LINFIELD 1-0 LARNE 30.11.2019

After four successive away games, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield for the first of three successive home games, as they faced Larne for the first time this season, after the first scheduled meeting was postponed due to international call-ups.

As supporters entered Windsor Park, they did so hearing that Coleraine were 2-0 down to Institute in a 1pm kick-off. The score stayed that way, meaning that Linfield could pull closer to Coleraine with a win.

To do so, they would need to defeat a Larne side on a five match unbeaten run, having drawn against Cliftonville the previous weekend.

Whilst that run of results deserves respect, it is worth noting that they have failed to beat a Top Six team this season. They wouldn’t have it easy, but it was a game that Linfield should be winning if they have ambitions of winning the League.

There would only be one change in Linfield’s starting eleven, with Mark Stafford coming in for Jimmy Callacher. A late red card at Ballymena on Tuesday night meant that Bastien Hery would be missing.

It was anticipated that he would be getting rested around this time of year (He’s been playing without a break since February), but you’d rather have him on the bench in case of emergency.

An unchanged starting eleven meant that Linfield had two Andrews, Waterworth and Mitchell, on the pitch on St Andrew’s Day, hoping to score the winner and give the Sunday Life an easy pun headline.

It was Linfield who had the first shot of the game, when Stephen Fallon’s low shot was saved, with Andrew Waterworth flagged offside as he looked to make something out of the rebound.

Joel Cooper was getting a lot of joy out left in the early minutes of the game, with Linfield looking to get him on the ball as much as possible.

Shayne Lavery then created space for himself, evading a few Larne defenders but his low shot was easily saved by Conor Devlin.

Ben Tilney and Martin Donnelly were both able to create space for themselves to shoot, a few minutes apart, but on both occasions, their shots went over the bar.

Having survived early Linfield pressure, Larne now had the confidence to offer more of an attacking threat.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield were forced into a change when Jamie Mulgrew went off injured, to be replaced by Chris Casement, as Linfield changed from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2.

For me, 3-5-2 doesn’t work, as it neutralises Linfield’s attacking full-backs.

This enforced change brought about a change in fortunes for Linfield as they finished the half strongly, being camped in Larne’s half, but all they could offer was a curled shot from Joel Cooper.

A strong start and a strong finish, but the bit inbetween meant Linfield needed to do so much better to secure the three points.

With each passing minute, the introduction of Jordan Stewart, back on the bench after a period of injury, was becoming inevitable.

As they left the pitch, scores elsewhere were pointing to an awkward day for the Top 4, with Cliftonville losing and Crusaders drawing, and Coleraine having already lost. The opportunity was there for Linfield to make up ground on their rivals.

A header from Shayne Lavery was all that Linfield could offer in the second-half as they continued to struggle in a game that Larne were very much in.

The inevitable introduction of Jordan Stewart came in place of Andrew Waterworth, as Linfield reverted to 4-2-3-1.

One option from the bench was Matthew Clarke for Ryan McGivern. Admittedly a like for like replacement at left-back, Clarke offered more of an attacking threat from that position in open play.

This was a game that had 1-0 written all over it. What was up for discussion, would be who to?

It looked like it was going to be Larne, when David McDaid worked space for himself and fired low, only to hit the post.

I was at the other end, and it looked like it was going in whenever he hit it. As it hit the post and rolled across, I thought it was going in, especially as Larne fans were celebrating.

Those celebrations were premature, as the ball rolled out of play. For a corner, as Rohan Ferguson got a touch on it.

Linfield were able to clear the corner and go on the counter attack, which was halted by a cynical foul. Within seconds, justice was delivered when the free-kick was missed by Conor Devlin and fell perfectly for Josh Robinson, who let the ball hit him and go into the back of the net.

How apt, that on St Andrew’s Day, in the space of two minutes, a Scottish goalkeeper made a key save to keep it 0-0, and a player called Andrew set up a goal to make it 1-0.

In the first-half, Conor Devlin struggled from a set piece due to the presence of Mark Stafford, and it happened again, but this time, Linfield were able to benefit from it.

Larne couldn’t get at Linfield to try and force an equaliser, in fact, it was Linfield who looked more likely to score, with Shayne Lavery having two opportunities.

It wasn’t costly, as Linfield were able to see out the game, and get a vital three points.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville lost to Glentoran, while Crusaders beat Dungannon Swifts, making it congested at the top of the table, with two points separating the top four, and five points separating the top five.

Glentoran seem to have snuck into the title unnoticed. If they are still there (Coleraine, Crusaders and Linfield in the next four) at the end of the month, you’ll have to take them seriously. I’ll reserve judgement until then.

Crusaders have hit a run of form, however, they have played Bottom Six teams.

It is interesting to note that Bottoms Six, especially the Bottom Three, have improved in recent weeks. Well, apart from Dungannon Swifts. Linfield’s recent wins against Carrick and Institute, a lot more laboured than the scorelines sound, are suddenly a lot more impressive than they felt at the time.

Up next, is Coleraine in the League Cup Semi-Final.

Though the League is the priority, this is a game worth winning. Keep winning momentum going, keep Coleraine on a dodgy run of form, and reach a cup final. A win here could have a knock-on effect in the title race, just like the win against Ballymena in last year’s Final did.

Also, if we reach the Final, I won’t be travelling to Ballymena for a League match on my birthday. No pressure lads.

Up next in the League, is Cliftonville at home. A must win game.

Due to games being postponed, Linfield haven’t been near the top of the table due to teams getting points while they have been inactive.

Everytime Linfield have got within touching distance of the top of the table, they have lost a key game (Crusaders, Coleraine) and allowed the gap to widen. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Win next Saturday, we go above Cliftonville, start breathing down Crusaders and Coleraine’s necks, and keep Glentoran at arms length.

Coleraine are at home to Glentoran. There will be points droppage around us, we have to take advantage of it.

It’s draw season, and yesterday saw the draw for Euro 2020.

If Northern Ireland get through, they will face Poland, Sweden and Spain. Tough draw, but no possible draw would be easy.

Poland and Sweden would be in Dublin. Sweden would be a Friday afternoon. Would definitely do a day trip for that.

Irish Cup draw will be soon (I presume this week). The usual drill. Lower league team away, ideally a ground I haven’t been to before or for a while.

So, the wishlist – Knockbreda, PSNI/QUB or Banbridge Town.

Finally, if you have Twitter on an app, you can select to get notifications everytime Linfield post a Tweet. A sort of unofficial official app, if you will.

Let’s hope on Tuesday night, they’ll be tweeting news of another cup final.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 22.9.1979

Nottingham Forest winger John Robertson, pictured holding the European Cup, is the cover star accompanied by the headline “CAN FOREST RETAIN THE EUROPEAN CUP?”, as Europe’s three competitions are getting ready to swing into action.

The biggest threat to Forest’s grip on the trophy, in Robertson’s opinion, came from Liverpool, who he said he hope would get put out early, but admitted the two teams playing in the final would be great for English football.

As it turned out, Liverpool had an early exit, a First Round exit to Soviet team Dinamo Tblisi, while Forest would go on and retain the trophy, beating Hamburg 1-0 in Madrid.

Turning over the page, Shoot does a full page feature on the chances of the British sides in their ties, against a various mix of opponents.

In news, Alan Ball Snr (father of 1966 World Cup winner of the same name) is singing the praises of Scandinavian players as representing value for English clubs, having just spent three years coaching in Sweden.

Colin Bell of Manchester City announced his retirement aged 33.

Lawrie McMenemy expressed his fears of a “Super League” emerging within England’s top flight, due to the spending power of some clubs.

Brian Quinn moved from Larne to Everton for £60,000 – a record between clubs from Northern Ireland and England, and is aiming to be the 10th Everton player to play for Northern Ireland since World War II, just short of the 14 players supplied by joint record holders Manchester United and Linfield.

Alex Sabella turned down a move from Sheffield United …….. because his wife wasn’t keen on living in the North-East.

Motherwell manager Ally MacLeod is to be investigated by the SFA after publishing a book claiming that Willie Johnston wasn’t the only Scotland player to have taken illegal substances at the previous summer’s World Cup.

In his column, Ray Clemence is looking forward to his first trip to the Soviet Union, for Liverpool’s European Cup tie with Dinamo Tblisi.

Shoot does a full page feature on the West Country, interviewing a player from Plymouth Argyle, Exeter City and Torquay United on the future of football in the area.

Dave Watson, recently signed for Werder Bremen, was sent off in his second game for the club, and bemoans the strictness of German referees, while also dismissing criticism of his signing by German newspaper Bild.

Andy Gray hits back after being booed by Aston Villa fans after requesting a transfer, and was upset by Villa holding out for £1m, stating no player is worth that amount (though Trevor Francis was earlier that year)

Later that month, Gray signed for Wolves for £1.5m

There was a four page feature on Manchester City, including a double page colour poster.

Tommy Docherty is in fighting form, proclaiming “I’m still one of the best”, and that he is happy with his summer spending having spent £1m on five players, including England Under 21 goalkeeper Chris Woods.

Docherty had been sacked by Manchester United two years previously due to an extramarital affair, and was hoping his spell at Loftus Road would propel him back into the big time.

QPR finished 5th in Division Two (no play-offs then, only the top 3 went up) and Docherty was sacked, before being reinstated, than sacked again in October 1980.

“Life has never been happier at the aptly named Gay Meadow” writes Shoot, presumably in The Flintstones sense, as manager Graham Turner has just led them into England’s second tier for the first time.

Shoot gives a page to Ian Redford, a star at Dundee described as “The new Alan Gilzean”

Redford joined Rangers in 1980 for a Scottish record, won four trophies at Ibrox, and played for Dundee United in the 1987 UEFA Cup Final. Redford died in January 2014, aged 53.

Gordon McQueen uses his column to claim that he scored United’s goal against Southampton on the opening day of the season, which was credited as an own goal, and denies rumours that Mickey Thomas was to be sold to Everton in an exchange for Dave Thomas.

On the back page, there was a colour poster of new Crystal Palace signings Gerry Francis and Mike Flanagan.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : WORLD SOCCER – DECEMBER 1986

Welcome to a new series of The Magazine Archive. Apologies that there hasn’t been one for a while.

Got a full set of 1986 editions of World Soccer at a fair in May, but wanted to get some music magazines as I didn’t want it to be all football.

Was in Manchester recently and picked up some old editions of Q, so here we go.

The first one of this new series is the December 1986 edition of World Soccer, looking back at an eventful year of football, which had a World Cup that summer.

The front cover features Diego Maradona being carried aloft while carrying the World Cup trophy, as photographers try to get a picture.

It reminded of a feature in Four Four Two ten years ago title “100 Greatest Football Pictures”, and 6 or 7 of them were of Maradona. As was written in the feature, it appears no dull pictures of Maradona exist.

Page 3 focused on the World Soccer awards with Diego Maradona, unsurprisingly, winning Footballer Of The Year, with Igor Belanov second.

Pat Jennings was 20th, possibly getting sentimental votes as he retired that year, with his final game taking place in the World Cup Finals, against Brazil ……. on his 41st birthday.

Guy Thys won Manager Of The Year award for leading Belgium to the World Cup Semi-Finals, beating competition from Valeri Lobanovsky and Kenny Dalglish.

The previous year’s winner was 15th ……….. Terry Venables.

Argentina narrowly beat European Cup Winners Cup winner Dynamo Kiev to win the Team Of The Year award which was previously held by Everton.

Despite winning a 5th successive Irish League title in 1986, Linfield were disgracefully not in the Top 20.

The magazine features a double page interview with Diego Maradona, who explains that he grew a beard earlier in the year because his sister wondered what he looked like with a beard.

The other World Cup Final in 1986, the club version got a double page spread, with the writers casting Steau Bucharest in the role of underdogs against River Plate, which turned out to be correct.

The main story in English football got a double page spread as Ron Atkinson was sacked as Manchester United and replace by Aberdeen’s Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson was given a contract until 1990 and a brief to win the title, something which United hadn’t done for 19 years, and given their start to the 1986-1987 season, the wait would extend until 21 years at least.

“United aren’t the only victims of this unpredictable season. Below them are three other once famous and mighty clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City and Newcastle United”

Ironic, that those four clubs now sit at the top of English football when Ferguson celebrated his 25th anniversary in charge of United.

Meanwhile, bizarrely, police entered the pitch at Fratton Park to tell off two players for swearing at the ref.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, an Old Firm derby match “ended in mayhem” as Celtic have seven players booked and Mo Johnston sent-off in a Skol Cup final defeat to Rangers.

Celtic manager Davie Hay was so angry after the game, he suggested that Celtic should apply to join England’s top flight.

Meanwhile, ten games into the 1986-1987 had Glentoran and Larne joint top, with Portadown second bottom.

That month, Portadown appointed Ronnie McFall as manager, and their fortunes went on an upward trajectory.

NEWRY v LARNE – THE FALLOUT

Was writing my Blog for publication tomorrow, and found that I was writing at length about the events last Saturday at the Newry Showgrounds, so I felt I might as well put them up here as a seperate entity.

——————————————————————-

I noted with interest, the media coverage of the Newry v Larne game this week. Call me a cynic, but if something like that happens in another sport, will it be the lead story on Nolan, asking if that sport is “out of control”?

People seem to forget that there were 14 Irish Cup ties on Saturday which weren’t abandoned due to fighting, so it’s important to get a bit of context, something like that is not a weekly occurance. I’m not expecting football to get an easy deal from the media, but I certainly expect a degree of fairness when reporting it. That said, the events at Newry on Saturday were well out of order.

I’d originally dismissed it as a bit of handbags when hearing the radio commentary, but viewing the photos later on, it was clear how serious the incident was. Anto Lagan will have no complaints if he ends up in court over his involvement.

If he does, I hope he doesn’t bleat about how he is being a test case over it, because it took place on a football pitch. It may be true that the media profile of the incident has contributed to the police involvement, but, if you don’t behave like that, you don’t get arrested. Simple really.

What hasn’t helped matters is referee Raymond Crangle, who has appeared to revel in his media profile this week, leaking his report to the Belfast Telegraph before the IFA Disciplinary Committe has met to discuss punishments to those involved. Yes, there is a public interest in this case, but not until those involved have been punished.

Once those involved have been punished, it is not unreasonable for the IFA to issue a statement detailing exactly why those who get banned are banned, but not before the committee has met. Totally irresponsible from Raymond Crangle, you can’t but ask why he did it, and what he thought he was going to benefit from it.

In a perverse way, this might have helped in the bid for more Irish League coverage on TV, as BBCNI must be kicking themselves that they didn’t send a TV crew to Newry on Saturday.