COLERAINE 2-1 LINFIELD 14.10.2017

The last time Linfield travelled to Coleraine, they had to win just to stay in the title race. It wasn’t quite the same situation this time around, although defeat wouldn’t have been fatal for Linfield, it would have given them a massive mountain to climb, chasing a Coleraine side looking for their first title since 1974.

We didn’t get a 1970s throwback, but rather, a 1987 throwback, with a controversial winner that would have been the subject of much discussion between Ian St John and his good friend Ray Coyle.

It was one two top of the table clashes on the milestone point of matchday eleven as 3rd place Glenavon travelled to 4th place Crusaders. Linfield in 2nd knew that there would be points dropped below them, they had to make sure that the only team above them would drop points as well.

As clashes of shorts appear to be more strictly monitored in the Irish League these days, Linfield arrived in Coleraine wearing their white away top with white shorts, slightly resembling the Allies kit in Escape To Victory. Linfield just wanted to escape with victory.

There were two noticable additions to Linfield’s starting eleven from their last League game, with Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Waterworth making their first League starts of the season, having both missed the start of domestic action due to injury.

The first attack of the game came about in bizarre fashion when a goal kick from Roy Carroll was headed behind by a Coleraine defender as he tried to clear it upfield. It looked closer to a goal on the TV footage than it was in reality.

For most of the first-half, Coleraine were restricted to speculative long range shots. Too many for my liking. If you keep inviting the opposition to shoot, they will get one eventually. Remember Solitude?

Eventually, Linfield began to put some pressure on Coleraine’s goal, the closest they came was when a Niall Quinn free-kick was tipped over.

There was another attack where Coleraine’s defence was stretched to the point that they had to concede a corner just to get some respite.

The attack came about after a good advantage played by Anderlecht Arnie, refereeing this game, after a Linfield player was taken out at the start of the attack.

Having got a decision right, Anderlecht Arnie then forgot or neglected to book the Coleraine player who committed the foul once the play had stopped. If only that was the worst decision he made in this game.

For the rest of the first-half, Linfield were able to snuff out Coleraine’s attacks. The only moment of worry for Linfield fans came when Josh Robinson headed back to Roy Carroll. In the end, it was an easy catch for him.

There was a big incident in the final minute of the half as Andrew Waterworth was fouled by Stephen O’Donnell as he raced towards goal. Linfield fans screamed for a red card. My own opinion was that the wide position would work in the Coleraine defender’s favour, and so it proved as only a yellow card was awarded.

In the first-half, I was in the stand at the side of the pitch so didn’t get a clear view, and the incident was left off the BBC’s highlights. We’ll just have to wait and see it on Linfield TV, which is embargoed until Tuesday.

A goalless first-half, mirroring the pattern of the game at Coleraine in April with Linfield having most of the ball and not doing much with it while restricting Coleraine to long range shots.

Hopefully, the second-half would follow the same pattern as that game in April.

Well, the early minutes did, as Coleraine took a lead when Brad Lyons headed home from a free-kick.

It was a cheap free-kick conceded after losing possession cheaply.

You know when you’re watching a football match and get a bad vibe before a set piece is taken? That.

Just like in April, Linfield’s response was immediate with an equaliser coming in a more conventional method than a cross that got lucky, with Mark Haughey heading home from a Kirk Millar corner.

Jordan Stewart and Brandon Adams were brought on from the bench as Linfield searched for a winner.

They never looked like getting it, but neither did Coleraine, as both teams cancelled each other out, as the game meandered towards a draw.

That was until injury time approached when Jamie McGonigle was played through, Roy Carroll came out to save the shot, got a hand on it but couldn’t stop it going goalwards, however, he got enough to slow down the trajectory of the ball, to allow Josh Robinson the opportunity to clear the ball on the line, and save a point for Linfield.

Or so we thought.

To everyone’s amazement, a goal was awarded.

I was at the opposite end of the ground, wear glasses, and could clearly see the ball wasn’t over the line. TV footage backed me up. How on earth did the officials make such a wrong decision?

Controversy doesn’t just follow this ref, it stalks him.

In the aftermath of this, the 4th Official held up his board to indicate five minutes of injury time, mainly due to an injury to Brad Lyons. We had then (at least) two minutes delay between a Coleraine substitution and David Healy being sent to the stand. Only one minute to the five was added.

Not that Linfield looked like getting an equaliser, it would have been nice if they had the full amount of time to get it.

Having failed to make the correct call on a major issue, you couldn’t really expect the officials to get a basic act of housekeeping right.

There are questions to be asked of Linfield’s defending, especially as to how Jamie McGonigle was able to get so much space to run through on goal. The point is, Linfield’s defence retrieved the situation and cleared the danger. They were let down by incompetent decision makers.

No doubt, there will be reactionary suggestions that we need VAR in the Irish League. We don’t. We just need competent officials.

I’m not going to pretend that Linfield played well or deserved to win. They didn’t. A draw was a fair result in a game where both sides largely cancelled each other out.

You obviously want to win, but a draw wasn’t a disaster. We might have dropped to 3rd, but Coleraine and Glenavon would have been catchable, and we’d have gained a point on Crusaders.

Now, a seven point gap has emerged. It could be ten by the time Linfield play their next League game on Monday night.

I would expect it to be a ten point deficit by the time Linfield face Crusaders as Coleraine head to Solitude.

Cliftonville might have won their last four League games, three of games are games you would expect them to win. I’ll be surprised if Coleraine don’t beat them next weekend.

Linfield might have overcome a nine point deficit last season, you don’t want to be giving teams a head start.

There seems to be a Cliftonville 2012/2013 vibe about Coleraine where they took an early lead in the table, and gradually increased their lead in the table by a couple of points every few weeks.

Suddenly, next Monday’s game against Crusaders at Windsor Park is a title eliminator rather than a title decider many would have predicted when the fixture list was drawn up.

October has been a turbulent month for Linfield in recent years. We need to put a stop to that as soon as possible.

You may remember the refereeing farce at Mourneview Park last season, and Linfield’s response to that with two of their best pre-Christmas performances in the week that followed.

We’ll have to wait nine days to get it out of our systems. It might have been a good idea to have brought the County Antrim Shield match against Ards forward instead of back.

But waiting is what we’ll have to do, and if Coleraine go ten points clear of us, that is the challenge and we must accept it.

The next change in points difference has to be in our favour if we have ambitions of winning the League.

Again, it was a poor result against a Top Six team. You can’t afford to be a flat track bully in a League where you play each other three to four times a season. This needs to be remedied as soon as possible, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon visiting Windsor Park in November.

I was astounded to have a browse through the Sunday Life’s coverage of the game, where the reporter appeared to be more outraged by Linfield players not doing post match interviews than a high profile game being decided by refereeing incompetence.

It was probably for their own good that they didn’t do interviews, as they’d probably be banned for bringing the game into disrepute.

Talking of outrage, the match report seemed to focus on so called outrage about a Social Media post by Jamie McGonigle. Social Media offence is ever the basis of a news story and when you look at the replies, nobody is actually “outraged”.

Talk about glossing over and missing the big issue.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have since secured their place in the World Cup Play-Offs. They will play one of Croatia, Denmark, Italy or Switzerland. Avoid Italy, and you have a chance. Even if we do, it will still be a tough tie where we will be the underdogs.

People got giddy with the September rankings. Northern Ireland needed to win both October games to stand a chance of being seeded.

There was so much nonsense spouted last weekend, FIFA Rankings and UEFA Co-Efficients should be made a GCSE subject.

When you look at the ranking of 2nd place teams, it is tight between 3rd and 9th.

Ultimately, it all came down to last minute goals in June 2017. If Northern Ireland had drawn with Azerbaijan, they would have been the 9th place team and missed out.

If Scotland had beaten England, they would have finished 2nd and Republic Of Ireland would have been that 9th team.

If Republic Of Ireland had lost to Austria, they would have finished 3rd in their group.

If Sweden had drawn with France, they would have finished 3rd in their group.

It turns out, that was the pivotal matchday in the whole European Qualifiers.

In fact, Republic Of Ireland have England to thank twice. If Adam Lallana didn’t score his winner in Trnava on matchday 1, Slovakia would have got that Play-Off place ahead of Republic Of Ireland.

I presume all the Republic Of Ireland fans will be cheering on England in Russia next Summer as a thank you.

It just goes to show how small the margins are between success and failure.

As I said previously, all matchday 10 games should be played at the same time.

If they were, imagine being a Slovakia fan, watching your own team’s match, Slovenia v Scotland, hoping that Scotland fail to win, then Ukraine v Croatia and Wales v Republic Of Ireland hoping on of them ended a draw. That would have been fun.

This week, UEFA confirmed the divisions for the UEFA Nations League.

As expected, Northern Ireland will be in Section B, AKA The Championship. It is a bit of a farce that Holland can fail to qualify for two successive tournaments and be in Section A, AKA The Premier League.

Looking at Northern Ireland’s possible opponents, Wales away in November 2018, make a weekend of it in Bristol, see some Street Art and maybe even go to a Bristol Rovers match, or possibly a Bristol City match if they get relegated to League One for those goal gifs

Looking at the format, a team from Section D is guaranteed a place at Euro 2020. Azerbiajan, Belarus and Latvia have all been easily beaten by Northern Ireland in recent years. It is quite galling that Northern Ireland could lose out to one of them in Euro 2020.

I guarantee that whoever qualifies from Section D will lose all their matches at Euro 2020.

When you look at the rankings, Finland appear to have jumped into Section C with a drw against Croatia and a win over Turkey. They shouldn’t have bothered. They should have just lost both games and gambled on winning the Play-Offs.

If they did, that would have had ramifications regarding who qualified from Group I, further emphasising the farce of this competition.

If the UEFA Nations League is a farce, it certainly isn’t as big a farce as Coleraine’s winner.

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CLIFTONVILLE 3-2 LINFIELD 30.9.2017

I thought the days of Linfield blowing two goal leads against Cliftonville were over. Seemingly not, as they made a worrying return today at Solitude.

Linfield went into today’s game boosted by Glenavon’s draw on Friday night against Dungannon, where they could have went top with a win, the draw only putting them into third, one point behind Linfield.

Last weekend, Linfield pulled the gap to Coleraine to one point, today represented a chance to put pressure on Coleraine, and move seven points clear of Crusaders before they travel to The Oval on Monday night.

This was a return to the venue that Linfield won the title at last season. Linfield fans arriving will have been glad to have seen the hat-trick hero that day Andrew Waterworth out on the pitch, albeit only taking part in the warm-up as he continues his recovery from injury.

It was a slow start by Linfield, Cliftonville having a lot of possession but not doing a lot with it. That said, they had two situations where Mark Stafford was forced to take no chances and put the ball out for a corner.

The closest they came was from a quick counter-attack after a misplaced Linfield pass which saw Joe Gormley get enough space to shoot from the edge of the box, going just wide.

On 15 minutes, Linfield took the lead with their first attack of the game, Chris Casement found enough space after taking a throw in to cross for Aaron Burns to finish, in a repeat of his goal against Warrenpoint Town last week.

Having done nothing of note and then potting up with a goal, it was perhaps an apt goalscorer for Linfield, a thirs in four games for him.

Cliftonville’s defence had failed it’s first examination.

We were then treated to yellow card inconsistency from the referee, with three of Linfield’s midfield – Kirk Millar, Robert Garrett and Jamie Mulgrew walking on a yellow card tightrope, while Cliftonville players were being given final warnings for similar (and in some cases, worse) fouls.

Joe Gormley sliced a shot over, before getting in behind Linfield’s defence, only to be denied by a save from birthday boy (40 today) Roy Carroll.

In first-half injury time, Chris Casement had a free-kick go just wide as Linfield aimed to go in 2-0 up. They had to make do with 1-0. They should have been thankful for it.

It was a performance similar to their last visit to Solitude, although this time, they had a 1-0 lead this time.

Louis Rooney was replaced at half-time by teenage striker Ryan Strain. I can only presume it was due to an injury. Rooney didn’t have the best performance in the first-half, but he wasn’t bad enough to be taken off at half-time.

Strain was a busy player but suffered from isolation in a 4-5-1 instead of being part or a duo.

Joe Gormley soon had another shot that was easily saved by Roy Carroll. Linfield were still giving Cliftonville far too much encouragement.

Just before the hour, another susbtitution for Linfield, with Stephen Lowry coming on or Jordan Stewart. Too early to be so defensive, albeit there being an obvious benefit of having a centre midfielder not on a yellow card out there.

Midway through the second-half, Aaron Burns got enough space in the box with the ball, only to be fouled.

I shouted for a free-kick (in my defence, the line markings at Solitude aren’t the clearest) but TV replays proved it to be a penalty.

As well as Cliftonville had played, you felt a second goal for Linfield would kill the game.

Aaron Burns finished it, just about, as Cliftonville’s keeper got a hand on it, to make it 2-0 for Linfield.

Despite that setback, Cliftonville were straight on the attack, trying to get back into the game. It was soon clear that Linfield might need a third just to be sure of the three points.

David Healy then turned to his bench, bringing on Andrew Mitchell for Kirk Millar. Another defensive minded sub when the obvious player to bring on was Ross Clarke.

You don’t have to fill the pitch with defensive players to defend a lead, as Healy struggles to fit four centre midfielders into his team.

On 80 minutes, Cliftonville got back into the game when Chris Curran fired home from outside the box. The last ten minutes were more nervous than they should have been.

Strangely, despite all their possession and chances (all bar one of Carroll’s saves were ones you would expect him to make), Cliftonville had never looked like scoring, with Linfield doing a lot of clearing and blocking but doing enough to get rid of the danger.

On 85 minutes, Jay Donnelly got enough space in the box to head home. You could see his run a mile off (literally, from the away end at the other end of the pitch) but nobody on the pitch did. It was now two dropped points.

Cliftonville went in search of a winner and were denied by a Mark Stafford header on the line.

The resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly by Linfield, a cross being headed home by Garry Breen to win it for Cliftonville.

Linfield responded by going forward in search for a third goal, something they should have done ten or twenty minutes earlier. It was too little too late. They never looked like scoring once they went behind, as Linfield paid the price for being too defensive, and throwing the points away against a team who were there for the taking.

It was a game Linfield should have seen out. Curiously, it was another defeat against a team beginning with C. The last League defeat against a team who didn’t start with C was against Portadown in February 2016.

They’d better remedy that soon, as their next two League games are against teams beginning with C.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine won at Ballymena to open up a four point lead at the top of the table, the first time this season they’ve had what you would consider to be a significant lead.

Crusaders didn’t play today, as they play Glentoran on Monday night on Sky Sports. I’m hoping for a draw in that game. I might watch it, but there is a documentary about Paddington Station on Five at the same time.

Next Saturday, sees the top four inactive as Linfield (and Glenavon as a result, as they were due at Windsor Park) and Crusaders in Scottish Challenge Cup action, while Coleraine’s match against Ballinamallard has been postponed due to international call-ups.

That last one is a stroke of luck, as it denies Coleraine the chance to open up a seven point lead at the top of the table before Linfield visit on October 14th.

That is followed by a free Saturday as the home match against Crusaders has been put back to Monday 23rd to be broadcast on Sky Sports.

Now would be a good time to remedy the problem of playing against teams beginning with C ahead of the games against Oleraine and Rusaders.

Before then, is two cup games, against Ballinamallard in the League Cup and Dundee United in the Scottish Challenge Cup, both away.

I won’t be at Ballinamallard or Dundee. I would have loved to have gone to Dundee but the flights back on the Sunday are just too expensive. Oh well, I guess Stranraer away in the next round will make up for it (positive thinking)

Since the last blog I wrote, Windsor Park was in the running to host the 2019 European Super Cup Final. It didn’t win. it was awarded to Besiktas ground. Booo.

Talking of European hosting and all that, Cardiff has entered the running to host finals games due to problems with the new stadium in Brussels. One to keep an eye on for me, even though I have an eye on going to games in Dublin and Glasgow.

And that neatly links into the new competition set up by UEFA called the UEFA Nations League, due to take place in 2018-2019.

It sounds like UEFA had a pot party and somebody went “Wouldn’t it be like, cool man, is, like there was a League for international teams?”

Northern Ireland look set to be in League B, AKA The Championship.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t see this having a long term future, especially with the calendar having to be rearranged due to the 2022 World Cup being held in Winter.

It looks like something to fill up the summer calendar in the years when there isn’t a World Cup, European Championship or Confederations Cup.

The game against Crusaders being moved for Sky means the County Antrim Shield match against Ards has been put back to Monday 30th, meaning we play them twice in forty-eight hours.

It means i’ve gone from missing it due to going to OMD to missing it to going to Liam Gallagher.

A few weeks back, Sunday Life doorstepped a Celtic fan from Portadown who tried to attack a PSG player a few weeks back.

Like with the Linfield fan in July, that behaviour is out of order and not in any public interest. Report on his charge, report on his sentencing and punishment, but there’s no need to harrass someone going about their business.

Back to today, a setback but not a disaster, but improvements must be made, and that would have been the way even if we won.

However, win the next two games, the worst that will happen will be that we are one point behind Coleraine and four behind Crusaders and all will be well.

We hope.

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LINFIELD 4-0 BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 16.9.2017

Five wins from their opening five games didn’t automatically mean that Linfield would be Champions. By the same analysis, defeat at Seaview on Tuesday didn’t mean that Linfield’s title hopes were over.

Despite that, Ballinamallard’s visit to Windsor Park today was a game they had to win. Firstly, to avoid Tuesday’s result being considered the start of a slump rather than a blip, and most importantly, to keep up with the sides at the top of the League, especially with Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon all having home games they were expected to win.

Linfield fans arriving at Windsor Park today won’t be returning there for a Linfield match until 21st October due to a run of six successive away matches, including a first League meeting of the season with Coleraine.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of early Linfield pressure, it was Attack v Defence, and Linfield were doing all the attacking.

Louis Rooney dispossessed a defender and cut in, only to have his shot saved by Ballinamallard’s keeper. Chris Casement had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart curled a shot wide. It looked like a matter of time before Linfield scored.

On twelve minutes, Windsor Park got a shock. Not a Ballinamallard goal, but a player being booked in the first fifteen minutes of a game, as Neil Brennan was booked for a cynical foul on Jamie Mulgrew. Apparantly, referees are allowed to do that. Let’s hope it becomes a regular thing when teams try to cyncially foul in the opening minutes of a game.

Ballinamallard did have a chance when a free-kick from a wide angle at the edge of the box which was easily saved by Roy Carroll. That was all they offered in the first-half.

It was then Aaron Burns turn to be frustrated as he dragged his shot wide after being played through.

Burns made up for it soon after by playing in Jordan Stewart, whose shot went through the keeper’s legs to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It wasn’t as lucrative as is last goal against La Fiorita, but it felt just as important, giving Linfield the breakthrough against opposition designed to frustrate.

The pressure from Linfield continued, with Mark Haughey and Louis Rooney missing from close range immei=diately after each other, when one of them should have scored.

As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield were going to get an opportunity to get that second goal they needed when Aaron Burns was brought down, but no penalty was given. It may have only been a slight touch, but it was still a foul. It was the second week in a row Burns had been denied a clear penalty.

With the game still in the balance, Ballinamallard came out and felt confident of getting a point. In the early minutes of the second-half, Ryan Curran got clear of a defender but his shot was saved by Carroll.

Ballinamallard even started doing fancy flicks as they looked for an equaliser. Linfield knew if they got the second goal, that would be the points. While the game was in the balance, Ballinamallard always felt they would get something.

Josh Robinson was lucky to only get a yellow for a foul as a Ballinamallard player raced to goal. The fact the foul was on the halfway line worked in his favour.

Just after the hour, Jordan Stewart put an end to the tension by converting a cross to make it 2-0 and secure the points.

A few minutes later, he was played through and made it 3-0, completing his hat-trick.

With the game won, David Healy turned to his bench, giving gametime to Brandon Adams and Ryan Strain.

Neither of them could get on the scoresheet, but Mark Haughey did, heading home from close range to make it 4-0.

One pointless observation from this match was that this was the first League game that Linfield didn’t do a “Tottenham Corner”.

As mentioned earlier, Windsor Park will be a foreign country to Linfield fans over the next few weeks due to six successive away games coming up.

The first of those is a County Antrim Shield game against Ballyclare on Tuesday before a League trip to Warrenpoint on Friday.

Playing on Friday allows Linfield the opportunity to put pressure on Coleraine ahead of their match on Saturday.

A 2 goal win will put Linfield top while a 4-3 win will have both sides level with identical goals for and goal difference.

After that, a trip to Solitude. Linfield might do mid 90s Tottenham corners, but Cliftonville do mid 90s Tottenham disregard for defending.

I’d be very confident that our eight man midfield can cut off the supply to their four man attack.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine and Glenavon unsurprisingly won, while Crusaders could only draw at home to Ards.

That results lessens the damage of Tuesday’s result, only slightly, as we’ve only lost one point (across two games) this week to Crusaders instead of three.

Next weekend, Coleraine travel to The Oval, while Crusaders do so the following Monday (It’s like on Sky Sports).

Glentoran’s (relatively) good start to the season could be beneficial to Linfield, as they could help derail Linfield’s rivals. Obviously, i’m hoping for draws. Come on, you don’t seriously think i’ll want them to win?

I’m not going to Warrenpoint next Friday as i’m going to Culture Night instead. I missed it last year and I don’t want to miss it two years in a row. We’re at Warrenpoint in January, so I won’t be missing out.

I’ll have my lucky scarf in my right hand pocket as per superstition.

I’m hoping to travel to Tannadice for the match against Dundee United but it’s looking unlikely due to the prices of flights out of Glasgow on the Sunday night.

It’s a pity, as I wanted to see the DC Thomson statues in the City Centre (I always get DC Comics and DC Thompson mixed up. Now that would be a comic book crossover I could get into) as well as seeing Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh.

That game allows Linfield the opportunity to play at a ground that has hosted a European Final. However, come Wednesday, Linfield could be playing home matches at a ground which is set to host a European Final.

Windsor Park has applied to host the European Super Cup Final in August 2019. The host venue will be confirmed on Wednesday.

UEFA have published a report of the proposed venues on their website. You can find it here. Skip to page 58.

In short, the report for Windsor Park states :

The IFA proposes a smoke free stadium (Ha ha ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. Trust me, i’d love it, but recent internationals make me cynical)

No free transport from City Centre to Windsor Park for fans

More than the required amount of wheelchair spaces needed.

It meets UEFA’s requirement for supporter-toilet ratio. Yes, such a thing exists.

Food facilities for matchday staff is small.

Any VIP area for May McFetridge and Julian Simmons to hang out with Ruud Gullit and Lothar Mattheus would have to be built outside the ground.

Not enough space for TV studios.

Somebody will have to “have a word” regarding lifting restrictions on late night flights after the game.

Number of hotels for fans and teams are adequate.

Belfast is a “Straightforward city”. UEFA’s words, not mine. I’ve no idea what that means.

Anyway, forget about 2019, let’s just concentrating on racking up points prior to the visit to Coleraine on October 14th, especially being three points behind and not playing in the League on October 7th while Coleraine are in action.

We’ll need every point we can get between now and then.

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CRUSADERS 2-1 LINFIELD 12.9.2017

Football has a strange way of repeating itself. In 2015, Linfield arrived at Seaview with a perfect record (six wins out of six) and a lead over Crusaders, knowing that a win would open up a gap between them at the top of the League.

In 2017, the same thing happened, although this time, it was five wins out of five for Linfield.

In 2015, Linfield lost that day. They recovered quite well after that, winning their next two matches, scoring nine goals in the process, but it was one of three defeats to Crusaders that cost them the title.

The following season, roles were reversed, with Linfield won the head to heads and the title.

Recent form suggests that whoever wins the head to heads between these two wins the title. However, this season, there’s a third party wanting to muscle in on the title race, with Coleraine looking down on everybody after winning all six of their opening games.

It wasn’t about getting an advantage over the other, Crusaders wanted to keep in touch with Coleraine while Linfield wanted to draw level with them. Linfield knew that a win would open up a six point lead over Crusaders, even at this early stage.

If things had worked out differently over the Summer, Linfield could have been lining up against PSG instead.

There was a change in personnel and formation for Linfield with 451 becoming 442 but not completely more attacking, as Jordan Stewart was sacrificed for Matthew Clarke, while Louis Rooney came in for Kirk Millar.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in Irish League football that players are immune from getting booked in the first fifteen minutes, a rule that Crusaders players were willing to exploit with a series of cynical and tactical fouls with the only cost being a free-kick.

It was no coincidence that the first yellow card came after sixteen minutes, when Louis Rooney was dragged down as he went down the right wing.

Jordan Forsythe and Aaron Burns both fired over in the early minutes as they looked to score spectacularly, an overhead kick and a chip respectively.

Despite the more defensive nature of the starting eleven, Andrew Mitchell and Jamie Mulgrew were making Linfield tick, running at Crusaders defence, both of whom fired wide as Linfield looked to get the breakthrough.

On 25 minutes, Crusaders took the lead when Jordan Forsythe fired home.

On 32 minutes, Crusaders made it 2-0 when a header upfield allowed Paul Heatley to fire home from outside the box.

As good as the finish was, it was a poor goal to concede, route one assist.

Linfield fans were hoping for half-time as Crusaders looked to make it 3-0, with Jordan Owens and Rodney Brown both having chances to do just that.

It was a big half-time talk in the away dressing room but all hope wasn’t lost. You never write off Linfield when they attack their fans. An early goal, and it was game on.

Getting that early goal, as each minute passed, a Linfield comeback was looking less likely.

They were helped by the fact that Crusaders were stepping back, happy to hold what they had.

Linfield’s search for a goal saw Kirk Millar and Brandon Adams introduced from the bench. The most obvious introduction, Jordan Stewart, was made to wait.

With twenty minutes to go, Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley went in recklessly on Aaron Burns on the halfway line. He knew what he was doing, and he wasn’t going for the ball. The referee bottled it and only showed a yellow card. That’s twice in successive seasons referees have let him away with it.

Within minutes, Linfield pulled a goal back when Aaron Burns crossed for Mark Stafford to put the ball into the empty net.

If there was any justice, Linfield’s search for an equaliser would have been against ten men.

For all there pressure, Linfield couldn’t get an equaliser, as Crusaders held out for the win.

It was a silly spell midway through the second-half that did it, Linfield gave themselves too much to do.

In truth, the performance wasn’t good enough, just like on Saturday. A wake up call. It’s never too early for one.

A sense of perspective is needed though, it was Linfield’s first domestic defeat in eight months. Not only that, Linfield have three more points this season than they did after six games last season.

The next two games against Ballinamallard and Warrenpoint represent an opportunity to amass six points and keep the pressure on at the top.

We’ll need those points with a run of games against Cliftonville, Coleraine and Crusaders to come, as well as a rearranged game against Glenavon to fit in as well.

Talking of rearranged games, the League Cup match against Ballinamallard has been brought forward a week. No idea why, and the away match against Ballymena has been brought forward to the Friday night.

It’ll be some fun if Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off (providing the next two matchdays don’t go wrong) at home is that night. Expect another rearrangement, although, this is Irish League football, don’t expect logic to be followed.

Anyway, that Ballymena game will be postponed because we’ll be playing in the Quarter-Final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. Got to be optimistic.

Up next, Ballinmallard, the first of two meetings in two and a half weeks. The second game, away from home, will be sandwiched inbetween away games against Cliftonville and Dundee United.

It says something that the trip to Cliftonville will be the hardest to get to of those three.

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LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 9.9.2017

There was a throwback to the old days on Saturday as Linfield and Glentoran met, separated only by a point and both unbeaten, with Glentoran knowing that a win would send them above Linfield in the table for the first time since the opening day of the 2014-2015 season.

It was to be a case of the same old, as it was the player who scored the winner the last time Linfield trailed Glentoran in the table did it again on Saturday, to put Linfield four points clear of their rivals, and more importantly, maintain their winning start to the season and keep the pressure on leaders Coleraine.

Early Linfield pressure brought that winning goal when Glentoran couldn’t properly clear a corner and the ball went out the left to Jordan Stewart. Stewart was booed by the away fans every time he touched the ball. However, that booing went silent within seconds when his cross was headed home by Aaron Burns.

It looked like it was going to be a rout for Linfield. Even at this early stage.

Glentoran soon reminded them that there was still a game to be won when Robbie McDaid was played through only for his shot to be saved by Roy Carroll, who got up in time to save Curtis Allen’s rebound. Between Allen and mcDaid, it should have been a goal for Glentoran.

Soon after, Aaron Burns had a chance for Linfield but his shot was saved by Elliott Morris. He couldn’t get enough space to get a clear shot at goal. He would have been better off blindly shooting towards goal when he had the position but not the space.

Burns was involved in Linfield’s next attack of note when Marcus Kane made a great interception in the penalty ares to deny him. That is, if you were playing Basketball. The clearest handball you’ll ever see, and no penalty was given.

Inbetween, Glentoran almost equalised in bizarre fashion when a headed clearance hit Robbie McDaid and went goalwards, only for Roy Carroll to save on the line. When Roy Coyle was Glentoran manager, you can be sure that would have went into the back of the net.

Linfield made a strong start to the second-half but could get a clinching goal, and began to give Glentoran far too much encouragement, with a James Knowles free-kick causing enough concern for Roy Carroll to tip the ball out for a corner.

As Linfield sought that second goal, Louis Rooney came on from the bench in place for Jordan Stewart. It was a surprise for Rooney to start on the bench considering he had scored four goals in one start and one sub appearance and had a lot of early momentum at the start of his Linfield careers.

Linfield were given another moment of worry when a cross come shot had to be cleared off the line.

Ross Clarke was brought on for Kirk Millar, his first League appearance of the season. His main moment of note in Glentoran’s half was keepball at a corner with Aaron Burns. That sort of tactic against Glentoran has bitten us in the arse before. I was sat waiting for the 93rd minute Glentoran equaliser.

Despite all of Glentoran’s possession, Linfield were able to hold out and do just enough to win.

While 451/433 does have it’s advantages, it has one obvious limitation in the shape of stifling attacks.

It may have been a necessity due to injuries a few weeks ago, but two strikers have since been signed, one of whom has gotten off to a goalscoring start.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to get used to it until we have a bad result or an injury crisis in midfield.

In the Scottish Challenge Cup, we’ve been drawn away to Dundee United. Games against Dundee United and Celtic mean this has been a memorable season for those Linfield supporters doing the 102 Club.

I’m hoping to go to Dundee, just to see Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh. I would have preferred Stranraer for obvious reasons.

Up next, a trip to Seaview, and a big improvement needed. A 2-0 sends us top. 6-5 puts us joint top with an identical record to Coleraine. A win by any score will do.

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LINFIELD 1-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 26.8.2017

Just as they did when they kicked-off their last game at Windsor Park, Linfield kicked off against Ballymena United playing catch-up after Friday night results.

Two weeks ago against Carrick, they knew they had to win by a specific margin to go top. Against Ballymena, any win would do thanks to Glenavon’s draw against Glentoran.

In the space of a week, Five clubs at the top with perfect records was now just two, Coleraine and Linfield, with Coleraine already successfully navigated matchday four.

This season, nobody has stayed at the top of the league for long.

Crusaders went top after their first match before being replaced by Cliftonville, before Crusaders went top again three days later, only to replaced by Glenavon four days later, who only lasted six days before being replaced by Coleraine.

Even if Linfield did go top, that would only last seven days due to them not being in League action next week.

Both teams had contrasting starts to the season. Linfield had three wins out of three and three clean sheets while Ballymena had only one point from three games and eleven goals conceded.

Those stats suggested a routine home win. Reality would suggest otherwise.

The early stages of the game saw Linfield having a lot of the ball. A lot. There were some Linfield players who had touched the ball more times than Ballymena’s entire team.

Despite that, Linfield couldn’t make the most of it.

Whilst the score was 0-0, we were treated to the trademark Ballymena tactics of timewasting and cynical foulind, Jim Ervin and Kyle Owen being the worst offenders.

Everytime a Linfield attack came to an end, Ballymena’s keeper was out berating his defence. Except, it was all for show, anything to kill a bit of time. The referee fell for it on every occasion.

Paul Smyth, the centre of a lot of attention today on and off the pitch fired a low cross which evaded everybody, while a run and shot was saved by Conor Brennan in Ballymena’s goal.

There would be more emphasis put on Smyth when Jordan Stewart went off injured and was replaced by Aaron Burns.

Ballymena made a rare venture into Linfield’s defensive third when a Joe McKinney shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

Aaron Burns was unable to get a touch to divert a wide shot from Robert Garrett into the net, before shooting from a wide angle when a cross was the better option.

Linfield’s last chance of the half came when Mark Stafford fired over from a “Tottenham Corner”.

0-0 at half-time was the first time Linfield had failed to score a first-half goal in the League this season. Even more amazingly, it maintained Ballymena’s record of not conceding a first-half goal in the League this season.

As the half-time whistle blew, the tannoy blasted out Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers for those going to the concert at Custom House Square (there was someone sat near me who had an SLF badge on their coat) after the game.

We were all agreed that we wanted and Alternative Linfield in the second-half.

Ballymena had the first attack of the second-half when Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a Kyle Owens shot, before Linfield began to take control of the game.

Mark Haughey had a goalward header cleared. It looked like it was going wide to me, but the Ballymena defender couldn’t take the risk.

Ballymena will have been glad that Jimmy Callacher wasn’t playing, having scored in three of the five meetings last season, but Mark Stafford had scored in Ballymena’s last three visits to Windsor Park, and he was eager to make it four out of four.

Paul Smyth had a long range effort tipped over, before his gentle through pass set through Andrew Mitchell, who was fouled just as he set himself up to shoot. Penalty to Linfield.

Having scored at Dungannon last week, Mitchell made no mistake again to give Linfield the lead.

The only person in Windsor Park probably not celebrating was Cameron Stewart, who was getting readied to come on, only to be sent back to the dugout when the penalty was awarded and then scored.

You always had the feeling that Ballymena were so content on stopping Linfield, they would know how to react if Linfield got the lead and Ballymena had to take the intitiative and get a goal.

How Ballymena reacted was to lose their heads, with Andrew Burns being sent-off for a two footed lunge.

Despite 1-0 being a fragile lead, there was never any danger of Linfield not holding on.

That said, 4-5-1/4-3-3 doesn’t really work for Linfield, even allowing for Andrew Waterworth being injured restricting striking options.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to put up with it until there is a bad result or an injury crisis, like in November last season.

While this game was 0-0, the game was crying out for Cameron Stewart’s introduction in place of one of the three centre midfielders.

Having set up the penalty that won the game, it was perhaps apt that the final touch of the game was from Paul Smyth, holding on to the ball and securing the win for Linfield, as he looks set to sign for QPR on Monday. Good luck to him. Hopefully he’ll be back at Windsor Park soon in a Northern Ireland shirt.

To be honest, the word “Hopefully” wasn’t really needed in that sentence.

An immediate loan back would be great, as would a friendly at Loftus Road. I can dream.

With the game in the balance, he couldn’t be subbed for an ovation, he just got it at the final whistle instead.

He will be a loss but there are players who can come in and make the most of the opportunity presented to them, such as getting Ross Clarke back to full fitness and on form.

In anticipation of Smyth’s departure, Linfield have signed Louis Rooney from Plymouth. I know absolutely nothing about him, so, um ………

This week saw the confirmation that Spartans will face Linfield in the Irn-Bru Cup. The issue between them and Albion Rovers should have been resolved before the draw took place.

For future reference, perhaps the 1st Round of the competition should take place a week or two weeks earlier in order to allow supporters of the teams who have to travel to and from Scotland a chance to make arrangements.

Thankfully, Linfield are running a bus to the game for fans. Edinburgh? More like Edinblue.

Before Spartans, is the League Cup tie against Distillery, which will hopefully be used to allow the likes of Robinson, both Clarkes, Deane, C Stewart and Glendenning a chance to get some gametime ahead of a busy month.

With Coleraine facing Glenavon next Saturday, that guarantees Linfield will be knocked off the top of the table while they are Edinburgh.

Up next in the League is Glentoran on September 9th and our annual stupid home draw against them.

Might as well get it out of the way early on.

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DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-4 LINFIELD 19.8.2017

The weather might have been inconsistent and unpredictable, but Linfield weren’t, as they strolled to victory in the sun, rain and everything inbetween in Tyrone.

It was Linfield’s third successive win of the season, third clean sheet, and to keep on a trilogical theme, results elsewhere meant that the five clubs with perfect starts at kick-off were now a top three, with Linfield sandwiched inbetween Glenavon and Coleraine, all on nine points.

For the early part of the game, the ball was in midfield a lot, neither side creating a noteworthy effort. Linfield’s best effort came from a speculative long range effort from Jordan Stewart.

Linfield weren’t helping themselves with numerous stray passes.

That was until Linfield’s first real attack of note was started and finished by Paul Smyth, who headed home after Dungannon keeper Stuart Addis missed a cross.

Within minutes, Dungannon had a clear shot on goal saved by Roy Carroll, a reminder that the game was far from won.

It took a free-kick for Linfield to get their second when a tee-up saw Niall Quinn fire a spectacular effort into the top of the net. It was a goal that deserved Alan Partridge commentary, it was that good. For Quinn, it was a case of Play Your Cards Right, and didn’t he do well.

The final minutes of the half saw Linfield get a third when a corner was headed in. From where I was, it looked like Mark Haughey who scored, but video replays showed that it was headed into his own net by Seanan Clucas.

For the third successive match, the three points were secured by half-time. People should only be charged £6.50 into Linfield matches at this rate. I guess those who set admission prices would disagree and say that The Price Is Right.

I was hoping Linfield would rack up a lot of goals in the second-half, mainly due to the awful Now That’s What I Call Shit Dance Music 1999 CD that Dungannon were playing on the PA System.

Unsurprisingly, the second-half was a non event, with Linfield utilising their subs bench and allowing Aaron Burns, Stephen Lowry and Matthew Clarke to get some game time.

In the final minutes of the game, Linfield got a penalty for a push on Mark Stafford. Linfield fans celebrated the award, until they realised it would probably be missed.

At 3-0 up against a Dungannon side coming to terms with the loss of Andrew Mitchell to Glenavon, it was perhaps a bit cruel of Linfield to get their own Andrew Mitchell to take the penalty.

He stepped up, and Addis got a hand on it. Before the crowd could utter “Oh for crying out loud …” at another miss, the ball hit the back of the net and it was 4-0.

An even bigger relief was to finish the game with 11, due to the card happy nature of the refereeing for both sides.

Goals are coming throughout the team for Linfield, which is handy considering Andrew Waterworth’s absence through injury. It will be great to get him back fit, but it’s just as great that others are stepping up to the mark in terms of goalscoring.

Elsewhere, Glentoran couldn’t make the most of a generous run of games with a 1-1 draw at home to Carrick. They’re so bad these days, they can’t even give their fans false hope.

Also drawing 1-1 were Cliftonville at Ballinamallard, and they are now five points behind Linfield. I never viewed them as title challengers despite the return of Joe Gormley (Remember, he scored 40+ goals in his last season at the club, and they finished 5th)

They’ve become a team who draw at Ballinamallard. Teams in the bottom six view them as a team they can get points against. It’s something that is hard to shake off. Yesterday’s results will only give those sides confidence when facing them.

Crusaders lost 2-1 at home to Coleraine. For once Crusaders got a last minute goal, and it didn’t matter. It was perhaps apt that it was a player called Forsythe who scored.

Meanwhile, Glenavon won 6-1 at Ballymena. Not going to lie, Ballymena’s poor start is making me nervous ahead of their visit to Windsor Park next Saturday.

That means Glenavon, Linfield and Coleraine are the top three, with three wins out of three. Though Linfield might be second, they cut the gap in goal difference to the top of the League from four goals to three goals.

After the Ballymena game, Linfield won’t have a League match until September 9th. That means if we can win on Saturday, the worst that will happen while we are inactive (in League terms) on 2nd September is that we would be three points off the top with a game in hand.

Next Saturday also sees Cliftonville play Crusaders, meaning they can pull further clear of one or both of them.

That inactivity is due to the trip to Crusaders on 6th September being postponed due to international call-ups. There’s positives and negatives to this.

September will be a busy month and this will ease the fixture congestion.

However, when you see Matchday 3 results and the fact Crusaders will be coming off the back of a North Belfast Derby, they would be there for the taking.

No point moaning about it. It is what it is, might as well get on with it.

Linfield won’t be playing in the League on 2nd September because they are scheduled to be playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup, the draw taking place last week.

The draw was convenient in terms that it gave Linfield an away tie in the Central Belt, but inconvenient in the fact that we don’t know who we are playing.

Linfield were drawn away to Albion Rovers or Spartans. Albion beat Spartans but are being investigated for fielding an ineligible player.

After spending years writing about wanting to go to Ainslie Park, I could be going there twice in the space of a month, having seen Edinburgh City play there two weeks ago.

It would be a nice novelty to be in Edinburgh and not to have flyers shoved in my face.

It would be hilarious if Albion were thrown out, seeing as Crusaders had to replay Livingson last season after Livingston fielded in ineligible player.

It doesn’t really leave much time for this resolved, with the next round scheduled for two weeks time.

My hunch is that Albion and Spartans will replay on 2nd September, and Linfield’s tie being played between then and the next round date on 8th October.

I think Linfield’s tie will be two to three weeks after to give Linfield a chance to make arrangements and supporters to do likewise.

Linfield have home games scheduled on 9th (Glentoran) and 16th (Ballinamallard) and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was played on one of those weekends, with the League game postponed, possibly the 16th.

That’s just a hunch, I have no inside info. This is Scottish football we are talking about, so anything could happen.

If that is the case, we will be two games behind schedule, making it important to keep picking up wins.

As supporters exited Stangmore Park, the music improved, with Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis coming on the stereo.

Linfield fans won’t be looking back on this game in anger, just as a job done.

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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.

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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.

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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.