February was all about football, taking in four Linfield matches, two of which were against Larne.
The other two were against Glentoran and Portadown.
February’s football watching began at Inver Park to see Linfield crash out of the Irish Cup. The less said about that, the better.
Four days later, and it was to Windsor Park, to see Linfield have a much better result against Larne.
Although that was followed up three days later with a defeat at The Oval.
My last football match of the month was to see Linfield scrape a win at home to Portadown.
It was hoped that December’s football watching would begin at Lansdowne Road, but I had to make do with Coleraine Showgrounds. It doesn’t really matter where you watch your football as long as you’re watching Linfield win.
Although, Linfield did undo that with a draw at home to Warrenpoint Town the following Saturday.
And then, they made up for it by beating Larne away for the first time since 2008, and then beat Ballymena United to go top for the first time all season.
Before undoing that by drawing at home to Glentoran on Boxing Day.
October’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Cliftonville on the very first day of the month.
I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.
That was then followed by two road trips, to Warrenpoint and Larne for two Linfield matches.
The month ended where it began, at Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.
It hasn’t been upgraded to a panic yet, but it is a concern, as Linfield exited the Irish Cup just six days after being knocked off the top of the Irish League table, as the winless run now stands at three matches at the worst possible time of year.
This wasn’t quite the response to Coleraine that people had in mind. Now Linfield are looking to respond to not responding when they needed to respond.
For the first ten minutes of this match, it was largely uneventful. However, that was to soon change when a shot from Andy Scott was punched by Chris Johns and fell straight to Lee Bonis to fire home and put Larne 1-0 up.
As soon as the ball was punched out, there was only going to be one outcome.
It was a bad one from Johns, the shot was catchable, or at worst, just tip it over the bar.
In a game of this importance, where the first goal would be key, it was such a bad goal to concede.
There was almost an instant response from Linfield, when Kirk Millar intercepted a pass and his cross intended for Christy Manzinga, fell perfectly for Ahmed Salam but his shot hit the post and went out for a goal kick.
He really should have scored. Even at this early stage, it was starting to look like it was one of those nights.
The night wasn’t getting much better for Linfield, you were thinking now you’d be happy to take a 0-1 at half-time
Linfield were all over the place, especially at the back. Chris Johns parried another effort just like the goal but got away with it.
Trying to play it out from the back, but the problem was, it was going back to Larne with no movement of inspiration in midfield.
Chris Johns was having too much of the ball at his feet as a result.
There’s nothing wrong with passing the ball back to the keeper when it’s the right thing to do, but far too often, the ball was going back to him because it was the easy thing to do.
As the half neared it’s end, Niall Quinn looked like he was going to equalise until his header was tipped over by Conor Devlin.
It was a strange paradox. As bad as Linfield were in the first-half, they still had two excellent goalscoring opportunities that could have brought an equaliser.
The start to the second-half wasn’t particularly inspiring. The much hoped for response didn’t materialise. It only took ten minutes before David Healy had seen enough, making a triple change bringing on Ethan Devine, Chris McKee and Jake Hastie.
It was Ethan Devine who was having the biggest impact, getting into positions and trying to make things happen. It looked like he was going to set up an equaliser when he headed on a set piece to Jimmy Callacher who headed wide when he should have scored.
When Jimmy Callacher can’t score from a header, you know it’s not your night.
As frustrating as he is, it wasn’t Christy Manzinga’s night either.
No matter how bad he plays, you keep him on because he might just get that goal.
It wasn’t going to happen, allowing himself to get into personal battles with Larne players instead of concentrating on putting the ball in the net.
Nobody was surprised when he got replaced for Kieron Evans as Linfield searched for an equaliser to at least get extra-time.
With ten minutes to go, that became an uphill task when a misplaced backpass from Jamie Mulgrew fell perfectly for Lee Bonis to round Chris Johns and make it 2-0.
Even with ten minutes to go, everybody knew deep down that it was game over.
As bad as Linfield were, they gifted Larne two goals.
It was a strange paradox where Linfield didn’t really pose much of an attacking threat but still had three great chances to score.
They just need to start doing the basics right at both ends, and quick.
After the game, Michel Parker was added to the squad, which suggests there may be fears over the fitness of Chris Shields and/or Cameron Palmer.
The squad now looks a bit bloated and lopsided, there’s a 2008-2009 vibe to it.
Up next, Larne again. The truth this, this game won’t make much of a difference to that game. I’d be saying that even if Linfield won.
And that is something they need to start doing again, and quick.
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland Block Bookings have reopened. I’m going to try and get moved to the Railway Stand. I’m bored of The Kop. Just bored by boring bores. You know the sort. They’re not a “Geg” and they’re not “Great craic”, they are just bores. Time to move to the more serene surroundings of the Railway Stand I think.
Northern Ireland are part of a bid for Euro 2028. We’re going to be a spare wheel. The guy on the night out who doesn’t get told of the change of plan and turns up at the wrong bar.
Not sure I can be bothered about how we should have built a 300,000 capacity stadium at The Maze.
I may be tempted to a game or two in England though.
This result means I will now have three free Saturdays to fill. I may go away somewhere. Brighton v Man United on the weekend of the Final sounds tempting.
December began with a trip to Coleraine, to see Linfield get a vital win.
That was followed by a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield draw with Warrenpoint Town.
Time for one last concert in 2021, to see Ash at The Limelight.
The following night, I headed to Inver Park to see Linfield take on Larne.
Another match in a football dominated month, this time back to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Ballymena United.
Of course, this entry is titled “December (So Far) as there is another week of the month left to go.
I was hoping to use my time off for hillwalks and obviously getting some photos but the weather hasn’t been kind. Hopefully, i’ll be able to get out before I return to work.
Let’s not forget, off to Windsor Park on Monday for Linfield v Glentoran. Undecided as yet about the Steel and Sons Cup Final.
Hope you enjoyed my photographic look through 2021.
Let’s hope I have something to photograph in 2022. Let’s not be stupid and get everything close again.
This was a pleasant and most welcoming early Christmas present, a win at Larne at long long last.
Ever since Larne won promotion in 2019, Inver Park had been a tricky venue for Linfield. Scoring hadn’t been a problem, keeping them out was, as scorelines such as 1-3, 1-4, 1-3, 1-1 and 1-1 would testify.
Those last two scorelines gave hope to Linfield that they could something. They’d stopped the rot but they needed to start winning. A draw wouldn’t have been a disaster, but having dropped points to Warrenpoint Town last weekend, there was a danger that others could start to pull away from them with the table so tight at the moment, and this game presenting Linfield with an opportunity to go top, even if it was potentially for a short period of time.
As with the game in October, this game was moved for TV coverage, this time on the BBC, where Linfield have a record of two wins and one defeat in this fixture when live on the BBC.
Not much use if you were planning to get the train to the game, as you’d have to leave midway through the second-half to get the last train home.
Linfield’s starting eleven picked itself, mainly because there was nobody else fit, opting for a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation.
If you thought this was going to be a defensive affair due to what was at stake, you would be mistaken, with both sides having attacks inside the first 45 seconds.
A shot from Davy McDaid took a bounce which caused Chris John’s to spill it, luckily Matthew Clarke was there to shield the ball and stop Larne from scoring.
Immediately, Linfield had an attack of their own which was stopped by a foul, giving them a free-kick in a promising position which was eventually cleared.
And there was still 89 minutes of this still to go.
Larne seemed determined to get an early goal, with Ben Doherty having a long range shot go just over he bar, while Ronan Hale fired across goal.
Linfield had opportunities of their own, but they were usually thwarted by a pass or a tackle or a miscontrol. Both teams were having the same amoutn of attacking time, but Larne were making better use of their attacking possession.
Their best moment came from a Christy Manzinga run which resulted in a shot being saved from a wide angle.
On the half hour, the game swing massively in Linfield’s favour with the award of a penalty kick.
Christy Manzinga was fouled just as he entered the penalty (I was unsure at the ground, as I was so far away from the incident, but TV footage showed that it was) area and Kofi Balmer was given a red card for bringing him down.
Chris Shields, who else, stepped up to take the penalty, in off the post. I’d actually thought he missed it from where I was.
A goal up and a man up, Linfield would never have a better chance to win at Inver Park.
They almost doubled that lead when Stephen Fallon hit the bar from close range under pressure from a Larne defender after a pull back from Christy Manzinga.
A 1-0 lead at half-time, not too bad, but Linfield needed to make this extra man work for them.
And work for them it did in the second-half, as Linfield came out strong, determined to make the most of their advantage and kill the game off.
They almost did that in the early minutes of the half when Ahmed Salam had a goalbound volley cleared off the line.
Trai Hume then had a shot saved as Linfield searched for a second goal. The important thing was, they were restricting Larne and keeping them well away from their own goal.
If you can’t score, don’t concede.
With a squad decimated by injuries, there wasn’t a lot of experienced players for Linfield to call on from the bench.
Martin Donnelly, who set up the equaliser on his last visit to Larne, came on, as did Josh Archer, who had so far only featured in cup games.
A quick counter attack looked like it was going to bring that elusive second goal, but Kyle McClean saw his shot saved by Rohan Ferguson.
Two and a half minutes into three minutes of injury time, if you can’t score, just don’t lose the ball and keep it in play. Ferguson’s save turned the ball out for a corner. Linfield still had the ball in Larne’s defensive third. Hold onto it and don’t do anything stupid, and three points would be in the bag.
Thankfully, they were able to see the game out, securing a 1-0 win to go top, albeit temporarily when they were immediately but not unsurprisingly knocked off by Cliftonville who beat Carrick Rangers.
Elsewhere, Glentoran beat Glenavon while Coleraine and Crusaders drew with each other, giving Linfield a bit of breathing space from both, but not enough to rule them out of the title race.
Larne won’t have long to wait for a chance to get revenge, although it will be the trophy on offer that will be the main motivation, with the County Antrim Shield Final on 11th January.
The venue for that has been confirmed for Seaview. Surprised by that, I thought it might have been too small and that it was going to be played at The Oval.
It should be a decent atmosphere there. Well, if fans are allowed in. Sadly, that’s where we are because this whole country is too thick to not spread disease.
League Of Ireland fixture list for 2022 has just been released, i’m still digesting it. It might be as far as I get to travel in 2022 so might as well take in a game if i’m staying somewhere. Bray Wanderers and Finn Harps are the teams i’m looking out for.
Another free Saturday, and Harland and Wolff Welders are away. They’re doing this on purpose to annoy me. I will visit that stadium.
Eyeing up their Irish Cup tie against Annagh United (Linfield have a home tie to lower league opposition which should be a non-event, famous last words) on January 8th.
The draw for the UEFA Nations League was made. Pointless competition, waste of time, should just go straight to Euro 2024 Qualifiers.
For what it’s worth, the draw could have been kinder to Northern Ireland. There were some teams they could have got which would have been certain promotion.
They are more than capable of beating Greece and Kosovo, but they’ll have to work for it.
Depending on the Play-Off result, Estonia could be in their group. The away game is sandwiched inbetween two Finland home games. There is the potential of a long trip to both neighbouring countries.
Forget about Finland and Tallin, i’ll be grateful to visit Fermanagh and Tyrone in 2022.
Up next for Linfield is a home match against Ballymena United, their game in hand.
A win will see them go top, and send out a message to their rivals.
It wouldn’t hurt to go top of the league in case the season has to be abandoned. That’s where this stupid fucking country is at.
October began with a football match on the first day of the month, to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.
It was back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and then on the road for the match against Warrenpoint.
The following Saturday was football free, so I took the opportunity to walk up Cavehill.
Linfield’s trip to Larne being moved to a Monday night was the reason for that. Naturally, I was at Inver Park to get some photos.
Using up Annual Leave, I headed to Derry for a day trip, snapping some Street Art that I spotted when I was there.
The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.
It wasn’t quite must win, but it was definitely do not lose, which Linfield managed on their trip to Larne in front of Sky Sports cameras in a game where both sides suffered A Case Of The Ex.
Of course, if they could win, it would have been quite the statement, pulling further clear of Larne (five points) and putting doubts in their title challenge, as there would be with back to back defeats against the two main challengers as the table stands.
Cliftonville’s game against Ballymena United would be a part of the story of this game, albeit, not a major part of the story.
Surprisingly, Cliftonville lost 1-0, meaning that Larne and Linfield wouldn’t be looking to keep in touch with them, but three points would see them overtake (in Linfield’s case) or cut the gap to one point (in Larne’s case)
Visits to Inver Park hadn’t been kind to Linfield since Larne were promoted to the Top Flight in 2019, with three defeats and a draw.
In what will be a busy Winter Schedule, the rescheduling of this game for TV coverage meant Linfield had a six day gap between games, which will feel luxurious in a few weeks time.
That allowed some players who might have been rested if this was played on a Saturday a chance to start, such as Matt Green, who almost put Linfield ahead after charging down a clearance from former Linfield keeper Rohan Ferguson, who was relieved to see it go behind the goal.
Ferguson was involved in the main talking point of the first-half when he took down Christy Manzinga in the full-back position as he raced on to a through ball. I had thought it was a yellow card when watching it in the stadium.
Looking back (I recorded the game on Sky Plus), it could be argued he was lucky to get away with a yellow. If it was a full-back making that tackle, it could easily have been a different outcome.
Larne’s attacks usually resulted in shots going wide or over, while Linfield weren’t even getting that far in a half where both defences were on top.
Linfield started the second-half well, having a lot of possession in Larne’s final third, but not being able to make the most of it in terms of creating a clear goalscoring opportunity;
It was Larne who had the first clear goalscoring oppotunity of the second-half when Andy Scott got in behind Linfield’s defence, cutting in from a wide position to fire a shot that was easily saved by Chris Johns. He really should have scored.
It was another excellent performance from Johns who has vastly improved after a difficult debut season at Windsor Park, bringing a calmness to the defence when needed.
Although, it would help if defenders would stop passing it back to him on his weaker right foot though.
Jordan Stewart and Niall Quinn were brought on as Linfield looked to take the lead.
However, that honour fell to Larne when Navid Nasseri was played in by David McDaid, and rounded Johns to fire it into the empty net to give Larne a lead on 79 minutes in a game that looked destined to finish 0-0.
It might have felt harsh on Linfield, but the truth was that they hadn’t had an attack of note.
The goal sparked Linfield into life, they had no choice but to. Jimmy Callacher had a header go wide from a set piece.
Billy Chadwick and Martin Donnelly then came on for Linfield, Linfield hoping he could have the same impact that Nasseri, the player who went the opposite way in that Summer swap deal.
With just three minutes remaining, Donnelly had an impact, when his free-kick was headed home.
As he was getting ready to take the free-kick, I was crossing my fingers that it would be Jimmy Callacher on the end of it.
Turns out, it was Jordan Stewart who got his head on it to make it 1-1, not someone you would have down for their aerial prowess, not that the Linfield fans who were celebrating cared.
A late equaliser away to Larne, having reviewed the tapes, was being celebrated like the winner in the European Cup Final,
Having worked their way back to getting a draw, the main thing was now not to lose this game. Linfield were able to see off any attacks from Larne, but unfortunately not to have on in injury time that they could make count.
The match finished 1-1. Not ideal when a win could have done so much damage to rivals at the top of the table.
But when you’re 1-0 down with a couple of minutes to go and not playing well, you’ll take it.
It is easy to forget, Linfield ended this Matchday one point closer to Cliftonville at the top of the table, only now trailing them by one point, nibbling away at their lead.
We don’t need to take a big bite of their lead, just a little nibble will do, a few of those will see Linfield overtake them.
Remember, we’re not yet at the point where everybody is scheduled to have played each other yet.
What it means for the table is that Linfield and Larne have Coleraine standing between them, as part of four clubs divided by three points.
Onto Saturday, and Linfield face Dungannon Swifts at home. You’d like to think we’d get three points, ideally stress-free, and put the pressure on the teams around us.
It is important to note that Crusaders will only be one point off the top of the table if their win their games in hand, so they have to be included in the title conversation.
Ticket details were announced for Northern Ireland v Lithuania. £40. It cost £30 to go to Lithuania in 2019. Just a bit of a cost barometer.
I’ll give this one a miss but keep an eye out for competitions on Social Media, which I imagine will now be plentiful.
I was going to give this campaign a miss and then renew for Euro 2024, but this pricing structure has made the decision for me.
Ian Baraclough has been given a new contract up to the end of Euro 2024. That is what we should be aiming for so might as well keep continuity going into it.
It was unfortunate that the Pot 2 team in our group was so strong.
Switzerland weren’t worried about Northern Ireland, they are trying to catch and overtake Italy above them.
If we were in Germany or Denmark’s group, where the Pot 1 team runs away with it and then the teams below them fight it out in a Mini League for 2nd, it could have been so much different, but we never stood a chance against Switzerland and Italy.
Finally, Linfield’s match against Ballymena, postponed twice due to International Call-Ups and then the NIFL Cup taking priority in the calendar will be played on 21st December.
That is handy for me, as I thought it was going to be played on Tuesday 16th November when I am in Brighton.
I might be going to an OMD concert that night, it would have made it hard to pay attention if i’m keeping an eye out for the Linfield score.
Bloody hell, what a year. As you can imagine, not a lot of football matches were attended.
Still, fingers crossed that i’ll get to some games in 2021, nothing in the calendar yet.
As a bonus, hopefully i’ll get to go to a ground that isn’t Windsor Park, as much as I enjoy visiting it.
Matches : 19
Goals : 68
Red Cards : 5
Missed Penalties : 0
Hat-Tricks : 1
Andrew Waterworth (Linfield v Carrick Rangers)
Teams Seen : 17
Accrington Stanley, Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville, Crusaders, Dundela, Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon, Glentoran, Institute, Larne, Linfield, Manchester United, Queen’s University (1st time), Salford City (1st time), Warrenpoint Town
Stadiums Visited : 10
Ballymena Showgrounds, Inver Park, Milltown, Moor Lane (1st time), Old Trafford, Solitude, Taylor’s Avenue, The Dub (1st time), Wilgar Park, Windsor Park
Competitions : 5
County Antrim Shield, FA Premier League, Football League Trophy (1st time), Irish Cup, Irish League