Linfield were looking to bounce back after ……
Wait a minute, that was last week’s script. After returning to winning ways against Ards last weekend, Linfield returned to losing ways 48 hours later, against Ards in the County Antrim Shield.
It kinda took the Shheeeeeyyyyyyinnnnne off the evening, when I saw the final score inbetween songs at the Liam Gallagher concert.
Once again, Linfield were looking to bounce back after losing their last game. Ballinamallard have doing that all season. 11 defeats out of 13 suggests they haven’t done it very well.
Linfield fans will have been glad to wake up on Wednesday morning to discover that it was no longer October. It’s been an awful month in recent years, which has all been noted here. A stat as to how grim it is appeared on Twitter regarding the number of points lost and cup competitions exited.
Things are so bad for Linfield at the moment, they arrived in Fermanagh and weren’t met by the usual sunshine that greets them when they play at Ballinamallard.
Both teams were in a similar situation. They may have points to make up on those immediately above them, but the situation is retrievable. Neither side could let the gap get any bigger.
There was one ray of sunshine for Linfield fans arriving at Ferney Park, not in the sky but on the teamsheet, as Linfield lined-up 442 and with only two centre midfielders. Finally, the unsuccessful and restrictive 451/433 had been binned.
It was immediately effective, with Linfield straight on the attack and putting pressure on the Ballinamallard goal. Crosses were coming in and players were almost getting on the end of it. You could tell that a goal was coming.
That goal did come when a quick free-kick saw Jordan Stewart and Matthew Clarke going up against one Ballinamallard full-back, with Clarke being played in to cross for Mark Haughey to head home from close range. Linfield had the early goal they desired.
The two previous meetings between the two sides this season have seen 4-0 and 3-0 wins for Linfield. However, the half-time score in both those games have been 1-0 and 0-0. Linfield have had to wait until the second-half to secure the win. They needed to get a second goal.
The pressure on the Ballinamallard goal continued, and the second goal came when Kirk Millar’s header from a Jordan Stewart cross looped in. I was behind the goal and muttered “Unlucky” to myself, as I thought it was going over.
There were more chances for Linfield, and a third goal came when Andrew Waterworth headed home from close range after a Josh Robinson shot was saved.
It was to be Robinson’s last involvement in the game as he was sent-off for kicking out in a melee in the goal caused by Jason McCartney rugby tackled him on the goalline. Robinson could have no complaints, McCartney was very lucky to only receive a yellow card.
No matter how the game has gone so far, when an opposition player is sent-off, you always fancy your chances of getting something.
Ballinamallard had a chance from close range that went over as the half neared it’s end. Linfield were able to see out the half and go in at 3-0 up.
David Healy reacted to the red card by bringing on Andrew Mitchell for Louis Rooney.
I know i’ve complained about Healy being too defensive in recent weeks, but the situation justified it. Linfield didn’t needed to score and they didn’t want to concede an early second-half goal and give Ballinamallard any encouragement that they could get something from this game.
In truth, Mitchell probably did more in the first-half than when he was on the pitch in the second-half.
Linfield started the second-half on the attack, you wouldn’t have noticed they were down to ten men.
Just like in the first-half, there was an early header from Mark Haughey, this time to make it 4-0. If there was any doubt about the result, it had now gone, the points were going to Windsor Park, Linfield’s first away win since September 22nd, and (specific statistic alert) first away League win on a Saturday since August 19th.
By now, Linfield fans were huddled into the Vilage Stand, or any other form of shelter they could find as the rain became torrential. There was never any danger of the match being abandoned as the pitch was holding up well. The match, metaphorically, was already over.
Chris Casement and Mark Stafford were both denied as Linfield looked to make it 5-0. Mark Haughey slid in while trying to get on the end of a low cross. He ended up in the back of the net. The ball did not. Today would not be his day for a hat-trick.
Jordan Stewart would be the man to make it 5-0, firing home from close range after a Kirk Millar cross.
That would be his last involvement in the game, as he was substituted, with Brandon Adams coming on.
By this point, Jamie Mulgrew had already been replaced by Stephen Lowry as a precaution.
Roy Carroll made a save from a Ciaran Martyn header as Linfield aimed to secure a first ever winning clean sheet in the League at Ballinamallard.
After recent defensive calamities, it was important to start keeping clean sheets. It is the first part of the recovery process of Linfield’s season.
There was time for one more goal for Linfield as Andrew Waterworth made it 6-0. Today was his first League goals of the season. Hopefully, the first and second of many. We’ll need it to be.
As well as the thee points, this was also a timely boost for Linfield’s goal difference. Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders have a goal difference of 22 in comparison to Linfield’s 19. The priority is clawing back the points deficit, but having goal difference as a back-up won’t hurt.
Elsewhere today, Cliftonville won, so they are still breathing down our necks, while Crusaders won, meaning they are just slightly above us.
There was points droppage further ahead as Glenavon and Coleraine drew with each other.
As a result, Linfield are now 11 points off the top but with a game in hand, and only 3 points behind Glenavon.
Next weekend, Coleraine and Crusaders aren’t in League action. The following Saturday, Coleraine travel to Windsor Park. The incentive is there, win the next two League matches and the gap from the top is only five points. There would still be a lot of work to do, but suddenly Coleraine would be feeling a lot of pressure.
Elsewhere, in the Steel and Sons Cup, Linfield Swifts advanced to Semi-Finals. I’m slightly worried we might get to the final, on Christmas Day.
I’m keeping an eye on FA Cup 1st Round games this weekend. Why? 2nd Round replays are scheduled for the Tuesday night I am in Manchester to see United take on Bournemouth on the Wednesday.
Of the North-West/Greater Manchester teams, Nantwich and Oldham went out while Rochdale, Crewe and Wigan went through. Bury play tomorrow. I’m hoping for away draws for North-West teams and they go to a replay.
Next up for me, is Northern Ireland v Switzerland, and hopefully a mood of national celebration by the time Linfield head to Ballymena on Friday night.