A new year, but Linfield and Coleraine still managing to draw with each other. That is now twelve draws in the last twenty-five League encounters.
With both teams going into this game on winning runs and keeping a lot of clean sheets, it wasn’t the most surprising of results. Despite gaining one point on Cliftonville, three on Larne and four over Glentoran on the last two matchdays, it was hard to see it that way from a Linfield perspective, as they failed to secure the three points that would have seen them go level with Larne at the top of the table.
Linfield had one change from Boxing Day, with Mike Newberry coming in for Jimmy Callacher. Not that surprising, as Callacher appeared to be struggling with injury during the second-half at The Oval last week.
The early minutes of the game saw Linfield in Coleraine’s half. Inside two minutes, Eetu Vertainen worked space to find Matthew Clarke, whose cross was headed just wide by Robbie McDaid.
There was more header related frustration as a run and cross from Jamie Mulgrew was headed just wide by Eetu Vertainen.
People around me were getting ready to celebrate until they realised that the ball had gone wide.
Vertainen then had a shot go wide as Linfield continued to endure a frustrating first-half.
Despite having a lot of the ball and a lot of attacking situations, Linfield weren’t creating any clear opportunities.
That was, until Daniel Finlayson got on the end of a free-kick, only to see his header superbly saved by Marty Gallagher.
0-0 at half-time, but no immediate need to panic.
Linfield were the better team but couldn’t convincingly say that they should be 1-0 up. They really needed to be more clinical when opportunities fell their way.
The second-half began with a flurry of set pieces for Linfield, but nothing came of it. The best that would be offered in the second-half would be an Eetu Vertainen header and a Robbie McDaid effort, both of which went wide.
David Healy then turned to his bench, bringing on Andrew Clarke and Chris McKee for Cameron Palmer and Robbie McDaid.
A goal for McKee now would feel every bit as big as his goal against Coleraine the last time they visited Windsor Park on the last day of last season.
Clarke would have a shot go just wide within minutes of coming on, though it felt like a speculative effort than an attempt to score.
Joel Cooper then made space from himself but his shot went agonisingly wide.
It was obvious very early in the game that this was a match that was destined to finish 0-0.
With each passing minute. It became even more obvious. No matter how hard Linfield tried.
A lucky bounce saw the ball fall perfectly for Eetu Vertainen but that was the only lucky bounce that fell Linfield’s way as his shot was saved by the keeper’s legs.
Coleraine did manage to have an attack, with a free-kick from Eamon Fyfe being easily saved by Chris Johns.
His late goal at The Oval bought Eetu Vertainen some extra time on the pitch, but there wouldn’t be any more opportunities for him to score another late winner.
Even though Niall Quinn (a welcome return) and Ethan Devine were unused in the bench as attacking options, they could have brought on Lionel Messi and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
It was one of those days, a frustrating afternoon.
Linfield were the better team, but couldn’t convincingly say that they should have been outright winners
As I said earlier in the season, if somebody told you that the last twenty meetings between Coleraine and Linfield had finished 0-0, you would believe it because it sounds believable.
You feel like you could just write off the remaining two League games as 0-0 draws.
And the remaining three against Cliftonville.
Coincidentally, Linfield’s next League game, at Solitude.
Not quite must-win but certainly do not lose.
There’s not point on pushing to get this close to the top of the league just to get pulled away again.
But what a message that would send out to the rest of the League, to win on a rival’s home turf and reach the top.
But first, it’s Warrenpoint Town at home in the Irish Cup.
One game at a time. It’s a busy month. So many games, so many competitions. It’s hard to keep track.
The last two months have seen two Cup Finals reached (one of which is this month) and the gap at the top get closer and closer.
It is frustrating that this run includes three 0-0 draws against Top 6 teams, meaning that all the other Top 6 teams have come away from Windsor Park with something this season.
Although recently, four have them have come away without a goal, just like a few other teams that Linfield have faced over the past two and a bit months.
Considering that Linfield conceded nine goals in eight days in October, that is most welcome.
Now to get it right at the other end.