PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – JANUARY

A new year, but same old football related photo adventures.

Thankfully, a home game to see in the new year (didn’t really fancy the 212 on New Year’s Day) against Institute, and a 3-0 win for Linfield.

My first Saturday game of the year saw me visit a new ground for the first time. The less said about Linfield’s trip to QUB, the better.

Things got a bit better on the pitch, the weather less so, as I headed to Solitude nine days later in the middle of Storm Brendan to see Linfield go top of the League with a 2-1 win against Cliftonville.

Linfield’s inconsistent form continued with a 0-0 draw at home to Dungannon Swifts the following Saturday.

The following midweek saw my first football trip of the year, to Old Trafford to see United lose to Burnley.

While I was there, I was able to take in another match, Salford City v Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy, which meant I was able to visit another new ground for the first time, the second of the month.

The following Saturday, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield hammer Glenavon 8-1.

That was then followed by a trip to Larne the following midweek, my first visit to Inver Park since 2005, to see Linfield lose 3-1.

Linfield v Institute

Queen’s University v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Salford City v Accrington Stanley

Salford City v Accrington Stanley Photo Album

Manchester United v Burnley

Manchester United v Burnley Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Larne v Linfield

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY 2-1 LINFIELD 4.1.2019

There is no way to gloss over this result, it was embarrassing.

After a difficult Christmas/New Year period, the Irish Cup offered a respite for Linfield, ahead of a nine day break before resuming League action.

The draw gave them an away trip to Lower League opposition, a great chance of progress and a new ground for fans to visit.

Well, not for all of us.

Due to the capacity of The Dub, Linfield were restricted to 150 tickets. Unfortunately, I missed out on getting one.

Undeterred, I decided to head over and chance my luck.

I asked at Reception and they had no spares, but I found a spot outside the ground to watch from. It was ok, but there some parts of the pitch that were obscured. While standing there, I was offered a ticket at face value so I decided to take it and get a better view.

If you did want to watch the match from outside, you could do so, or you could watch it from a sofa in The Pavillion, albeit with a restricted view.

The Dub is very small with no room for manoeuvre with regards to fitting more fans in. There could have been ways around it though.

They could have closed off some of the Car Park and created a standing area behind the goal at that end. I’m not sure what the feasibility was of playing the game at the pitch beside it, which had a bigger stand and standing area around the pitch.

After a busy run of games, I had expected some changes, with some players being rested and others who had been inactive recently getting some much needed game time.

That was not to be the case, although we did see three at the back getting binned.

It was a big day for Ethan Boyle, recently signed from Shamrock Rovers. Not only was it his birthday, he turned 23, he made his debut at right-back, coming in for Mark Haughey who continues his recovery from injury with a rest.

Do you want to feel really old? The day that Ethan Boyle was born, Saturday 4th January 1997, was the day that David Jeffrey took charge of his first match as Linfield manager.

In a match like this, Linfield had to be on the front foot early on, and not give Queen’s an opportunity to settle in the game. That would not be the case.

In fact, it was Rohan Ferguson who was the busier keeper, making a series of saves to keep it at 0-0.

On 38 minutes, Queen’s took the lead when Marc McKenna dispossessed Bastien Hery and then nutmegged Jimmy Callacher before firing home from outside the box. It was a goal that had been coming.

Once again, it was another poor goal conceded by Linfield. We’ve conceded some absolute shockers recently.

It acted as a wake-up call for Linfield, 38 minutes too late you could say.

Jamie Mulgrew, facing his younger brother Ben, hit the top of the bar as Linfield looked to go in at half-time level.

In the final minute of the half, it looked like Linfield had been given a reprieve with a penalty being awarded for a handball from a corner. However, the whistle was actually blown for a foul in the build-up.

The second-half began, or rather didn’t begin, in farcical circumstances, as the start was delayed due to the net that Linfield were attacking in the first-half being broken. I’m not sure how, as it didn’t see any action.

When the second-half did begin, it did so with Linfield being camped in Queen’s half. For the first time in the match, it felt like a Linfield goal was imminent.

Mark Stafford had a header hit the bar, while Joel Cooper saw his header from the rebound saved. Jamie Mulgrew then had an effort go wide as it looked like Queen’s had seen out the Linfield onslaught.

Joel Cooper was now getting the better of his opposing full-back, but he continued to frustrate with his final ball.

Just before the hour, Shayne Lavery was introduced for Daniel Kearns, and the impact was immediate, as he headed home from a corner to make it 1-1.

That should have been the springboard for Linfield to go on and win the game. However, there would be no onslaught, with Queen’s looking comfortable at 1-1.

On 75 minutes, the match swung in Queen’s favour when Mark Stafford slipped under pressure and handled the ball in the penalty area. After a delay, a penalty was given.

Jonah Mitchell stepped up to put Queen’s 2-1 up. Ironically, he was given his senior debut and then loaned to Queen’s by former Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Linfield were in deep trouble and time was running out. Matthew Shevlin and Jordan Stewart came on for Bastien Hery and Mark Stafford in search of an equaliser.

That looked like coming when a through ball saw Matthew Shevline get in behind Queen’s defence, control the ball and go round the keeper, with the offside flag going up as he was putting the ball into the net. He looked onside to me.

Linfield were running out of ideas, and hoping to get lucky with a free-kick. The best they could offer was a header from Jimmy Callacher which was disallowed for offside.

In fact, it looked like Queen’s were more likely to score on the counter attack.

It looked like one of those free-kicks would bring Linfield an equaliser when a headed clearance fell to Kirk Millar, whose cross was headed wide by Matthew Shevlin from a few yards out. He really should have scored. If he hit the target, he would have.

Everybody sensed that was Linfield’s big chance, and it had gone. This was going to be Queen’s day.

Unfortunately, there would be no dodgy 95th minute penalty to save us. I note those days have returned. We would have missed anyway.

And so it proved, as they held on for a famous win. The most damming thing for Linfield was that they deserved it. It wasn’t a smash and grab.

To make it worse for Linfield, Larne and Dungannon Swifts both won, meaning that the free Saturday on Saturday 1st February can’t be used to slot in one of the two games that need rearranged.

Dungannon Swifts and Larne both have winnable ties, meaning the Quarter-Final date of Saturday 29th February probably won’t be able to be used to slot in one of these games.

If you’re a calendar nerd like me, you’ll be especially annoyed at Linfield not having a game on 29th February. Unless we have a midweek game between now and then, February 29th won’t fall on a Saturday until 2048.

So what now for Linfield?

Three trophies have gone and all focus is on the League.

Ironically, in order to over throw Cliftonville, Linfield must now look to Cliftonville’s past as an inspiration.

The important thing is not to panic. Just three weeks ago, Linfield were about to run away with the League, now it looks like the season might be falling apart.

The line-up for this game was totally wrong. There are too many players who have played too much football and need a rest. This game, the fifth in fourteen days should have been used to give some players a rest and others some much needed game time.

Linfield’s results since the 7-0 win over Warrenpoint have followed a worrying trend: 0-1, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-6, 3-0, 0-1, 2-1, 1-0, 0-3, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-3, 1-1, 3-0, 1-2.

Far too many 0s and 1s in those first figures.

The games where Linfield have scored more than one in that run have been against Carrick Rangers, Ballymena United, Warrenpoint Town and Institute (twice).

That is quite damming.

Linfield have been too slow starting games, allowing teams to get settled, and against Crusaders and Glentoran, giving away early goals and chasing the game, while also struggling against teams who are well organised in defence.

Even against Warrenpoint last month, we didn’t push on after scoring inside the first minute.

There’s no urgency in attack, teams are allowed to get comfortable.

When we create chances, the final ball goes awry, or we aren’t reactive enough when the ball is loose.

Now the fixture list has calmed down, but not in the way we wanted. We’ll be having a lot of gaps now.

This upcoming nine day gap couldn’t come at a better time. A chance to recharge batteries and get minds focused on the task at hand.

That task now is retaining the League title. It’s the only thing we can do now.

It is so important to be in Europe next season. Linfield gained a lot of co-efficient points this season. It might take a while to see the benefits but we have to continue to be in Europe and keep getting those points in order to secure a favourable draw, that’s how The New Saints got to be seeded when they enter the European Cup.

As said earlier, Linfield can use Cliftonville as a form of inspiration.

January 2014, reigning champions and just dumped out of the Irish Cup at the first stage on the back of a bumpy run of results in the League, although losing a replay to Coleraine is a bit more respectable. Sounds familiar.

They focused their minds and energy on the League and went on a winning run to secure the title.

And that winning run started against Linfield. The task for Linfield is to do something similar, starting against Cliftonville.

If we can get through the game at Solitude, we have a run of games against Bottom 6 opposition coming up, and a great chance of getting a winning run going.

Although saying that, a tie against Championship opposition should have been an opportunity to start a cup run.

It seems a bit coincidental that the lack of goals and dodgy results have come while Niall Quinn has been out injured. Key at both ends of the pitch.

There won’t be any trophy celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in May 2020. Let’s make sure there are celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in April 2020.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February didn’t get off to the best start, as I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield exit the Irish Cup against Crusaders.

Things got better the following Saturday as Linfield came from 2-0 down to score a last minute winner against Coleraine.

It got a lot better the following Saturday as Linfield beat Ballymena United to win the NIFL Cup.

Finally, it was time for my first concerts of the year, going to see Chvrches at Ulster Hall, then Razorlight at The Limelight the following evening.

That was followed by some more football, as Linfield took on Ballymena United again, this time in the League, and then a midweek trip to Newry to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Coleraine

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Chvrches live at Ulster Hall

Chvrches live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Razorlight live at The Limelight

Razorlight live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Newry City v Linfield

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.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching was spent at Windsor Park, where I spent every Saturday of the month.

It began with Linfield exiting the Irish Cup to Crusaders, then come from 2-0 down to beat Coleraine with a last minute winner, beat Ballymena United to win the NIFL Cup, and then beat them again in the League.

The month ended with a trip to Newry to see Linfield secure a late and dramatic 1-0 win.

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Ballymena United (NIFL Cup)

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United (League)

Newry City v Linfield

LINFIELD 1-2 CRUSADERS 2.2.2019

You sometimes get strange quirks in the Irish Cup. For the second successive season, Linfield hosted opposition from North Belfast who were hoping to avenge a Quarter-Final defeat at home two years previously.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield made several unenforced changes to their starting eleven, Stephen Fallon coming in after injury, and Daniel Kearns and Michael O’Connor were rewarded for changing the game against Glentoran five days earlier with a start.

David Cushley had the first chance of the game, firing wide from an angle. It was never really troubling the goal, but it looked a lot closer than it was from where I was sat, at the other end of the pitch.

Linfield were then forced into an early change after 6 minutes when Stephen Fallon went off injured and was replaced by Kyle McClean. Having to make an early change is never ideal in any game, but especially in one that could last 120 minutes.

Linfield’s first attack came to an abrupt end when a Joel Cooper run was ended by a foul by Rory Hale.

The biggest surprise was that a yellow card was awarded, mainly due to the unwritten rule in Irish League football that referees don’t issue yellow cards in the first 15 minutes of a game. The resulting free-kick from Chris Casement went just wide.

Cooper was then able to get away from Crusaders defence without being fouled but fired wide from a wide angle when a cross to Kyle McClean looked like a better option. This was after he had an early shot from the edge of the box blocked behind for a corner.

Linfield continued to dominate the half but couldn’t get a breakthrough.

That was, when the ball was in play, due to Crusaders timewasting at goal kicks at a level that would embarrass Elliott Morris. Eventualy, 119 minutes, Sean O’Neill was booked for booting the ball into the North Stand when given it by a ballboy. It should have been his tenth of the game.

The Ballboys were, no pun intended, on the ball, making sure a new ball came back into play as soon as another ball went out, but those on the pitch need to start making an issue of it, putting refs under pressure by flagging it up and getting it actioned.

We can’t allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams, we can’t let opposition dictate the pace of the game and be comfortable doing so. The game should be played at our pace.

There’s not much you can do though when you have a weak referee who is easy to make a mug of, and Crusaders weren’t slow in exploiting it.

At the start of the second-half, Crusaders introduced Jordan Owens from the bench, and in the opening minutes, Ronan Hale volleyed over.

Linfield responded with a Kyle McClean header which hit the post, before Michael O’Connor had a shot saved and then had a header against the bar.

Nobody dared say it, but we were starting to think it, that this was going to be a repeat of the Cliftonville game in the Irish Cup last season.

Linfield now turned to the bench to try and win the game, with Kirk Millar coming on for Joel Cooper. With each passing minute, it looked like Andrew Waterworth was being saved for the possibility of Extra-Time. He ended up coming on quite late in the regulation time, coming on for Daniel Kearns as Linfield went more attacking to try and win the game in 90 minutes.

It was Crusaders who had the best chance in injury time when Kyle McClean was forced to save a goalbound shot on the line.

It finished 0-0 at 90 minutes and went to Extra-Time. Extra-Time in the Irish Cup isn’t a new experience for Linfield in the Irish Cup under David Healy, after needing two hours to defeat Ballymena in 2016 and Glentoran in 2017. Hopefully, this was going to be three out of three.

This looked like the sort of game that was going to be goal the winner. Making that breakthrough would be so crucial.

It looked like Linfield were going to get it when Andrew Waterworth headed over from six yards out. He really should have scored, or at least get the shot on target and make the keeper work.

Soon after Crusaders went 1-0 up in typical Crusaders fashion, a long hoof upfield fell for Jordan Owens to smash home. To be fair, it was a decent strike, but it should have been defended better, to win the original header, and to make sure the second ball was won. That looked like being it.

Linfield responded by bringing on Marek Cervenka for Jordan Stewart. Not through choice though as Stewart was suffering from an injury, watching the remainder of the game from the bench with an ice pack strapped to him.

As the clock ran down, Cervenka gave Linfield a lifeline when a misplaced Crusaders pass played him through to make no mistake to make it 1-1. The ball was in the back of the net as soon as he set himself up to strike.

Now the momentum was with Linfield to go an win the game.

But Crusaders went straight on the attack with Gareth Deane saving from David Cushley. From the resulting corner, Billy Joe Burns scored to win the game for Crusaders. It wasn’t the first time a second ball had fallen to Crusaders when they had an attacking set piece. They were two bad goals to concede.

It was an absolute travesty of a result. One team trying to win the game, and another trying to play for penalties.

There still should have been enough time for Linfield to get a second equaliser, due to the amount of stoppages, but the Referee’s watch wasn’t working.

The worst thing about this result, as it was when we lost to Cliftonville last season, is that we all know Crusaders will choke in the Quarter-Finals or Semi-Finals.

The Clean Sweep is over, but nobody was ever really talking about it. The season, however, is far from over.

This was Linfield’s first defeat since early December. We simply have to do what we did then, dust ourselves down and go again.

When we lost to Ballymena in December, we had a game straight away on the Tuesday night. We have that again.

One thing about this result that we can use to our advantage, is that we can use the free weekend at the start of March to slot in our rearranged League match against Newry City, which is currently scheduled for the midweek before.

It makes so much sense for both sets of players and fans for the game to take place on a weekend, hopefully that option gets explored.

We all hoped that February would be the month that Linfield win two competitions and make progress in two others. It can still be a month where Linfield win two competitions and progress in another.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT : 12.2.1977

England’s upcoming friendly against Holland dominates the cover of this edition of Shoot, with Ruud Krol and Trevor Brooking occupying the page.

In news, Republic Of Ireland have arranged a friendly against Poland, but may have to field locally based players due to the club commitments of players based in England. Dundee United were invited on a pre-season tour of Bangladesh.

Alex Stepney has been awarded a testimonial by Manchester United, with Benfica, United’s opponents in the 1968 European Cup Final, visiting Old Trafford. It’s part of a series of events, including a concert by Brotherhood Of Man at Fagin’s Club in Manchester.

The big boys joined the Irish Cup this week, with Linfield hoping to win the trophy for the 31st time. They would have to wait until 1978 to reach that milestone.

Birmingham City manager Willie Bell wanted 1977 British Championship postponed in order to avoid player burnout, due to backlog of club games due to postponements, and England and Scotland going on tour to South America.

England’s friendly with Holland gets a double page spread. The match was the first between the sides since a friendly seven years earlier, a 0-0 draw at Wembley with England months away from heading to Mexico to defend their World Cup title. Shoot focused on the change in fortunes for both countries since then, with Holland reaching the 1974 World Cup Final, a tournament which England failed to qualify for.

Kevin Keegan uses his column to comment that England must deliver a good performance in order to ensure fans keep returning to Wembley to watch them.

Shoot gives a full page to a bit of statistical fun, that Millwall have the best goals conceded ratio in the history of the Football League from 1888 to 1977.

Gerry Francis also uses his column to preview the England v Holland game, suggesting that Holland are a better team without their star players.

Alan Sunderland told Shoot that he was glad to be settled in a striker role at Wolves, while Graham Wilkins of Chelsea was talking about emerging from the shadow of his younger brother Ray.

In world news, West German clubs are raking in money from shirt sponsorship, which is still banned in England.

Cesar Luis Menotti, manager of World Cup hosts Argentina, is interviewed, where he revealed that the fear of disappointing Argentina’s fans is giving him sleepless nights.

John Greig uses his column to reveal that Rangers might be making a sensational new signing – former Brentford trialist Rod Stewart, who has approached him about playing for Rangers in his testimonial.

2018 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2018 began for me photographing snow. Yes, you read that right, the snow came down in the early days of March 2018.

That snow caused the postponement of Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville, so I had to wait a week for my first football match of the month, as Linfield took on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed up the following midweek by Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville.

Two days later, I headed to The Odyssey to see Stereophonics in concert.

St Patrick’s Day was spent watching Linfield draw 1-1 at home to Glentoran.

The following Thursday, I headed to The Limelight to see Feeder in concert.

Off work the next day due to needing to use up excess Annual Leave, I made the long journey to Ballinamallard to see Linfield drop two points in the last minute.

That weekend, and the month, ended with me heading to East Belfast to get photos of some new murals that had appeared during the month.

Belfast Snow March 2018

Belfast Snow March 2018 Photo Album – Thursday 1st March

Belfast Snow March 2018 Photo Album – Saturday 3rd March

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Linfield v Cliftonville

Stereophonics live at The Odyssey

Stereophonics live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v South Korea

Northern Ireland v South Korea Photo Album

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

Football watching in March got off to a delayed start, due to Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville being postponed due to snow.

I had to wait a week to get to a match, Linfield’s home game against Carrick Rangers.

The following midweek, was that postponed Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville, resulting in a defeat for Linfield.

It didn’t get better the rest of the month as Linfield had to come from behind to get draws against Glentoran and Ballinamallard United.

At least the month ended on a high note, beaming with parental pride (sort of) as Paul Smyth came off he bench to score the winner for Northern Ireland against South Korea on his debut.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Glentoran

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v South Korea

Northern Ireland v South Korea Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 CLIFTONVILLE 14.3.2018

It’s not often that people are jealous of Loughgall fans, but that was the case on Tuesday night, as they put their feet up while six other teams battled to join them in the Irish Cup Semi-Finals.

Two of sides were Linfield and Cliftonville. Side by side in League mediocrity, it was perhaps inevitable they would be paired together in the Irish Cup at some point, especially having avoided their annual (paired together eight times in the previous ten seasons) County Antrim Shield meeting this season.

Quarter-Finals against Cliftonville had been historically good for Linfield. The three previous meetings at this stage (1992, 1994, 2016) had seen Linfield wins en route to the Final.

Both sides had reason to be optimistic. Linfield had beaten Cliftonville in the League the previous month, while Cliftonville had beaten Crusaders inside sixteen minutes the previous Saturday. The truth was, neither result was relevant. This was a standalone match.

It was Linfield who were straight on the attack, the ball mostly in Cliftonville’s half, the first opportunity came when Kirk Millar’s header looked to be looping in, to everyone’s surprise, only for Cliftonville keeper Brian Neeson to save at the cost of a corner.

Within a few minutes, Cliftonville had their first attack when an inswinging free-kick was punched clear by Linfield’s teenage goalkeeper Alex Moore. It was, as pundits like to say, a good touch for the young keeper.

I’m old enough to remember the closest Linfield match to a current player being born. In the case of Alex Moore, he was born two days before a 4-1 win away to Crusaders. I was at that match. Tommy McDonald scored a screamer.

Not that Moore had lacked big match experience, having played in a Steel and Sons Cup Final, and made his first-team debut at The Oval.

The only shaky moment during the game for him was a sliced clearance that conceded a corner, though it looked to me (I was at the other end) that the defender who passed it back to him and out him under pressure had more questions to answer.

Moore was playing because if an injury to Gareth Deane, who himself was thrown into an Irish Cup Quarter-Final against Cliftonville in 2016.

That’s the second time that Deane has suffered an injury just as he looked set for an extended run in the team. That really is rotten luck.

Cliftonville looked nervous in the opening moments, conceding cheap throws in their own half under no pressure. The opportunity was there for Linfield to capitalise.

Kurtis Byrne was involved in most of Linfield’s attacking play, in creation and being on the end of, having a header saved before being found in space only to see his first time shot saved.

Mark Stafford was next to try his luck, having a header saved, before heading off the bar from a corner. Sandwiched inbetween those was a shot from Mark Haughey (after an advantage played by Arnold Hunter. You read that right, praise for Arnold Hunter) which brought about the corner for Stafford to hit the bar.

Byrne then had a header saved on the line by Neeson, as Linfield failed to get the goal their dominance deserved.

0-0 at half-time but no reason to panic. Same performance again, and Linfield would win.

We didn’t get the same performance from Linfield in the second-half. It was a scrappy affair, but Cliftonville were spending more time in Linfield’s half than they did in the first-half.

It took them until just after the hour to have a chance, Garry Breen heading wide from a free header. It was a warning for Linfield.

Cliftonville were now having their best spell of the game and Linfield were now struggling.

There are two main criticisms of David Healy throughout his reign as Linfield manager so far. One is that he goes too defensive too quickly when holding onto a narrow lead, and the other is that he is reactive rather than proactive with his substitutions when the game is in the balance.

Far too often players have been brought on in response to an opposition goal, rather than to get the goal that Linfield need.

With seven subs allowed in the Irish Cup, the options were there. Mitchell or Lowry for Garrett. Fallon for one of the wide players. Rooney or Strain for Campion. It was obvious that Linfield were crying out for fresh blood.

Eventually, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garret. The score was still 0-0, but the change should have been made a lot earlier.

Lowry almost put Linfield in front when he tried to force the ball home after a Niall Quinn header was saved, only the hit the post.

In a game where it looked like there would be only one goal, Linfield had thrown away another opportunity to get it.

It was as if they were doing their own Ken Dodd tribute when they went forward, The Dithermen.

Minutes later, it was Cliftonville who got it when Joe Gormley was played through and made no mistake. There was only one outcome as soon as he got the ball, and it looked like being only one outcome of the match once the ball hit the back of the net.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Louis Rooney and Ryan Strain for Matthew Clarke and Achille Campion. Already hampered by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury, when Linfield needed a goal, they were relying on a young player yet to score, and a striker low on confidence who hasn’t scored since September.

The chances that were plentiful at 0-0 had now dried up at 0-1. Linfield didn’t take them when they were there, and were made to pay for it.

For all their possession in the final ten minutes, Linfield never looked like equalising. There was one monent that summed it up.

A Cliftonville clearance in injury time went into Linfield’s half and a Linfield defender waited for the ball to come to him, rather than going to the ball and starting another attack. Those few second gave Cliftonville enough time to reorganise their shape and defend the situation. It’s the little things that can make such a big difference.

It was a feast of chances but a famine of goals. A whole season summed up in a match.

It got worse when the draw was made. As Jim Bowen would say, here’s what you could have won – a Semi-Final against Loughgall while Coleraine face Larne in the other Semi-Final.

This result is going to get a lot worse when Cliftonville capitulate to Coleraine in the Final. That’s if they don’t lose to Loughgall.

Cliftonville fans who believe in omens may be cheered by the fact that six of the last seven teams to beat Crusaders in the Irish Cup have gone on to win the trophy. The only one not to though, was Cliftonville in 2013.

Cheering on Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final is something we may have to do if we want to qualify automatically for Europe and avoid the farce of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, though part of me is hoping we finish 5th and win the UEFA Cup Play-Offs purely to laugh at the amount of pantwetting from opposition fans.

To be honest though, I prefer opposition fans to be pantwetting when we win the League.

If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, 3rd place will secure automatic entry to the UEFA Cup. Linfield are only four points off Glenavon, who hold that spot.

They are catchable. To do that, we’ll have to do something we haven’t done since August/ earlySeptember – Go on a winning run.

Elsewhere, three countries have applied to host the UEFA Nations League in June 2019. Portugal and Poland have recently hosted European Championships, which may let Italy in, while all three have hosted European club finals in the last five years.

I’ll keep an eye on that to see if it’s affordable and travelable whoever hosts it.

Next on my footballing agenda is Glentoran’s visit to Windsor Park on Saturday, as David Healy faces the only Irish League manager he hasn’t beaten as Linfield manager in the shape of Ronnie McFall.

McFall’s last visit to Windsor Park was in 2015 to a half built stadium to face a Linfield team managed by Warren Feeney, with Guy Bates pulling the strings. It really feels like a different century.

Hopefully, Glentoran fans will be keeping up one St Patrick’s Day tradition at Windsor Park on Saturday …… of people dressed in green feeling a bit sick at 5pm.

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