CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 17.2.2018

It was a far different scenario than when Linfield made their second visit of the season to Solitude last season.

Of course, as you will remember, that game in April 2017 saw Linfield needing three points to secure the title. This time around, the three points were needed to put pressure on Glenavon in the race for 3rd, while a defeat would see them drop to 5th.

As recently as last Saturday, Linfield fans didn’t know if or when this match was going to take place. I’ll be touching on that later.

I headed to my usual spot for lunch when I go to Solitude. Every time I go there, we win. Well, apart from the last time I visited Solitude. I’m blaming it on my trip to The Co-Op afterwards to get a banana for jinxing us.

It definitely wasn’t us playing defensively and trying to hold onto a lead and giving the initiative to Cliftonville.

I had to take a carry-out lunch as there were two Linfield players (not in the matchday squad) hogging a table. Shameful behaviour that brings the game into disrepute. Okay, it’s not quite stealing a taxi, but still.

Linfield got off to a good start, putting Cliftonville on the back foot, with Andrew Waterworth flicking the ball over a defender only to see his shot saved. Kurtis Byrne then had instinctive close range shot saved.

Jay Donnelly then had Cliftonville’s first shot, but it was easily saved.

Achille Campion, recalled to the starting eleven, was involved in most of Linfield’s attacks, making life uncomfortable for Cliftonville’s defenders, as was Niall Quinn, with most of Linfield’s attacks coming down their left.

Campion fired over from inside the penalty area after the ball came to him after a Kirk Millar shot was blocked.

Gareth Deane was then forced into his first real save when he made himself big to deny Chris Curran after the ball fell to him.

Cliftonville were then denied when Jamie Harney hit the bar after a header from a free-kick.

Both sides had reason to feel aggrieved that it was still 0-0.

It was becoming clear that this was a game where the first goal would be vital. Five minutes before the break, Linfield got it when a Kirk Millar corner was headed home by Jimmy Callacher

It was the second time he has scored for Linfield at Solitude, having scored there, and at the same end in March 2016.

Paul Smyth made it 2-0 and secured the points that day. He did the same yesterday, but unfortunateley for Linfield fans, it was at Loftus Road, setting up Matt Smith to give QPR a 2-0 win over Bolton.

The opening minutes of the second-half saw some desperate defending from Linfield, with Mark Stafford blocking a shot on the line, and then blocking a shot from outside the box.

Kurtis Byrne then had a shot saved by Brian Neeson as Linfield looked for the second goal that they needed.

Byrne then made way soon afterwards, replaced by Ryan Strain.

At the same time, Cliftonville made a change, bringing on Rory Donnelly for Joe Gormley, the second successive match against Linfield that Gormley had been substituted just after the hour mark.

With fifteen minutes to go, Linfield got the two goal lead they needed when a Niall Quinn free-kick went in. It wasn’t Quinn who scored it, somebody got a touch to put the ball in. Who? That is up for debate.

I was stood to the left of the goal and thought it was headed in by Achille Campion. He celebrated like he scored it. Some media outlets have given the goal as a Tomas Cosgrove own goal. The TV footage is inconclusive.

It will probably go to the Dubious Goals Committe, which in the Irish League is if the attacking player shouts loud enough for it to be awarded to him.

What’s the French for “Oi! That’s my goal?”

2-0 up and coasting, Linfield fans started taking the piss out of Cliftonville goalkeeper Brian Neeson. He responded by offering one of them out, and it wasn’t for a date.

He even managed to do his own Conor Devlin tribute by booting the ball away (like for his red card in the Irish Cup tie in 2016) as Linfield had a corner. He managed to get a yellow card.

It was hilarious to see a goalkeeper getting so wound up and distracted so easily. This is something our players should be looking to exploit in two weeks time. It’s a pity we won’t have fans in the Railway End for that game.

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, Cliftonville pulled a goal back on 81 minutes from a low Jay Donnelly shot. It looked a goalkeeping mistake from where I was stood. On looking at the TV replay, it looks like a small deflection off a Linfield player which took the ball over Deane.

Gareth Deane has made some errors earlier in the season but there’s been absolutely no complaints about his performances since he came into the team against Coleraine in late January. Don’t forget, he made a vital save from Chris Curran when the score was 0-0.

The goal also ruined his own personal record against Cliftonville. Prior to this game, he had faced them three times, won every match (by an aggregate of 10-0) and obviously kept three clean sheets.

Four clean sheets in a row was gone, but he was still on course for four wins out of four.

It was around this point in the game that Cliftonville began their comeback in September.

At that game, you could feel a bad vibe at what was going to happen next.

At this game, it was more of an inconvenience.

Cliftonville fired a lot of crosses in, but that it what Linfield had to deal with. Both of their Donnellys had headers, but they went well wide of goal. Gareth Deane wasn’t troubled, and neither were Linfield.

Special mention to new signing Joe Crowe who was solid and reliable and kept it simple. He already looks like a decent acquisition to the squad.

However, David Healy appeared not to learn the lessons of September by bringing on Josh Robinson for Achille Campion. You could argue that Andrew Mitchell would have been a better choice. The real answer was, Stephen Fallon or Brandon Adams. Going defensive to hold on to a lead doesn’t work. It’s bitten us on the arse too many times in recent seasons.

Linfield were able to see the game out and get the win. There was no real danger of points being dropped, as Cliftonville couldn’t get hold of the ball in injury time.

Thankfully. Having been at the Ulster match the night before, I wasn’t in the mood for last minute heartbreak on two successive days.

This match was originally scheduled for the Friday night but was played on the Saturday afternoon. The confusion regarding arrangements for this game has been utterly farcical.

When the fixture list is done in June, the games I look out for are International Weekends and the NIFL Cup Final for possible postponements. The further that Cliftonville advanced in the competition, the more this game was in doubt.

Linfield also had another motive for monitoring Cliftonville’s cup progress as we could have used any potential free weekend to play their oustanding (Postponed from 7th October due to International Call-Ups and also Linfield playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup) League match against Glenavon.

Cliftonville’s NIFL Cup Semi-Final against Ballymena United was postponed three times. That was unfortunate. The fact they were having the third go just ten days before the Final was stupidity on behalf of NIFL.

There were three spare midweeks between week commencing 10th December and week commencing 5th February that weren’t used.

I can understand clubs being reluctant to play on week commencing 17th December as it led into two successive Saturday-Tuesday double headers.

There was a free midweek on week commencing 8th January. Clubs might have been reluctant to play that midweek having played Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, but Linfield played Carrick Rangers on Tuesday 9th January.

If it was good enough for Linfield and Carrick Rangers, it should have been good enough for Cliftonville and Ballymena United.

The third midweek not used was week commencing 29th January.

On Monday 29th January, Cliftonville played Glenavon in a game that was broadcast on Sky Sports, having been postponed on it’s original date of Saturday 9th December 2017.

It is worth noting that Cliftonville v Glenavon on Saturday 9th December was not to have been broadcast on Sky Sports.

Sky Sports schedule their Irish League games on either International Weeks, Midweek Premier League Fixture Lists, European Weeks or FA Cup Weekends as their have no games to show, or don’t have the rights to broadcast games.

We are now in peak season in terms of knockout European football. There are plenty of midweeks in the next month where Cliftonville v Glenavon could have been scheduled for broadcast.

Why was a competition that is timebound for late March (So that 33 games can be played before the split) given priority over a competition that is timebound to be completed for mid February?

Why was Ballymena United v Cliftonville not scheduled for week commencing 29th January 2018 just as Dungannon Swifts v Crusaders was?

The knock on effect was that Linfield fans didn’t know if their team would be playing until 5pm last Saturday.

It wasn’t just any normal game. It is a game where we have to buy tickets and be bussed in. This all had to be arranged in a week.

Linfield fans were expected to purchase tickets during the working week. Thankfully, the club was open late on Tuesday evening for supporters. I was able to take advantage of this but others might not be able to.

The club deserves credit for making this option available to fans.

Linfield fans have all sorts of lifestyles and arrangements and should be given more than one week’s notice as to wether a match is on or off, and what day of the week it is taking place on, so that they can make arrangements to go to the game if they wish, and if they have anything that needs arranged in order for them to do so.

Ballymena United v Cliftonville being postponed three times was unlucky, but the point stands that three spare midweeks were not used to schedule this game into. Linfield fans have been inconvenience by utter incompetence by fixture schedulers.

As a result of Ballymena United v Cliftonville being played last Saturday, Cliftonville’s League game against Warrenpoint Town was postponed to Tuesday, and Cliftonville and Warrenpoint’s Friday games were put back to Saturday, presumably, to allow for more recovery time.

If I was Glentoran and Ards, i’d be asking questions as to why they were expected to play Tuesday and Friday, but other clubs were allowed to play Tuesday and Friday.

Upon heading home from this game, I watched the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts on Sky Sports. Well, flicking between that and the United match on BT Sport.

I was tempted to go to the NIFL Cup Final as a neutral but I was never going to make it from Solitude in time.

I’ve already said in a previous blog that Windsor Park was a poor choice for the Final due to it being too big. It was a lazy choice because they were backed into a corner because they had to choose a venue without knowing who the finalists are.

It was even more hilarious that the link for tickets was being advertised on my Social Media feeds, despite the fact that my own team was playing earlier that day.

Now it has been established (Well, it was established in 2012 when two League games were played at the same time as the Final) that League games can be played on the same day as the League Cup Final, hopefully, this will put an end to Friday night games on this weekend in future years.

Regular readers will know that I go to Edinburgh every August for the Festival, but I also like to take in a match while i’m there.

Last August, I went to see Edinburgh City.

They currently groundshare with Spartans due to the redevelopment of Meadowbank Stadium, which now won’t meet SPFL criteria. I’ll be monitoring this one. Hopefully, it all gets resolved.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Ards followed by a home double header against Glenavon and then Cliftonville in the Irish Cup.

So that’s the short-term goal for Linfield. Win the next three games and we’ll be (at worst) level with Glenavon and into the Semi-Finals of the Irish Cup.

Linfield’s season began to go awry after the visit to Solitude in September. Hopefully, it will get on course for a strong finish after the visit in February.

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LINFIELD 0-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 10.2.2018

You ever have a feeling when you watch a football match and you know early on that it is going to finish 0-0? This was one of those games.

Before the match, there was a presentation made to Jamie Mulgrew in recognition of him making his 500th appearance for Linfield, against Warrenpoint Town on Tuesday, making him just the 513 appearances behind Noel Bailie.

Match number 501 would end prematurely, and wouldn’t be one that would be stored in the memory bank.

In the opening minutes of the game, Dungannon were unable to get out of their own half. Unfortunately for Linfield, Dungannon weren’t really pinned into their own penalty area.

The best that Linfield could offer during this period was a speculative long range shot from Mark Stafford, which had to be palmed around the post by Dungannon keeper Stuart Addis.

It was blatantly obvious that this was a game that Linfield needed an early goal, or this was going to be a long afternoon. They didn’t get it, and it turned out to be a long afternoon.

They didn’t help themselves by getting offside at nearly every attack, Jordan Stewart being a serial offender.

There were goals in this game for Linfield as Dungannon’s defence looked shaky when they had possession. The problem was, Linfield weren’t getting the bodies forward. This was typified by a Louis Rooney cross that was asking to be finished, but nobody was on the end of it.

A Dungannon break saw Jarlath O’Rourke hit the bar after being teed up. Throughout the attack, Dungannon players always looked as though they were one step ahead of Linfield’s players.

A few minutes later, Jimmy Callacher lost possession to Daniel Hughes, who was too wide to shoot directly, so tried a chip which was saved by Gareth Deane, before Jamie Mulgrew cleared the danger.

It wasn’t the first time that Callacher lost possession when on the ball. In fact, Linfield’s defence looked every bit as shaky as Dungannon’s when they were in possession of the ball.

Niall Quinn had a free-kick saved in Linfield’s only attack of note of the half.

It was a half that saw Jordan Stewart leave the pitch later than the other 21 players, as he received treatment for an injury following the tackle. The fact he took his top off as he headed down the tunnel was a massive clue that he wouldn’t be making an appearance in the second-half. That, and the fact that Kurtis Byrne spent the interval getting warmed up.

That was the change that happened at half-time.

Byrne had a low shot turned around for a corner. Linfield had numerous corners in the second-half. Every single one of them was headed clear by David Armstrong. Unchallenged.

It looked like Louis Rooney got in behind Dungannon’s defence and had to options, to shoot or cross, either would have brought a goal. He did neither dragging the ball across goal out for a goal kick.

Rooney was then replaced, making way for Achille Campion, who got past a defender and shot straight at the keeper when a pass to Kurtis Byrne looked the best option.

A ball in behind Dungannon’s defence looked to have set up Andrew Waterworth, but he fired at Addis from close range, when a glancing header over the keeper would have brought a goal.

It was then time for a third substitution, Stephen Fallon. It wasn’t the obvious decision of Kirk Millar making way, but the hobbling Jamie Mulgrew.

Fallon almost accidentally set up a winner when his tackle was almost instinctively headed home by Mark Stafford, but it went just wide. You just knew it was going to be one of those days.

It almost got worse for Linfield when debutant Joe Crowe had to make a block when it looked like Dungannon were going to score. The move came about after possession was cheaply given away by two different defenders in the final third.

And that was that, the first time this season that Linfield failed to score in the League this season. They never looked like scoring. There was no urgency or drive, summed up by a bout of sideways passing three minutes into four minutes of injury time.

The truth was, Dungannon’s chances, not as many as Linfield, were better chances. Linfield had to do more to stop Dungannon scoring than Dungannon had to do to stop Linfield scoring.

With Glenavon drawing, this was a missed opportunity to catch up ground on them, especially as they will be inactive next weekend.

The only positive was that Linfield kept their first clean sheet in four League matches.

Elsewhere, Ballymena beat Cliftonville in the long awaited League Cup Semi-Final, meaning that Linfield will definitely have a match next weekend. I can’t contain my excitement after today’s display.

So, Linfield fans will have to take time out during the working week if they want to go to Solitude.

This could have all been avoided if the NIFL had arranged the Cliftonville v Ballymena Semi-Final for either week commencing 8th January or week commencing 29th January, giving the club more time to arrange selling tickets.

It’s a lot of effort to go to just to watch a 0-0 draw. Sorry, i’m just being cynical and negative about this game, but it does have 0-0 written all over it.

It’s a game we need to win, not just for our League position. It’s not about laying down a marker for the Irish Cup tie on March 3rd. We can’t just turn it off and on and save ourselves for the Irish Cup. We need to start building momentum in all games.

We’ve barely turned it on all season, whatever “it” is.

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COLERAINE 2-2 LINFIELD 30.1.2018

This was a match that should have been played on New Year’s Day. Linfield were hoping that this match would kickstarted their 2018, four weeks later than anticipated.

If Linfield take any longer starting this year, they might as well join the Chinese Super League.

Glenavon and Cliftonville dropped four points in their games on Friday and Monday, which meant that Linfield could make up ground on the two sides above them with a win.

While Linfield’s ambitions were to make up ground to try and climb into 3rd. Coleraine’s was a bit more lofty, looking for three points to go top of the League.

It is Coleraine’s strong finish to last season which sowed the seeds for this season’s title challenge that is now what Linfield are aiming to replicate, rather than the Cliftonville 2014 model that did for them last season.

Kirk Millar whipped a cross in the early minutes which had nobody end of it, while Josh Carson had a shot just wide for Coleraine.

Ciaron Harkin’s cross evaded everyone and went out for a goal kick as Coleraine piled on the pressure. There was no immediate danger for Linfield, but the shots were tallying up. Far too many shots for Linfield’s liking.

Darren McCauley had a shot saved by Gareth Deane, deputising for the injured Roy Carroll, while Kirk Millar tried to replicate his goal at Ballinamallard on the opening day of last season after a kick out by Chris Johns, but only managed to put his shot wide.

Jamie McGonigle’s goalbound header was tipped over by Gareth Deane as it looked only a matter of time before Coleraine scored.

That came when McGonigle finished after a quick counter-attack after Linfield lost possession. It was another poor goal to concede.

The goal had been coming, and every time Coleraine attacked, it looked like they were queuing up to score. Even if Linfield had more defenders, Coleraine always looked likely to win out in the situation.

Linfield survived and were relieved to only go in at half-time 1-0 down. They made a strong start to the second-half, with Ryan Strain and Stephen Lowry coming on for Andrew Mitchell and Kurtis Byrne. Kirk Millar looked the more obvious player to make way for Strain.

Stephen Lowry was having an impact. Linfield were now more creative and believable when they attacked.

Andrew Waterworth thought he had equalised but his low shot was saved by Johns. Despite all their possession, this was Linfield’s best attacking moment.

Soon after, Coleraine went 2-0 up when Ian Parkhill was played through and finished. It was another poor goal to concede, as Parkhill didn’t have to move a lot in order to get clear.

The goal had come slightly against the run of the play in the second-half, and it looked like it secured the points for Coleraine.

In the immediate aftermath of the goal, it looked like Coleraine were going to surge on and win 3-0, or possibly more, as their fans taunted David Healy with chants of “Sacked in the morning”, not that it was a realistic scenario.

However, there was to be a late twist, as a cross from Niall Quinn was headed home by Andrew Waterworth with a few minutes to go to make it 2-1. It was the first real moment of attacking quality in the game from Linfield, and suddenly, it was game on.

In February 2016, Coleraine led Linfield 2-0 at home in the first-half. When Linfield pulled it back to 2-1, Coleraine didn’t seem to fancy the fight.

Looking at the body language of the Coleraine players after Waterworth’s goal, it looked like being a repeat situation.

As the board for injury time made an appearance, Linfield had a free-kick out wide.

Stephen Lowry overhit the free-kick, but unbelievably bounced off the bar and hit a Coleraine player and went in. Linfield had got an unlikely equaliser. It was hard to see who scored it from where I was, it didn’t really matter. If you care, it was credited as a Gareth McConaghie own goal.

Various times this season, Linfield have conceded farcical goals and lost games they never looked like losing until they went behind. Now they were on the right side of ridiculousness.

Seasons can turn on the strangest things. Hopefully, Linfield can now use this lucky break as a springboard for the rest of the season.

When the equaliser went in, thoughts went back to a live Sky game in October 2012, when Linfield were deservedly 2-0 down before pulling it back to 2-2 late on, only to lose it 3-2 immediately.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. In fact, if the game last five more minutes, Linfield probably would have won it. If it lasted for ten more minutes, Linfield definitely would have won it.

The draw didn’t help either sides League position. The draw will have cheered up Crusaders fans after they left Stangmore Park following their side’s exit from the NIFL Cup. You have to be a very special team to do a Clean Sweep.

NIFL will have breathed a sigh of relief after that result, avoiding a fixture shitstorm that would have followed a Crusaders win, with them being scheduled to face Inverness away on the weekend of the Final.

It’s a Final that will be played at Windsor Park.

That looks like a lazy one size fits all option, due to the NIFL being backed into the corner by the short turnaround between the Semi-Final and Final.

Crusaders v Cliftonville or Ballymena could have been accommodated at one of the participants home grounds, like in 2014. I could understand using Windsor Park for either of those two combinations though.

Dungannon v Ballymena could be played at Seaview while Dungannon v Cliftonville could be played at Mourneview Park.

Windsor Park being used for the Final means that Linfield now won’t be able to bring forward their League match against Glenavon if they have a free weekend due to Cliftonville reaching the Final.

NIFL were praying that Ballymena v Cliftonville wasn’t postponed. It was. I’ll write about the fall out on that and the knock-on effect for Linfield in my Warrenpoint blog.

Since I last wrote, the draw for the UEFA Nations League was made. Bad news for those wanting to visit Wales, but thankfully bad news for gutter press with no interest in football as Northern Ireland avoided Republic of Ireland.

Unfortunately, we decided to arrange a friendly against them instead. How very underwhelming.

Who we did get was Austria and Bosnia, representing a great chance of promotion.

Austria away is very tempting, especially as you can do a Vienna/Bratislava double header, as there is only one hour between the two cities. Slovakia are at home to Czech Republic the day after Austria v Northern Ireland, but I would guess it would be a bit difficult getting tickets for that game.

Definitely in the calendar is An Evening With Eric Cantona in October. I’ve already sorted myself with a ticket for that.

Linfield have already begun the overhaul of their squad with Ross Clarke being loaned to Ards, Joel Cooper signing in the Summer and the arrival of Joe Crowe from Sandy Row. Yes, actually. That’s his name and that’s where he’s from.

This match was followed by a 1-0 win over Newry in the Irish Cup. I wasn’t at it so can’t comment on it.

It was a match disrupted in the second-half by a floodlight failure. Funny how there’s never a floodlight failure when Linfield are getting beat.

In the Quarter-Finals, is a home tie against Cliftonville, who beat Crusaders. After that match, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter spoke on Radio Ulster about how his players were cynically fouled and that the Fourth Official was influenced by the opposition bench.

I’m not going to make any comment on any possible irony whatsoever.

Cliftonville have scored four goals in each of their last two games, losing to the team at the bottom and beating the team at the top.

There’s nothing to fear, we can beat them. We’ve got previous against them in Quarter-Finals, beating them at that stage en route to the Final in 1992, 1994 and 2016.

It’s Semi-Finals against Cliftonville when the year ends in 9 that are a bit of a problem. We can worry about that next year.

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LINFIELD 2-3 GLENAVON 20.1.2018

With Coleraine and Crusaders going head to head, Linfield and Glenavon faced each other at Windsor Park knowing that a win could give them the opportunity to keep their faltering title challenges just about alive.

It was Linfield who made the perfect start to the game. Kurtis Byrne looked like he was going to get in behind Glenavon’s defence but was denied by an interception. It would only be a temporary reprieved for Glenavon as the resulting corner was punched away by Jonathan Tuffey, only as far as Byrne, who returned the ball into the box, and it went straight back into the back of the net.

It looked like a speculative effort rather than a shot, but it didn’t matter, Linfield were 1-0 up. It also meant goals in successive games for Byrne. It was the third game I had seen Byrne play in, and the third time I had seen him score. In the two previous games, the team he was playing for went on and won. So, time to put the feet up then.

Well, not quite. Glenavon responded, and were level after six minutes whenever Simon Kelly headed home from a corner. Linfield players were appealing for a foul on Roy Carroll. They can ask questions about a foul all they want, but questions have to asked of them as to why Carroll wasn’t protected by them, and why he was allowed to head the ball unchallenged.

All the good work of the opening minute was undone, and we were back to square one.

Roy Carroll was injured in that incident. What is it with Linfield Goalkeepers and Glenavon?

Mark Haughey must have been stood there thinking to himself “Oh for fuck sake, not again”.

You’ve guessed it, no sub keeper on the bench again. Why do we leave ourselves vulnerable like this? Especially when Roy Carroll has had various injury scares during matches this season. We’re allowed to have five substitutes, we should be utilising all of those to make sure all areas of the pitch are covered.

Thankfully, Carroll was able to continue, and was protected by his defence, although Josh Robinson gave him a dodgy backpass when passing to Mark Haughey was the glaringly obvious option.

If Carroll was being (mostly) protected, Jonathan Tuffey was untroubled at the other end due to a combination of poor passing and poor set pieces, the most bizarre of which was one to Jimmy Callacher in the Left Midfield position which went out for a throw.

Linfield finished the first-half strongly but couldn’t get back in front.

Elsewhere, Crusaders were 2-0 up away to Coleraine. Due to the amount of injury time at the end of the first-half, Linfield v Glenavon would be kicking off a bit later than the other games.

By the time the teams re-entered the pitch for the second-half, Coleraine would have already pulled their game back to 2-1. Linfield were hoping to get an early second-half goal as well. However, that is what Glenavon would do.

A cross came in from the right which was bundled home by Andrew Mitchell, the Glenavon one rather than the Linfield one, who was on the bench.

I was at the other end and was wondering what on earth happened. It got worse when you saw the TV replays, as Josh Robinson set him up by standing on the ball.

Have we conceded a decent goal all season? Every goal we’ve conceded this season has been farcical. If we bring out a Season Review DVD, it should be presented by Danny Baker.

One that goal went in, there was a grim inevitability about where the three points would be going.

There was no direct response from Linfield, or even a delayed response. Once it went to 2-1, there was never a period in the game when Glenavon had their backs to the wall. There was never a moment when you thought that a Linfield goal was only seconds away.

Andrew Waterworth came off the bench for Ryan Strain. Strain was hobbling at the time, but it was a substitution that needed to be made, injury or no injury.

In fact, it was Glenavon who were more likely to score the next goal, Stephen Murray being denied by Roy Carroll when put through on goal.

Glenavon’s likliness to score was aided by more shoddy defending from Linfield. They’re simply not doing the basics right. You can’t blame disruption or unfamiliarity when you consider it was three of last season’s back four, the only change being a player who has won two Irish League medals in the previous three seasons, and spent last season playing professionally in England.

They weren’t even clearing the ball properly, inviting more attacks onto them when they should be starting the attacks for Linfield.

Jordan Stewart and Stephen Fallon were introduced from the bench for Kurtis Byrne and Robert Garrett. Achille Campion rather than Kurtis Byrne looked the more obvious player to leave the pitch as Byrne had the more goal threat of the two.

With ten minute to go, Glenavon made it 3-1 with yet another farcical goal from a Linfield point of view, as Josh Robinson fell over having been beaten on the touchline, giving Stephen Murray the space to cross for Marc Griffin to score.

You don’t want to single players out, but that’s two goals where Josh Robinson’s contribution was questionable. It wasn’t just the Glenavon goals where his contribution was questionable. His passes usually went astray. He wasn’t the only one in a blue shirt.

The three points were now heading to Lurgan, and nobody could say they didn’t deserve it.

In fact, Glenavon were still the most likely team to score at 3-1 just as it was at 2-1, with Roy Carroll having to save from a Bobby Burns volley.

Glenavon were showing the type of attacking urgency and creativity that Linfield were so badly lacking.

Those who stayed until the end had to endure five minutes of stoppage time, we not quite bad enough yet for officials to take pity of us and only play one or two minutes.

As the clock hit ninety-five minutes, Andrew Waterworth made it 3-2 to muted celebrations in the stands and on the pitch. Nobody believed that it was going to be the start of a comeback, even allowing for Glenavon’s reputation for silliness in recent seasons.

This result was made even worse by the score from Coleraine, where Coleraine and Crusaders drew 3-3. If Linfield had won, they would have been level on points with Glenavon. More importantly, we would have known that winning our games in hand would have put us only nine points off the top, the margin we came back from in February last year. It could have given us that glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.

Even worse, we’re now 5th behind Cliftonville, who are awful, backed up by a record of eight points in twelve matches against Top Six opponents. That’s embarrassing. Our record, if you care, is a slightly better but still awful twelve points from eleven matches. Even more embarrassing, is the fact we have lost the same amount of matches as Glentoran. That is not the company we want to be keeping in the table.

Glenavon fans and players know that if they win their games in hand, they are only six points off the top and have to play the top two twice, and have a decent goal difference that can be overturned in their favour in the run-in. They’re fancying this. They’re not out of the title race.

If we’ve given up on the title prior to this game, that is unforgivable.

It’s pretty damming that Coleraine have won only one of their last four matches, and still extended their lead over us in that time.

You can cut and paste from any game over the past two months. Even worse when you see a recurring theme of throwing away leads. Eleven points thrown away from winning positions in the last five weeks. We’d be looking to win our games in hand to go joint top with those points.

The last two home League matches, early leads not built on. Last season, we had goal flurrys and killed off opponents before they had a chance to get their bearings.

Add in the Ballymena game in November, there’s nine points thrown away from being 1-0 up inside the first ten minutes.

It’s clear we are missing Jamie Mulgrew and Paul Smyth, but there is no point having them on the pitch when defenders are not marking opponents, standing on the ball or falling over.

There are also problems at the other end of the field as well due to a lack of creativity. It’s a strange thing to say about a team that has scored in every League match this season. The problem is, we are having to score a lot of goals in order to win matches. That shouldn’t be the case.

We may be missing Mulgrew and Smyth, but we made signings in the summer designed to have a squad to cater for injuries and suspensions. Players aren’t coming in and stepping up when they come into the team.

Mark Haughey, Sean Ward and Ross Gaynor stepped up and had to change position during that infamous game at Mourneview Park in November 2016. Cameron Stewart stepped up when Aaron Burns and Paul Smyth were injured. Chris Casement stepped up when Mark Stafford was injured during the run-in. Alex Moore and Gareth Deane stepped up when Roy Carroll was unavailable.

There are very few examples this season of a player coming into the team and making the place their own.

Up next, are trips to Ballymena and Coleraine, weather permitting.

That Coleraine match is on Tuesday week. Never mind the bad results on the pitch, this has been a crap season for away trips with ten (Ards, Crusaders, Warrenpoint, Ballymena, Glenavon, Carrick Coleraine, Warrenpoint, Cliftonville and Ballinamallard) taking place on a weeknight. We’ll come to the last three of those later on.

This week, saw the second postponement of the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals. This has a knock-on effect for Linfield as we are scheduled to be away to Cliftonville on the weekend the Final is scheduled for.

If Cliftonville do win their Semi-Final, that match will need to be rescheduled for a later date.

Glenavon are scheduled to be away to Crusaders that weekend, but they will be inactive in League terms regardless of the Dungannon v Crusaders result as Crusaders are scheduled to be away to Inverness in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Yep, you read that right.

The NIFL Cup Final is scheduled on the same weekend as the Scottish Cup Challenge Semi-Finals. There were two clubs who could have been affected by this, and we’re 90 minutes away from a shitstorm.

Crusaders fans who have booked travel and accommodation will have every right to be fuming if their game against Inverness is postponed.

If it was postponed because of the weather, that would be unfortunate, it’s an occupational hazard of being a football fan. Matches being postponed due to scheduling incompetence is another matter.

I’ve been highlighting this a lot this season. There’s a potential shitstorm brewing. Watch this space.

The other Semi-Final between Ballymena and Cliftonville is scheduled for 6th February, meaning that Linfield’s trip to Solitude will only be confirmed ten days before the match. You’d like to think provisional plans are being put in place for ticketing for a 16th February game.

If it is Cliftonville who reach the Final, hopefully, we can make the most of a free weekend by bringing forward our rearranged home match against Glenavon.

Last week, Linfield should have been away to Warrenpoint, a match that was postponed at 1.30pm for a 3pm kick-off. I’ve no issue with the match being postponed, but it was the way it was postponed.

Nobody wants to see matches postponed, and you don’t want to postpone a match too early, but is clear from the tone of the Tweets on Warrenpoint’s Twitter page that the match was unlikely to go ahead.

Sitting in Applegreen refreshing Twitter in order to find out if a match is on isn’t acceptable, and I wasn’t the only one there doing that. On the plus side, my lunch was nice.

We all have our different matchday arrangements and I was lucky that I could turn around at Lisburn. Others would have been further ahead. Having a postponement so late simply isn’t good enough.

The away trip to Ballinamallard in March has been brought forward to the Friday night. Even though there is two and a half months notice, this isn’t good enough, and for different reasons.

The reason for this is because Northern Ireland have arranged a home friendly against South Korea on Saturday 24th March at 2pm. I’ve no issue with this friendly, i’m actually looking forward to it. My issue with, is that domestic football has been shunted to accommodate it.

It is shabby, rude and disrespectful to the clubs. The worst part was, the rearrangements weren’t part of the announcement of the game, but made a few hours later.

I get why this game is a 2pm kick-off, for South Korean TV, but were clubs given an option when to play their match.

Some clubs might have preferred to play a Saturday evening game to allow fans the opportunity to go to two matches in one day. Some clubs might have preferred to play on Sunday afternoon.

We’re always getting told about how clubs have to be innovative with matchday arrangements, but here we are going with the same old Friday night.

Or even better, could Northern Ireland not have played on the Sunday afternoon instead?

Talking of Northern Ireland, this Wednesday will see the draw for the UEFA Nations League, and Northern Ireland will play one of Austria, Wales, Russia or Slovakia and then one of Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland.

Anyone but Republic of Ireland please. Wales away on a Monday or Tuesday in October would be great.

Meanwhile, North Korea and South Korea are sending a joint team to the Winter Olympics. Just watch the “WE NEED ONE TEAM!!!” brigade suddenly becoming experts in Winter Sports. Keep dreaming, it ain’t happening.

On Monday night previously, Linfield had a behind closed door 6-3 friendly win over Sligo Rovers at The Dub. I wouldn’t have minded going as it is a ground i’ve never seen a match at. Even when we get a convincing win, we manage to concede 3 goals.

On Saturday morning, I did a tour of Windsor Park, which was nice, getting to see behind the scenes. It was announced this week that Windsor Park will bid to host the European Super Cup Final in 2020.

It would be amazing if this happened.

There is one slight problem. Part of the criteria is for stadiums to be smoke free. It will be a right laugh when Bid Inspectors visit Windsor Park and see a dedicated and signposted smoking area.

When the stadium was being designed, someone looked at the plans and thought “You know what, we’re not really catering for smokers here”. Seriously, fucking hell.

If we miss out again, we know who we can blame. If it doesn’t win, I hope Nice wins. Give me an excuse to go back. Loved the city when I visited for Euro 2016. Will be roasting in early August though.

The bad news for Kurtis Byrne is that I won’t be going to the Linfield match next weekend as i’m in London for a short break. I’ll be hoping to take in a game on the Saturday when i’m there. The choices are : Millwall v Rochdale, Brentford v Norwich City, Bormley v Halifax and Leyton Orient v Aldershot Town.

I’m leaning towards the Millwall match as it is only £15.

I’ll end with some good news. When I went to see United take on Bournemouth, my flight home was delayed by three hours. The compensation I got meant that the trip was essentially a freebie.

It would be nice if Linfield could stop giving out freebies.

Photo Album

CARRICK RANGERS 0-1 LINFIELD 9.1.2018

I headed to Carrick on Tuesday night for what was belatedly my first football match of 2018, following the postponement of the New Year’s Day game against Coleraine, and giving the Irish Cup tie at home to Glebe Rangers a miss.

On a belated theme, this was a match that should have taken place exactly a month earlier, having been postponed on it’s original date.

Back then, Linfield had come off the back of wins against the top two and we’re looking to set themselves up for a title charge. Eight points dropped in the month since then has forced them to reassess their ambitions. The three points on offer at Carrick were now to leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th.

There were a couple of shocks for Linfield fans as they entered the ground.

The first was that Achille Campion, Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth were all in the starting line-up together, when most would have expected two from three. Byrne would be deployed in a wide position throughout the game.

The second, was to see their team line up in all blue. I get that a change of socks could be required, but there was no shorts clash. I wouldn’t mind a season in all blue, we do look rather good in it.

Linfield fans were hoping that would be the end of the shocks. We simply couldn’t afford to have another one on the pitch.

Saturday was a rather good day for Linfield. As well as progressing in the Irish Cup and getting a home tie to Championship opponents in the next round, their two opponents this week, Carrick and Warrenpoint, both had to play extra-time with ten men.

Carrick’s match on Saturday was against Glenavon, who Linfield face the week after next, though if Glenavon players are still knackered two weeks later, they should really have a word with themselves.

The new boys, Byrne and Campion were involved in a lot of Linfield’s attacking play in the first-half. Campion was conceding a lot of free-kicks for minimal physical contact where there was no need to make it. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to learn quickly that this is a Defender’s League.

Andrew Waterworth was playing in a deeper role at times, which he did well, but it was taking him away from the areas of the pitch where he was needed most.

As well as battling a side facing relegation, Linfield were facing the elements as well, playing against the wind and struggling to do so.

What few attacks Linfield were having were falling short.

Denver Gage had Carrick’s two best moments in the first-half, heading over from an inswinging corner and firing a low shot straight at Roy Carroll after a free-kick found him free a few yards out. Even allowing for the fact he’s a Defender, he should have scored. You could say that Linfield got a long overdue lucky break.

Kurtis Byrne was Linfield’s man to be denied in the first-half, having a low shot tipped round the post by Harry Doherty. I was behind the goal and thought it was going in.

Later in the half, Doherty was beaten by Byrne only for a Carrick Defender to block it on the line.

It was 0-0 at half-time. Even though the weather was against them, it was poor from Linfield, they weren’t getting the basics right.

Part of me was hoping for a floodlight failure, match abandoned, and we’ll try again on a later date, and we can all be home in time to watch Inside Number 9.

Linfield were having more attacks in the second-half now that the weather was in their favour. Carrick’s big leveller had gone, and Linfield knew it. There was no clear chances, but lots of pressure on the Carrick goal.

The problem was, there didn’t appear to be any urgency or drive from Linfield, nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck. There were too many Hollywood Passes on a night when the wind either made them too short or too long. They had to just keep it simple.

They weren’t helped by the fact that Carrick were given licence to timewaste at will at goal kicks and throws. Roy Carroll would get booked in injury time for taking too long at a goal kick, the second time this season that it has happened. I can barely remember an opposition goalkeeper getting booked against Linfield this season.

If these rules are to be enforced, I’ve no problem with that, as long as it’s enforced consistently. If they are, it will be of no detriment to Linfield. If anything, it will be to our benefit, as most weeks we will be facing opponents who have had their Goalkeeper sent-off for two yellow cards.

Carroll almost gifted Carrick the lead when he passed a clearance to a Carrick Striker, but was able to recover the situation. Carrick fans were celebrating when a cross went over Carroll and hit the back of the netting, promting those at the opposite end to mistakingly believe it had hit the back of the net. Scundered for ye.

More Linfield pressure followed, with Josh Robinson heading against the side netting, to no cheers from fans at the opposite end of the ground.

It was clear that Linfield were crying out for subs to be introduced, especially with players such as Ryan Strain and Stephen Fallon ready to be introduce. They didn’t come, and neither did the Linfield goal.

Bad finishing or bad luck, the ball was staying out of the Carrick net. It was looking set to be a frustrating and costly 0-0 draw.

Eventually, Ryan Strain was introduced for Kirk Millar. Surprising to me, as Fallon would have been the obvious replacement if taking Millar off. It was a change that would work.

Strain was able to create space on the left, and cross to an unmarked Kurtis Byrne, who volleyed home from close range. It was a moment of quality not in keeping with the overall game. It didn’t matter, Linfield had the lead with 10 minutes to go.

They weren’t just going to sit on it, they went for a second but couldn’t get it. They didn’t need it, Carrick never looked like they were going to respond.

It was a win that saw Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th, with a trip to Warrenpoint coming up on Saturday, in the first game at the newly renamed Q Radio Arena. Yep, The Q Radio Arena.

Coleraine and Crusaders have winnable fixtures but Glenavon face Cliftonville, meaning that if we win, we’ll get closer to Glenavon or pull further away from Cliftonville. Small steps.

While we were making use of not having a game on New Year’s Day, we were all acting like proud parents (with a dash of envy) as Paul Smyth scored the winner for QPR against Cardiff, being interviewed by Colin Murray on Channel 5’s highlights programme that night, and then being the cover star of the following Saturday’s QPR matchday programme.

Anybody who has watched Linfield the last three years isn’t one bit shocked. We’ll be seeing him at Windsor Park again soon, but it will be in a green shirt. Thankfully, not for Glentoran on St Patrick’s Day.

That programme he was a cover star for was an FA Cup defeat. I’m in London on the FA Cup 4th Round weekend.

There’s not a lot of choice matches wise : Millwall v Rochdale or Leyton Orient v Aldershot in the National League.

I’ve been to Leyton Orient before, four years ago when they were chasing promotion to The Championship. Now, they are trying to avoid relegation to National League South. I’m probably banned for jinxing them.

The draw for the Irish Cup sees Linfield at home to Newry. It would have been more appealing as a spectator if we were away. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010.

Can’t say I miss the traffic in Newry City Centre. Hopefully, a Linfield win at Warrenpoint will make that experience more bearable on Saturday teatime.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-2 CRUSADERS 30.12.2017

After defeat at The Oval on Boxing Day, David Healy said that Linfield were out of the title race. Wether he actually believed that though, is another matter.

They might have kicked off fifteen points behind morning leaders Coleraine, but with two games in hand, that gap could be reduced to nine points, the gap that Linfield clawed back from February onwards last season. Obviously, points in the bag are better to have than games in hand.

However, defeat at home to Crusaders would surely have put them out of the title race, and they would have to believe it.

It seems to be a tradition in recent years that Linfield and Crusaders meet after Boxing Day, this being the fourth successive season that the two sides have met on New Year’s Day or the last Saturday in December.

Linfield fans will have had fond memories of the last time they faced Crusaders after a Boxing Day defeat at The Oval, a 5-0 win at Windsor Park on 29th December 2007. A repeat scoreline would have been wishful thinking.

As I arrived at Windsor Park, Disappear by INXS was on the stereo. I’m not sure if that song was in relation to Linfield’s title fans, as they looked to Baby Don’t Cry over a team that has continued to Mystify this season.

They were hoping that Ryan Strain being brought into the team would be a New Sensation.

Results against Crusaders this season have been disappointing so far. That would be an understatement. Two games where we surrendered to them by playing 4-5-1, and then a third decided by a horrendous refereeing decision to send off Mark Stafford for being fouled when the game was in the balance.

Those games have seen Linfield gift goals to the opposition.

Linfield made a positive start to this game and were straight on the attack, winning a free-kick which was headed home by Josh Robinson just as sixty seconds appeared on the clock. It was the perfect start, and the first time this season that Linfield had led against Crusaders.

Linfield continued the positive start, Stephen Fallon having a shot saved after Sean O’Neill rushed out to deny Ryan Strain. There were groans that he didn’t get height on it, he really needed to in order to scored. The problem was, getting the right amount of height, so he gambled and hit it low. It didn’t pay off.

Strain and Fallon were getting a lot of joy against Crusaders defence, as was Matthew Clarke. The start was similar to the County Antrim Shield Final. Except, that Linfield couldn’t get a second goal when they were on top.

Crusaders then had chances. Jordan Owens hit the bar from a header after a soft free-kick given for a foul on Paul Heatley. For a player renowned for going down at the slightest touch, Linfield players were giving him too many excuses to go down, and the officials were buying it.

In the opening minutes, it appeared that someone had given Arnold Hunter a rulebook for Christmas as he was actually awarding free-kicks and punishing Crusaders tactical fouling.

He might have had a rulebook, but it appeared he didn’t get a yellow card for Christmas.

That was until midway through the half when his yellow card appeared frequently but his rule book seemed to disappear.

Well, not for Howard Beverland, who seemed to be able to foul without consequence throughout the first-half.

A big second-half performance was needed from Linfield, but they couldn’t get the early goal like last week against Cliftonville.

Just before the hour, Crusaders equalised when Billy Joe Burns fired home from long range. As good as the goal will look on TV, questions have to be asked of Linfield’s defending.

It came from a clearance from Matthew Clarke clearing it inside across the pitch rather than the way he was playing.

It’s literally schoolboy stuff, the first thing you learn when learning to play football.

Yes, Matthew Clarke was under pressure, but he had options. He could have won a cheap foul or gone safety first and just conceded a throw.

By clearing the ball across the pitch, he put his own team under pressure that they didn’t need to be under. Even so, questions have to be asked why Billy Joe Burns was allowed so much freedom to run with the ball, especially when it was so glaringly obvious what he was going to do.

Even more worrying, was the body language of the Linfield players after the goal. They looked like they didn’t believe they could go 2-1 in front, they looked like a beaten team when the score was 1-1.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Robert Garrett and Ross Clarke for Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon. I’m not sure if Jordan Stewart is injured, but if he’s not, he should be in the matchday squad.

He had an awful game on his last appearance against Warrenpoint, and no player should be an automatic selection, but surely he should be on the bench. Boxing Day and today were crying out for him when the score was 1-1.

Crusaders then hit the bar twice, albeit the top of it. They were getting too close for Linfield’s liking.

On 80 minutes, came a goal that summed up Linfield’s season, as a long ball was allowed to bounce, Robert Garrett and Josh Robinson tackled each other, before Garrett stands on the ball when trying to win it back, while Robinson backs off Gavin Whyte, allowing him to shoot into the bottom corner via a deflection.

If you are Alan Hansen, this is porn for you.

We’re not even losing to good goals. We’re losing to the absolute worst in Pub League goals.

You don’t to single players out but that’s the second goal this week we’ve conceded that you look at Robert Garrett and think “Hmmmmm”. He’s not the worst offender this season or in recent weeks. Josh Robinson’s contribution in this goal is also questionable.

Worst thing was, it was game over. You just looked at the players and they believed it was game over. It was like the worst games between 2008 and 2010, when Linfield went three years without winning a League game from behind. It was like the worst games in David Jeffrey’s final years, when we used to bend over for Cliftonville for fun. Not our fun, might I add.

Cameron Stewart came on for Ryan Strain. It was a substitution that had seemed obvious for about ten minutes before. It should have been proactive rather than reactive.

Colin Coates did have to head over on his own goal line when it looked like Andrew Waterworth was going to head home. It was the only thing that Linfield could offer rather than being the start of the siege.

There was nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck for Linfield, nobody looking like they were going to make something happen, to offer something different.

Crusaders were able to see out the final ten minutes, aided by Sean O’Neill timewasting at goal kicks, the referee being too stupid to do anything about it. Naturally, the time wasn’t added on at the end of the game.

Linfield players looked too defeated to protest. I’m not sure how many times i have to mention it, but the players should be making an issue of it, putting teams under pressure when taking their own throws and goal kicks, getting players on yellow card tightropes, to have it in the referee’s head that the appropriate amount of injury time needs to be added when Linfield need a goal.

We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams, because opposition teams aren’t slow in raising it if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

Yes, Linfield are missing Paul Smyth, but there’s no point in having Paul Smyth when you concede the goals we concede. Basic stuff. Do they even practice defending at training?

Jay Donnelly not being tracked, Jamie McGonigle being allowed a free run in the last minute, Curtis Allen allowed to roam the penalty area unmarked, take your pick from the Crusaders match in October, take your pick from the Warrenpoint game a few weeks back.

Teams don’t have to do a lot in order to score against us.

It seems to be a perfect storm, as the goals aren’t going in at the other end, which seems to be a strange thing to say about the only team in the League to have scored in every game this season.

We’re not killing teams off when we’re in front, and not seeing the game out when we need to.

We have options up front, but nobody seems to be making the most of the opportunity when they get a game or a run of games.

Brandon Adams has been scoring for fun in the Reserves but has been anonymous when he’s made a first team appearance. Louis Rooney needs a goal but hasn’t looked like getting one.

We’ve conceded last minute winners to Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran. They were all games we never looked like losing. Even those three points could give us a glimmer of hope.

We’ve thrown away leads against Cliftonville, Ballymena, Glentoran and Crusaders. We led at half-time in three of those games (the other was a late first-half goal) and never looked like losing when we went in at half-time in any of those games.

We wouldn’t be top with those twelve points, but we’d be in a far better position.

Where has all the self-belief gone? Where has the concentration in the final minutes of games gone? All the bad habits from David Jeffrey’s final years have returned. Why are we not turning up in big games?

For the second successive matchday, Coleraine have dropped points and we haven’t taken advantage. Now we’re eying up Glenavon instead, hoping to finish 3rd to possibly secure European Football.

We can’t let heads go down and for the season just to drift. If Cliftonville in 2014 were our reference point last season, Cliftonville in 2015 have to be our reference point for how not to do things, they let the season drift once the title had gone, finishing 5th and have never recovered.

Up next, is a trip to Coleraine on Monday afternoon (Or, New Year’s Day, if you prefer), starting 2018 at the venue of my favourite football match in 2017 (The one in April, not October, in case you hadn’t worked it out)

Before the match, I purchased the addendum to Every Other Saturday, to include last season’s three trophies.

I’d held off purchasing it in case Santa got it for me. He didn’t.

I’m hoping the players got a copy and read it on the long journey to Coleraine. They could do with the inspiration, and a reminder that they are a far better team than results and league position suggests.

Photo Album

GLENTORAN 2-1 LINFIELD 26.12.2017

It’s the most wonderful time of year apparantly. I doubt Andy Williams saw his team lose on Boxing Day to a deflected last minute winner.

It was the traditional Boxing Day clash of Linfield and Glentoran, and with it being an odd numbered year, it was at The Oval, because well, they’re a bit odd in the East of the city.

Defeat wouldn’t ruin Linfield’s Christmas, it could potentially ruin their season, as they need points, kicking off fourteen points behind morning leaders Coleraine, albeit with two games in hand.

Linfield fans will have had good memories of their most recent League visit to The Oval, in February, kicking off nine points behind Crusaders with nine games to go, winning 1-0 to kickstart a winning run that saw them lift the title.

In fact, Linfield fans will have enjoyed a lot of their recent visits to The Oval, winning their last eight away League visits to Glentoran.

There was the Irish Cup tie there last season, a home match against Crusaders there in April 2015, a League Cup tie won on penalties in October 2013, then a penalty shoot-out win in the Big Two Challenge in July.

Linfield have won a lot of games at The Oval recently. So many, we can’t actually agree on how many.

I was running late and missed the opening minutes of the game. I didn’t get to see any of Jamie Mulgrew, as he was substituted through injury in the opening minutes, replaced by Stephen Lowry.

I arrived in the ground to see Elliott Morris lying on the ground requiring treatment. Standard.

Mark Haughey had a header headed off the line as Linfield piled on the pressure looking for the breakthrough.

That pressure was rewarded when Cameron Stewart was played in and finished low into the bottom corner to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Minutes later, her was played through again but dragged his shot wide. Near post or far post would have brought a goal, but he hit neither. Even more baffling that it came from a player who had just scored and should have been full of confidence.

Linfield were left to rue that chance when Curtis Allen snuck in from a free-kick to fire home to make it 1-1.

Questions have to be asked about the defending, why a goal threat was allowed to get a free run at a loose ball.

It wouldn’t be the only time a loose ball in the penalty area fell to a Glentoran player.

Before the half was over, Mark Stafford would have a header easily saved by Elliott Morris.

It was one of many Linfield set pieces aimed at the back post. It was predictable. Even if a Linfield player got on the end of it, they were stretching for it, or were too far away from goal to have a realistic chance of scoring. It was predictable, and because it was predictable, it was easy for Glentoran to defend.

And when Glentoran weren’t able to defend it, they were able to get the second ball.

Linfield began the second-half strongly, with Andrew Waterworth having a shot go just wide and Mark Haughey having a header saved. They couldn’t get the goal. Glentoran were able to ride out the pressure.

On 66 minutes, Mark Stafford was lucky to escape with just a yellow card after squaring up to a Glentoran player after a wild tackle. Dylan Davidson was booked for his part in it.

As well as being predictable at set pieces, Linfield were predictable in open play, far too often just hoofing it up. Their decision making was poor. There are eleven players on a pitch which is quite big, yet Linfield players couldn’t find the right pass. Glentoran players didn’t have to make a last gasp tackle.

Ross Clarke, matchwinner in 2012, came on for Niall Quinn, as Linfield chased a winner.

Josh Robinson headed just wide in a rare free header. He should have got it on target. If he did, it was a goal.

Kirk Millar then came on for Stephen Fallon. I could understand bringing on one of the two wingers, but not two of them.

The third sub should have been Louis Rooney. Granted, it hasn’t happened for him this season, nobody can dispute that, but Linfield needed something different. A second winger off the bench, when Linfield had barely played it wide all game was not the answer.

A striker coming on from the bench with a point to prove could well have given Linfield that spark for the final minutes.

Ross Clarke fired just over when played in. If he kept it low, he would have scored. It was another poor decision. Poor decision making has been too frequent in Linfield’s season.

As injury time approached, Linfield lost possession when attacking, once again a Glentoran player was first to a loose ball, beginning a counter attack which saw a speculative shot deflected in by Curtis Allen. Linfield were now losing a game they never looked like losing.

Dylan Davidson was sent-off for a second yellow card in the aftermath of the goal.

90 minutes too late, Linfield now had urgency and a drive towards goal.

It’s easy to have drive and urgency when it is 1-2. It should have been there at 0-0, 1-0 and 1-1. If it was there at 1-0, there might not have been a 1-1.

It almost brought a reprieve for Linfield when Mark Haughey finished from close range after a free-kick. It was disallowed for offside, cutting the celebrations short. False hope, the story of Linfield’s season so far.

Looking at the replay on the TV coverage, it’s hard to see where the offside is.

Here’s a stat for you. When was the last time Linfield lost a League game to Glentoran after taking the lead? 12th October 2002. That’s pretty damming.

With Coleraine drawing, the damage is only one point, and if Linfield win their games in hand, they will have the same defecit they overcame last season.

However, with a traffic jam at the top of the League, we didn’t lose a point to Coleraine, we lost three points to Crusaders and Glenavon.

When opportunities present themselves to you, you have to take them.

At the moment, Linfield aren’t in the chasing pack. They are in the also-ran group with Cliftonville. That is not the sort of company we want to keep, because Cliftonville are awful.

That can change with wins in the net two games.

The season isn’t over. There is still a lot to play for. There’s still the Irish Cup and securing European football.

The last time we had a season like this was in 2012-2013. We ended that season with a whimper. It was a hangover that continued into the opening month of the following season. You could arugue that it cost us the title.

If we don’t win the League, we have to finish the season strongly. Anything less will not be tolerated

It hasn’t been a great Christmas for Linfield, with Linfield Swifts losing to Newington in the Steel and Sons Cup Final.

Waking up at 10am and seeing the rain outside, I think I made the right decision in not going.

It was amusing to see one Newington player describe it as the club’s greatest moment, meaning that a win over Linfield Swifts was a greater moment than a win over Glentoran.

Up next, is Crusaders at home. Hopefully, we go 4-4-2, stand up to them and attack them. None of this showing respect to them and playing 4-5-1 and standing off them bollocks. Get tore into them and attack them. They’ve been sneaking wins and conceding goals the past few weeks. They learnt the had way at Ballymena last April that you can only get away with that for so long.

I do fear that today’s result might make 4-5-1 the easy option.

Whatever formation they line up on Saturday, expect a change in personnel.

Any player who played today who doesn’t start on Saturday can have no complaints.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …)

Here we are, the final photo round-up of 2017, looking back at my adventures in December. Well, December so far.

December began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

That was followed by a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

I was hoping to follow that with a trip to Carrick to see Linfield play Carrick Rangers, but that was postponed due to snow.

I decided to make the most of a football free Saturday, by going out and getting pictures of the snow in Belfast.

There was one final concert for 2017, as I headed to The Limelight to see The Charlatans.

The following day, I flew to Manchester, to see United take on Bournemouth primarily, but I also managed to squeeze in some Street Art photos from Manchester and Salford Quays.

Upon my return, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield play Warrenpoint Town and draw 3-3.

The following Saturday, it was another visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville 2-0.

There’s still eight days left in December, i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day, and then back to Windsor Park next Saturday for more photo adventures.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series looking back at 2017 In Pictures. I’m already looking forward to see what 2018 will bring in terms of photo adventures.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Belfast Snow December 2017

Snow – Friday 8th December Photo Album

Snow – Saturday 9th December Photo Album

Snow – Sunday 10th December Photo Album

The Charlatans live at The Limelight

The Charlatans live at The Limelight Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

LINFIELD 2-0 CLIFTONVILLE 23.12.2017

Regardless of Coleraine and Crusaders results on Friday night, this was always going to be a must-win game for Linfield and Cliftonville. Both had hoped that they would be aiming to capitalise on dropped points by one or both. The reality that they woke up to on Saturday morning was that they were needing to win just to keep in touch after Crusaders beat Ballymena and Coleraine beat Warrenpoint.

Three points seperated these teams in Cliftonville’s favour at kick-off. Despite that, the two clubs had near similar records with the same amount of goals conceded but Linfield with one goal more scored. That meant that a win by any score would see Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville in the table.

The two clubs had one unwanted similarity this season, their records against fellow Top 5 teams.

5th at kick-off, Linfield were the highest ranked team that Cliftonville had beaten this season. They might have arrived at Windsor Park on a run of seven wins in a row and eleven wins out of the last twelve, but the run was perhaps deceptive.

Impressive you might think, but that run includes games against Carrick (x2), Warrenpoint (x2), Glentoran (x2), Dungannon Swifts, Ballinamallard, Ards and Ballymena. To be honest, you would expect them to be on that sort of run with that fixture list.

There were four changes to Linfield’s starting eleven after last week’s draw with Warrenpoint, with Robert Garrett, Josh Robinson, Cameron Stewart, Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon coming in for Chris Casement, Andrew Mitchell, Stephen Lowry, Jordan Stewart and Kirk Millar.

None of the players who were left out could really complain.

Cliftonville made a good start to the game, Linfield weren’t really at it. Inside the first couple of minutes, a Cliftonville corner was cleared, with the resulting play seeing Levi Ives play a through ball to Rory Donnelly, whose shot when clean through was easily saved by Roy Carroll. It was far too easy for Cliftonville.

That would turn out to be the only moment of worry for Linfield fans in the first-half. Cliftonville’s only main attacking moment of note came when Rory Donnelly was played into a good shooting position but sliced wide when the obvious thing to do was to shoot across Carroll.

Linfield couldn’t get the ball. Anytime they got a free-kick, Cliftonville wouldn’t give them the ball to restart the game. They knew what they were doing, they were trying to get a reaction from Linfield players, Robert Garrett getting needlessly involved.

Linfield players weren’t buying it, but they were worryingly browsing at the shop window.

Eventually, Linfield were able to get more of the ball and had their first attacking moment when a corner from Niall Quinn bounced over. If it hit the woodwork or the ground, Josh Robinson would have been in prime position to score into an empty net.

Another promising attack saw Niall Quinn cross for Andrew Waterworth. Waterworth couldn’t quite get into himself into a shooting position, ending up getting tackled, but the ball fell perfectly for Stephen Fallon, who fired home.

You could say that it was a lucky goal, but you make your own luck, and Fallon did that by being in the right place. Far too many times this season, the ball has fallen to an opposition player. This time, it fell to a Linfield player.

Suddenly, Cliftonville were looking shaky, struggling to cope with Cameron Stewart. The game had turned in Linfield’s favour.

Soon after, Robert Garrett got himself booked. Cliftonville players were now targeting him, trying to get a reaction from him and a second yellow card. It hard worked before for them, in February 2014.

Garrett has been sent-off four times as a Linfield player – 2008 (Glentoran), 2011 (Glenavon), 2014 (Cliftonville) and 2017 (Ballymena)

Logically, it would seem that he’s not due a red card until 2020, so he has two years, one week and two days left to kick all round him.

In all seriousness, as the half-time whistle blew, Linfield fans were expecting to see Stephen Lowry introduced from the bench in place of Robert Garrett. As the teams entered the field for the second-half, that would prove not to be the case.

It was a second-half that Linfield would start strongly, attacking Cliftonville and testing their defence. Cameron Stewart was able to get in behind them but his cross was blocked.

It came was no surprise when Linfield made it 2-0 on 56 minutes. The start of the move may have been though.

An inswinging Cliftonville free-kick was caught by Roy Carroll, who threw it to Niall Quinn, who cut inside his man, played it to Jamie Mulgrew, who played in Andrew Waterworth, who made it 2-0, off the post.

As Waterworth ran through on goal, there was only going to be one outcome. Hoever, as the strike was hit, from where I was sat, it looked like it was going agonisingly wide. Thankfully not.

Returning from injury, it was business as usual for Mulgrew. That included being fouled, making up for lost time as he looks to win the award of most fouled player for the umpteenth time in succession.

It was noticeable during the first-half that when Roy Carroll caught a cross or set piece, he was looking to release the ball straight away for a counter attack, barking at his team-mates for not being on his wavelength. His willingness to launch a counter attack was rewarded.

Not long after that, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garrett. David Healy had gambled on keeping Robert Garrett on until Linfield increased their lead. It was a gamble that paid off.

Stephen Fallon blasted over from a similar position that he scored from as Linfield tried to make it 3-0.

Cliftonville’s response was to take off Joe Gormley and replace him with Daniel Hughes, to ironic cheers from the home support.

A surprising substitution to some. If you’re chasing the game, you’d rather have Joe Gormley on the pitch, no matter how bad he was playing.

It didn’t matter who was on the pitch, as Cliftonville never looked like scoring, though Daniel Hughes did force Roy Carroll into a save from outside the box, that was as good as it got for Cliftonville.

Stephen Fallon was replaced by Kirk Millar for the final minutes. Nobody has really claimed right midfield this season since Paul Smyth, the vacancy is there. Fallon has given himself an excellent opportunity of making it his over the past two Saturdays.

Kirk Millar would be facing a Cliftonville side that by now had lost their discipline, falling for the type of tricks that they were trying to pull on Linfield players in the first-half.

Brian Neeson barged into Louis Rooney after a challenge. The ball was still in play and the game was still live. It should have been a penalty. Cliftonville were rattled and frustrated, and Linfield players and fans knew it.

A much needed win for Linfield, that sees them jump above Cliftonville into 4th, both those sides below Glenavon, who beat Dungannon.

This was Cliftonville’s first defeat in seven games. Ending runs but not really going on one of their own has been a Linfield trademark this season. They had previously ended Coleraine’s unbeaten start and Glenavon’s unbeaten home record.

The challenge that is next, is ending Glentoran’s one match unbeaten run, Crusaders unbeaten recent run (Sorry Cliftonville, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day) and Coleraine’s unbeaten home record (Sorry Ballymena, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day)

There is also Linfield Swifts on Christmas Day against Newington in Steel and Sons Cup Final, so hopefully they can win the trophy for the second successive year. I’m not going, but if you are, enjoy yourself.

Curiously, last year was the last time the trophy was used and a new replica will be used in the future. It would be a nice curiousity if Linfield Swifts were to be the last and first winners of each trophy.

I forgot to mention last week, that Easyjet have announced routes to Valencia and Naples from Belfast. I think they will only be seasonal and only on a couple of days a week, so that put an end of my dreaming of a football weekend.

Closer to home, this week saw the announcement of the 2018 League Of Ireland fixture list.

The date I was looking out for was Friday 13th July, as i’ll be off for the July Holidays. I might book an overnight to Dublin that day, and take in a football match while doing touristy stuff.

The matches on in Dublin I will have to choose from if I go down that day will be Bohemians v Sligo Rovers or Shelbourne v Drogheda United.

Also, a full fixture list on Monday 12th March with Wateford at home interests me as I have to use excess carry-over Annual Leave by the end of March and I do want to see Waterford Walls.

Back to Linfield, and dates for the two outstanding League matches were announced this week, with a trip to Carrick on Tuesday 9th January and a home match against Glenavon on Tuesday 27th February.

That trip to Carrick is concerning, as it is added to an already packed fixture list, making it six games in seventeen days. Expect to see a lot of changes for the Irish Cup tie against Glebe.

Tuesday 16th January is the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals, why not play that night? Can’t say anything about the competition wanting sole billing as there’s a full fixture list on the weekened of the Final. Or even just play it on the Wednesday?

Tuesday 23rd January is the County Antrim Shield Final. Can’t say anything about that competition wanting sole billing as Cliftonville played Carrick Rangers on the night of the Final in 2016.

I just think we’re not helping ourselves by agreeing to that date.

However, we can flip it around to our advantage. If we win the next three games, we’ll probably be desperate to play Carrick on January 2nd, and use it as an opportunity to get some points on the board after a productive Christmas. Hopefully.

So, I sign off by wishing you a Merry Christmas, except if you support Newington, Glentoran, Crusaders or Coleraine. May you have an awful 25th December, 26th December, 30th December or 1st January, whichever is applicable.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER 2017

November began with a long trip to Fermanagh to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard. It was raining goals and raining rain as Linfield won 6-0.

From going West, it was going East that was next on my agenda, as Northern Ireland took on Switzerland with the aim of going to Russia. They lost 1-0.

The following day, it was a trip to Ballymena, to see Linfield lose 2-1.

The following Friday, the entertainment was of a musical variety, as The Killers came to The Odyssey.

The photos continued on a musical theme, getting photos of a Run DMC mural in Belfast, as well as some Street Art beside Apache.

It was back to football, seeing Linfield beat Coleraine and Glenavon.

The last day of the month saw me cycle to Lisburn to get some Street art photos, including a mural of Top Cat.

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Switzerland

Northern Ireland v Switzerland Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

The Killers live at The Odyssey

The Killers live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Run DMC/Apache Mural

Run DMC Mural Photo Album

Apache Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Glenavon v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album