ARDS 0-2 LINFIELD 15.8.2017

With three games in seven days, there isn’t much time to relax at the start of the Irish League season, as Linfield made it two wins out of two in the North Down sunshine, beating Ards 2-0, the three points being secured before the sun went down.

The only worry for some away fans was getting into the ground, as roadworks at Ballyrobert made it a one hour journey for me.

As I arrived, there was a massive queue of people in front of me, and soon afterwards behind me. Would it really have been too much effort to delay the kick-off by five or ten minutes for those who were held up?

I ended up getting my first experience of the NIFL’s new £11 admission fee, due to the increase in handing back change in coins instead of the nice round £10 fee.

I only missed about a minute of action, and thankfully, Linfield weren’t quick off the blocks.

They weren’t slow either, building up pressure and being camped in Ards half. It was a matter of time until Linfield scored. That came when Mark Haughey was able to flick a loose ball over a defender in the box, and smash the ball home from close ranger after 18 minutes.

On 28 minutes, a Paul Smyth cross found Kirk Millar to head home and make it 2-0.

The pressure continued but Ards held out to keep the score to 2-0 at half-time.

A commanding position but not a definitive lead.

You know all those cliches about 2-0 being a dangerous lead? Linfield almost found out in the early minutes of the second-half when Scott Davidson was played through and hit the post.

You know that pundit speak of “He hit it too well”? It applies here. If he scuffed it, he would have scored, he struck it perfectly and hit the post, and straight to a Linfield defender to clear.

That was Ards big moment, as Linfield went in search of that third goal to put the match beyond all doubt.

Paul Smyth and Aaron Burns came closest for Linfield.

The third goal didn’t come for Linfield, but it wasn’t needed.

Burns, alongside Stephen Lowry were substitutes in the only change to the squad from Saturday after a one game suspension.

With Cliftonville, Glentoran and Crusaders waiting in September as well as the League Cup, County Antrim Shield and Scottish Challenge Cup between now and then, strength in reserve will be key to Linfield, even if it wasn’t needed here.

Results elsewhere meant that Linfield were one of five teams with six points out of six.

It is peak modern day Glentoran that they have actually had their best start to the season in eight years …… and find themselves 5th in the table.

Linfield are tucked away in 4th.

With two of the teams above them, Coleraine and Crusaders, playing each other, Linfield travel to Dungannon on Saturday knowing that a win will propel them into the top three at least.

The reason why Linfield are 4th is due to goal difference. It could have been so much better across these two games.

Goal difference was the thing that put life in Linfield’s title challenge last season when all looked lost. Linfield knew they didn’t need to overtake Crusaders, they just had to pull level with them and let the goal difference do the work.

There’s still 36 games to make up four goals.

Whilst the goals for column could be better, there’s no complaints about goals against, two clean sheets. Defensive records usually win you titles.

Linfield only needed two goals to be sure of beating Ards, Cliftonville needed to score six just to be sure. I know what position i’d rather be in.

Thursday sees the draw for the Scottish Challenge Cup, where Linfield will face an away tie. Stranraer away please.

I was amused to see that the scorer of Elgin City’s winner was Steve Bronsky. I’ve no idea where in Scotland he’s from so I don’t know if he’s a Smalltown Boy.

That’s enough 80s pop jokes.

Unless Kris Lowe of Dungannon is thinking “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” as Linfield score another goal on Saturday.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 12.8.2017

After Crusaders win on Friday night, Linfield were already playing catch-up as they kicked-off their opening match of the season, just as they did for 37 out of 38 matches last season.

As Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park, they would face a Linfield side with five changes from their last domestic game, last season’s Irish Cup Final due to injury (Waterworth, Callacher, Clarke) and suspension (Burns, Lowry)

A team who usually struggles on the opening day, with five players missing and facing a team with ten men behind the ball. This had the potential of being a difficult afternoon for Linfield.

While Carrick were winning a lot of headers in the air, Linfield found other routes to get at their goal with low crosses, short corners and balls on the ground. Carrick could handle it, and it looked like a goal was coming.

Niall Quinn had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart fired over, before a low Niall Quinn shot hit the back of the net to put Linfield 1-0 up.

With only 15 minutes on the clock, it was the early goal Linfield needed to avoid getting frustrated.

Andrew Mitchell fired over as Linfield looked for a second goal, while a Jamie Mulgrew cross agonisingly evaded both Paul Smyth and Jordan Stewart when just a touch would have delivered a goal.

As half-time approached, Linfield got a second goal when Kirk Millar headed home from a Niall Quinn cross. That was surely the three points secured.

The second-half was attack against defence again, as Linfield aimed for a 3rd goal that would kill off the game, even though Carrick’s lack of attacking threat so far suggested that 2-0 would be enough.

Robert Garrett and Mark Stafford both had unsuccessful attempts at goal. Stafford was later substituted for Josh Robinson, denying him the opportunity to score against Carrick for the forth successive home game against them.

Linfield looked like getting that 3rd goal when Jordan Stewart won a penalty.

With Lowry, Burns and Waterworth not playing, there was no obvious taker. Paul Smyth had missed the only one he had taken.

Jordan Stewart stepped up and missed it, Carrick’s keeper gathering the ball on the line when it looked like he might accidentally score an own goal.

It was Linfield’s seventh penalty in their last thirteen matches, four of which have been missed. That stat doesn’t include the ridiculous penalty shoot-out against Glentoran in late July.

It didn’t matter as Linfield cruised to a 2-0 win. Carrick had so few attacks, we didn’t get to hear Roy Carroll shout “GET OUT!! GET OUT!!!”

The only disappointment was that Linfield couldn’t get more goals, a four goal win would have put them top. However, Linfield fans will know from last season that being top at the end of matchday 38 is all that matters.

Up next, a trip to Ards.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NI FOOTBALL – AUTUMN 2008

It’s a new era for Irish League football, as the top flight is reduced from 16 clubs to 12, with Michael Gault and David Rainey being the cover stars.

Northern Ireland have just started their campaign to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and there is a full page review of their opening games against Slovakia and Czech Republic, where they only got one point from those two games.

Prior to that, Northern Ireland travelled to Scotland, and this game also got reviewed, as well as supporters experience of the trip.

Aaron Hughes gets interviewed, telling NI Football that he enjoys living in London now that he plays for Fulham, having been an Aston Villa player the last time he spoke to them.

From one Northern Ireland player who used to wear claret and blue to one who does, there is an interview with Burnley striker Martin Paterson.

Iain Dowie also reviews those opening two World Cup Qualifiers, stating that Northern Ireland really missed Kyle Lafferty in those two games.

Irish League sides in Europe during the summer of 2008 also gets reviewed and analysed.

There was a story which was a load of balls. The IFA agreed a deal with Umbro to supply matchballs. In competitions, you could win a pair of Umbro boots endorsed by Peter Thompson.

Roy Walker gets a double page interview, having just been appointed as Ballymena United manager, a year after a two day stint as Glentoran manager.

Relegated on a technicality, there is a full page feature on Portadown, as they aim to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

There is also a double page feature on Northern Ireland’s underage sides, as they prepare for a busy run of fixtures.

Tim Mouncey is interviewed, spilling the beans on his team-mates, revealing that Andy Hunter is the grumpiest player at Portadown.

Warren Feeney gets interviewed having signed for Dundee United, and his ambitious to win trophies at Tannadice.

There is also a full page feature on newly promoted Bangor, who have just made Irish League history by playing in the first game to be played on a Sunday, against Glentoran at The Oval.

There are also interviews with Peter Thompson (Stockport County) and Steven Davis (Rangers, loan move made permanent) as they begin the season at new clubs.

MAINE OVAL

There have been strange goings on in East Belfast lately, most recently in Parkgate Avenue, where the entrances of The Oval have been painted …….. of all colours, blue.

Signage has gone up to indicate that it is the home of Manchester City.

Before you get excited at the thought of Pep Guardiola sipping lattes in Ballyhackamore, or consider setting up a shop in Connswater that sells inflatable bananas, it’s not what it seems.

The reason for this, is that The Oval is being used to film scenes for a forthcoming movie about Bert Trautmann and has been set up to replicate Maine Road in the 1950s and 1960s.

A sign has been left to explain this for any confused locals.

It’s not the first time The Oval has been used for filming. In the 00s, DoubleBand Films, a Belfast based film company used the venue for link shots when producing documentaries as part of the Football Stories series on Channel 4.

Glentoran and Manchester City fans have some things in common. Not only do they support teams living in the shadow of more famous and successful city rivals, they also have nightmares of when Alan Kernaghan was at their club.

Cliftonville are also in on the act, with their ground also being used to replicate Stoke City’s Victoria Ground.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : TOTAL FOOTBALL – SUMMER 2004

Three models in the kits of England, Northern Ireland and Wales is the cover image of Total Football, with all three home nations in the same World Cup Qualifying Group starting in a few months.

In news, the Northern Ireland team have announced a kit supplier deal with Umbro, and a sponsorship deal with Nationwide.

There is a profile of new Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez and the impact he has already had in his first three games in charge.

There is a profile of Irish League referee Andi Regan, as she gets ready to head to Greece to officiate at the Olympic Games football tournament.

Having just made his debut for Southampton, Alan Blayney gets profiled where he reveals he had spent a period of time training with Glentoran the previous year after suffering from homesickness.

Another player leaving Glentoran for full-time football in England was Andy Smith, who had just signed for Preston North End, and he gets a full page profile.

The models in the cover make a reappearance as they review the new kits of both local and national sides.

Getting ready for a second season of top flight football, Ballymena United manager Kenny Shiels gets interviewed.

Over the page is an interview with Loughgall manager Jim Gardiner, as the club gets ready for their first season of top flight football.

In news, Linfield have announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Umbro to run alongside their kit supplier deal.

Linfield are one of three clubs, the others being Glentoran and Portadown, whose upcoming European ties get previewed in a double page feature.

There is a double page feature with new Cliftonville manager Liam Beckett as he gets to grips with the job at Solitude.

The magazine ends with a preview of the Milk Cup.

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

So, the 2016-2017 season is over for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic look back at the season just gone.

I’ve selected some of my favourites, so feel free to vote for the one you like the best.

POLSKA

Taken back in June 2016 at Northern Ireland v Poland, I like the composition, how everyone is fixated on the action at the other end of the pitch, and the colour co-ordination of both sets of fans.



WILGAR

Taken at a pre-season game between Linfield and Dundela, it captures the joys of going to football matches in pre-season, sunshine and relaxation ahead of the hard slog ahead.



SEAVIEW

I like the framing of this, as the crowd is in position, awaiting kick-off in a big match.



CELEBRATION

Linfield fans celebrating Jimmy Callacher’s winner against Glentoran in October. I just like this for some reason other than the obvious.

PALMERSTON

There’s just something about the architecture of old football grounds that does it for me. This is out of use turnstiles at Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South.

APPEAL

Linfield fans appeal in unison, all making the same hand gestures, for a goal to be allowed. The goal was disallowed for a foul.



ELF

Taken at the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Some people like getting dressed up for Christmas.

GAYNOR

I like the composition of this, from Ross Gaynor’s posture, to substitutes chatting to each other while the game goes on.

UNITED

I like the composition of this, all eyes fixated on the penalty area and the incoming corner.

SPOT THE BALL

I like the composition of this shot, it looks like a Spot The Ball image, except that the ball is in the shot, with two players getting ready for an aerial tussle.



COLERAINE

I love the framing and seeing players in the background running to join the celebrations.

WATERWORTH

Celebrations after Andrew Waterworth’s second goal against Cliftonville, capturing the joy of the event and the achievement just about to happen.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

March’s football watching began for me at Seaview, watching Linfield put Crusaders out of the Irish Cup.

There was a bit of a wait until my next match of the month as Linfield’s home match against Cliftonville was put back to the Monday night for live TV coverage.

I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday, as Ards were the visitors.

The month ended with two games in the one weekend – Linfield’s long trip to Ballinamallard, and Norway’s even longer trip to Northern Ireland for a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, a match which resulted in a disappointing 1-0 defeat for Linfield.

It was then the Irish Cup for me, heading to The Oval to see Linfield get an extra-time win over Glentoran.

The following Saturday, another away game for Linfield, this time to Glenavon, and another 2-1 win for Linfield.

It was back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My football watching for the month ended with a trip to Stangmore Park to see Linfield secure a 4-1 win against Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December 2016 began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and record a routine 3-0 win.

The following weekend, was a trip to Clandeboye Park, Linfield’s first competitive game there since February 2009, a routine 2-0 win over Ards.

The games got harder and more dramatic, with a late win over Ballymena United coming the following weekend, ruining David Jeffrey’s first return to Windsor Park.

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday in 2016, it meant that the Steel and Sons Cup Final was held on Christmas Eve, which I attended. Even more of a bonus was the fact that Linfield Swifts were in it, beating Dundela 3-1 to win the trophy for the first time since 1997.

Two days later came the highlight of the Christmas footballing calendar, Boxing Day. It was a bit crap in comparison to the previous four years.

The month, and the year, ended on a high, with Linfield going to Seaview and getting a vital win in the title race.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield