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 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.