to set up Jesse Lingard, who slipped. Rashford then hit the bar from the edge of the box, as his introduction gave United’s attack in injection of life that had been missing so far.

Borunemouth responded with a substitution of their own, bringing on Jermaine Defoe. Despite struggling at Bournemouth so far, he’s still a player with an eye for goal. He scored in his first couple of games against United for West Ham, so I have it in my head that he always scores against United.

He gave United fans a worry when his shot from a tight angle was saved by David De Gea’s legs.

The mood wasn’t helped by United’s inability to keep possession. This was summed up by Marcus Rashford trying to win a corner from a corner by hitting it off a Bournemouth player, the ball going straight to Bournemouth’s goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

As the full-time whistle approached, Bournemouth won a free-kick outside the box, which was teed up to Ryan Fraser, but shot straight at De Gea.

3 minutes and 50 seconds into 4 minutes of injury time, that was Bournemouth’s last chance, as United took the points.

David De Gea being the matchwinner against Arsenal shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, but he shouldn’t be the matchwinner at home to Bournemouth.

It was a win, but not quite the response United needed. They won’t get away with it if they play like it in upcoming games against on form Bristol City, Burnley and Everton.

I would have included Leicester on the list, but they’ve since lost 3-0 at home to Crystal Palace, equally on form.

When I booked the trip, it was unknown if this game would be Tuesday or Wednesday, so I booked Tuesday to Thursday. It meant that I was free on Tuesday evening.

Crewe were scheduled to play Blackburn in an FA Cup 2nd Round Replay. It wasn’t far from Manchester and the ground is easy to get to.

Unfortunately, the match was postponed, but rescheduled for the following day.

I could have went to Burnley or Wigan, but in truth, I couldn’t be bothered.

This was Jose Mourinho’s first home League win against Bournemouth and the first time i’ve been to a United League win of note with him as manager.

My next scheduled trip to Old Trafford is in May for the last game of the season against Watford.

Unfortunately, it’s not looking like a title party.

Photo Album

Manchester United v Bournemouth May 2016

2017 IN PICTURES – MAY

May 2017 began with Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and a trip to Custom House Square to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

That was followed that weekend, by the Irish Cup Final, where Linfield beat Coleraine 3-0.

I then filled a football free Saturday afternoon by cycling to Lisburn and getting some Street Art photos.

Well, just the one football free Saturday, as the following weekend, I took in one more football match, travelling to Manchester to see United take on Crystal Palace.

While I was in Manchester, I took the opportunity to get some Street Art photos.

The month ended with a trip to The Limelight to see George Ezra in concert

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017 Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Photo Album

George Ezra live at The Limelight

George Ezra live at The Limelight Photo Album

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

So, the 2016-2017 season is over for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic look back at the season just gone.

I’ve selected some of my favourites, so feel free to vote for the one you like the best.

POLSKA

Taken back in June 2016 at Northern Ireland v Poland, I like the composition, how everyone is fixated on the action at the other end of the pitch, and the colour co-ordination of both sets of fans.



WILGAR

Taken at a pre-season game between Linfield and Dundela, it captures the joys of going to football matches in pre-season, sunshine and relaxation ahead of the hard slog ahead.



SEAVIEW

I like the framing of this, as the crowd is in position, awaiting kick-off in a big match.



CELEBRATION

Linfield fans celebrating Jimmy Callacher’s winner against Glentoran in October. I just like this for some reason other than the obvious.

PALMERSTON

There’s just something about the architecture of old football grounds that does it for me. This is out of use turnstiles at Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South.

APPEAL

Linfield fans appeal in unison, all making the same hand gestures, for a goal to be allowed. The goal was disallowed for a foul.



ELF

Taken at the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Some people like getting dressed up for Christmas.

GAYNOR

I like the composition of this, from Ross Gaynor’s posture, to substitutes chatting to each other while the game goes on.

UNITED

I like the composition of this, all eyes fixated on the penalty area and the incoming corner.

SPOT THE BALL

I like the composition of this shot, it looks like a Spot The Ball image, except that the ball is in the shot, with two players getting ready for an aerial tussle.



COLERAINE

I love the framing and seeing players in the background running to join the celebrations.

WATERWORTH

Celebrations after Andrew Waterworth’s second goal against Cliftonville, capturing the joy of the event and the achievement just about to happen.

MANCHESTER UNITED 2-0 CRYSTAL PALACE 21.5.2017

The race for European Cup places went down to the last game. United weren’t involved but not in a good way, as they were locked in 6th, unable to go up or down.

Crystal Palace weren’t too unhappy about this game being a dead rubber, having been battling against relegation for most of the season, securing their safety with a win over Hull City last weekend.

It’s an occupational hazard of being a football fan that you can book a trip to a football match well in advance, anticipating it to be a big decider, only for it to be a dead rubber.

It was still better than when I went to United’s last League game of last season, at least I got a game this time.

Despite being locked in their position, this was a game United still had to win, purely for form and morale ahead of the UEFA Cup Final against Ajax. United went into this game on a run of one win in seven games. Not ideal going into a game of this magnitude. One win in eight, isn’t exactly great preparation either.

I’m disappointed that United surrendered a top four place in to concentrate on Europe, when both were achievable. A strong finish to the League season would have been perfect preparation for Stockholm.

A downturn in form going into a European final brought back memories of 1991 for United fans. That season saw a 3-0 defeat against Crystal Palace on the last weekend. Hopefully, that would not be repeated.

Jose Mourinho had stated in the build-up that there would be a much changed United team for this game. The only certainty was that Eric Bailly would be starting, due to his suspension for the UEFA Cup Final.

In the end, there were debuts for Demi Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Josh Harrop, and a first start for Joel Pereira.

In years to come, I might be able to say “I was there”, though my record of Untied debuts isn’t great – Marouane Fellaini and Victor Valdes. At least I can say I was there for Sam Allardyce’s last game as a manager.

For a lot of people, there would be quick Google searches to find out more information on these players. I know, minus Top Red points for not having an MUTV subscription and watching Reserve and Underage match. I should never be allowed in Old Trafford again.

The first chance of the game came when Wayne Rooney got in behind Palace’s defence, but his lob went just over the bar.

It was two of United’s debutants who were involved in most of their early attacks, Josh Harrop and Demetri Mitchell combining to good effect down the left.

It was down the left that United’s first goal came, Harrop being played in by Paul Pogba, getting into the penalty area, cutting back and then smashing it into the net with his right foot.

He wasn’t the first United young player to score on his debut. Hopefully, he’ll be more of a Paul Scholes or Marcus Rashford rather than a Federico Macheda or James Wilson.

A few minutes later, it was 2-0 when a pass came to Paul Pogba when it looked like it was going to be intercepted by a Palace defender, and Pogba made no mistake.

Pogba was playing to give him game time ahead of Stockholm, after missing recent matches due to a recent family bereavement.

It wasn’t a long appearance by Pogba, as he was subbed for Michael Carrick towards the end of the first-half, followed soon after by Jesse Lingard making way for Anthony Martial. The substitution denied Lingard the opportunity to score against Palace on 21st May for the second successive year, as this match fell on the first anniversary of the 2016 FA Cup Final.

Jose Mourinho wasn’t taking any chances. United certainly were. If they were this efficient in the previous 37 matches, a top four finish could have been secured a long time ago.

Palace’s attacks were easily nullified by United. The best they could offer was a Christian Benteke header which hit the post, denying him the opportunity to equal Darren Bent’s record of scoring at Old Trafford in three successive seasons for three different clubs.

Unsurprisingly, the second-half was typical end of season stuff as United won comfortably. The main talking point was the introduction from the bench of Angel Gomes, United’s youngest player since Duncan Edwards.

He was also United’s first player born in the 21st century.

It’s sad now that I can now remember the closest game to when a United player was born. In Gomes case, he was born during an international break. The closest match was a 2-2 draw against West Ham at Upton Park. I watched the game in a bar while on holiday in Spain. United threw away a 2-0 lead.

The final table saw United finish 6th. A win in the UEFA Cup Final will certainly retrieve the season.

It frustrates me that United surrendered 4th. Even though winning the UEFA Cup will bring the same result for United next season, they would be one of five English teams in the European Cup. Being one of four would have been much better. We could have really damaged a rival.

Ultimately, it was points dropped in drawn games at Old Trafford which cost United a top four finish. If United hadn’t thrown away leads against Stoke, Swansea, Arsenal and Bournemouth, they would have finished 4th.

Add in an extra two points from the numerous 0-0 draws to that, they would have finished 3rd. It could have made the final weeks of the season very relaxing and made it easier to balance Europe and League commitments.

This was my last match of the 2016-2017 season. The day after this match, United announced a friendly against Sampdoria in Dublin for August 2nd.

Frustratingly, it’s a midweek, so I’ll have to take a half day on the Wednesday and try and get some sleep before work on Thursday.

In terms of trips to Old Trafford, I’ll have to wait until the fixture list is confirmed on 14th June.

As much as I enjoyed doing a Thursday-Sunday double header last November, it’s not something I’d want to make an annual event.

I’m hoping there’s a midweek fixture list in December, like in 2016-2017, with United at home, and then possibly a European group match. Midweek games are handy due to lower hotel costs.

Elsewhere, the Irish League hasn’t stood still since I attended the Irish Cup Final just over two weeks ago.

Lots of ins and outs at Linfield. The signings of Robert Garrett, Jordan Stewart and Andrew Mitchell are all welcome additions to the squad. It was Linfield’s squad which won them the title last season, when you consider the impact of players such as Cameron Stewart and Alex Moore/Gareth Deane when covering for injured team-mates.

It was a squad which needed trimmed. The departures of Sammy Clingan,Michael McLellan and Kris Bright are of no surprise to anyone.

I would have kept Josh Carson, Roas Gaynor and Sean Ward, but I can understand if the players wanted to leave in order to get first-team football.

Jonny Frazer leaving was a bit of a shock. No disrespect to Ards, but I’m glad he hasn’t joined a top half team.

Linfield’s first pre-season friendly has been announced, a mid June trip to North Wales to take on Bala Town, only 90 minutes from Holyhead.

I’m holding out for Stena or Ulsterbus to do a bus/boat package. It’s the day after The 1975 concert at Ormeau Park, so I would be functioning on little sleep if I went.

The ridiculous notion of UEFA Cup Play-Offs produced a lot of goals, which means they are probably here to stay. I’m glad natural justice prevailed when Ballymena won it.

Having spoken about possibly going to see United in Dublin, I’m going to Dublin for two days in July, hoping to do the usual touristy stuff and catch some football. Shelbourne have a home match on one of the days I’m there. St Pat’s and Bray have home matches schedule, but they are dependent on their opponents being out of Europe by then.

It hasn’t been booked yet, but I’m hoping to go to Edinburgh in August. Hopefully, it’ll be on a weekend when Edinburgh City are at home. It’ll be a pleasant change from Hibs and Hearts.

Hopefully if I go to a European group match at Old Trafford next season, it’ll be in the European Cup instead of the UEFA Cup.

Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace September 2013

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

MANCHESTER UNITED 0-0 HULL CITY 1.2.2017

On Wednesday night, it was a third trip of the season for me to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Hull City, having done a double header in November against Feyenoord and West Ham United.

When writing about the West Ham game, I observed that in November 2015, things were looking great for United when I went to my first game of the season, then it all went wrong by the time I returned in late January. I was hoping for the opposite effect this season, and that United’s form would have an upturn between Old Trafford visits.

Well, that’s what happened, as December and January saw a nine match winning run, though that was followed by three games without a win.

Despite that, United came up smelling of roses in that three match run, gaining a point on Liverpool and Manchester City and reaching the League Cup Final.

Curiously, this wasn’t the first time i’d seen United play on 1st February. It was exactly eleven years, also a Wednesday, that I saw United lose 4-3 to Blackburn Rovers in the freezing cold at Ewood Park, though I did get to meet Statto after the match.

That night, United faced a team they had just beaten in the League Cup Semi-Final, just as they did with Hull City.

When I booked this game last June, it was either Tuesday or Wednesday, so I booked Tuesday to Thursday to cover all bases.

With the game on the Wednesday, I was hoping to get a game on the Tuesday. Unfortunately, none of the teams on the Metrolink were at home. Agonisingly, Rochdale have a home match against Charlton which needs to be rearranged due to their FA Cup run. They didn’t arrange it for the night I was in Greater Manchester.

Burnley were at home and were tempting. The problem was, there was too little margin for error in terms of getting back to Manchester and getting across Manchester back to my hotel. I looked at getting a ticket on Tuesday afternoon and there were still some available.

Incredible that you could get a ticket to see the Champions Of England at an away ground on the day of the match.

I was there to see United, anything else was a bonus.

Other results on Tuesday night went in United’s favour with Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool all failing to win. Having been 6th for so long, now is the time for United to go for the kill and start climbing the table.

United went straight on the attack in the opening minutes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan looked to set himself up for a certain goal, only to be denied by a last gasp tackle.

However, it was Hull who had the best chance of the opening minutes when Harry Maguie headed wide from a free-kick. He really should have scored.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic got space to shoot at goal, but his shot was turned around for a corner, which was overhit but retrieved by Marcus Rashford, whose fancy flick set up Marcos Rojo, who headed over.

Daley Blind was next to try to score, but his volley went over the bar, as United were having as many attempts on goal as an already booked Oumar Niasse was committing fouls without a second yellow.

It looked like a goal was inevitible for United.

United’s last chance of the half came from when Marcus Rashford went on a run, stayed on his feet when a Hull player went in with a late tackle in the box but didn’t get rewarded for his honesty, instead seeing his attack end with the half-time whistle.

The game was similar to the first leg of the League Cup Semi-Final. United were hoping it would have a similar result in the second-half.

Having already needed an injury time when the sides met at the KCom Stadium in August, United were finding out for the third time this season that Hull were stubborn opponents.

Jose Mourinho brought on Wayne Rooney for Michael Carrick at half-time as United sought the breakthrough. Juan Mata and Anthony Martial being kept for later in the game.

That plan would bite the dust early in the second-half when Phil Jones suffered an injury in a race for possession. The game continued with Jones struggling, but Hull weren’t able to take advantage as Chris Smalling came on for him during the next break in play.

It meant that one of Mata and Martial would be sitting on the bench when United needed them both on the pitch.

Marcus Rashford got in behind Hull’s defence but could only scuff his shot wide.

Juan Mata got the nod from the bench in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, meaning that Anthony Martial was the man who would be watching from the sidelines.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired just wide, before a Chris Smalling header to Juan Mata for what looked like a certain goal.

Unfortunately, Hull’s goalkeeper had prepared for this match by watching the 1973 FA Cup Final, and picked the perfect moment to recreate Jim Montgomery’s saved.

Hull began to grow in confidence and started to believe they could win the game. It looked like they did when Lazar Markovic’s shot left David De Gea stranded, only for it to hit the post. I was behind that goal and thought it was going in. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was trying the spectacular in a crowded penalty area, that was only going the result in a free-kick to Hull.

In the first-half, it looked a goal for United was inevitable. As each minute passed, it was looking more and more like another frustrating evening.

Marcos Rojo and Paul Pogba forced Hull’s keeper into a save, while Abel Hernandez was unable to take advantage of being behind United’s defence by only firing weakly at David De Gea. This came during five minutes of injury time, Hull’s reward for persistent timewasting.

Hull held on for a point, as United were left to rue more missed opportunities, both metaphorically and literally.

This result wasn’t fatal, no real ground was lost, but United need to start taking advantage of teams above them playing each other, of teams above them slipping up. A top four finish is still a realistic target. Beating Hull at home is a minimum to achieve this.

A disappointing start to February, a month that could see United finish with a trophy, a place in the last 8 of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. There is still a lot to play for.

However, a nine match winning run has become one win in six. On the plus side, it might give Hull a confidence boost before facing Liverpool at the weekend, and then Arsenal next weekend.

Sadly, we’re relying on a lot of favours at the moment.

I’m next due back at Old Trafford for the Crystal Palace game on the last day of the season. Three points to secure a top four finish ahead of two Cup Finals. That’s what i’m hoping for.

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Manchester United v Hull City November 2004

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-1 WEST HAM UNITED 27.11.2016

Having gone to my first game of the season at Old Trafford against Feyenoord, it wasn’t long to wait for my second game, just three days later, as West Ham visited in the League.

I’d waited until the UEFA Cup Group Stage draw was done and hoped for a double header, and got lucky with this one.

Too many dropped points, especially in drawn games at Old Trafford, meant this was a must-win game for United, especially with Spurs losing the day before, presenting United with an opportunity to close the gap on the side in 5th, especially as they visit Old Trafford in mid December.

It was West Ham who were straight on the attack, winning a soft free-kick in a wide position. It all looked so sluggish from United, and it continued when Diafra Sakho got to the ball from that free-kick in front of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to head home.

The was not the start United needed, especially against a side they had only beaten once in their last five meetings.

United responded eventually, their first shot on goal came from Juan Mata.

The pressure built up, and an equaliser came when Ibrahomovic made up for his shoddy defending by flicking hom a Paul Pogba through ball.

Pogba’s next involvement came when the referee booked him for deeming to have dived, which resulted in Jose Mourinho beiung sent to the stand for kicking a water bottle.

Mourinho’s departue didn’t affect United, as they had chances to go in front. Rashford having a shot saved while put through, and Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic having shots blocked.

More chances came, with Rooney and Lingard having shots saved before Lingard had a goal disallowed for offside.

It looked like being one of those days for United, as West Ham seemed to get bodies in the road every time the ball was in their penalty area.

As much as I enjoyed being able to do a Thursday-Sunday double header, it’s not something i’m planning on doing next season. I’d rather United be playing their European matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Last season, I made my first trip of the season to Old Trafford in November and things were going fine, but an awful December saw their season in tatters by the time I visited again in late January.

This season, i’m due back at Old Trafford in late January for the League match against Hull. Hopefully, there’ll be a reversal in fortunes and the league table will have a better look to it.

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