2017 has been a year for Scottish visitors coming to Windsor Park, with Ice Hockey and Rugby fans having already taking in some football this year while following their respective teams in Belfast, as Linfield welcomed the first of two Scottish visitors to Windsor Park this week.
With Hearts visiting Windsor Park today, it gave Celtic scouts the opportunity to look at two upcoming opponents, with Hearts set to visit Celtic on the opening day of the season in a few weeks time.
Tartan visitors to Windsor Park won’t end on Friday, with Linfield set to be given a home tie when they enter the Scottish Challenge Cup in September.
I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, but three Northern Ireland players in the Hearts side made this match a bit more appealing, as fans at Windsor Park were treated to the sight of Kyle Lafferty in club action, a rare sight over the past three years.
For Hearts, it was the second game in a short tour of Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, having lost 1-0 to St Patrick’s Athletic on Wednesday.
If you were a Hearts fan travelling over for the two games, the trip presented some great groundhopping opportunities.
You could have flown into Dublin on Wednesday, gone to your side’s match against St PAtrick’s Athletic, and then stayed in Dublin, taking in Shamrock Rovers v Stjarnan on Thursday, and then gone to either Cabinteely or UCD’s home match on Friday, before travelling up to Belfast for this one.
I did hear one Hearts fan on my way in saying he was at a Second Division game (I couldn’t work out which game he went to) but he did describe it as “Absolute fucking murder”
There wasn’t a dramatic change to Linfield’s team but there were starting opportunities for Andrew Mitchell, Jordan Stewart, Robert Garrett and Kirk Millar, as Linfield prepared for the game against Celtic in a 4-5-1 (4-3-3 when attacking) formation.
The absence of Jimmy Callacher, rested in the two games against La Fiorita due to injury concerns, suggests that he is still a doubt for the Celtic game.
Hearts made a good start to the game, with Kyle Lafferty missing a glorious opportunity after an attack started by a misplaced Robert Garrett pass, when his shot hit the sidenetting when he should have scored. The Windsor Park crowd weren’t as sympathetic as they would have been if he was wearing the green of Northern Ireland.
Jamie Walker had a shot go wide during this early spell of pressure.
It was Linfield who took the lead when a poor defensive header was seized on by Jamie Mulgrew, who fired home from the edge of the box.
On 26 minutes, Hearts equalised when a shot from outside the box from Harry Cochrane beat Roy Carroll.
As half-time approached, a header from Jamie Walker put Hearts 2-1 up, a lead they took into the break.
Linfield made a good start to the second-half, having a lot of pressure on Hearts goal, getting a lot of joy down their right and forcing Hearts defenders into blocks and clearances.
Linfield almost equalised by accident when a Paul Smyth cross almost went straight in, with Hearts keeper being forced into an acrobatic save at the expense of a corner.
Against the run of play, Esmael Goncalves was able to hold off his man and get enough space to make it 3-1 and secure the win for Hearts.
By this stage, Linfield had utilised their bench, giving much needed game time to players who didn’t play against La Fiorita.
Most pleasing was the appearance of Paul Smyth, who went off injured in San Marino.
A free-kick hit the wall but fell perfectly for Cole Stockton to finish from close range to give Hearts a flattering 4-1 lead.
Regular readers will know I go to Edinburgh every August and try to take in as many games as possible.
I won’t be at Tynecastle with Hearts playing their opening games away from home due to a new Main Stand being built.
The old Main Stand was the only stand at Tynecastle I haven’t been in. Hopefully, when I do go to Tynecastle again, i’ll take in a match in the new stand.
The matches while i’m there are Hibs v Partick and Edinburgh City v Montrose.
I was hoping Sky or BT would help me out and enable me to see two matches, but i’ve got a choice to make. At the moment, i’m leaning towards Edinburgh City as it will give me a new ground to visit.
The rearrangement of the Linfield v Celtic match meant I had to cancel my day trip to Dublin. Thankfully, my hotel has accommodated me changing to 28th July.
I’ll be doing the usual Street Art and Football combo, and the match i’m planning to go to is UCD v Cabinteely, meaning that the only Dublin ground I haven’t been to is Cabinteely’s.
And now, to Celtic.
Linfield were competitive today and held their own, despite the score.
Being competitive against Hearts and being competitive against Celtic are two totally different things.
It will be a challenge, and we’ll have to rise it.
However, Linfield had to rise to a challenge just to be in this season’s European Cup.