Linfield and Glentoran faced each other at Windsor Park with a lot of things in common on St Patrick’s Day.
Both sides were coming off the back of Irish Cup exits in midweek. Despite that, they both still had something to play for in the League, though maybe not quite that they had in mind at the start of the season.
Linfield were only four points off 3rd place, which could potentially be good enough to qualify automatically for the UEFA Cup if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.
If Linfield had ambitions of playing in Europe next season, Glentoran’s were more modest and short-term, to play Linfield next month, as they currently occupy the last place in the Top 6 ahead of Ballymena United.
It was Ronnie McFall’s first visit to Windsor Park as a visiting manager since August 2015. Back then, Warren Feeney was in the Linfield dugout. It wasn’t even a dugout, it was a couple of seats in the bottom deck of the North Stand, as it took place halfway throughout the development of Windsor Park.
McFall is the only Irish League manager that David Healy hasn’t beaten. In fact, he hasn’t even managed a point, losing twice to McFall’s Portadown side during the 2015/2016 season.
In fact, McFall has a good recent record against Linfield. Since David Jeffrey stepped down as Linfield manager in 2014, McFall had a record of five wins and a draw in eight matches against Linfield.
It wasn’t just against Linfield that McFall was hoping to continue a decent run, having only lost one of his four games in his second spell as Glentoran manager. I’m not going to laugh at that reappointment, because it will probably come back to haunt me when Linfield reappoint David Jeffrey for the final weeks of the 2033/2034 season.
The cynic could suggest that Glentoran’s recent run of form isn’t as impressive as it looks. They got a win against a team who traditionally struggle at The Oval, followed it up with a win against a team at the bottom whose manager was preoccupied with taking McFall’s old job at Portadown, before throwing away two points in the last minute against a team coming off the back of being on the end of a cup upset and a 6-1 defeat.
The two previous meetings this season had seen one win each, each win bringing back happier memories for the respective fans.
For Linfield, it was their fifth successive win at the start of the season. For Glentoran, the win on Boxing Day was the highlight of their season.
The weather was cold enough to be Boxing Day. As well as the cold, it was so windy, the 2017 Champions flag was flying high. Might as well enjoy that for the next six weeks.
If Linfield were hoping to make a positive start, they didn’t get one. Just seventeen seconds were on the clock when a sloppy pass from Kirk Millar set up a Glentoran attack which resulted in a speculative shot easily saved by Alex Moore.
This wasn’t the positive start that Linfield were hoping for. They did reply with an Andrew Waterworth shot that was easily saved by Elliott Morris, but it was Glentoran who would dominate the opening minutes.
Just two minutes were on the clock when a headed clearance fell to Marcus Kane, who fired home from long range past Alex Moore to put Glentoran 1-0.
As spectacular as the goal was, there was still questions to be asked of Linfield’s players. Linfield were yet to get into the game. Glentoran had the better of the game and were full of confidence, and knew that Linfield were sluggish.
If Linfield had started the game strongly, there’s no way Kane would fancied a specultive long rang shot.
Both teams had went out of the Irish Cup in midweek, but the contrast in starts was clear to see. Glentoran were looking to boucne back, while Linfield were feeling sorry for themselves. Too many players were second to too many balls.
Nine minutes in Curtis Allen hit the bar from a free-kick. Linfield were almost out of the game before they had even got into it.
That was the wake=up call that shook Linfield into action. We finally got to see them as an attacking force.
Mark Stafford had a header blocked by Marcus Kane, while Andrew Waterworth had a low shot saved.
The golden opportunity came when a counter attack saw the ball come to Kirk Millar, who set himself up to cross for Kurtis Byrne to head straight at Elliott Morris from six yards out. It was harder to miss, but he managed.
Linfield don’t really help themselves at both ends of the pitch when they miss opportunities like this. No Linfield attacking player can complain that they haven’t had enough opportunities to score this season.
Mark Stafford was next to be denied when his header was cleared off the line. I thought it was over, but the TV footage is hard to tell. No VAR in the Irish League.
Kirk Millar then saw a cross evade everyone as Linfield put more pressure on Glentoran’s goal. You got the feeling that if Linfield could get one, they could go on an win the game quite comfortably.
The problem, as has so often been the case this season, was just getting that one goal.
As soon as they went 1-0 up after 2 minutes, Glentoran were timewasting at every opportunity, kicking the ball away at any free-kick won or conceded.
They were only encouraged to do so by the inactivity of referee Keith Kennedy, whose yellow card remained in his pocket, allowing Glentoran’s players to timewaste at will. There was one incident where Elliott Morris was allowed to hold up a free-kick being taken because he needed to fix his gloves. Yes, really.
Amazingly, there was two minutes of injurty time at the end of the first-half, with the Forth Official actually watching the game rather than doing the standard for the first-half and three minutes for the second-half.
Do you remember a story from 2012 about FC Magdeburg fans standing behind the goal and pointing cardboard arrows in the direction of the goal to assist their struggling team?
I’m very tempted to do this at Linfield matches.
It’s getting so bad, the idea of David Healy coming out of retirement to show the team how it’s done doesn’t sound that silly.
At the start of the second-half, Curtis Allen fired just wide from a cross, to premature cheers from the North Stand. I don’t know why, it never looked close to going in.
Linfield fans responded by mocking their rivals. It was the loudest cheer they had all afternoon.
Linfield fans thought they were cheering a goal a few minutes later when Jimmy Callacher headed over following a corner. It was another opportunity that was wasted.
Eventually, Linfield got the goal their dominance deserved, after Elliott Morris flapped at a cross under pressure from Andrew Waterworth, before Robert Garrett headed into the empty net from a few yards out.
He couldn’t miss. Though there were a few situations in the first-half where you could have said that but they managed to miss.
With forty minutes remaining on the clock, there was still plenty of time for Linfield to go on and win the game.
It was noticeable that this was the first Linfield attack where there were bodies in the box and options for the player crossing.
Kurtis Byrne headed agonisingly across goal, before making way for Achille Campion.
Campion had a chance soon after coming on. It wasn’t a clear chance, but he was in a shooting position. He had to blindly shoot. If he did, he would have been rewarded. He chose to pass, and the opportunity was lost.
Andrew Waterworth thought he was going to head home from a cross, but an outstretched leg from a Glentoran defender denied him.
Stephen Fallon came on as a substitute for the injured Jamie Mulgre as Linfield searched for a winner.
They had five minutes of injury time in which to do so. Well, they were supposed to, but one minute was lost to a Glentoran player being treated for an injury, and only half of it was added on, the game finishing as Linfield were about to take an attacking throw.
This result was bad enough, it got even worse when results from elsewhere came through. Glenavon drew 0-0 at home to Ballinamallard United, meaning that Linfield missed an opportunity to cut the gap on Glenavon to two points.
Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Carrick Rangers 1-0. Three weeks ago, they were six points behind Linfield, now they could be just one point behind Linfield if they beat Ballymena United on Tuesday night.
Linfield will be hoping for a favour from Ballymena, just as they got last season. No matter how big or small, favours are always to be welcomed.
Unfortunately, it looks like Cliftonville have the momentum that Glenavon (2016) and Coleraine (2017) had when they stormed to 3rd, ironically at the expense of Cliftonville.
Up next for Linfield, is a trip to Ballinamallard on Friday night, shifted to accommodate Northern Ireland v South Korea on Saturday afternoon.
As stated at the time, there are better timeslots for this, such as Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.
It might have been worth exploring the possibility of playing it on the same weekend as the Irish Cup Semi-Finals, though I do understand that might not be feasible due to Supporters Clubs already having booked buses for a Friday night game.
I’ve got excess Annual Leave from work that needs used before the end of March, so I was planning to be off on Friday, which is lucky for me.
I had actually planned on going to the Paloma Faith concert at The Odyssey, but it’s all seater, which is wank, so i’m giving that a miss. She’s doing a lot of outdoor concerts in August, so i’ll gamble on her playing CHSQ.
No pressure Linfield, give me a performance that is worth missing Paloma Faith for.
Talking of the Irish Cup Semi-Finals, they will be played on Saturday 31st March, which is Easter Saturday. I didn’t realise this until this week.
What an absolute farce. We have a Bank Holiday Weekend, and only four top flight (Warrenpoint face Dungannon in a rearranged game that day) teams are in action. A lot of floating fans will be lost because of this.
There is absolutely no reason why League games could not be scheduled that day, and Irish Cup Semi-Finals played on Saturday 7th April. That would still give four weeks between the Semi-Final and the Final for arrangements to be made.
Keep an eye out for this, as it’s a real possibility. Cliftonville could be at home to Linfield in the Final of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, a match arranged at three to four days notice. Yep, buses and tickets. At four days. I know they managed it in seven days last month, but three to four days will result in a lot of anger. Watch this space. This is the official home of predicting future farces in Irish League football.
David Healy said in his post-match interview on Final Score that it was a good performance. That is true, from the tenth minute onwards. Linfield’s slow start cost them two points today.
If we keep creating chances, we’ll get our reward. Surely. We’ve been saying that a lot this season. Hopefully the tide will turn in our favour at Ballinamallard on Saturday.