GLENTORAN 3-0 LINFIELD 26.12.2019

Well that was shite. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to read on.

Christmas got off to a good start for Linfield, with the Swifts winning the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas Day, now it was the turn of the first team.

They arrived at The Oval on the back of a late draw against Crusaders. Those two points dropped allowed Cliftonville and Glentoran to cut the gap at the top of a congested table. Victory here could see them pull away from Glentoran and one or both of Crusaders and Cliftonville depending on the result at Seaview.

It was expected that the team that finished the match against Crusaders would be the starting line-up for Linfield. However, that would not be the case with Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth starting ahead of Daniel Kearns and Shayne Lavery.

That meant that Linfield’s starting eleven featured all four of their goalscorers on Boxing Day 2018, as well as their goalscorer in 2016, Mark Haughey.

Their goalscorer on Boxing Day 2017, Cameron Stewart, was also on the pitch, but playing for Glentoran.

Inside the first ten minutes, it was Glentoran who struck the first blow when a long throw wasn’t cleared and a shot flashed across goal and fell perfectly for Elvio Van Overbeek to backheel the ball into the net.

It was a bad goal to concede, and was made worse by the fact the initial throw-in was so cheaply conceded, coming from a clearance out after a Glentoran attack was snuffed out.

Linfield responded with a Jimmy Callacher header that was kicked off the line. Joel Cooper then had a shot saved by Marijan Antolovic before Andrew Waterworth was flagged offside when following up the rebound.

Waterworth then had a header go just wide as Linfield went in search of an equaliser.

The best came when a goalmouth scramble fell for Mark Haughey. He managed to get a shooting opportunity but fired over. He would have been better off firing low into the crowded goal line as only one player could use his hands.

Despite being 1-0 down, there was no need to panic. There were goals in this for Linfield. They just had to keep the pressure on.

The pressure on Glentoran’s goal continued with Stephen Fallon having a shot go just wide before Jordan Stewart hit the post.

That search for a goal resulted in Shayne Lavery being brought in from the bench for Bastien Hery.

Linfield still had to be wary of not going 2-0 down, and they had a warning when Willie Garrett headed a free header straight at Rohan Ferguson.

It looked like that goal when Andrew Waterworth headed home from a Joel Cooper cross but was instantly denied by an offside flag. I didn’t have a clear view of it and the TV replay was inconclusive.

Wether left or right, Cooper was getting a lot of jot out wide and making things happen, but Linfield couldn’t get anybody on the end of his crosses.

You sensed if Linfield could get it to 1-1, they would go on to win the game.

Antolovic was having one of those days, and even when he dropped one, a Linfield player couldn’t get on the end of it.

That was the problem, more often than not, wherever it was on the pitch, when there was a loose ball, there would always be a Glentoran player first to the ball.

One such situation saw Hrvoje Plum run towards Linfield’s goal. Linfield’s defenders kept backing off and you knew what was going to happen as he fired in low from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0.

Up against it, but not out of it, Daniel Kearns and Matthew Shevlin came on Jordan Stewart and Matthew Clarke. Kearns should have been on a lot earlier when the score was 0-1.

Even though they were two goals down, Linfield were still in it. If they could get an instant goal back, there was still plenty of time left to get something from this game.

Joel Cooper was denied from a couple of efforts as Linfield looked to get that goal bad.

Plum then made it 3-0 from the penalty spot to put the game beyond doubt.

Despite that, Linfield continued to attack and continued to be denied, no matter what they did.

Linfield’s poor record in big domestic games (excluding Cliftonville) continues to be poor this season. Bizarrely, they aren’t the only team to be afflicted with this.

Top 5 v Each other (8 games, W-D-L-Pts)

Coleraine 4-3-1-15
Crusaders 3-2-3-11
Cliftonville 3-1-4-10
Linfield 3-1-4-10
Glentoran 2-3-3-9

Coleraine are the only team to have won more than they have lost in this Mini League and yet, they sit 3rd in the actual League. These stats are both worrying and give Linfield hope at the same time.

You can win the League without winning all these games, you can win the League having an inferior head to head against one team, but you won’t do it if you lose more than you win against the Top 5.

Nobody has an excellent record in these games, they all take points off each other and Coleraine have dropped to Bottom 6 teams.

It’s frustrating that everytime Linfield got close to the top, they lost a big game and get held back, then when they reached the top, they can’t seem to pull away.

They had better fix it quick, with a trip to Coleraine coming 46 hours after the final whistle at The Oval.

We’re not disadvantaged as Coleraine have the same turnaround time.

Regardless of the result, I would always have expected changes between the two games due to the turnaround.

I would expect Kirk Millar to come back in. We’ve found out the hard way over the last three games how important he is. Maybe a start for Daniel Kearns, Shayne Lavery to start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Haughey was rested as two games in such a quick time might be too much for a player just back from long-term injury. Possibly, Andrew Mitchell might come in.

I would expect some rotation for the Institute and QUB games.

Sky Sports have done us a favour moving the Cliftonville away game to a Monday night, to have eight days gap between matches as we recover from a busy Christmas/New Year period.

It’s hard to assess this game. Linfield had enough chances and should have got something from this game, but they didn’t take them. We’ve probably played worse and won comfortably.

There were a couple of worrying trends though.

For the second successive game, Linfield conceded a soft goal in the opening ten minutes. We can’t keep giving teams something to defend so early in the game.

Some of the goals Linfield have conceded this season have been shocking, being punished for basic mistakes.

We have also struggled to break down teams who swarm the midfield and are well set up in defence. This is why it is imperative not to concede the first goal and give opponents something to hold onto.

We also need to be quicker to the ball in attacking situations. Far too often, opposing defenders are the quickest to react in situations.

We’ve let Cliftonville go top and put Glentoran back into the title race when we should have been out of sight. Glentoran have a generous run of games coming up, and won’t face a Top 5 team until February.

Tomorrow is a new day, as they say, and if Linfield can get three wins from the next seven days, this result won’t be forgotten about, but the smell of it won’t be lingering about.

We’d be through to the next round of the Irish Cup, and the worst scenario in the League would be 3 clear of Coleraine and 1 behind Cliftonville with those games in hand.

I’d hoped those games in hand would be used to extend our lead, rather than getting a lead.

Fortunes can change so quickly. Remember, Linfield went from four points behind to one point clear in the space of ten days last Christmas/New Year.

The good news for anyone travelling to Coleraine is that return train travel this weekend is 1/3 off as part of a marketing promotion.

Let’s hope Linfield aren’t feeling as generous as Translink.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

My first photo adventure of September 2019 was a trip to Solitude to see Linfield get a 1-0 win on their return to domestic competition after their European adventures the previous month.

That was then followed by a Windsor Park double header, taking in Northern Ireland v Germany and Linfield v Glentoran.

The day after that match saw me have an adventure, taking in some Street Art in Belfast, and Edwyn Collins doing an instore gig at Strange Victory.

My next adventure came the following Friday with Culture Night.

It was then two football matches, seeing Linfield get wins over Carrick Rangers and Glenavon.

The month ended with a trip to Yorkgate to check out a new mural.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Ulster Sports Club Street Art

Ulster Sports Club Street Art Photo Album

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory Photo Album

Culture Night

Culture Night Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Yorkgate Street Art

Yorkgate Street Art Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2019 began for me with a trip to the seaside on the very first day of the year, to Clandeboye Park to see Linfield take on Ards as they aimed for three points in the title race.

Eleven days later, was my first trip of the year to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Warrenpoint Town.

That was then followed a week later by a trip to Seaview to see Linfield beat Crusaders.

A month that was mostly spent watching football saw me return to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Glentoran in a televised game.

The next day, I headed to Manchester. Guess what? It was for a football match, as Manchester United took on Burnley.

While I was there, I got photos of Street Art in Manchester and Salford Quays, while I also snuck in a day trip to Sheffield, where I got more Street Art photos.

While I was in Manchester, it snowed, so I got some photos of that, including snow outside Old Trafford.

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Burnley

Manchester United v Burnley Photo Album

Manchester Snow

Manchester Snow Photo Album

Sheffield Street Art

Sheffield Street Art Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : WORLD SOCCER – JULY 1973

Action from a recent international between England and Scotland is the cover image of World Soccer during the summer of 1973.

The editorial focuses on discipline, with Alan Ball getting an indefinite ban from international football after a red card in Poland, debating if players in English club football should be allowed to appeal a red card.

England’s end of season tour gets reviews – a World Cup Qualifier in Poland (defeat) and friendlies in Soviet Union (win) and Italy (defeat), which have provided more questions than answers.

In Czechoslovakia, Spartak Trnava’s title bid as back on track after some disappointing results.

East Germany’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cuop in West Germany are now relying on their qualifier against Romania later in the year.

In Yugoslavia, Red Star Belgrade have stormed through to take the title.

Going back to Germany, this time to West Germany, it is reported that manager Helmut Schon faces a tough task to add the World Cup in 1974 to the European Championship, after a run of disappointing results.

Meanwhile in France, it is reported that the future of football in the country is described as “healthy”

Despite winning a third successive European Cup, all is not well at Ajax, with Spanish clubs eyeing up their stars. One of those clubs is Barcelona, who blew the title in the run-in, finishing second to Atletio Madrid.

Sunderland’s recent shock FA Cup win, beating the two previous winners en route, has instigated a debate if the difference in standard between England’s first and second tiers is as large as is made out.

In Wales, it is expected that their away game in Poland will decide if they have a chance of going to next year’s World Cup, while Cardiff City are hoping to arrange a special friendly to commemorate the opening of their £250,000 grandstand extension.

There is article on Dave Clements, who has recently emerged as Northern Ireland’s star player.

There is a tribute to John Connelly, a World Cup winner in 1966, who has just retired.

In Spain, clubs are now allowed to play two foreign players, with the writer describing it as a “black day” for Spanish football, as it will attract money grabbing mercenaries rather than improving the standard of Spanish football.

There is a review of the European Cup Final, which focuses more on Juventus poor performance than Ajax’s win.

Juventus were not involved in this season’s Anglo-Italian Cup, with Brian Glanville spending two pages writing about why the competition should be scrapped.

There is a review of the final weeks of the Irish League season, where Glentoran beat Linfield 3-2 in the Irish Cup Final, despite losing goalkeeper Alan Patterson to injury.

There is also a focus on World Cup Qualifying, with the big headline in Europe being the elimination of Hungary.

Scotland’s hopes of reaching West Germany will decided in their crunch encounter against Czechoslovakia in September.

LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 14.9.2019

Linfield warmed up for their opening UEFA Cup group match with a ………… ah, if only.

It’s now a case of back to reality and domestic action, and it’s been a satisfactory first week back, with three points away to Cliftonville, and a County Antrim Shield win over East Belfast.

That win over East Belfast especially pleasing, as some players who aren’t regular starters got game time, and some players got debuts.

Matthew Shevlin got a first start and goal, and Andrew Waterworth got a goal as well, and kept his place in the starting eleven, with nobody have to make way for Shayne Lavery, as an injury to Daniel Kearns enabled him to go back into the eleven.

Injuries to Kearns and Jordan Stewart meant that Linfield were a bit light when it came to attacking midfield options from the bench. Those injuries presented an opportunity for Daniel Reynolds, another goalscorer from the midweek Shield match.

It was Linfield who had the better of the opening minutes, with Shayne Lavery flicking wide from a Joel Cooper cross.

Lavery was then played in but looked too wide to score. His cross/shot flashed across the Glentoran six yard box, Kirk Millar unable to keep up with his run and get on the end of it.

There was no doubt that Linfield were up for this game, but they couldn’t get an early goal.

Although, early goals have never been a good thing for Linfield in this fixture in recent year, it still would have been welcomed.

Having ridden out that spell of Linfield pressure, Glentoran were able to spend some time in Linfield’s half, in front of the biggest exodus from East Belfast to South Belfast outside of Boxing Day for a while.

There weren’t any moments of worry for Linfield. I say that, but any time Glentoran have the ball in Linfield’s half, even if they are well away from goal, I naturally become nervous. It’s just the way I am.

After a strong start, the afternoon didn’t really happen for Joel Cooper, not getting much joy when taking on his opposing full-back.

Linfield’s next big chance gave when Bastien Hery headed over from close range. I don’t think he realised that Glentoran keeper Marijan Antolovic was hopelessly out of position.

Antolovic doesn’t need any vaccinations, because he never caught anything, keeping Linfield attacks alive longer than they should have been.

His lack of willingness to catch crosses or hold on to shots always gave Linfield hope that they could force an error out of him.

Glentoran’s shots on goal in the first-half were long range shots from Robbie McDaid and Joe Crowe which looked a lot closer than they were as I was sat at the opposite end.

By this point, Crowe was on a yellow card, having picked up a card for a cynical foul on Shayne Lavery as he raced towards goal.

Linfield’s only other attacking moments of note in the first-half was a long range shot from Andrew Waterworth which went over, as the ball set up, he was fancying a repeat of his goal at The Oval in 2016, and a cross which just evaded Mark Stafford who would have scored if he could get on the end of it.

0-0 at half-time but no need to panic. If Linfield could keep creating chances, surely one would go in. And if they can’t create chances, there was always the possibility that Glentoran’s keeper might gift them one.

As half-time scores filtered through, they were all going Linfield’s way, with Crusaders and Coleraine both drawing their matches. It didn’t matter if other results were going for or against Linfield, they still had to help themselves.

However, if Coleraine and/or Crusaders did fail to win, and Linfield took advantage, they would be finishing the day no higher than 9th, as the full-time whistle was blowing in the 2pm kick-off at The Brandywell, where Larne had just beaten Institute 4-1.

The second-half was very nervous, with neither team creating a clear cut opportunity.

With each passing minute, it was clear how important the first goal was going to be, if there was one. This match was not going to finish 1-1. It would either be 0-0, or somebody would sneak it 1-0.

Despite this, David Healy was reluctant to use any of the options on the bench.

One of those options was Matthew Shevlin, who had a decent cameo off the bench at Solitude the previous week, another was to bring on Matthew Clarke and push Niall Quinn forward.

However, it was Stephen Fallon who came on for Andrew Waterworth, just minutes after Robbie McDaid hit the bar for Glentoran.

On 86 minutes, it was Linfield who got the breakthrough when Bastien Hery instigated a move which saw Mark Stafford play the ball to Kirk Millar in space, not a lot, but enough to set himself up to get a shot at goal, which went in via a deflection.

The celebrations amongst the home fans showed how important a goal it was. Not just in the match, but in the title race, with Linfield having to come back from a ten point deficit and not being able to afford any dropped points.

It was such a big goal, David Healy joined in the celebrations, running faster than he had ever run as a player.

Having spent 86 minutes trying to get in front, it was important now for Linfield to stay in front in what time remained. They did that, Glentoran never having any opportunity to get an equaliser.

Even though Linfield didn’t move up the table or get any closer to the top, it was still a big win, as the draw between Ballymena United and Coleraine, and defeats for Dungannon Swifts and Glentoran mean that Linfield could jump up to 4th if results go their way on the next matchday.

They’ll have to wait two days for any such opportunity, with the trip to Carrick Rangers being selected for live coverage on Sky Sports.

Talking of results going their way, it could have been so much better if Glenavon hadn’t missed a last minute penalty to equalise against Crusaders. We can’t really complain about Glenavon being useless, we’ve benefitted from it plenty of times in the past. Let’s hope they stay useless for the next two weeks.

I dare say, Crusaders are probably more disappointed about Linfield’s late win than Linfield are about Crusaders late escape.

You could pick holes in Crusaders start by pointing out that four of their opening six games have come against the bottom four.

Before Carrick, is a NIFL Cup trip to Ballinamallard for Linfield as a busy period of fixtures get underway.

That run of games might not include any UEFA Cup Group Stage matches, but there’s still enough to keep minds occupied and focused.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

Fifteen hours into 2019, and it was a short trip to the Seaside to see Linfield beat Ards.

More wins came in the month, with Warrenpoint Town, Crusaders and Glentoran all taken care of.

The month ended with a trip to Old Trafford. Unfortunately, the one United match I went to didn’t result in a win, but a draw against Burnley, though I did manage to get some photos of Old Trafford in the snow the next morning.

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Manchester United v Burnley

Manchester United v Burnley Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Ballymena on the first of the month and a top of the table clash, which Linfield lost 2-1.

Thankfully, the rest of the month did get better, including the following Saturday, where Crusaders were disposed of 4-1.

Postponements meant I wouldn’t be at another match for two weeks, as Linfield drew 0-0 with Glenavon, though it was still better than Crhistmas shopping.

The next match was a bit decent, as Linfield thrashed Glentoran 4-0 on Boxing Day.

The month, and the year, of football watching ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield secure a 2-0 win.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield v Glentoran

Cliftonville v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October’s football watching began at The Oval, to see Linfield get a win over Glentoran.

That was then followed by Newry City’s first League visit to Windsor Park since 2011, and we were treated to a hat-trick from Jimmy Callacher.

That was then followed by two road trips, firstly to Clandeboye Park, where Linfield suffered their first defeat of the season, and then to Stangmore Park, where Linfield came from behind to beat Dungannon Swifts.

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Newry City

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

LINFIELD 4-2 GLENTORAN 28.1.2019

It had been one month and two days since Linfield beat Glentoran 4-0 on Boxing Day, as Glentoran returned to Windsor Park in order to avenge that result. Linfield scored four again, but it wasn’t as comfortable as it was when we were still digesting out Christmas Dinner.

Since that day, Linfield have continued winning, and then winning some more, while Glentoran kept on losing, then they started winning under new management, arriving at Windsor Park on the back of two successive League wins since Gary Smyth replaced Ronnie McFall.

Linfield’s success this season, especially since mid December, has been due to having a settled starting eleven. However, that was disturbed in their previous League game at Newry when two enforced changes were made with Michael O’Connor and Gareth Deane coming in for Andrew Waterworth (Suspension) and Roy Carroll (Injury) and proved how valuable a squad is by scoring two goals and saving a penalty to give Linfield the three points.

Despite those two goals, O’Connor had to make do with a place on the bench, with Andrew Waterworth returning. Roy Carroll didn’t return to the starting eleven, and won’t be doing so any time soon, as it was announced during this match that he has suffered a season-ending injury. There’ll be more on that later.

Andrew Waterworth wouldn’t be the only change for this game, as injuries to both Stephen Fallon and Andrew Mitchell giving Kyle McClean the opportunity for his first start, with Robert Garrett probably cursing his decision to leave in search of first-team football just as an opportunity would have presented itself.

There was also a place on the bench for new Czech loan signing Marek Cervenka, who was joined by Ryan McGivern, making his first appearance in a matchday squad after injury.

It wasn’t just Linfield who were missing their first choice goalkeeper, with Elliott Morris missing this match through injury. Despite that, his replacement Dwayne Nelson still took Morris-esque lengths of times at goal kicks at 0-0 and 2-2.

With this match taking place on a Monday night, it presented Ballymena United and Crusaders and opportunity to close the gap on Linfield with wins on the Saturday, which they did, not that surprising as they faced Bottom Six opponents, with Linfield looking to restore a six and nine point gap respectively.

If Linfield had ambitions of finishing top of the League, Glentoran had ambitions of finishing top of the bottom half, with 7th giving them a chance of European football in the reward for mediocrity that is the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

After defeat to Dungannon Swifts on New Year’s Day, the possibility of Glentoran getting sucked into a relegation battle was an actual discussion. It didn’t last for long as wins over Institute and Newry, as well as upturns in form for Warrenpoint Town and Dungannon Swifts have seen those three pull away from Newry City and Ards, to join Institute in a four team battle for 7th, with Glentoran knowing that a win would put them there, though a ten goal defeat would drop them down to 10th, appropriately enough.

Linfield thought they were going to get an opportunity to take the lead in the early minutes when a Joel Cooper shot was saved, but fell to Jordan Stewart, who was setting himself up to shoot only to be brought down for one of the clearest penalties you’ll ever see, only for the referee to turn down the appeals.

The ball didn’t change direction as it would have done if won by a Glentoran player, and Stewart didn’t get booked for a dive. Quite why a player on form certain to score a goal would dive.

Moments later, a Joel Cooper attack was pulled back for a foul on him just as he got past his man and ran into the penalty area.

Frustrated by bad refereeing as much as Glentoran defending, Linfield couldn’t make the most of their early pressure as the game started to even out, Glentoran’s best change being an attempted lob from Curtis Allen. Linfield weren’t helping themselves with final passes being agonisingly short or astray.

Eventually, in the 36th minute, Linfield had an opportunity to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Joe Crowe on Josh Robinson.

The way the game had gone, you felt that Linfield had to score this. If they missed it, you felt there was going to “One of those nights” vibe. That would not be the case, as Jordan Stewart stuck the ball into the back of the net to go 1-0 up.

A few minutes later, Calum Birney diverted a cross into his own net to give Linfield a 2-0 lead, and surely the points.

The points would surely have been in the bag in the first-half if Andrew Waterworth was able to finish when a Joel Cooper shot was parried out to him, but it hit him and went wide.

The game changed in the early minutes of the second-half with two quickfire Glentoran goals, with Curtis Allen nipping in front of Gareth Deane to make it 2-1, before Robbie McDaid made it 2-2 from close range after a Darren Murray effort was saved.

The McDaid goal was particularly bad, as it came from Linfield losing cheap possession in their own defensive third when they had the opportunity to clear. There’s a time and a place to take on two players. In your right-back position is not it.

Even though I wasn’t at that match due to being at Noel Gallagher, it had the same vibe as the UEFA Cup Play-Off game last May which Linfield lost 4-3.

Linfield were struggling and crying out for Daniel Kearns and Michael O’Connor. It took until the 71st minute for them to be introduced, with Joel Cooper and Kirk Millar making way.

That move had an instant impact with Kearns making space for himself in the box and pulling it back for Chris Casement to make it 3-2. The game had swung back in Linfield’s favour.

It continued to go that way when Joe Crowe got sent-off for kicking out at Michael O’Connor. Glentoran were racking up the yellow cards throughout this game, it was no surprise that one of them became a red card.

With five minutes to go, Michael O’Connor finished after a Jordan Stewart shot was saved to make it 4-2 and secure the points for Linfiedl this time.

This allowed Linfield an opportunity to give a debut to loan signing Marek Cervenka off the bench.

In the limited time he had, he had an opportunity to shoot low and surely score, but he played in Daniel Kearns, who was set to make it 5-2 only to be denied by a goal saving tackle.

4-2 was enough, and another three points for Linfield as they lay down the challenge to Ballymena Untied and Crusaders.

During this game, it was announced that Roy Carroll’s season is over due to a Cruciate injury suffered against Crusaders the previous weekend. And yet, they still couldn’t score against him.

With Alex Moore on loan to Dungannon Swifts, Linfield needed to bring in a keeper, and they acted quick, bringing in Conor Mitchell from Burnley on loan.

Going out of Windsor Park on loan is Cameron Stewart, which is and isn’t a surprise. He’s only recently recovered from injury that has kept him out this season. I thought he would have been loaned out in January when he recovered and then released in the Summer.

He probably will be released in the Summer. The game against Coleraine in November when Linfield ran out of ideas and were relying on youngsters from the bench when chasing the game.

That game made me think he would be worth keeping, as an alternative option from the bench.

That role will now be taken by Marek Cervenka, freeing up Stewart to move to Glenavon.

I can’t back it up with logic, but I had a hunch that he might get us a big goal in the run-in. If he does, it will be in the colours of Glenavon.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 4-0 GLENTORAN 26.12.2018

There is a thing called Whamageddon. The objective is to avoid hearing Last Christmas by Wham. Linfield were also hoping to avoid Last Christmas, but it was nothing to do with George and Andrew. They wanted to avoid a repeat of the 2-1 defeat at The Oval, which killed off their title hopes, if they weren’t already dead by the time they arrived in East Belfast 365 days ago.

A defeat today, or even a draw, wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it certainly would have been a result they could do without. In the end, they produced a performance that left their fans on The Edge Of Heaven.

Having fallen four points behind Ballymena on Saturday, Linfield couldn’t afford to let the gap get any bigger.

As the teams entered the pitch, there wasn’t many players on the pitch at the start who had scored in this fixture. Linfield only had Niall Quinn (2015) and Andrew Waterworth (2013) while Glentoran had Stephen Gordon (2014), with last year’s matchwinner Curtis Allen being on the bench.

It was clear early on that Linfield were planning on giving it to Joel Cooper as much as possible, with good reason, having set up the winner when the sides met in October.

Having seen off early Linfield pressure, Glentoran had a bit of the ball in Linfield’s half, too much for Linfield’s liking, even though they didn’t do much with it.

On 15 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when Jimmy Callacher scored after a free-kick. It was his third goal in front of The Kop for the third time in four games. The only difference this time was that it was with his foot rather than his head. Linfield might as well be 1-0 up already in their Irish Cup tie against Ballymena in a few weeks time.

It was a perfect time to score as it wasn’t too early, as Linfield have tended to struggle in recent years when they have scored early against Glentoran.

All that Glentoran could offer in response was a free-kick from Willy Garrett that was easily saved by Roy Carroll.

Linfield were determined to get a second goal before half-time. Kirk Millar fired across goal from a wide angle, before a flicked header went agonisingly wide.

A neat passing move resulted in a Joel Cooper low cross just miss Andrew Waterworth when the slightest contact would have resulted in a goal.

Joel Cooper then had a shot saved, with Elliott Morris getting to the round ahead of Andrew Waterworth who had sniffed a goal, before the half ended with a ball in from Niall Quinn evaded everybody and hit the post.

In the 2016 fixture, Linfield could have had the game won in the first-half, before hanging on for a point. They had to be on it from the very first kick of the second-half.

They weren’t. Curtis Allen, now brought on as a substitute, headed over from the close range. Jimmy Callacher was forced to stick out a leg and concede a corner when intercepting a pass to Allen.

Glentoran were having a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. Despite that, your natural pessimism makes you fear they will get a goal.

The second goal that Linfield needed came from a counter attack from a Glentoran corner, when Joel Cooper and Jordan Stewart ran at pace at Glentoran’s defence, those that were behind them couldn’t get back in time to help out.

Eventually, Cooper crossed for Stewart to finish from a few yards out. If Stewart didn’t get there, Kirk Millar would have had a empty net to put the ball into.

That was it, game over. Any fear there was of conceding a soft goal and dropping cheap points was now gone. Now that the game was won, Linfield were ready to put on a show.

A few minutes later, Cooper had his goal, volleying home from a corner. At 3-0, even I was able to relax in the knowledge that the points were secured.

Linfield were now showing off, playing ole football, keeping the ball like Institute, with Glentoran’s players too downhearted to put a tackle in.

When they did, Robbie McDaid got himself sent-off for kicking out at Jordan Stewart before squaring up to Andrew Mitchell, who had come on as a substitute for Jamie Mulgrew.

It was the fifth red card in the last six Boxing Day fixtures between Linfield and Glentoran.

By this point, Andrew Waterworth had made it 4-0 to Linfield with his last kick of the game before being replaced by Michael O’Connor. Personally, with the game won, I would have let Daniel Reynolds get some minutes.

Daniel Kearns was brought on as he continues to make his recovery from injury. He almost made it 5-0 but his shot was saved by Elliott Morris. Morris was beaten again, by Michael O’Connor, but the goal was disallowed for offside, as Linfield had to make do with just a 4-0 win.

Elsewhere, Ballymena drew 3-3 with Coleraine, meaning the gap is now back down to two points. Linfield couldn’t afford to let the gap get bigger, they reduced it within one game.

Crusaders beat Cliftonville 5-1. Do Cliftonville fans call 26th December St Stephen’s Day as it’s usually a day when Stephen Baxter is smiling?

Just like last month, Linfield will be facing a Cliftonville side who have lost their last two games.

Hopefully, like last month, we’ll show no mercy.

This match will be Linfield’s last game of 2018. Let’s be honest, it’s been a bloody awful year, but three points can lay the foundation to 2019 being a lot better.

Oh, and of course, don’t forget, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.

Photo Album

Boxing Day 2016

Boxing Day 2015

Boxing Day 2014

Boxing Day 2013