LINFIELD 3-0 INSTITUTE 1.1.2020

New Year’s Day, time to make some resolutions and make a new start. Well, that’s what Linfield were hoping after a disappointing run of results over Christmas.

In terms of wanting to change the habit of not winning, Institute would have been perfect opponents if Linfield had to choose.

It wasn’t the fact that that Linfield haven’t lost to Institute since 2003 (or at Windsor Park since 2002, last dropping points to them there since 2009) or the fact that Linfield have won the last nine meetings.

It was the fact that twice last season, games against Institute, in November and then in March, saw Linfield come out of a bumpy spell of results to recover their composure and start a run of wins.

Even earlier this season, victory over Institute, coming off the back of a 6-0 defeat to Dundalk, began a run of five wins out of the next six League matches.

Sandwiched in the middle of a busy run of games, it was unsurprising that there were changes to Linfield’s starting eleven.

What was surprising was the way they lined up, 3-5-2 with Matthew Clarke one of those three in defence.

With no Mark Stafford or Josh Robinson on the bench, it was a case of making the most of the players who were available.

I’d be slightly worried if we lined up like that against Cliftonville on 13th January, as when Institute attacked, Linfield’s defence looked exposed and open.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had a lot of the ball in the early stages of the game, the game mostly taking place in Institute’s half. It looked like it was a matter of time until Linfield scored.

It looked like that goal came when Andrew Waterworth finished from close range but the goal was disallowed as the cross from Daniel Kearns was just out of play.

As with most games this season, Linfield’s best moments came when Joel Cooper got on the ball. Institute couldn’t handle him. However, the final ball usually went to an Institute player, or Institute were able to get a body in the way and thwart him.

Bastien Hery then had a shot from outside the box as Linfield continued to be frustrated as they searched for the opening goal.

That came when Linfield were awarded a penalty for a foul on, who else, Joel Cooper. Having scored two penalties when the sides met in November, Andrew Waterworth got his third penalty goal of the season against Institute to put Linfield 1-0 up.

This was a game that Linfield were never going to win 1-0. You got the feeling that once they got one, the floodgates would open.

Within a few minutes, it looked like that was going to be the case when Shayne Lavery got in behind Institute’s defence, but his shot was turned over by Institute’s keeper Rory Brown, being watched by his proud mother Agnes.

The respite was brief for Institute, as the resulting corner was flicked on by Andrew Waterworth for Mark Haughey to finish from close range to make it 2-0.

It seemed that Kirk Millar was the only person taking corners, which meant we were treated to outswinging corners for the first time in a long time.

It’s always good to mix and match at set pieces, and outswingers seemed to be working for Linfield, with Shayne Lavery having gone close with an earlier effort.

The half-time whistle blew with Linfield in a commanding lead, which they needed on a day when the Top 6 faced the Bottom 6, and all of the Top 6 teams were winning.

Linfield just needed another goal just to be sure, and not give Institute any encouragement that they can get back into the game.

They had enough opportunities to get it in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Shayne Lavery got played through but dragged his shot wide, the finish of a man in a goal drought. In September or October, the ball would have been blasted into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, a pull back from Joel Cooper saw Lavery shoot goalwards, but his effort was blocked at the expense of a corner.

Mark Haughey was then denied by the post from a set piece as Linfield searched for a third clinching goal. Andrew Waterworth was then denied from a wide angle as he got in behind Institute’s defence.

Having scored in Institute’s last two visits to Windsor Park, it was no surprised that Jordan Stewart was introduced from the bench, coming on for Daniel Kearns.

Stewart was involved in Linfield’s third goal, when his saved shot fell perfectly for Shayne Lavery to finish from a few yards out, the perfect sort of goal you want when having a drought. Hopefully, the start of a run.

With the game won, Linfield now had the opportunity to make changes, with Matthew Shevlin coming on for Andrew Waterworth, and Ross Larkin coming on for Mark Haughey. Larkin had a chance to score in injury time, but his close range effort was saved by Brown, who made himself big.

An easy win for Linfield on a day when they had to win. There would be no favours elsewhere in the League, as all of the Top 5 won.

Assessing the Christmas period over a four game basis, it was disappointing for Linfield, missing an opportunity to kill off three rivals, and allowing Cliftonville and Glentoran to make up ground on them.

The League is getting parked this weekend, as Linfield enter the Irish Cup, with a trip to Queen’s University, where they’ll be hoping to graduate into the next round. Apologies.

I’m still trying to get a ticket for that one, so if you know of one going, get in touch.

After a busy run of games, I would expect some changes to be made, with Kyle McClean and
Ethan Boyle getting some minutes.

As said earlier, the Top 6 met the Bottom 6, and it was a clean sweep for the Top 6, so it’s as you were at the top.

The next Matchday, January 10th to 13th is very interesting, as Coleraine face Crusaders and Cliftonville face Linfield in televised games, while Glentoran should be beating Warrenpoint Town.

Like recent games, it’s not quite must win, but it’s do not lose. Let’s be ruthless and burst a hole in Cliftonville’s balloon. The nine day break coming up will be beneficial to us, a change to recharge and get ready for the run-in.

So, 2020s football watching has already started, and trips to Manchester and Dublin are already scheduled in.

I’m still thinking about a Tallinn/Helsinki double header in July.

Also, in 2020, Harland and Wolff Welders will move to a new ground, so i’ll hope to get a visit there when it opens.

But what I really want to see in 2020, is another League title for Linfield. Oh, and another Irish Cup.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER

November 2019 began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a win over Carrick Rangers.

A few days later, I made my first trip of the season to Old Trafford, to see United beat Partizan Belgrade in the UEFA Cup.

While I was there, I got photos of Street Art in Manchester, and then visit to Rochdale in search of Street Art, after there was a festival held there in August.

The following weekend, I headed to The Brandywell to see Linfield take on Institute. While I was there, I was able to get some photos (from a fence outside) of Institute’s abandoned former stadium, Drumahoe.

Later that day, on my return from the North-West, I took in a second football match, Northern Ireland’s European Championship Qualifier against Holland.

Six days later, I was on the road again, to see Linfield lose 1-0 to Glenavon.

A few days later, I headed to Vilnius in Lithuania for a very short, very cheap and very cold break. Unsurprisingly, I was out snapping with my camera.

On the last day of the month, I got up early and walked up Cavehill, my first time doing so. Later that day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield face Larne.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Partizan Belgrade

Manchester United v Partizan Belgrade Photo Album

Rochdale Uprising

Rochdale Uprising Photo Album

Drumahoe

Drumahoe Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Holland

Northern Ireland v Holland Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Vilnius

Vilnius Photo Album

Vilnius Street Art

Vilnius Street Art Photo Album

Cavehill

Cavehill Photo Album

Linfield v Larne

2019 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August 2019 began with a bit of a bang, it was hard to keep up.

On the 1st of the month, I went to see Linfield take on HB Torshavn in the UEFA Cup.

A few hours later, I headed to Edinburgh for a break, taking in two football matches, some Street Art and a walk up Arthur’s Seat

Upon my return from Edinburgh, it felt like I was having a permanent residency at Windsor Park for the rest of the month, taking in Linfield’s matches against Institute, Sutjeska, Coleraine and Qarabag.

Linfield v HB Torshavn

Edinburgh Street Art

Edinburgh Street Art Photo Album

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee Photo Album

Hibernian v St Mirren

Hibernian v St Mirren Photo Album

Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Linfield v Sutjeska

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Qarabag

2019 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March began with a first concert at Elmwood Hall for me, to see KT Tunstall.

A few days later was my first football match of the month, as I travelled to Mourneview Park to see Linfield lose to Glenavon.

The football didn’t get much better, as I headed to Seaview to see Linfield lose the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, things got a bit better as Linfield beat Institute 2-0.

There was a flurry of football as the month ended, with three games in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 Qualifiers, at home to Estonia and Belarus.

KT Tunstall live at Elmwood Hall

KT Tunstall live at Elmwood Hall Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

INSTITUTE 0-3 LINFIELD 16.11.2019

It didn’t quit banish the memory of Dundalk on Monday night, but it was a welcome three points for Linfield as they looked to secure a place in next season’s Unite The Union Cup.

On paper, a trip to face Institute at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium looked like an easy three points to recover from that 6-0 defeat. The reality was far from that, with Institute enjoying a resurgence under new Manager Sean Connor, getting draws against Crusaders and Glentoran, as well as reaching the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals.

As it was last year, this matched kicked off at 1pm. That worked out convenient for fans and players, even though it wasn’t decided for those reasons.

Those going to the Northern Ireland match later in the evening could get back to Belfast in plenty of time for kick-off at Windsor Park, while the players knew that if they could get three points, they could put pressure on Coleraine and Cliftonville, who kicked off at 3pm.

As it was on the weekend the last time Linfield played a League match, on November 2nd, all the games were Top 6 v Bottom 6. You might get one shock result, but you won’t get three or four. Linfield didn’t want to be that team, especially as Crusaders had already secured three points on the Friday night, just about though.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw a return to League action for Chris Casement as Linfield returned to four defenders. Thank goodness for that.

There was a welcome return to the starting eleven for Joel Cooper, who recently had minor surgery after being roughed up by Carrick Rangers.

In the early moments, Linfield were trying to get him on the ball to make things happen. Not a lot was happening for Linfield in the early moments as Institute looked comfortable when defending, it didn’t look like a Linfield goal was inevitable.

Institute weren’t afraid to attack either, but Linfield were able to shut them out. Thankfully, as the last thing you want to do in a game like this is to give the opposition something to defend.

Linfield wee presented with an opportunity to make a breakthrough when they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Joel Cooper. A soft foul, but still a foul.

Cooper immediately grabbed the ball and stated that he was taking the kick. He had already scored from a penalty this season. Well, sort of, having scored the rebound from a saved penalty only for a goal not to be given despite the ball being clearly over the line. Yep, i’m still going on about it even though we won that match.

It was a bit surprising that Cooper was putting himself forward to take the kick, especially with Andrew Mitchell, on as a substitute for the injured Niall Quinn, and Andrew Waterworth being on the pitch.

Cooper’s finish didn’t match his confidence, with his poor kick being easily saved and held by Institute’s keeper. In a game where Linfield weren’t playing well, they needed to make the most of the rare opportunity that came their way.

Within a few minutes, Linfield were given another opportunity when they got a second penalty.

It was for an off the ball incident, so I don’t know what actually happened. However, the referee seemed certain in his decision when he flashed a red card at Institute defender Ryan Morrow.

It took a while for fans to compute that another penalty had been given. This time, Andrew Waterworth.

He Panenkaed it, it really wasn’t the time or place for it, and for a moment, it looked like he was going to miss it. Thankfully, he didn’t, and Linfield had the lead.

In the aftermath of the red card, Institute players lost their discipline, arguing with the referee and squaring up to Linfield players.

Sean Connor was hoping for half-time just to get them to calm down and work on a plan on getting back into the game. It was essential that Linfield made the most of this.’

As the half neared it’s end, Bastien Hery worked himself into space on the edge of the penalty area and fired home to make it 2-0.

Curiously, the move began when Institute’s keeper caught a low cross from Kirk Millar, and then kicked it away, Institute were never able to get the ball back from there.

I’m not sure why he kicked it out, I can only think that he lost his bearings and thought he was going to slip the ball into his own net.

Without playing too well, Linfield were 2-0 up and a man up.

However, it was Rohan Ferguson who was the busier keeper in the second-half, making four big saves to stop Institute pulling the game back to 2-1 and getting ideas of an unlikely comeback.

Linfield weren’t without their chances to kill the game off at 3-0, with Andrew Waterworth getting on the end of a Kirk Millar cross but his effort was saved.

It was crosses from Joel Cooper down the left that were causing Institute the most problems, going right into the six yard box, with a desperate block usually denying Linfield.

Deep into injury time, Linfield did make it 3-0, and it came from another penalty.

I think this was the first time I’ve ever been to a football match where three penalties have been awarded to the one team. It was a foul on guess who? Joel Cooper.

Andrew Waterworth stepped up and repeated his feat from last season, 364 days previously, by scoring twice at The Brandywell.

He must have been fuming inside at not getting to hit the first penalty, and missing out on the chance to get a hat-trick.

Three points in the bag, Linfield headed back down the motorway with their feet up hoping that Cliftonville or Coleraine slip up.

It was Coleraine who slipped up, losing 3-1 at Warrenpoint. That was not a result I saw coming, but it was welcomely accepted by Linfield fans.

That meant Cliftonville went top of the League, as a result of their seventh successive win.

Dare I be that guy and point out they had a run of games they should be winning?

I’ll be surprised if they’re top after 22 games when everybody plays each other twice. However, Linfield just have to look after themselves.

Up next, is a match against Glenavon live on BBC Two, which hopefully goes better than our previous televised games against Glenavon, both 2-0 defeats.

That is followed by a trip to Ballymena, which has been scheduled in after being postponed due to Linfield’s run in Europe. Both teams current runs of form mean they are games we should be winning.

If we do, we get to put pressure on the teams playing on Saturday afternoon. If we follow that up at Ballymena, we’ll be breathing down the necks of Coleraine, Cliftonville and Crusaders.

I’ll be missing that Ballymena match as i’ll be on a short break in Lithuania, meaning it’ll be a 9.45pm kick-off for me local time. Unfortunately, I’ve got an early morning flight home on Wednesday morning, so I may be sleeping the whole way through the match.

Unfortunately, I can’t go without mentioning the game against Dundalk.

I was hoping to go as i’d never been to Oriel Park before, but the ticketing arrangements were a pain in the arse. I had a lucky escape.

It was frankly, an embarrassing result. There’s no shame in losing to Dundalk, but that scoreline was embarrassing. We’re better than that.

We just looked off the pace from the start and were punished by a team who were ruthless. We weren’t as ruthless in the few opportunities we had.

David Healy didn’t really help himself by declaring it not a priority. He was probably saying what a lot of people were thinking, myself included, it probably wasn’t best to say it out loud in public.

If we won the Unite The Union Cup but finished 4th, it wouldn’t be considered a successful season.

If we win the League, that night in Dundalk will be forgotten about.

The best way to remedy that result? Qualify for next year’s Unite The Union Cup.

Photo Album

DRUMAHOE

Welcome to the first in what will probably be a one part series, looking at abandoned football stadiums.

Linfield’s trip to Institute presented me with an opportunity to check out one such venue, Institute’s former home of Drumahoe.

Though the match would be played at The Brandywell, the pre-match arrangements were for Linfield fans to meet at Drumahoe Park and Ride, beside Drumahoe, in order to be bussed in to The Brandywell.

When the sides met last season, I intended to have a nosey around the abandoned ground, but time constraints meant that I couldn’t. So, I made sure that I had enough time in my stay in the village to look around.

The reason why the ground is abandoned is that it became flooded during heavy rain in 2017.

This caused an infestation of Japanese Knotweed on the pitch, making it unplayable.

That was then compounded by an arson attack on the changing rooms in the Summer of 2018.

Institute then moved to Wilton Park for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, but after winning promotion, needed a suitable stadium for top flight football, hence their groundshare with Derry City at The Brandywell.

There are plans in place for a new stadium at Clooney Park West.

The closest you can get to an Irish League version of Chernobyl, you can’t actually get into the stadium, but there are railings where you can take photos through, which is what I did, capturing the pitch where the grass has grown. A lot.

It’s the first time I have visited an abandoned stadium. When I was last in Glasgow, I attempted to visit Cathkin Park, a former football stadium which now forms part of a public park, though the terracing is still intact.

Next time i’m in Glasgow, i’ll make an effort to make that Part 2 of this series.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 3-1 INSTITUTE 10.8.2019

By a quirk of fate, Institute visited Windsor Park on 10th August, just as they did last year.

In 2018, it was Matchday 2, with Linfield looking to build on an impressive win at Mourneview Park, and banish the memories of a humiliating season which saw no trophies and no European football.

In 2019, it was Matchday 1, and the opening game of a title defence which Linfield fans will be hoping will be a lot better than 2017-2018. How apt, that on International Duran Duran Day, they get an opportunity to see if their team are Hungry Like The Wolf.

Presently, Linfield’s ambitions are both local and international, with this game being sandwiched inbetween a UEFA Cup tie against Sutjeska. The first leg saw Linfield get an impressive 2-1 win away from home.

The result was even more impressive as Jimmy Callacher, Andrew Waterworth and Joel Cooper were all absent.

Callacher was back to start this game, while Waterworth had to make do with a place on the bench.

Linfield had some early pressure in this game, but the decent build-up play fell down with the final pass.

It was Institute who had the first chance of the game when Bastien Hery lost possession (I guess he’s human after all) to Joe McCready who was fouled by Rohan Ferguson as he tried to go round him.

There was never any danger of it being a red card, but you always have that slight doubt. Thankfully, it was only a yellow card.

Joe McCready stepped up to finish to put Institute 1-0 up inside the opening 10 minutes. This was not what we had in mind for the opening day of the season.

Linfield’s first attempt at remedying the scoreline came from a Chris Casement free-kick.

There wasn’t long to wait for an equaliser, as a neat passing move resulted in a Shayne Lavery cross being missed by Daniel Kearns, but it fell perfectly for Kirk Millar to blast home from close range for his third goal this week, equalling his total for last season already.

It’s been a good week for him, all he needed was to have his birthday sandwiched in amongst all these goals. Oh wait ……

Not much else happened for a while, apart from Institute players losing their discipline in a dispute over kicking the ball out of play for an injury, an incident which resulted in three of them getting booked.

Just when Linfield needed some inspiration, they got it from Jordan Stewart, whose long range shot looked to be going just over, and then dipped in to give Linfield a 2-1 lead, taking everybody by surprise, even though he’s capable of doing such a thing.

Linfield came out for the second-half determined to kill the game off, with Kirk Millar hitting the bar from a shot.

There wasn’t long to wait for a third goal for Linfield, that came when Ryan McGivern headed home from a corner to make it 3-1.

It wasn’t quite three points in the bag, but it left Linfield in a very strong position.

If it went to 4-1, that would have been it

Linfield had enough opportunities to make it 4-1. Daniel Kearns hit the post while Jordan Stewart missed an open net after earlier scoring from 30+ yards out, while Andrew Waterworth headed over as well.

Linfield were almost made to pay for not making it 4-1 when Institute had a period of pressure with around ten minutes to go, hitting the post, and almost making it a nervous finale for Linfield.

Linfield got the three points, a fifth successive season that they have started with a win. I can remember when Linfield used to usually drop points on the opening day.

Larne’s 6-0 win over Warrenpoint made them the first leaders of the new season, while a late goal for Crusaders to give them a 3-0 win over Carrick Rangers saw them overtake Linfield into 3rd, the only three teams to win on Matchday 1.

There’s not much time for clubs to contemplate their opening day results, with the return of the now traditional midweek Matchday 2, after a season absence.

Not for Linfield though, as they’ll be involved in UEFA Cup action, meaning the scheduled trip to Ballymena has been postponed.

It’s a situation that will have to be monitored if we progress further in Europe as we can’t afford to have a backlog of fixtures. That makes it even more important to pick up as many points early on if we are going to be a couple of games behind other teams.

It’s not just League matches that will be affected. If Linfield get past Sutjeska, the League Cup tie at Ballinamallard will have to be postponed. That’s two matches that will need new dates and we won’t even be out of August.

Suddenly, you can see the thinking behind not entering the Scottish Challenge Cup, as disappointing as it is.

The fixture list is quite kind to us in terms of other Top 6 teams/teams with Top 6 ambitions playing each other early on. We will have Cliftonville v Glenavon, Glentoran v Coleraine, Cliftonville v Crusaders and Larne v Ballymena United in the next seven days, so hopefully nobody will pull away while Linfield are inactive in League terms.

After this match, I headed to HMV in Belfast City Centre to see Feeder. It was advertised as a signing session but I turned up in the hope that they might do a few acoustic songs. Turns out it was only a signing session, which was disappointing as they were playing live at other instore appearances in England.

Up next for Linfield is Sutjeska in the UEFA Cup on Tuesday night in the second of three successive home matches. Hopefully, the second of four successive home matches.

To quote Buck Rogers by Feeder, I think we’re going to make it.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

I had to wait a while for March’s football watching, but it wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield slumped to a League defeat at Glenavon then lost the County Antrim Shield Final to Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month got a bit better when Linfield defeated Institute 2-0 at Windsor Park.

The month ended with a flurry of games, three in four days, with Linfield’s trip to Dungannon Swifts being sandwiched inbetween Northern Ireland’s opening two Euro 2020 Qualifiers, both at home, against Estonia and Belarus.

Glenavon v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Northern Ireland v Estonia

Northern Ireland v Estonia Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Belarus

Northern Ireland v Belarus Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : NOVEMBER

November 2018’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield scrape a late draw at home to Warrenpoint Town.

It didn’t get much better the following Saturday, as I headed back to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose to Coleraine.

The weekend after, was a double header, the first of which was a first trip to The Brandywell, to see Linfield take on Institute. The next day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Austria in the UEFA Nations League.

The following weekend, it was yet another trip to Windsor Park, but finally a home win, as an Andrew Waterworth hat-trick saw off Cliftonville.

My football watching for the month ended with a midweek trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on BSC Young Boys in the European Cup, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Coleraine

Institute v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Austria

Northern Ireland v Austria Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v BSC Young Boys

Manchester United v BSC Young Boys Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 INSTITUTE 16.3.2019

And relax, all is well. Panic over.

After two defeats which saw their lead at the top cut and a trophy slip away, there was a danger that if it became three in a row, questions would start to be asked if Linfield’s season was about to fall apart.

With two games before the split to come against Bottom Six teams, this represented an opportunity for Linfield to get back to winning ways ahead of the crunch trip to Ballymena in early April.

This was a rare Saturday 3pm game, for numerous reasons. Institute hadn’t played at Windsor Park in that timeslot since 2011, 2008 in the League, while Linfield haven’t played at 3pm on a Saturday since 23rd February, and won’t do again until 13th April.

On the back of two bad results, Linfield will have been glad to be facing a side they had a lot of joy against this season, winning the previous three meetings by an aggregate of 12-1.

That form guide that Linfield were the only team to truly overpower Institute this season, who’ve had a comfortable first season back in the top flight, having to get used to a new ground, but never ever being in relegation danger, instead having ambitions of 7th place, and a possible wildcard opportunity of European football next season.

For Linfield, it was a welcome return to 4231, but no Kirk Millar, who was absent through suspension.

As well as the formation, there were two welcome returns with Jamie Mulgrew returning after suspension, and Joel Cooper returned after a month out through injury, a period where he was badly missed. Andrew Mitchell got the nod in midfield ahead of Kyle McClean.

The two previous League games had been milestone points in Cooper’s season. The first League meeting in August saw him make his home debut and mark it with a goal. By the time Linfield headed to The Brandywell in November, he had lost a bit of form and was on the bench for the first time as a Linfield player, but briefly found it again in a brief cameo, which laid the foundations for his performance against Cliftonville the following weekend when injury presented him with an opportunity to return to the side.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield were on the attack straight from the start, with Andrew Waterworth and Daniel Kearns having shots saved.

Institute had their moments, usually on the counter attack, but the attack was usually sniffed out before it became any major concern to Linfield.

The game died down as Linfield tried to get the lead, wanting to avoid giving Institute something to hold on to, usually finding themselves frustrated by their own wayward or overambitious passes.

The game then burst into life again in the final minutes of the half, with Chris Casement usually involved.

First he had a header well saved from six yards out when it looked like he was going to score, before having a free-kick hit the bar, before Andrew Waterworth’s instinctive rebound shot being saved, though an offside flag rendered that irrelevant.

To end, he had a cross flash across the six yard box and evade everybody, to complete a frustrating half for Linfield, which ended 0-0.

Despite that, there was no need to panic, especially as Linfield were extending their lead at the top as Ballymena United were surprisingly trailing Glentoran 1-0 at home.

It looked like the deadlock was broken in the early minutes of the second-half when Jimmy Callacher headed home, but he was denied by an offside flag.

Having been denied by the crossbar earlier in the game, Chris Casement tried his luck again with another free-kick, going just over.

Just after the hour, Linfield finally took the lead. After a series of Linfield crosses always seemed to be blocked by an Institute foot, Andrew Waterworth was able to control the ball, but not really getting into a clear position to strike at goal, but inadvertently set up Jordan Stewart to blast it into the roof of the net.

All the pressure was off Linfield now, and it showed. Joel Cooper looked to chip the ball in but it was headed off the line by Caoimhin Bonner. The TV footage was inconclusive though Linfield fans were screaming for it.

They don’t have VAR in the Irish League, and I don’t think SSAR (South Stand Assistant Referees) is going to be implemented any time soon.

Linfield’s hunt for a second goal ended when Josh Robinson headed home to make it 2-0, to as good as secure the points.

Institute responded by bringing on Paul Smyth from the bench, but there was no need for Linfield fans to panic, it wasn’t that Paul Smyth, he was somewhere in the North-West of England bemoaning the fact that Accrington Stanley’s match at home to Rochdale was postponed.

Coincidentally, there’s an interview with him on Stanley’s website, you can read it here.

David Healy then introduced some substitutions, starting with Matthew Clarke for Joel Cooper, cue the obvious poetry joke, before Marek Cervenka and Michael O’Connor coming on for Daniel Kearns and Andrew Waterworth.

Cervenka had an opportunity to score but would have needed a right foot curler, he waited too long and Institute were able to see out the danger.

His other main contribution was to get a yellow card to a sliding tackle that everybody in the ground could see a mile off, causing Caoimhin Bonner to show some pace for the first time in his career to get involved, resulting in a yellow card for himself as well.

If it was ten minutes earlier, of if the game was still up for grabs, he would have been an absolute cert for a second yellow card.

Gareth Deane was forced into a save in the final minutes, saving Linfield from a nervous end to the game.

The final whistle blew, and it was a 2-0 win for Linfield, a welcome win, and a welcome clean sheet after conceding six goals in two games.

The news came through from Ballymena that they had lost 2-0 at home to Glentoran. I’ll be honest, that is not a result I saw coming.

That means that Linfield are nine points clear, but Ballymena’s game in hand means it is effectively six points.

You’ll be glad to know that game in hand is on Tuesday, meaning that we’ll be level in terms of games played, meaning i’ll shut up about effective leads.

Institute are the opponents. As well as Institute played when it was 0-0, I can’t really see them taking anything at Ballymena, but I thought the same about Glentoran.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Dungannon, on the Friday night, giving Linfield a chance to extend their lead before Ballymena kick-off on the Saturday.

Hopefully, we take that opportunity, unlike against Glenavon a few weeks back.

When the Dungannon game was announced for TV coverage, Dungannon were on a decent run of form. That has tailed off in recent weeks.

Despite that, Linfield fans will have seen for themselves that their two visits have needed a last minute winner, and a cup win after extra-time.

Before that, it is the return of international football, as Northern Ireland face Estonia in their opening Euro 2020 Qualifier, and the start of the long road to England/Germany/Italy/Azerbaijan/Russia/Romania/Holland/Republic Of Ireland/Denmark/Spain/Hungary/Scotland begins.

I’m planning on being in London on the weekend of the Final. It would be great to pick up a ticket, but it’s more about the weekend away. I’ll also hope to sneak some time in Brighton as well.

Unfortunately, the kick-off for the Dublin games aren’t known yet, but i’ll try to sneak down to one of them in the Finals.

That’s a long way in the future, take each game at a time. Six points for Northern Ireland and three more for Linfield to aid their respective ambitions please.

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