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.

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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.

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COLERAINE 1-0 LINFIELD 26.10.2019

All season, Linfield have been trying to climb to the top of the Irish League table. For most of the season, the peak seemed a long way off. Gradually, win by win, the gap has got close and closer.

Tuesday night’s win over Warrenpoint Town put Linfield only two points off the top of the table, the closest they have been since August.

Just as against Crusaders at the start of October, as soon as Linfeld looked to cut the gap, the gap got bigger.

Games in hand mean Linfield still have the title destiny in their own hands, but another poor result in a big domestic game remains a sense of frustration.

For me, this was my first trip to Coleraine by train, with the ground being a short walk from the station …. or so I thought.

A few observations. I find it absolutely incredible in this day and age that Great Victoria Street doesn’t have self service ticket machines. It is also a very poorly designed train station. Want to know what I mean? Try and walk to the platform after a train has just arrived.

Hopefully, the planned Belfast Transport Hub will address this.

I got off at Central, and the newly built retail units are still empty, which is a bit embarrassing.

Getting off at Coleraine, there was a wait to walk to the ground as the road was closed as it is a Level Crossing and we needed to wait for the train to leave the station. Although, on the way back, I did notice a shortcut from the station to the ground, which i’ll make use of in future.

From there, we were then made to walk the long way around through an industrial estate. This delay meant I missed the opening minute of the game.

I got in just in time to see Ben Doherty have a shot saved by Rohan Ferguson. Even if it did go in, it still would have been a better start for Linfield than when the sides met in August, going 1-0 down after 13 seconds.

There were two changes for Linfield with Niall Quinn and Mark Stafford coming in for Matthew Clarke and Ross Larkin, harsh on both players who did well on Tuesday.

Aaron Traynor then had a shot over the bar as Coleraine continued the pressure. Traynor would then be later denied by two Linfield players charging at him to block a shot and make the goal smaller, similar to when Andrew Burns was forced to hit his shot into the side netting last week.

Linfield’s response was a shot by Bastien Hery which hit the post. Encouraged by this, Hery had a later shot from a similar range which was easily held by Chris Johns.

Eoin Bradley then got in behind Jimmy Callacher but his shot was saved by Rohan Ferguson.

Having got in at half-time 0-0, Linfield would have to improve in the second-half.

Wherever they play, if Linfield are attacking where their own fans, they always have a chance.

Linfield were brighter as an attacking force, but still not troubling Coleraine. Coleraine’s attacks were much more believable.

After managing to frustrate Coleraine, Linfield almost gifted Coleraine a goal, when Rohan Ferguson was caught in possession, but managed to put pressure on Eoin Bradley and make the goal smaller, making the save when Bradley tried to score from a wide angle.

In search of a goal, Linfield brought on Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth for Joel Cooper and Shayne Lavery.

However, it a game that looked like it was meandering to a 0-0 draw, it was Coleraine who got the breakthrough with ten minutes to go when Mark Stafford headed the ball into his own net when trying to clear the ball.

To make it worse, the goal came from a cheaply conceded corner.

It’s the second successive week where Linfield have conceded from Rohan Ferguson not being assertive enough.

When the ball comes in, just get it. If there are bodies in the road, just get it. If one of your own players is in the road, just go and get the ball. Hopefully, he’ll work on it.

It was a poor goal to concede on so many levels, in terms of time of the game, importance and the quality of the goal.

Linfield responded by bringing on Matthew Shevlin for Bastien Hery, as they attacked a goal where the Ballboys had mysteriously disappeared, being stood down, their work for the day was done.

Naturally, given the situation, Linfield had more of the ball, but never really did enough with it, all they could offer was a Jimmy Callacher header and a hooked Matthew Shevlin effort that didn’t force Chris Johns into a save.

Coleraine held out for the win, increasing their lead over Linfield to five points, and giving them a three point lead over Crusaders, although Crusaders could have overtaken them with a large win over Glenavon in a 5pm kick-off. They drew 2-2, which made this result even more frustrating.

Linfield’s two games in hand mean that if they win them, they will go top.

Trips to Ballymena and Larne won’t be easy, but they are mid table teams, we should be believing we will beat them if we want to win the League, especially as Coleraine and Crusaders are yet to beat them.

The table is now starting to take shape.

Carrick Rangers, Institute and Warrenpoint Town are now marooned as the bottom three.

It’s hard to assess Glenavon. Presently, they are in a relegation fight, but if they win their two games in hand (or even get four points), they will join Dungannon Swifts, Ballymena United and Larne in the race for 6th.

The top five are starting to pull away from the rest.

Despite one point from four games against the sides above them, Glentoran are only six points off the top. You have to count them in the title race. If they had beaten Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts in August, they’d only be one point off the top

Like Cliftonville, currently one point off the top, i’d expect them to be a bit further back by the time everybody plays each other twice.

It is interesting to note that Crusaders have gone four games without a win. If that was Linfield, it would be front page news.

Crusaders also concede goals. 4 x Coleraine, 2 v Coleraine, 2 v Glentoran and 2 v Glenavon twice.

It makes our failure to score against them this season even more frustrating.

It’s Coleraine that Linfield really have to worry about.

Their doing better than expected as I thought it might take a season to get back on track after their 2017-2018 team was decimated.

Three defeats out of three to Coleraine and Crusaders is a concern, especially the manner, a lack of creativity after falling behind to bad goals each time. In games of fine margins, we have to make everything count.

One positive is that Oran Kearney will win Manager Of The Month, which will jinx him.

If it does, we have to take advantage. Thankfully, we’ve got a generous run of games coming up in November.

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LINFIELD 7-0 WARRENPOINT TOWN 22.10.2019

This was a match that Linfield had to wait two months to play, and it turned out to be worth the wait.

The postponement would have been a source of frustration for those who turn up at the match in their Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt before heading to the Aul Boys Punk Bank Holiday Weekender.

Originally scheduled for August, this match was postponed due to Linfield’s involvement in European competition. As a result of their inactivity, Linfield have been playing catch-up since August.

With each win, they’ve gradually got closer to the top. If they could win this, the first of three games in hand, they would get within two points of the top of the table, and still have two games in hand.

Mark Stafford and Kirk Millar made Birthday Goals quite trendy in August, so the postponement was frustrating for Daniel Kearns, whose birthday was two days after the original date.

He continued to miss out through injury, but this match represented a first League start for Ross Larkin.

He looked comfortable when he had the ball. It was hard to analyse his defending because he didn’t have any to do, apart from blocking a cross out for a corner.

Just like on Saturday, Linfield attacked The Kop in the first-half, meaning a quick change of seat. I missed the opening seconds of the game, but got in just in time to see Shayne Lavery causing trouble for Warrenpoint’s defence

The pressure continued, Warrenpoint couldn’t get out of their own half.

Even though Linfield have an excellent record against Warrenpoint (Fourteen wins and two draws from sixteen meetings), some of the previous meetings had been dicey.

It was easy to forget that Warrenpoint had drawn two of their previous three visits to Windsor Park. Linfield’s 4-0 win on Warrenpoint’s last visit had some nervy moments at 0-0 and 1-0.

The key was for Linfield to get an early goal, so that Warrenpoint wouldn’t anything to hold on to or defend. There wasn’t long to wait, just 6 minutes in when Stephen Fallon curled home from the edge of the box.

It looked like there were only two players on the pitch as Shayne Lavery had a personal battle with Beerat Turker, with Warrenpoint’s keeper denying Lavery three times.

Lavery was only going to have a frustrating evening for so long, and he eventually got his goal when he finished from a Joel Cooper cross.

A 2-0 lead was key for Linfield. At 1-0, Warrenpoint would have been determined to stay in the game and maybe nick something late on. There was no way they going to score two. Two touched in Linfield’s half was looking ambitious.

Kirk Millar, Ryan McGivern and Matthew Clarke all had efforts denied before Shayne Lavery made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time after getting in behind Warrenpoint’s defence, beating the keeper to the ball, and then backheeling the ball into the empty net. As you do.

Even I, naturally cautious, knew that the points were in the bag.

The only question, was what would the winning margin be?

This was the third of four midweek games in October, a month that would see them play eight games. It would be understandable if they were to take things easy in the second-half, just as they did against Dungannon Swifts earlier in the month.

Nope, was the answer. Within a few minutes, Shayne Lavery cut in from the left and fired home to complete his hat-trick, a bit longer than it took to complete against Glenavon earlier in the season.

You knew it was going in as soon as he set himself up to shoot.

His frustration from earlier in the evening was now gone, although he was probably rueing the double hat-trick that got away.

Job done for the night, Lavery and Jamie Mulgrew were able to put their feet up, with Matthew Shevlin and Jordan Stewart coming on for some much needed minutes.

It was then 5-0 when Joel Cooper headed home, and then 6-0 from Cooper again. Now he wanted a hat-trick.

There was still time for some more saves from Beerat Turket, with Matthew Shevlin being the man frustrated.

By this stage, Trai Hume was now brought on as a substitute for Ross Larkin, who had a slight injury.

It was definitely ok to bring Hume on, there would be no objections from the County Antrim FA.

Just before the end, Cooper made it 7-0 to complete his hat-trick. It was the first time i’d ever been to a match where two players scored a hat-trick, and both of them stayed on the pitch after the final whistle for the obligatory photo holding a matchball in one hand holding three fingers with the other.

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LINFIELD 2-1 BALLYMENA UNITED 19.10.2019

When Linfield fell ten points behind Crusaders at the top of the table at the start of the month, the idea that they could be two points behind them two and a half weeks later seemed far fetched, but that is how Linfield could be kicking off next Saturday.

This season has swung from one extreme to the other for Linfield, and today was no different. What looked like being a routine afternoon’s work suddenly became nervous as 5pm approached.

The team news was a mixed bag for Linfield. Niall Quinn was missing, but Bastien Hery was back from injury and Shayne Lavery back after international duty, and there was a place on the bench for Jordan Stewart after injury.

Quinn’s injury meant that Ryan McGivern came in, with Linfield going three at the back just as they did in the League meeting in February.

Though Linfield won that day, the formation didn’t really work.

There was a dramatic shock early on, but it was Linfield’s fans who got caught out, rather than their players.

In the last few years, Linfield usually attack The Kop in the first-half, but today, they were attacking the Railway Stand.

Those of us who like to sit where the team is attacking had to make a quick dash to the other end of the South Stand.

I was one of those, and missed the opening minute, and arrived just in time to see Shayne Lavery hassling a defender and dispossessing him in order to create an opportunity. It was as if he’d never been away.

Linfield had a lot of early pressure, but the closest they came to scoring was a Kirk Millar effort that went wide.

Ballymena rode out that pressure but the best that they could offer was a Leroy Millar shot that hit the top of the crossbar. I was at the other end and it looked closer than it actually was.

After a lull, Linfield got back on top, and took the lead when Joel Cooper created space for himself on the right and fired home with his left foot. That meant he had scored both times he had faced Ballymena at Windsor Park, having scored the winner at Windsor Park last September.

A lot of Linfield’s attacking play was coming from the right hand side, with Cooper and Hery having a lot of joy specifically. Every time they got the ball, there would usually be a Ballymena defender (or defenders, in a lot of cases) bamboozled as to how he got away from them.

As half-time approached, Kirk Millar found himself free on the right hand side. He only had one person to find, Joel Cooper, but he found him, a chest touch from Cooper giving him enough space to fire home and make it 2-0.

Not much happened in the second-half. The only moment of note in the early stages was a Joel Cooper shot that was blocked as he chased his hat-trick.

Cooper didn’t get the full 90 minutes to get a hat-trick as he limped off after a series of robust challenges. At 2-0 up, there was no need to take risks, especially with midweek games over the next two weeks.

The good news, was a return to action from the bench after two months out for Jordan Stewart. He looked like he was going to put Linfield 3-0 up when a clearance landed perfectly for him, only for a Ballymena defender to get in the road and block the shot.

Before that, Andrew Burns hit the side netting after a free-kick was punched away. However, a crowd of Linfield players blocking his sight at goal, it was the only place he could put it.

Linfield responded with Matthew Clarke bursting through Ballymena’s defence, only to shoot over. Clarke was having an enjoyable afternoon playing a lot more forward than he usually does.

Linfield needed a third goal just to be sure, despite Ballymena not offering much of an attacking threat.

For the final minutes, Andrew Waterworth and Charlie Allen came on from the bench.

As injury time approached, the game took a sudden swing when Jimmy Callacher diverted a cross goalwards, his momentum forcing the ball through Rohan Ferguson.

It was a goal that came out of nowhere. Looking at the footage, if Callacher doesn’t go for it, a Ballymena player scores anyway.

Even though Ballymena had a lot of the ball in injury time, they never looked like getting an undeserved equaliser, as Linfield held out for the win.

There would be an injury time goal in Belfast that affected the top of the table, thankfully not at Windsor Park.

Coleraine’s 2-0 win over Crusaders put them top of the table on goal difference.

On Radio Ulster, Liam Beckett said a Coleraine win would have been a perfect result for Linfield.

To be honest, a draw would have been perfect, but a win for either side could have had a spin put on it by Linfield fans, as long as their side did the business, which they did.

The table is now starting to take shape, as the second round of fixtures have kicked off.

The bottom three are who you expect them to be, while Glenavon are stuck in a no man’s land due to their games in hand. If they lose them, they’ll officially be in a relegation fight.

Ballymena United, Larne and Dungannon Swifts are battling it out for 6th. I know I wrote Ballymena United out of the title race after defeat at Windsor Park in September last year and looked very stupid a few months later, I think it is safe to do so this time around.

Despite only getting one point from four games against teams above them, somehow, Glentoran are only six points off the top. I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Despite only one point from three games against the Top 4, Cliftonville are only one point off the top. Like with Glentoran, I would expect that gap to increase by the time we get to Matchday 22.

Crusaders are there for the taking and have hit a brick wall. That makes the defeat to them even worse. Out of them and Coleraine, Linfield should be more than concerned about Coleraine,

On Tuesday night, Linfield are at home to Warrenpoint in the first of their three rearranged games from late Summer.

If Linfield can win that (they should, even though Warrenpoint have drawn two of their last three visits), they will be only two points off the top with two games in hand.

It will be a huge psychological blow to strike, as for the first time since the opening weeks, Linfield will be in touching distance of the top, and Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville will start having to worry about us.

That would set things up nicely for next Saturday’s trip to Coleraine. Six points over the next week would send out a message to the rest of the League, especially with the next two League matches coming against two of the bottom three.

With one game in hand set to be played, another will have to be rearranged due to the Unite The Union Cup.

That means the home match against Dungannon will have to be postponed.

To be honest, the matches against Dundalk feel like an unnecessary distraction.

I’ve not sure if there is a TV deal for it, but I thought such a fixture would have been played in May, at the end of the Irish League season, which would be more attractive for broadcasters.

Unfortunately for me, i’ll miss the game at Windsor Park on the Friday night as i’ll be flying back from Manchester. Hope it finishes 0-0, with Linfield winning at Oriel Park obviously.

I’ve never been to Oriel Park, but i’ll wait on the arrangements before I decide if I go.

Talking of United matches, the game against Burnley i’m going to has been confirmed for Wednesday night at 8.15pm. It means I won’t have a day trip with a free Wednesday as I did earlier this year.

Thankfully, it wasn’t moved to Thursday night like Wolves v Liverpool, as I would have missed out altogether. I’ll keep an eye out for a game in Greater Manchester on the Tuesday.

The next Football Trip for me is Coleraine away next Saturday, i’ll be getting the train. How very exciting.

Linfield will be hoping to reach their destination at the top of the table. They’ll need other results to go their way to get their on Saturday, but hopefully, they’ll be on track.

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DUNGANNON SWIFTS 1-4 LINFIELD 12.10.2019

Linfield enjoyed their visit to Stangmore Park on Tuesday night they decided to come back on the Saturday, and enjoyed themselves just as much.

This game was the second in a double header of away games against Dungannon Swifts. The objective on Tuesday was advancing in the NIFL Cup, this match was about getting three points and getting the title challenge back on track after defeat the previous weekend.

Linfield’s results in recent years against Dungannon have been decent, unbeaten since 2013, and winning the last four meetings. It’s been almost too good. Dungannon are due one against us, which makes me nervous going into games against them.

This run of results has gone one of two ways – a resounding win for Linfield by four or five goals, or an undeserved scrappy one goal win.

Curiously, the last time that 12th October fell on a Saturday was in 2013. Who did Linfield play that day? Dungannon Swifts, a 2-0 win at Windsor Park with both the goals coming from Andrew Waterworth.

The most memorable thing about that game was the fact it kicked-off at 3.45pm due to the motorway being closed that morning due to a bomb scare.

Six years on, Andrew Waterworth was still scoring against Dungannon, and arrived looking to score on his fourth successive visit to Stangmore Park, having been restored to Linfield’s starting eleven due to Shayne Lavery being unavailable due to being in the Northern Ireland squad.

He wasn’t the only Andrew returning to the starting eleven, with Andrew Mitchell coming in for the injured Bastien Hery.

Linfield had a lot of early pressure, the closest they came was when a Stephen Fallon shot was saved by the legs of Niall Morgan.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to take the lead, as Andrew Waterworth finished from close range after a Joel Cooper cross, the fourth successive game at Stangmore Park in which he scored. He also scored at around the same time he scored when the sides last met in March last season, if you believe in omens.

Even at this early stage, it was clear that Dungannon were struggling to handle Joel Cooper, and Linfield weren’t slow in exploiting it. Every time he got the ball he was usually clear, in space and looking to cross.

Despite this, Linfield needed a two goal lead, especially as Rohan Ferguson was forced into a save after Sean Noble got in behind Linfield’s defence.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to get a second goal, after Kirk Millar was played through on goal.

I was shouting for him to smash it low across the keeper, but what do I know, he chipped the keeper in an replica of his second goal against Sutjeska in August. His best goalscoring season at the club continues, long may it continue.

A few minutes later, it was 3-0 when Joel Cooper broke clear down the left and fired home low. That meant that all of Linfield’s front three had found the net.

That surely meant the points were in the bag, but Linfield made absolutely certain of it by going 4-0 up in the final minutes of the half.

As players were queuing up to score, Matthew Clarke cross for Kirk Millar to head home.

Pointless stat for you, but Linfield have scored at least four in a game on at least one occasion against every team they have faced in the League since David Healy became Manager in October 2015 apart from two. The answer may surprise you – Carrick Rangers and Newry City.

This was the sixth time Linfield had scored at least four against Dungannon Swifts during that four year period.

Having had a game in midweek and with midweek games in the next three weeks, it was no surprise that the second-half was a non event, with energy needing to be saved with big games coming up in the next few weeks.

A goalmouth scramble was the closest Linfield came to making it 5-0.

There would be a goal in the second-half, but it came for Dungannon Swifts when Daniel Hughes fired home to make it 4-1. Thankfully, there was never a danger of Dungannon making a comeback.

It was disappointing to concede in terms of Goal Difference. Linfield are seven worse than Crusaders and five worse than Coleraine in that regard, but with three games in hand, and a further twenty-seven to play after that, so there is no need to panic.

The only other moment of note in the second-half was when a cross was intercepted by a Dungannon defender, much to the frustration of Kirk Millar, who was set to put the ball home for a hat-trick.

The only thing of note, on the pitch that is.

During the first-half, an announcement was made over the tannoy for someone to remove their car as it was blocking a Farmer’s Field. A further announcement was made that the PSNI were arriving to remove the vehicle.

Whilst we were all waiting on the outcome of this situation, there is no announcement, so we’ll never know what happened.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield made three subs, with Joel Cooper, Andrew Waterworth and Kirk Millar getting an early rest, with a League debut for teenager Charlie Allen.

Other results saw Ballymena United draw with Crusaders, which was good for Linfield on two regards. Ballymena have snuck under the radar, but if they won this game and their game in hand (at home to Linfield), they would only be four points off the top of the table, so it is good to start opening up a gap on them.

We have a great opportunity to extend that next weekend when Ballymena United come to Windsor Park. It is a ground where David Jeffrey hasn’t won in his last eleven games there, including nine defeats in a row. Let’s make it ten.

This weekend should have been Matchday 11, when everybody should have played each other once, a good barometer of where teams are it.

It is for only five clubs, with the others having games in hand due to postponements caused by Linfield and Glenavon’s involvement in international competitions.

A few observations so far. Glentoran and Larne are at best going to be scrambling for Top 6 despite the hype. Larne’s only wins this season have come against the Bottom Four.

Coleraine draw too many games and Crusaders concede too many goals.

Cliftonville are doing better than I expected, but it is interesting to note their only defeats have come against Linfield, Crusaders and Ballymena United, so they come up short against the top teams.

Linfield can’t really say much with their only dropped points coming in defeats to Coleraine and Crusaders.

We’ll need to remedy that, and we’ll get a chance with a trip to Coleraine at the end of October.

Before that, Coleraine play Crusaders at Seaview. It makes a win against Ballymena even more vital. Not only will we pull clear of Ballymena, but we’ll take advantage of what happens at Seaview.

Whatever the outcome, there’s no bad result, but only if we win, as we’ll cut the gap on at least one, possibly two rivals.

And then, we’ll be ticking off one of our games in hand in the midweek after.

Talking of Glenavon, they lost 3-1 to Raith Rovers in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers Cup, with the first goal for Raith coming from a player called Bowie, who I believe was their Star Man.

Glenavon took Linfield’s place in the competition. As much as I would have enjoyed a weekend in Edinburgh (to base myself for the game in Fife) and a walk up Arthur’s Seat, I can see why the club decline the invitation to enter the competition.

If we were playing in it, wins over Cliftonville and Dungannon would be postponed and still to be played. We’d be six points worse off and 8th and fourteen points off the top, albeit with five games in hand.

If I was in Edinburgh, I may have been tempted to do a day trip in Glasgow to see Scotland v San Marino. That temptation would end at £30 a ticket.

If things had worked out differently, I may have been going to see a Euro 2020 Qualifier as a neutral.

I’m taking a short visit to Vilnius in November for a break. My original choice of date was this week (Sunday to Wednesday), to take in Lithuania v Serbia while i’m there. However, the flight dates didn’t suit as I needed to be back on Wednesday for Two Door Cinema Club.

Up next for Linfield, is a County Antrim Shield match at home against Cliftonville, after being drawn at home to Cliftonville in the NIFL Cup.

The big matches keep on coming. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

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CRUSADERS 1-0 LINFIELD 4.10.2019

A first live Friday night TV Game of the season saw Linfield head to Seaview looking to close the gap at the top of the table. Unfortunatley, it got bigger, but there is no need to panic.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s starting eleven was the same as the one that began the previous match, a 7-0 win over Glenavon.

There was one surprise at the start of the game, as Linfield attacked the Shore Road in the first-half where their fans were based. I think the last time that happened was April 2014.

Those fans that were at that end didn’t see a lot of attacking action from Linfield. There wasn’t a lot of attacking action from Crusaders thankfully, bar a Jordan Owens shot that was blocked.

Linfield’s first real attacking moment of note came from a Mark Stafford header under pressure that went wide.

The main talking point, and recurring theme of the half, was the number of yellow cards for fouls on Jamie Mulgrew. It’s not often you can put brains and Crusaders in the same sentence, but they had the brains to do it on a rotating basis in order to avoid getting a second yellow.

Billy Joe Burns hit the side netting in Crusaders next attacking moment of note. You would have been disappointed if the keeper was beaten from there.

Stephen Fallon then had an inswinging cross that went just wide and Matthew Clarke had a shot saved as Linfield ended the first-half strongly.

They couldn’t get the goal. The better team but not dominant, but good foundations to build on for the second-half.

Those foundations tumbled in the opening minutes when Kirk Millar’s misplaced pass was seized upon by Rory Hale who curled home from outside the box.

Within a few minutes, Joel Cooper had a shot blocked while a Crusaders counter attack saw Ross Clarke’s low shot blocked by Rohan Ferguson.

That effort from Cooper was Linfield’s only response in the aftermath of the Crusaders goal.

David Healy turned to his bench in search of an equaliser, bringing on Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin and Daniel Reynolds from the bench.

Despite those three options, as I said a few weeks back, the attacking options from the bench don’t seem as plentiful while Jordan Stewart and Daniel Kearns are unavailable.

As we approached injury time, it looked like Linfield were going to get their big chance when the ball fell perfectly for Daniel Reynolds on the edge of the penalty area, but his low shot was saved by the legs of Gerard Doherty.

It confirmed that it was going to be a frustrating evening for Linfield, even more so when Shayne Lavery was laughably booked for being barged over in the left win position.

Stephen Fallon had a long range shot go wide in the final seconds as Linfield’s six match winning run ended.

It was a frustrating result on so many levels. Crusaders were there for the taking. Not just in the first-half. Crusaders had conceded eight goals in their previous three games and were vulnerable. We didn’t work their defence enough in the second-half.

If Linfield had as much urgency as we did in the final minutes much earlier, they would have got something out of this game.

There is no need to panic. Crusaders aren’t as far away as they seem. If Linfield win their games in hand, they will only be two points behind Crusaders.

There was nothing in this game that suggested Crusaders are a team to be feared. I’d be very disappointed if Linfield don’t get at least seven points from the remaining three League games.

A run of three defeats in four against Crusaders is worrying. A recurring theme, not taking your chances and not blocking speculative long range shots.

We have to do what we did after the Coleraine match in August, dust ourselves down and go again. That will involve two trips to Dungannon in four days.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville won 1-0 at The Oval while Larne could only beat Glenavon 6-0. As I type, Coleraine lead 4-1 at Carrick.

It might not be a bad thing for there to be a traffic jam at the top of the League. Linfield can take advantage of other teams playing under pressure and taking points off each other.

Frustratingly, Ballymena United are out of the Scottish Challenge Cup, as if they were involved, their match against Crusaders would have been postponed, giving Linfield an opportunity to but the lead.

A disappointing night but no need to panic. Having three games postponed in August/September meant that the climb to the top was always going to be a long climb. This is just a stumble rather than a fall.

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LINFIELD 7-0 GLENAVON 28.9.2019

With three matches postponed due to European involvement and international call-ups, Linfield’s season got off to a false start, hoping that a run of wins in September would kickstart their season.

Glenavon would say that their season also got off to a false start and were hoping that a run of September wind would kickstart their season.

Their circumstances were different to Linfield’s, as it was a series of dropped points and one postponement due to the Scottish Challenge Cup (Ironically, because Linfield declined to take part) have seen them be closer to the Relegation Zone than the top of the League, which is why they were looking for a (late) September run of form to kickstart their season.

They got one of those wins as a starting point, last Saturday against Ballymena United. A bit of a shock to this Observer, as I had expected Ballymena to leave Mourneview Park with three points.

Linfield had two changes to their starting eleven from their last outing, with Jamie Mulgrew coming in for Andrew Waterworth as Linfield reverted to a 4-3-3/4-5-1.

That meant Ryan McGivern dropped to the bench to make way for Matthew Clarke, with Niall Quinn moving to right-back.

To be honest, I wasn’t too sure about that as i’m not a fan of playing left footed players at Right-Back, Andrew Mitchell would have been a better option to slot in there instead of Clarke.

As it turned out, Glenavon barely got a chance to attack Quinn. Anyway, he will argue that he’s not too bad on his right, having used it to open the score at Carrick on Monday night.

Linfield’s first two games upon return from Europe were 1-0 wins. We wanted more goals. Be careful what you wish for, we got five at Ballinamallard, but at the cost of four goals conceded at the other end. Linfield fans were waiting for their side to get the balance just perfect.

Linfield were straight on the attack and were rewarded on three minutes when Shayne Lavery poked home from twelve yards after a cross from Joel Cooper.

There was an element of luck to the goal as the ball came to Cooper after his pass to Matthew Clarke was intercepted. From where I was sat, it looked like Clarke was offside, but the ball never got to him. Cooper made the most of his second chance.

It was Linfield’s first goal against Glenavon at Windsor Park since Andrew Waterworth scored a pointless consolation goal with the last kick of a 3-2 defeat in January 2018. Curiously, Linfield went 1-0 up after 3 minutes that day.

If Glenavon thought Linfield were going to take it easy, they were wrong, Shayne Lavery letting Glenavon defenders know they were in for a torrid afternoon by charging down a clearance, but not getting the luck his tenacity deserved as the ball went out for a goal kick.

Soon after, Niall Quinn went just wide with his right foot, trying to recreate his goal against Carrick.

It was clear from the opening minutes that Linfield were up for this, Bastien Hery running things in midfield, every time he got the ball, he was spoilt for choice for attacking options. They just needed a second goal to truly take advantage of their superiority.

They almost got it when Joel Cooper had a header saved by Jonathan Tuffey, and then hit the woodwork with the rebound.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield, as Bastien Hery played Kirk Millar in, who waited for Shayne Lavery to amend his run to be on the end of a cross. Lavery’s shot was scuffed, but it went in. If you make the run and aim for goal, you make your own luck.

Hery then got an inadvertent assist when his shot was blocked, but fell perfectly to Shayne Lavery to finish to make it 3-0, a hat-trick inside the opening 14 minutes, just like Andrew Waterworth against Cliftonville in 2017. Any excuse to bring up that match.

Lavery and Hery will get all the headlines from this game, but the contribution of Millar and Cooper shouldn’t go unnoticed. Everytime Hery, Fallon or Mulgrew got the ball, Millar and Cooper were usually in space, looking for the ball. When they got it, they were rarely wasteful with it.

Lavery then had a spectacular effort go just wide as Linfield looked to make it 4-0.

In the interest of balance, it should be noted that Glenavon did have an attempt on goal, Andrew Mitchell having a shot saved from a wide angle.

A big save, as there still would have been time for a Glenavon comeback at 3-1, you don’t want to give the opposition any encouragement.

That was it as far as Glenavon were concerned as an attacking threat.

The next goal came for Linfield, when Bastien Hery fired home from the edge of the box with his right foot after a pass from Matthew Clarke. Throughout the attack, it always looked like Linfield had an extra man available for a pass.

Just before that, Stephen Fallon had a shot well saved, in a game where he had a silent influence.

Every time a Glenavon player had the ball, their second touch was …… they didn’t get a second touch as they were dispossessed by Fallon.

Jack O’Mahony had a shot tipped over as Glenavon looked to launch an unlikely comeback. It was never going to happen.

Joel Cooper made it 5-0 just afterwards just to be sure. Yep, i’m being that guy.

It wouldn’t be a Linfield goalfest without Jimmy Callacher getting involved, and he obliged to make it 6-0, his first goal at Windsor Park since Boxing Day, after Glenavon couldn’t clear the ball after a Shayne Lavery header was cleared off the line.

Just like the other goals, there were always options for Linfield when the ball came into the box.

If Callacher missed the header, Kirk Millar would have scored. If he hit the post, Mark Stafford would have scored the rebound.

With the points in the bag, David Healy rested some players, bringing on Andrew Waterworth, Daniel Reynolds and Matthew Shevlin.

Stephen Fallon hit the bar before Andrew Waterworth made it 7-0, heading home from a Kirk Millar cross.

Again, there were more attacking options for Linfield. If Waterworth didn’t get the header, Matthew Shevlin would have scored.

The referee took mercy on Glenavon by only playing five seconds of injury time.

Results elsewhere mean that Linfield have now moved up to 4th.

It was always going to take a while to climb the table, but with teams above us playing each other over coming weeks, Linfield knew if they kept winning, ground would be made up.

When Linfield face Cliftonville, they knew they would end the day no higher than 9th even if they won. Each matchday, Linfield have climbed, 9th to 8th to 5th to 4th.

If results go their way next weekend, they could be 2nd. They’ll be at least 3rd if they get three points on Friday night.

That match, is away to Crusaders, live on BBC Two. It’s a match that has 0-0 written all over it to be honest, after both teams went goal crazy on Saturday.

The difference is, Crusaders aren’t keeping them out at the other end, conceding eight goals in their last three League matches, against Glenavon, Coleraine and Glentoran.

Linfield can exploit that. There is nothing to feat. Let them worry about us, and we have a lot that will worry them.

A curious fact about this game, was that I saw a cat loitering at the South Stand entrance as I entered the ground. The only time I’ve seen a cat at a Linfield match was when one ran onto the pitch during the game at Warrenpoint last season.

I’ve not suggesting there’s a correlation between cats in the ground and heavy wins, but feel free to bring a cat to Seaview to test the theory out.

As an addendum to the Carrick blog, I’ve actually read up on the European Conference League. It sounds shit to be honest.

Talking of shit competitions, the UEFA Nations League has been restructured, meaning Northern Ireland are in League B instead of League C. It’s still a reward for mediocrity.

Onto Seaview, for a game that won’t make or break Linfield’s season, but it will be nice to issue a statement of intent early on.

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CARRICK RANGERS 0-3 LINFIELD 23.9.2019

This was not a night for football. This was a night for putting your feet up in front of the TV. Ironic, for a match that was broadcast live on TV.

When this game was announced for live broadcast, Linfield were hoping that this game being on a Monday night would give them extra recovery time from their opening UEFA Cup group match (I promise, that will be my last mention of the UEFA Cup until I go to see United v Partizan Belgrade in November) but instead, they were recovering from a League Cup tie at Ballinamallard.

They needed it too. A long trip and extra-time. I think Sky did Linfield a favour by pushing this game back to Monday night.

Not that I was thinking that when I was getting drenched. As soon as I saw how lovely the weather was, I knew it was going to chuck it down when this match started.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw two injury enforced changes from their last League match, with Jamie Mulgrew being replaced by Stephen Fallon and Chris Casement was replaced by Ryan McGivern, forcing Linfield to line-up in a 3-5-2 formation.

A bit surprising, as Andrew Mitchell, on the bench could have slotted in at right-back, or Trai Hume, another substitute, could have started, meaning there would be no need for a tactical reshuffle.

Linfield struggled at times in the first-half due to the inclement weather. We got a taste of that in the opening ten seconds when Jimmy Callacher misjudged a header back to Rohan Ferguson at the cost of a soft corner.

If it was more central, it would have been 1-0 to Carrick.

The danger wasn’t cleared yet, and from the resulting corner, Rohan Ferguson missed it, and was relieved to see Daniel Kelly head over.

Within a minute, Linfield were rueing a missed header of their own when Mark Stafford headed wide from a few yards out. He really should have scored. From where I was stood, it looked like he did.

Stafford has a good goalscoring record against Carrick, but only at Windsor Park. He was still looking for his first goal at Taylor’s Avenue.

Carrick were encouraged by their start, especially so when Daniel Kelly had a header tipped over by Rohan Ferguson, in a game that mirrored some of my previous visits to Taylor’s Avenue.

In 2015, Carrick were giving as good as they were getting, while the weather mirrored my visit in 2018.

Linfield’s best attacking moments usually came when Joel Cooper or Shayne Lavery got on the ball. Despite that, Linfield couldn’t create any clear chances.

It was Carrick who had the best opportunity to score when a poor backpass played in Stewart Nixon, who rolled the ball into the side netting from a wide angle.

From where I was stood, it looked like he had scored. He probably should have scored.

To be honest, Linfield fans were happy to take 0-0 at half-time.

It looked like that was going to be the half-time score, until the very last seconds when Niall Quinn managed to create space and fire home low with his right foot.

Undeserved, but Linfield were happy to take it.

It mirrored Linfield’s game there in 2017, where they had to wait until injury time in the first-half to take the lead.

Although, that was the only time Linfield had managed a first-half goal at Taylor’s Avenue since Carrick were promoted in 2015.

You always felt the first goal would be key in this game. If Linfield could get it, it would deflate Carrick’s enthusiasm. At least, that was the hope.

Linfield were out to make Carrick pay for their missed opportunities in the early stages of the second-half, with both Quinn and Lavery both hitting the crossbar, while Ryan McGivern had a shot saved.

If Linfield needed a reminded that they needed a second to be sure of the points, it came when Reece Neale flashed a shot just wide.

Neale’s luck didn’t improve when he flicked a Kirk Millar free-kick into his own net to put Linfield 2-0 up.

That goal Linfield in a strong position, a header from Mark Stafford, a customary goal against Carrick made it 3-0 on 75 minutes and secured the points.

This lead gave David Healy an opportunity to rest some players and give gametime to players who haven’t had much of it this season – Andrew Mitchell, Ross Larkin and Daniel Reynolds.

The only other moment of note in the rest of the game was some magic by Joel Cooper to work himself into a shooting position when it didn’t look possible, only to hit the sidenetting from a wide position.

A two goal defeat would have dropped Linfield from 8th to 9th, but this win moved them up to 5th. They would have been 4th if it wasn’t for Glentoran’s late winner against Warrenpoint on Saturday. If they win their games in hand, they will go top, which is where they want to be.

Elsewhere on Monday night, Dundalk won the League Of Ireland, meaning they will play Linfield in the Unite The Union Cup, two more games which will have to be arranged.

Linfield have already started getting dates arranged for their three outstanding League matches, with Warrenpoint Town visiting Windsor Park on Tuesday 22nd October. A handy double for me, as i’ll be heading to OMD the following night.

Last week, Easyjet released their Summer 2020 flights. I’d hoped to jump in and nab a brgain weekend in London for The 12th, to be there for the Euro 2020 Final.

£150 just to get on a plane. That’s before my luggage and hotel.

Looks like i’ll have to have a Plan B for that weekend. Feel free to hit me up with ideas.

Talking of European football, the 2021 European Super Cup Final will be at Windsor Park. Really want to go to this having been to the 2014 Final in Cardiff.

No pressure on Ole and David.

Meanwhile, UEFA have announced a third club competition called the Europa Conference League. Good idea, but an awful name.

I’ll wait to see what the qualifying criteria and format of the competition is before making a full analysis.

Up next for Linfield is a home match against Glenavon.

It’s not a fixture that has been kind to Linfield recently. No wins or goals in the last three meetings. No wins in the last four at home, and failed to score in their last three at home.

The last time Linfield beat Glenavon at home was the day the 2017 General Election was announced.

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LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 14.9.2019

Linfield warmed up for their opening UEFA Cup group match with a ………… ah, if only.

It’s now a case of back to reality and domestic action, and it’s been a satisfactory first week back, with three points away to Cliftonville, and a County Antrim Shield win over East Belfast.

That win over East Belfast especially pleasing, as some players who aren’t regular starters got game time, and some players got debuts.

Matthew Shevlin got a first start and goal, and Andrew Waterworth got a goal as well, and kept his place in the starting eleven, with nobody have to make way for Shayne Lavery, as an injury to Daniel Kearns enabled him to go back into the eleven.

Injuries to Kearns and Jordan Stewart meant that Linfield were a bit light when it came to attacking midfield options from the bench. Those injuries presented an opportunity for Daniel Reynolds, another goalscorer from the midweek Shield match.

It was Linfield who had the better of the opening minutes, with Shayne Lavery flicking wide from a Joel Cooper cross.

Lavery was then played in but looked too wide to score. His cross/shot flashed across the Glentoran six yard box, Kirk Millar unable to keep up with his run and get on the end of it.

There was no doubt that Linfield were up for this game, but they couldn’t get an early goal.

Although, early goals have never been a good thing for Linfield in this fixture in recent year, it still would have been welcomed.

Having ridden out that spell of Linfield pressure, Glentoran were able to spend some time in Linfield’s half, in front of the biggest exodus from East Belfast to South Belfast outside of Boxing Day for a while.

There weren’t any moments of worry for Linfield. I say that, but any time Glentoran have the ball in Linfield’s half, even if they are well away from goal, I naturally become nervous. It’s just the way I am.

After a strong start, the afternoon didn’t really happen for Joel Cooper, not getting much joy when taking on his opposing full-back.

Linfield’s next big chance gave when Bastien Hery headed over from close range. I don’t think he realised that Glentoran keeper Marijan Antolovic was hopelessly out of position.

Antolovic doesn’t need any vaccinations, because he never caught anything, keeping Linfield attacks alive longer than they should have been.

His lack of willingness to catch crosses or hold on to shots always gave Linfield hope that they could force an error out of him.

Glentoran’s shots on goal in the first-half were long range shots from Robbie McDaid and Joe Crowe which looked a lot closer than they were as I was sat at the opposite end.

By this point, Crowe was on a yellow card, having picked up a card for a cynical foul on Shayne Lavery as he raced towards goal.

Linfield’s only other attacking moments of note in the first-half was a long range shot from Andrew Waterworth which went over, as the ball set up, he was fancying a repeat of his goal at The Oval in 2016, and a cross which just evaded Mark Stafford who would have scored if he could get on the end of it.

0-0 at half-time but no need to panic. If Linfield could keep creating chances, surely one would go in. And if they can’t create chances, there was always the possibility that Glentoran’s keeper might gift them one.

As half-time scores filtered through, they were all going Linfield’s way, with Crusaders and Coleraine both drawing their matches. It didn’t matter if other results were going for or against Linfield, they still had to help themselves.

However, if Coleraine and/or Crusaders did fail to win, and Linfield took advantage, they would be finishing the day no higher than 9th, as the full-time whistle was blowing in the 2pm kick-off at The Brandywell, where Larne had just beaten Institute 4-1.

The second-half was very nervous, with neither team creating a clear cut opportunity.

With each passing minute, it was clear how important the first goal was going to be, if there was one. This match was not going to finish 1-1. It would either be 0-0, or somebody would sneak it 1-0.

Despite this, David Healy was reluctant to use any of the options on the bench.

One of those options was Matthew Shevlin, who had a decent cameo off the bench at Solitude the previous week, another was to bring on Matthew Clarke and push Niall Quinn forward.

However, it was Stephen Fallon who came on for Andrew Waterworth, just minutes after Robbie McDaid hit the bar for Glentoran.

On 86 minutes, it was Linfield who got the breakthrough when Bastien Hery instigated a move which saw Mark Stafford play the ball to Kirk Millar in space, not a lot, but enough to set himself up to get a shot at goal, which went in via a deflection.

The celebrations amongst the home fans showed how important a goal it was. Not just in the match, but in the title race, with Linfield having to come back from a ten point deficit and not being able to afford any dropped points.

It was such a big goal, David Healy joined in the celebrations, running faster than he had ever run as a player.

Having spent 86 minutes trying to get in front, it was important now for Linfield to stay in front in what time remained. They did that, Glentoran never having any opportunity to get an equaliser.

Even though Linfield didn’t move up the table or get any closer to the top, it was still a big win, as the draw between Ballymena United and Coleraine, and defeats for Dungannon Swifts and Glentoran mean that Linfield could jump up to 4th if results go their way on the next matchday.

They’ll have to wait two days for any such opportunity, with the trip to Carrick Rangers being selected for live coverage on Sky Sports.

Talking of results going their way, it could have been so much better if Glenavon hadn’t missed a last minute penalty to equalise against Crusaders. We can’t really complain about Glenavon being useless, we’ve benefitted from it plenty of times in the past. Let’s hope they stay useless for the next two weeks.

I dare say, Crusaders are probably more disappointed about Linfield’s late win than Linfield are about Crusaders late escape.

You could pick holes in Crusaders start by pointing out that four of their opening six games have come against the bottom four.

Before Carrick, is a NIFL Cup trip to Ballinamallard for Linfield as a busy period of fixtures get underway.

That run of games might not include any UEFA Cup Group Stage matches, but there’s still enough to keep minds occupied and focused.

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