For the first time in a long time, Linfield had an away tie in the Irish Cup to a lower league team. It certainly made a difference from previous years, with home games against lower league teams which are of little interest.
A bonus, was that it was an opportunity to visit a ground i’d never been to. It wasn’t a new ground for Linfield, having played there in the cup in 2003, and a friendly in 2011.
It wasn’t my first time seeing Tobermore play. The only other time i’d seen Tobermore play, they got relegated, with a 1-0 defeat at Bangor in May 2013.
It was Warren Feeney’s first attempt at winning the Irish Cup. He used the game to make some changes, to freshen things up after a busy Christmas/New Year period. However, if Linfield were playing a league game, I don’t think today’s line-up would have started, as Mulgrew, Lowry, Morrow and Quinn were all left out, with rare starting opportunities for Seanan Clucas, Matthew Clarke and Michael Carvill.
Having come a cropper making changes to his side at Ballyclare in the League Cup in August, Warren Feeney was hoping to avoid a repeat by going out at the first stage of the Irish Cup.
With Irish Cup Replays now being abolished to history, Linfield needed to win this in 90 minutes, rather than adopting a “Sure, we’ll win it in the replay” attitude that is sometimes tempting in these ties.
In order to do that, Linfield needed an early goal to settle nerves.
It was Tobermore who had the first attacking moment of note in the game, when a dangerous cross flashed across the box, with thankfully, nobody there to finish.
Linfield eventually got control of possession, but couldn’t get that breakthrough. It looked like it was going to come when Andrew Waterworth was played through, in Linfield’s first real quality piece of play.
Waterworth was taken down. From where I was stood, it looked like it was in the penalty. The referee gave a free-kick outside the box. As close to the penalty as you can get without being in the penalty area. It looked like a straight red card to me, the referee only gave a yellow card.
The resulting free-kick hit the wall and was cleared down the pitch. From the play that resulted from that throw, justice was belatedly done, when Linfield went 1-0 up.
A cross came in for Andrew Waterworth, who hit the bar from a few yards out, and the resulting scramble saw the ball go in. Some media outlets have given the goal to Waterworth, and some have given it as an own goal by Tobermore defender Andrew Neill.
There is no such thing as a Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, so Waterworth will probably be credited with it as he’ll shout loudest that it is his.
The important thing was, Linfield were 1-0 up.
The nervousness at 0-0 was gone. Though Linfield had most of the possession, they couldn’t get a 2nd goal to make life easier. There was never a moment where a 2nd goal was imminent.
In fact, Tobermore had an opportunity to equalise just after Linfield went 1-0 up, but a weak shot was easily cleared off the line after Ross Glendinning was rounded.
Despite being cold, the first-half was played in sunshine. The second-half began with a rainstorm. Tobermore offered more of an attacking threat in the second-half, but it was mostly free-kicks and corners. Ross Glendinning wasn’t forced into many dramatic saves, but still had to be on his game.
Eventually, Linfield regained control of possession and began to force more pressure on Tobermore, with Burns and Waterworth having chances to make it 2-0.
Linfield got a lot of joy when running at Tobermore’s defence, especially Aaron Burns and Ross Clarke.
With just over ten minutes to go, Linfield secured the game when a miscued clearance fell to Andrew Waterworth, who fired home his first, or second goal of the game, depending on who you credit for the first goal.
Soon after, a snowstorm started. It didn’t lie on the pitch, so there was never a chance of the game being abandoned.
Nobody played awful, nobody played brilliant. Linfield were the better team and did enough to win. Despite the win, far better performances will be required over the coming weeks.
The draw for the next round saw Linfield drawn at home to Warrenpoint Town. Without sounding arrogant, Linfield should be winning that tie. Potential quarter-final opponents could be Larne/Carrick/Institute or Ballyclare/Dungannon. That would not be a bad draw.
But that is March, and a long way away. The only match that matters is the next one, that is Ballinamallard away next Saturday. Three points is a must.