CRUSADERS 2-0 LINFIELD 14.4.2018

After two successive wins at the start of the split, Linfield headed to Seaview looking for a third successive win to keep control of third place, and possible automatic qualification for next season’s UEFA Cup.

Next season’s UEFA Cup is a competition that Crusaders want to avoid playing in, currently top of the League only on goal difference.

Both teams were going for goal early on, with Jordan Owens and Andrew Waterworth both having shots on goal saved.

Linfield were holding their own, but it was Crusaders whose attacks were causing the most concerning, always having an option to pass or cross to every time they went forward.

On 15 minutes, Crusaders took the lead when a cross landed at an unmarked Jordan Owens, who had enough time to set himself up to finish from close range.

Questions have to be ask how Owens was unmarked in the six yard box. It wasn’t even a quick attack, why didn’t somebody get close to him?

Once again, Linfield concede a goal to Crusaders that is basic, and of their own doing.

The important thing was that heads didn’t go down.

Linfield almost got an instant equaliser when a neat passing move between Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth played in Stephen Fallon whose shot was smothered by Crusaders goalkeeper Brian Jensen.

Linfield were creating chances and were encouraged by this. Mark Stafford intercepted just as Jensen was going to pick up a free-kick, with Andrew Waterworth being unable to finish when the ball fell to him.

Despite Linfield’s attacking encouragement, it was clear that they were missing Jamie Mulgrew.

When Mulgrew gets the ball, his first intention is to go forward. Well, until he is fouled.

Neither Stephen Lowry or Andrew Mitchell were doing that. Nobody was driving forward from midfield.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy Carroll was the Linfield player who received the most passes, such was the lack of imagination going forward at times.

Stephen Fallon had another shot saved by Jensen, pouncing after he spilled a shot from Kurtis Byrne.

Billy Joe Burns almost scored from a cross come shot before a snapshot from Andrew Waterworth forced Jensen to turn it behind for a corner.

That resulting corner was the final actions of the first-half. The whistle blew with a Crusaders player injured in the penalty box. As Andrew Waterworth went to check on his welfare, a pack of Crusaders players surrounded him like feral wolves.

After midweek events in Madrid, this is a topical issue in football. However, the referee did nothing about it. Waterworth was already on a yellow card and the Crusaders players were targeting him. They knew what they were doing.

As the teams left the pitch, Colin Coates and Jordan Owens were trying to generate cheers in front of the home stand, like it was WWE or Panto. The absolute state of them.

That should have been David Healy’s half-time team talk sorted.

You can laugh at all of Cristano Ronaldo’s posturing, he can back it up by being one of the greatest players of all time with individual achievements and winners medals to go with it.

Watching a bunch of nobodies like Coates and Owens acting like Billy Big Balls should have been motivation to put them back in their box where they should have been put back in 2014.

Despite being 1-0 down, there were signs of encouragement for Linfield. They had chances and were creating chances. There were goals for Linfield if they went at Crusaders and attacked them, especially as their were playing towards where their fans were based.

Those attacks, never materialised.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Gavin Whyte had a free-kick saved by Carroll while Carroll saved a Jordan Owens header.

Linfield’s response. Um, ahhhh, erm ……

Kirk Millar had a free-kick which was overhit and went out for a goal kick.

Even if he did get it towards the penalty spot, there probably would have been a Crusaders head getting there first.

That was a theme throughout the game, Crusaders were first to every ball. Even though the wind was blowing and the pitch wasn’t bouncey, Linfield players were anticipating the ball, they weren’t in position to get the second ball. Too many Linfield attacks were ended because Crusaders players were first to the clearance.

David Healy was slow to change things. Probably because there weren’t a lot of options.

There were three attackers on the bench – Ryan Strain, Louis Rooney and Achille Campion, but not a lot of goals. You didn’t look at anyone on the bench and think “Yes, he’ll get us a goal”.

It’s quite damming that the biggest goal threat on Linfield’s bench was Jimmy Callacher.

Strain and Campion came on for Byrne and Fallon.

The grandstand finish never materialised as the game meandered. You would have thought it was a mid table clash between two sides with nothing to play for.

Having seen how vulnerable Crusaders were last weekend when 1-0 up, Linfield should have been grabbing the game by the throat and pushing for an equaliser, especially as they were attacking their own fans.

Even more so as by this point, Glenavon were 3-1 up at Solitude, putting them 3rd, one point ahead of Linfield. The race for 3rd was now being decided by the fact that Glenavon got a point at Seaview and Linfield didn’t.

This game at Solitude was Glenavon’s first win in seven games. There was no way they were going to go the final two months of the season without a win. Linfield had to grab every point that they could.

With two minutes remaining, Jordan Owens headed home to make it 2-0 and make sure of the points for Crusaders, not that they were in any danger of surrendering them. Linfield never looked like scoring.

What made it worse was the lack of ideas, hoofing the ball upfield, playing right into Crusaders.

In the space of one season, Linfield players have regressed into fearing Crusaders, just as they did between 2012 and 2016.

How many times do they need to be told? Do not be afraid of Crusaders. There is no need to be afraid of Crusaders.

Louis Rooney came on for Matthew Clarke as Linfield went to 3-4-3. Too little, too late.

By now, away fans were heading to the exits. They didn’t miss much, apart from an Andrew Mitchell red card, giving the Crusaders fans what they wanted. Once again, Linfield had been outsmarted by a stupid team.

For most of the game, the main saving grace for Linfield was that Cliftonville and Glenavon were drawing 0-0.

That meant that despite the defeat, Linfield would be one point clear of Glenavon and four points clear of Cliftonville in the race for 3rd.

Four goals and a red card in the space of ten minutes gave Glenavon a 3-1 win.

Glenavon are now 3rd, a point clear of Linfield and six clear of Cliftonville. Cliftonville can still catch Glenavon, but a goal difference of eleven in Glenavon’s favour which would be need to be overturned in four matches makes that unlikely.

Glenavon boosted their goal difference by four goals today, giving them five over Linfield. If Linfield are to get 3rd place, it won’t be on Goal Difference.

Next weekend, Glenavon are at home to Ballymena United. Once again, Linfield are looking for a favour from Ballymena United on Matchday 37. I would expect Glenavon to win that game. The only hope is, Ballymena must surely be due a win.

Next Saturday, Linfield are at home to Coleraine. I can’t say i’ve much expectation going into this game.

If Linfield were to win next Saturday, it would present the title to a bunch of Hoofball Thugs. In truth, the title was always going to be won by an unbearable shower. Linfield’s interest in the title race ended a long time ago. They didn’t even look like making much of an impact on it today.

Not going to lie, I really can’t be arsed with the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, it’s an utter farce. It should be Top Three in the League plus the Cup Winners, or Fourth if the Irish Cup win won by a team in the Top Three.

If that is the fate we are given, then we must be ready. When that is, is anyone’s guess, as the dates haven’t been announced. I would expect Tuesday 8th May and Friday 11th May.

Even if Glenavon finish 3rd, it would still be advantageous for Linfield if Cliftonville lose the Irish Cup Final, as they would be going into the Play-Offs on the back of a major disappointment and could struggle to life themselves for it. Plus, it would give Linfield home advantage (assuming they finish 4th) should they reach the Final.

Elsewhere, it was announced that Brandon Adams has left the club with immediate effect. That was no real surprise. He’s seemed to score for fun for Linfield Swifts but could never do it for the first team.

I know he has been restricted to substitute appearances, but there’s never been a time he has come off the bench where I have thought that he has to start the next game.

This week, saw St Patrick’s Athletic announce plans for a new stadium meaning i’ll have to try and fit in one last visit to Richmond Park on a future annual day trip to Dublin.

That may not be the smartest idea, as I have been to Richmond Park twice, in 2010 and 2013, with both games ending 0-0.

I’m doing a day trip to Dublin in July. The two matches on while i’m there. The options are Bohemians v Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne v Drogheda United. I’ll keep you updated on that.

Elsewhere, Spartans won the Lowland League. You may remember them facing Linfield in the Scottish Challenge Cup in September

Regular readers will know I keep an eye out for their results as I go to Edinburgh every August, and plan on seeing them if they get promoted to League Two, if they are at home when I am in Edinburgh.

All they have to do is win a Play-Off against the Highland League Champions (Cove Rangers), and then win a Play-Off against the side that finished bottom of League Two (Cowdenbeath).

Not going to lie, I can’t wait for this season to end. At least the World Cup will distract me from how farcical this season has been.

Photo Album

Advertisements

LINFIELD 2-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 7.4.2018

A late run of form saw Ballymena claim the last place in the Top Six ahead of Glentoran. It wasn’t just the obvious opportunity to laugh at Glentoran having a second successive season of Bottom Six football. Having paid for a Season Ticket last summer, and liking to watch my pennies, having three home games and not having to go to The Oval today was also a positive.

A week long break after that win over Ballinamallard killed Ballymena’s momentum, and they couldn’t recover it on Easter Tuesday, losing 3-0 at home to Cliftonville.

That win for Cliftonville, combined with Linfield’s win over Glenavon meant that 3rd place Glenavon and 5th place Cliftonville were separated by two points, with Linfield sandwiched in 4th, level with Glenavon.

Depending on the result of the Irish Cup Final, 3rd place could guarantee an automatic place in Europe next season. Every point is vital, Linfield had to grab three of them today, especially with Glenavon and Cliftonville travelling away to the top two.

Linfield were unchanged from Tuesday night’s game. A bit surprising, as Jimmy Callacher was available after serving a one match ban, Josh Robinson kept his place, with Callacher on the bench. Robert Garrett was serving the second game of his two match ban.

Not a lot happened in this first-half, but what did happen, Andrew Waterworth was involved.

He had Linfield’s first attempt on goal, creating space for himself before firing over, as well as having a goal disallowed for offside. Looked it, so no complaints.

Waterworth also got himself a yellow card for shoulder barging a Ballymena player who accused him of diving, four days after a Glenavon player didn’t even get a yellow card for pushing him over.

That’s the sort of consistency we love from Irish League Referees.

Trying to goad Linfield players seemed to be a tactic by Ballymena in the first-half, with several of their players trying to gang up on Kurtis Byrne after a collision with Jim Ervin. Thankfully, Linfield players didn’t take the bait.

Linfield had to make a first-half sub when Niall Quinn went off injured, replaced by Stephen Fallon.

Conor McCloskey had the only first-half shot after a run, which was easily and spectacularly saved by Roy Carroll, for the benefit of Photographers.

Linfield needed to step it up in the second-half, especially when they digested the half-time scores from elsewhere.

Glenavon were 1-0 down away to Crusaders, which meant that Linfield would jump above them, but Cliftonville were 1-0 up away to Coleraine, meaning they would now be level on points with Linfield, and have a lot of momentum going in their favour.

There was a scenario pre-match where a 0-0 draw for Linfield and a 4-1 win for Cliftonville would see Linfield and Cliftonville level on points with identical records. Linfield’s part of that “bargain” was lookign very likely to happen.

Mark Stafford was involved in the early minutes of the second-half, producing a goal saving tackle as Matthew Shevlin looked set to finished after a run. Minutes later, he headed home from a corner to put Linfield 1-0 up in a game where the first goal was vital.

There were a few corners before that which went right to the penalty spot area. Either nobody attacked or a Ballymena player got their first. All Linfield needed was for one of their players to win it, and they were going to get their reward.

It was also an unexpected consequence of Niall Quinn’s absence. The corner came in from the right hand side, with Kirk Millar taking it due to no left footed set piece takers on the pitch, an outwsinger, where it would have been an inswinger if Quinn was on the pitch.

Roy Carroll was forced into a couple of saved from long range shots, as Linfield needed a second goal.

That almost came from a shot from Kurtis Byrne from outside the box, but it was tipped onto the post.

He got it a few minutes later when Kirk Millar kept the ball in on the byline, going forward to Andrew Waterworth close to the corner flag. He waited for the moment to cross, and did so just as Byrne was running through, finishing from close range to give Linfield the points.

Byrne and Waterworth were replaced by Achille Campion and Louis Rooney, with Campion and Rooney combining to create a chance for Stephen Lowry, who couldn’t bundle the ball home from close range. It didn’t matter.

Results elswhere took a dramatic turn, with Glenavon coming from behind to get a draw at Crusaders, while Coleraine came from behind to get a late win against Cliftonville.

That means that Linfield are now 3rd. I can’t remember the last time they were that high. Most importantly, they have a five point lead over Cliftonville with nine points to play for.

Net Saturday, Cliftonville are at home to Glenavon. A draw would be perfect. Whatever the result, Linfield can pull clear of one or both of them with a win at Seaview.

Although results against Crusaders this season have been poor this season (being kind), there’s no reason why Linfield can’t go to Seaview and win.

Crusaders are in a rut, they’ve only won two of their last five games.

If we go there, get stuck in, attack them, and make sure we defend properly, we are more than capable of getting the three points. Basically, just do everything we haven’t done against them this season. Linfield are the form team of the two, relatively speaking.

So, a win, a clean sheet, and other results went our way. That’s what I would call a good day.

Linfield won’t win the League this season, but they will have a big say in who does, with Crusaders and Coleraine coming up next. Hopefully, we’ll have the biggest voice in who finishes 3rd.

Photo Album

GLENAVON 2-3 LINFIELD 3.4.2018

Linfield faced Glenavon on Easter Tuesday, just as they did last year. The goal was a lot different.

You’ll be hearing comparisons to last year, it’s the same fixture list. Curiously, the venues for all five games are different from last year.

The goal for Linfield was now 3rd place, which would guarantee European football if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.

Linfield were sandwiched in 4th, three points behind Glenavon and two ahead of Cliftonville. A win for Linfield would see them level on points with Glenavon. A three goal win for Linfield would see them overtake Glenavon. Most of us would be happy with just a one goal win.

It wasn’t just a new housing development near Mourneview Park called Linen Fields as they walked to the ground (Yes, a housing development near a football ground named after a rival team) that made Linfield fans feel at home, it was four wins and a draw from their last five visits to Lurgan.

There were two changes to Linfield’s starting eleven, both enforced through suspensions, with Josh Robinson coming in for Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Mitchell coming in for Robert Garrett.

Linfield started the game on the attack, resulting in Kirk Millar getting in behind Glenavon’s defence inside the first minute, only to be denied by a tackle, which fell to Stephen Lowry, whose shot was saved, then hit the post, before a Mark Haughey shot went behind for a corner. Linfield’s season summed up in one move.

The positive was, Linfield were up for it and Glenavon looked off the pace. Linfield had to take advantage of it.

That is what they did from the resulting corner, when Mark Stafford headed goalwards. It probably would have been cleared, but for Kurtis Byrne finishing it off and heading home from a few yards out to give Linfield the lead.

Linfield didn’t stop there, continuing to attack Glenavon. Just like in the meeting at Mourneview in November, Glenavon’s defence were in fear of Andrew Waterworth, panicking every time the ball went near him, or he went near them in search of the ball.

He knew there was a goal, or goals, to be had for him.

Andrew Mitchell was next on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, it was the Glenavon one and not the Linfield one.

It was Glenavon’s first real attack of note, a simple header won and an easy finish from close range.

Linfield dusted themselves down and were straight on the attack, winning a corner.

That corner was punched clear to Andrew Mitchell, the Linfield one. He had the option of a first time cross or a pass to Niall Quinn, who was free and in space.

Mitchell went for the cross, but it was poor. He got lucky though, as the clearance fell to Niall Quinn, whose cross was headed home by Andrew Waterworth to put Linfield back in front.

That lead saw some moments of threat during the rest if the half, with Matthew Clarke having to make a goal line clearance, while Andrew Mitchell headed over in the final moments of the half.

Glenavon started the second-half strongly, Linfield couldn’t get out of their half. It was no surprise when Glenavon made it 2-2 on 54 minutes when Bobby Burns finished a cross from close range.

Glenavon had all the momentum and looked set to go on and win the game. Or so they thought.

Straight from kick-off, Linfield were straight on the attack, and a low cross found Stephen Lowry, who scored from the rebound after his shot was saved.

Incredibly, Linfield had scored just over a minute after the game kicked off, for the third time.

If you were to compile a list of the silliest games in the Irish League over the past four years, Glenavon would feature prominently. This was another to add to the list.

Linfield have more than enough silly games this season. Thankfully, they were on the right side of the silliness.

Linfield needed a two goal lead just to be sure. They had a glorious opportunity when Andrew Waterworth was played through.

He had two options, to finish low, or to pass it left and give Niall Quinn an open net. He did neither, as Tuffey saved his shot.

Linfield fans had a sense of deja vu. We’d seen this all before. We knew what the ending wuld be. A last minute Glenavon equaliser, and we’d all be ruing that missed opportunity.

Glenavon had attempts on goal, but nothing that worried Linfield. The only real moment of worry came a Glenavon threw himself to the ground after a cross in injury time. You are always that way with Irish League referees.

Linfield had their chances on the counter, with Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn hitting the side netting from tight angles.

Linfield weren’t to regret those chances, as they saw out the game to win 3-2. It wasn’t the three goal win that would have put them 3rd, but it did put them level with Glenavon. Cliftonville won 3-0 away to Ballymena to remain two points clear of Cliftonville. It’s just as tight between 3rd and 5th as it is between 1st and 2nd.

The three goals that separate Linfield and Glenavon are more than retrievable. Unfortunately, so are the three goals and two points that separate Linfield and Cliftonville.

There’s even the possibility that Linfield and Cliftonville could be level on points with identical records. Imagine if they finished joint 3rd and Coleraine win the Irish Cup. That would be some fun arranging a Play-Off to avoid playing in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

Realistically, it’s between Linfield and Cliftonville for 3rd. Glenavon look shot.

After the game, Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton criticised the referee’s performance. But he definitely definitely definitely wasn’t putting the referee under pressure for Glenavon’s next match.

I doubt Coleraine fans were too unhappy to hear his comments.

One result that did work in Linfield’s favour on Saturday was Crusaders drawing 1-1 at home to Coleraine. It keeps the title race alive, which is handy as Crusaders face Glenavon and Coleraine face Cliftonville on Saturday. Meanwhile, Linfield are at home to Ballymena United.

You would expect at least one of Glenavon and Cliftonville, possibly both, to fail to win. Saturday’s fixtures represent a great opportunity for Linfield to get points on the board in the race for 3rd. We have to take advantage of it.

The Saturday before this saw the Irish Cup Semi-Finals go the way as expected. Cliftonville’s game against Loughgall was always going to be unbearable, whatever the result.

The fact that Cliftonville had the game won in six minutes made the Quarter-Final worse. That really was one thrown away.

Hopefully, by the time the Irish Cup Final comes around, Linfield will be in a position to have some benefit of Coleraine.

What will I be doing that day? Going to see David Hepworth at CQAF.

Slightly off topic, but i’ve got a real random urge to go travelling somewhere. I don’t know where, but I just want to go somewhere.

One trip i’m hoping to do in August, isn’t too far, but needs a few things to fall into place.

Embrace are confirmed as headlining Stendhal Festival in Limavady in August. Now, I just need a few things to fall into place. I would need it to be Saturday 11th August, and for Linfield to be away to Institute that day. That would be a very tempting day trip. Then I just need to sort out accommodation.

Last Sunday, Sunday Life reporting that the UEFA Cup Play-Offs would be taking place at Windsor Park on Saturday 12th May, a day long event of football at Windsor Park with the first match kicking off at 12pm and the last game at 7.45pm, meaning teams having two or possibly three games in one day.

And then you check the date, Sunday 1st April. April Fool. The worrying thing is, this is Irish League football, you could almost believe somebody proposed it.

And so, we leave on a sad note, with the death of Adam Coates, the voice of Irish League football when I was growing up.

I remember at The Oval, they wouldn’t bother playing music at half-time, but just play Sportsound over the tannoy, and when they did the half-time report of the match at The Oval, the fans of the team that were winning would let out a big roar when the score was announced.

Photo Album

BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 2-2 LINFIELD 23.3.2018

At this same weekend in 2016 and 2017, Linfield faced Ballinamallard and ground out a tense 2-1 win on each occasion.

Those two times, they were going for the title. This time around, it was 3rd place and possible automatic qualification for the UEFA Cup.

Linfield were aided in the build-up to this on the Tuesday night when Cliftonville lost 2-1 at home to Ballymena, meaning that Linfield had a four point lead over Cliftonville.

This match was supposed to be on the Saturday, but it was brought forward to the Friday night due to Northern Ireland playing South Korea in a friendly.

That has been covered previously on this blog and will be touched on again later.

I had to take some excess carry over Annual Leave and chose this day before this game was rescheduled. I was originally intending to go and see Paloma Faith at The Odyssey. I decided to give that as miss as the concert was all seater, which was a bit wank. She doesn’t do music that you can enjoy sitting down.

So that was the motivation for Linfield, at least be a more entertaining option than Paloma Faith.

There were two changes for Linfield. One was enforced, with Andrew Mitchell coming in for the injured Jamie Mulgrew, and Achille Campion coming in for Kurtis Byrne.

Linfield began putting pressure on the Ballinamallard goal. Achille Campion was played in but couldn’t control the ball, but did enough to set up Niall Quinn, whose shot was blocked by a defender.

Quinn was denied again as he looked to head a cross into an empty net, but a Ballinamallard defender got the ball before him and denied him.

Linfield couldn’t keep the pressure up and Ballinamallard came more into the game. Alex Moore was forced into a save from a long range shot by Stephen O’Flynn.

Moore had a few dodgy moments from goal kicks, going straight out of play, as if he was putting the ball out for a line out. I suppose that’s what happens when you go to a rugby school.

There was also some confusion in defence by not making himself available for backpasses.

There were no complaints about his shotstopping, Linfield were giving him enough opportunities to showcase his shotstopping.

He did manage to hit a Copper on the head with one of his clearances.

It was the only thing of note a Linfield player did in the first-half.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Linfield began to have more attacking cohesion. Niall Quinn went agonisingly wide. Andrew Waterworth put the ball in the back of the net from the rebound. Unfortunately, it was after the ball bounced back into play.

48 minutes, Linfield had finally turned up.

Naturally, the way this season had been going, Ballinamallard were going to score, which they did when a cross was headed in by Ryan Curran.

Linfield responded with some good play down the left which saw a low shot from Matthew Clarke be saved, as Stephen Lowry came off the bench to replace Andrew Mitchell.

The next big moment from a Linfield player came from Alex Moore, as Sean Noble ran through on goal only to see his shot saved by Moore.

Clarke was then replaced by Kurtis Byrne as Linfield went in search of an equaliser.

That came when Mark Stafford headed home from a free-kick to make it 1-1, his first goal against his former club. With twenty minutes to go, there was still time for Linfield to push on and get a winner.

The opportunity for that came soon afterwards when Linfield got a penalty, awarded for a handball by Stephen O’Flynn. It was soft, but we’ll happily take it.

Andrew Waterworth’s last two penalties had been chipped in, Panenka style. This was not really the time for such a thing. Thankfully, he didn’t, blasting it low into the back of the net to put Linfield 2-1 up.

Kurtis Byrne then had a low shot tipped around the post as they looked to make it 3-1 and secure the points, while Jimmy Callacher saw a header bounce over the bar, just as he did against Carrick Rangers a few weeks previously.

Sandwiched inbetween that, was a red card for Ballinamallard substitute Joshua McIlwaine for a late tackle on Niall Quinn just a few minutes after coming on.

Everything was falling into place for Linfield.

Or so we thought, as 91 minutes approached, a sloppy pass from Robert Garrett went to Ryan Curran, who played in Sean Noble, who made it 2-2.

I was at the other end, and it was clear Noble was going to score as soon as he got the ball. One pass was all it took from Ballinamallard, it was yet another bad goal to concede.

You don’t want to single players out, but that’s the third time this season Garrett has lost possession late in the game that has led to a goal.

Points lost to Cliftonville (September), Coleraine (October), Warrenpoint (December), Glentoran (December) and now Ballinamallard to last minute goals.

It can’t be bad luck, it can’t just be coincidence. There’s something wrong this season that Linfield can’t see games out, or push all the way to the end.

To make it worse, Garrett was under no pressure when he had the ball.

There was still time for Linfield to win the game, but Ballinamallard held out. It got even worse when results from elsewhere came through.

Glenavon lost 3-2 to Dungannon Swifts while Cliftonville beat Ards 3-0.

Linfield are now three points behind 3rd place Glenavon and two points ahead of 5th place Cliftonville.

Even though Linfield closed the gap to 3rd, this was two points dropped. Linfield should be comfortably in 3rd the amount of points that Glenavon have dropped in the last two months.

As stated in the Glentoran write-up, it pains me to say that Cliftonville are going to finish 3rd. They have the momentum. Even when they managed to lose to Ballymena on the Tuesday before this, they still ended the week in a better position. It’s all coming up Milhouse for them.

Linfield are five goals better than Cliftonville and five worse than Glenavon in terms of goal difference.

If Linfield beat Glenavon over Easter, they will go level on points with them, and will only need to make up three goals over four games in order to finish 3rd.

If they beat them by three goals, they’ll jump into 3rd.

I don’t think the players realise the importance of getting 3rd, as it could possibly get us automatically into Europe (Irish Cup results dependent) meaning we get to skip the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

That may not be what we wanted at the start of the season, but that’s where we are. Time to focus minds.

There was doubt in the week leading up to this game as to wether this game was going ahead.

On Sunday night, rumours circulated that the game would be postponed to enable Ballinamallard to play Ballymena instead if 6th was still to be decided, to allow Glentoran and Ballymena to play their 33rd game simultaneously, against each other.

This was backed up by Linfield having to put out a statement to clarify the situation on Monday.

The fact that NIFL even considered this option was ridiculous.

Ballymena United v Ballinamallard needing to be rearranged is a fallout from the saga of Ballymena United v Cliftonville in the NIFL Cup. I bet you thought this was long resolved.

Ballymena United v Ballinamallard United was due to be played on Saturday 10th February, but was postponed so that Ballymena could play Cliftonville instead.

The new date for Ballymena v Ballinamallard was Tuesday 13th March, but it was postponed again to accommodate Ballymena’s postponed Irish Cup tie against Larne.

I spotted it at the time, that Ballymena will have to play their 33rd game after the scheduled date. Did nobody at NIFL spot it?

Glentoran and Ballymena United have been scrapping it out for 6th place all season. Did nobody at NIFL not spot that it might need to be decided by their meeting on Matchday 33?

Even more ridiculous, was the expectation that Ballymena would have to get arrangements in place for a home game at three days notice, as well as Ballinamallard players having to change their arrangements from a home match to an away match on a working day.

And lastly, there are the fans of Glentoran, Ballymena United and Ballinamallard United. It’s always the fans who are lastly.

It got even more ridiculous. The proposed date suggested for a potential rearrangement of Ballinamallard United v Linfield was Monday 26th March.

Surely, if it had to be rearranged, they could have used Saturday 31st March as both sides will have a free Saturday due to being out of the Irish Cup.

And on that note, I know the Irish Cup Semi-Finals are on the same weekend as last year, but surely someone would have noticed it was Easter Saturday?

Why could they not be played on Saturday 7th April? It would still leave a four week turnaround between the Semi-Final and Final.

In 2015, the Irish Cup Semi-Finals were moved out of their traditional weekend as it fell on Easter, so it could have been done.

Why are clubs not involved in the Irish Cup not given the opportunity to play their Easter Tuesday games on the Saturday instead?

Warrenpoint are playing Dungannon in a rearranged game, so it could have been done.

Linfield’s post split fixture list is complete, and will be (All in April, Home games in CAPITALS)

04 Glenavon
07 BALLYMENA UNITED
14 Crusaders
21 COLERAINE
28 CLIFTONVILLE

Now that Ballymena finished 6th, they would be going in on a decent run of form, and could do us a favour by getting something against Cliftonville, who will then face Crusaders or Coleraine on April 7th.

We still need to get results to help ourselves.

Ironically, Linfield closed the gap on Glenavon in 3rd. You would have taken that at the start of the night. It was the manner of this result though. We didn’t have many chances, but we took them, only to present Ballinamallard on when they didn’t look like getting back into the game.

How many times this season have we said “We didn’t look like drawing/losing ….” but we did?

There’s ten days until the next match, and this result is going to stink the place out until then.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-1 GLENTORAN 17.3.2018

Linfield and Glentoran faced each other at Windsor Park with a lot of things in common on St Patrick’s Day.

Both sides were coming off the back of Irish Cup exits in midweek. Despite that, they both still had something to play for in the League, though maybe not quite that they had in mind at the start of the season.

Linfield were only four points off 3rd place, which could potentially be good enough to qualify automatically for the UEFA Cup if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.

If Linfield had ambitions of playing in Europe next season, Glentoran’s were more modest and short-term, to play Linfield next month, as they currently occupy the last place in the Top 6 ahead of Ballymena United.

It was Ronnie McFall’s first visit to Windsor Park as a visiting manager since August 2015. Back then, Warren Feeney was in the Linfield dugout. It wasn’t even a dugout, it was a couple of seats in the bottom deck of the North Stand, as it took place halfway throughout the development of Windsor Park.

McFall is the only Irish League manager that David Healy hasn’t beaten. In fact, he hasn’t even managed a point, losing twice to McFall’s Portadown side during the 2015/2016 season.

In fact, McFall has a good recent record against Linfield. Since David Jeffrey stepped down as Linfield manager in 2014, McFall had a record of five wins and a draw in eight matches against Linfield.

It wasn’t just against Linfield that McFall was hoping to continue a decent run, having only lost one of his four games in his second spell as Glentoran manager. I’m not going to laugh at that reappointment, because it will probably come back to haunt me when Linfield reappoint David Jeffrey for the final weeks of the 2033/2034 season.

The cynic could suggest that Glentoran’s recent run of form isn’t as impressive as it looks. They got a win against a team who traditionally struggle at The Oval, followed it up with a win against a team at the bottom whose manager was preoccupied with taking McFall’s old job at Portadown, before throwing away two points in the last minute against a team coming off the back of being on the end of a cup upset and a 6-1 defeat.

The two previous meetings this season had seen one win each, each win bringing back happier memories for the respective fans.

For Linfield, it was their fifth successive win at the start of the season. For Glentoran, the win on Boxing Day was the highlight of their season.

The weather was cold enough to be Boxing Day. As well as the cold, it was so windy, the 2017 Champions flag was flying high. Might as well enjoy that for the next six weeks.

If Linfield were hoping to make a positive start, they didn’t get one. Just seventeen seconds were on the clock when a sloppy pass from Kirk Millar set up a Glentoran attack which resulted in a speculative shot easily saved by Alex Moore.

This wasn’t the positive start that Linfield were hoping for. They did reply with an Andrew Waterworth shot that was easily saved by Elliott Morris, but it was Glentoran who would dominate the opening minutes.

Just two minutes were on the clock when a headed clearance fell to Marcus Kane, who fired home from long range past Alex Moore to put Glentoran 1-0.

As spectacular as the goal was, there was still questions to be asked of Linfield’s players. Linfield were yet to get into the game. Glentoran had the better of the game and were full of confidence, and knew that Linfield were sluggish.

If Linfield had started the game strongly, there’s no way Kane would fancied a specultive long rang shot.

Both teams had went out of the Irish Cup in midweek, but the contrast in starts was clear to see. Glentoran were looking to boucne back, while Linfield were feeling sorry for themselves. Too many players were second to too many balls.

Nine minutes in Curtis Allen hit the bar from a free-kick. Linfield were almost out of the game before they had even got into it.

That was the wake=up call that shook Linfield into action. We finally got to see them as an attacking force.

Mark Stafford had a header blocked by Marcus Kane, while Andrew Waterworth had a low shot saved.

The golden opportunity came when a counter attack saw the ball come to Kirk Millar, who set himself up to cross for Kurtis Byrne to head straight at Elliott Morris from six yards out. It was harder to miss, but he managed.

Linfield don’t really help themselves at both ends of the pitch when they miss opportunities like this. No Linfield attacking player can complain that they haven’t had enough opportunities to score this season.

Mark Stafford was next to be denied when his header was cleared off the line. I thought it was over, but the TV footage is hard to tell. No VAR in the Irish League.

Kirk Millar then saw a cross evade everyone as Linfield put more pressure on Glentoran’s goal. You got the feeling that if Linfield could get one, they could go on an win the game quite comfortably.

The problem, as has so often been the case this season, was just getting that one goal.

As soon as they went 1-0 up after 2 minutes, Glentoran were timewasting at every opportunity, kicking the ball away at any free-kick won or conceded.

They were only encouraged to do so by the inactivity of referee Keith Kennedy, whose yellow card remained in his pocket, allowing Glentoran’s players to timewaste at will. There was one incident where Elliott Morris was allowed to hold up a free-kick being taken because he needed to fix his gloves. Yes, really.

Amazingly, there was two minutes of injurty time at the end of the first-half, with the Forth Official actually watching the game rather than doing the standard for the first-half and three minutes for the second-half.

Do you remember a story from 2012 about FC Magdeburg fans standing behind the goal and pointing cardboard arrows in the direction of the goal to assist their struggling team?

I’m very tempted to do this at Linfield matches.

It’s getting so bad, the idea of David Healy coming out of retirement to show the team how it’s done doesn’t sound that silly.

At the start of the second-half, Curtis Allen fired just wide from a cross, to premature cheers from the North Stand. I don’t know why, it never looked close to going in.

Linfield fans responded by mocking their rivals. It was the loudest cheer they had all afternoon.

Linfield fans thought they were cheering a goal a few minutes later when Jimmy Callacher headed over following a corner. It was another opportunity that was wasted.

Eventually, Linfield got the goal their dominance deserved, after Elliott Morris flapped at a cross under pressure from Andrew Waterworth, before Robert Garrett headed into the empty net from a few yards out.

He couldn’t miss. Though there were a few situations in the first-half where you could have said that but they managed to miss.

With forty minutes remaining on the clock, there was still plenty of time for Linfield to go on and win the game.

It was noticeable that this was the first Linfield attack where there were bodies in the box and options for the player crossing.

Kurtis Byrne headed agonisingly across goal, before making way for Achille Campion.

Campion had a chance soon after coming on. It wasn’t a clear chance, but he was in a shooting position. He had to blindly shoot. If he did, he would have been rewarded. He chose to pass, and the opportunity was lost.

Andrew Waterworth thought he was going to head home from a cross, but an outstretched leg from a Glentoran defender denied him.

Stephen Fallon came on as a substitute for the injured Jamie Mulgre as Linfield searched for a winner.

They had five minutes of injury time in which to do so. Well, they were supposed to, but one minute was lost to a Glentoran player being treated for an injury, and only half of it was added on, the game finishing as Linfield were about to take an attacking throw.

This result was bad enough, it got even worse when results from elsewhere came through. Glenavon drew 0-0 at home to Ballinamallard United, meaning that Linfield missed an opportunity to cut the gap on Glenavon to two points.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Carrick Rangers 1-0. Three weeks ago, they were six points behind Linfield, now they could be just one point behind Linfield if they beat Ballymena United on Tuesday night.

Linfield will be hoping for a favour from Ballymena, just as they got last season. No matter how big or small, favours are always to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, it looks like Cliftonville have the momentum that Glenavon (2016) and Coleraine (2017) had when they stormed to 3rd, ironically at the expense of Cliftonville.

Up next for Linfield, is a trip to Ballinamallard on Friday night, shifted to accommodate Northern Ireland v South Korea on Saturday afternoon.

As stated at the time, there are better timeslots for this, such as Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.

It might have been worth exploring the possibility of playing it on the same weekend as the Irish Cup Semi-Finals, though I do understand that might not be feasible due to Supporters Clubs already having booked buses for a Friday night game.

I’ve got excess Annual Leave from work that needs used before the end of March, so I was planning to be off on Friday, which is lucky for me.

I had actually planned on going to the Paloma Faith concert at The Odyssey, but it’s all seater, which is wank, so i’m giving that a miss. She’s doing a lot of outdoor concerts in August, so i’ll gamble on her playing CHSQ.

No pressure Linfield, give me a performance that is worth missing Paloma Faith for.

Talking of the Irish Cup Semi-Finals, they will be played on Saturday 31st March, which is Easter Saturday. I didn’t realise this until this week.

What an absolute farce. We have a Bank Holiday Weekend, and only four top flight (Warrenpoint face Dungannon in a rearranged game that day) teams are in action. A lot of floating fans will be lost because of this.

There is absolutely no reason why League games could not be scheduled that day, and Irish Cup Semi-Finals played on Saturday 7th April. That would still give four weeks between the Semi-Final and the Final for arrangements to be made.

Keep an eye out for this, as it’s a real possibility. Cliftonville could be at home to Linfield in the Final of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, a match arranged at three to four days notice. Yep, buses and tickets. At four days. I know they managed it in seven days last month, but three to four days will result in a lot of anger. Watch this space. This is the official home of predicting future farces in Irish League football.

David Healy said in his post-match interview on Final Score that it was a good performance. That is true, from the tenth minute onwards. Linfield’s slow start cost them two points today.

If we keep creating chances, we’ll get our reward. Surely. We’ve been saying that a lot this season. Hopefully the tide will turn in our favour at Ballinamallard on Saturday.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 CLIFTONVILLE 14.3.2018

It’s not often that people are jealous of Loughgall fans, but that was the case on Tuesday night, as they put their feet up while six other teams battled to join them in the Irish Cup Semi-Finals.

Two of sides were Linfield and Cliftonville. Side by side in League mediocrity, it was perhaps inevitable they would be paired together in the Irish Cup at some point, especially having avoided their annual (paired together eight times in the previous ten seasons) County Antrim Shield meeting this season.

Quarter-Finals against Cliftonville had been historically good for Linfield. The three previous meetings at this stage (1992, 1994, 2016) had seen Linfield wins en route to the Final.

Both sides had reason to be optimistic. Linfield had beaten Cliftonville in the League the previous month, while Cliftonville had beaten Crusaders inside sixteen minutes the previous Saturday. The truth was, neither result was relevant. This was a standalone match.

It was Linfield who were straight on the attack, the ball mostly in Cliftonville’s half, the first opportunity came when Kirk Millar’s header looked to be looping in, to everyone’s surprise, only for Cliftonville keeper Brian Neeson to save at the cost of a corner.

Within a few minutes, Cliftonville had their first attack when an inswinging free-kick was punched clear by Linfield’s teenage goalkeeper Alex Moore. It was, as pundits like to say, a good touch for the young keeper.

I’m old enough to remember the closest Linfield match to a current player being born. In the case of Alex Moore, he was born two days before a 4-1 win away to Crusaders. I was at that match. Tommy McDonald scored a screamer.

Not that Moore had lacked big match experience, having played in a Steel and Sons Cup Final, and made his first-team debut at The Oval.

The only shaky moment during the game for him was a sliced clearance that conceded a corner, though it looked to me (I was at the other end) that the defender who passed it back to him and out him under pressure had more questions to answer.

Moore was playing because if an injury to Gareth Deane, who himself was thrown into an Irish Cup Quarter-Final against Cliftonville in 2016.

That’s the second time that Deane has suffered an injury just as he looked set for an extended run in the team. That really is rotten luck.

Cliftonville looked nervous in the opening moments, conceding cheap throws in their own half under no pressure. The opportunity was there for Linfield to capitalise.

Kurtis Byrne was involved in most of Linfield’s attacking play, in creation and being on the end of, having a header saved before being found in space only to see his first time shot saved.

Mark Stafford was next to try his luck, having a header saved, before heading off the bar from a corner. Sandwiched inbetween those was a shot from Mark Haughey (after an advantage played by Arnold Hunter. You read that right, praise for Arnold Hunter) which brought about the corner for Stafford to hit the bar.

Byrne then had a header saved on the line by Neeson, as Linfield failed to get the goal their dominance deserved.

0-0 at half-time but no reason to panic. Same performance again, and Linfield would win.

We didn’t get the same performance from Linfield in the second-half. It was a scrappy affair, but Cliftonville were spending more time in Linfield’s half than they did in the first-half.

It took them until just after the hour to have a chance, Garry Breen heading wide from a free header. It was a warning for Linfield.

Cliftonville were now having their best spell of the game and Linfield were now struggling.

There are two main criticisms of David Healy throughout his reign as Linfield manager so far. One is that he goes too defensive too quickly when holding onto a narrow lead, and the other is that he is reactive rather than proactive with his substitutions when the game is in the balance.

Far too often players have been brought on in response to an opposition goal, rather than to get the goal that Linfield need.

With seven subs allowed in the Irish Cup, the options were there. Mitchell or Lowry for Garrett. Fallon for one of the wide players. Rooney or Strain for Campion. It was obvious that Linfield were crying out for fresh blood.

Eventually, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garret. The score was still 0-0, but the change should have been made a lot earlier.

Lowry almost put Linfield in front when he tried to force the ball home after a Niall Quinn header was saved, only the hit the post.

In a game where it looked like there would be only one goal, Linfield had thrown away another opportunity to get it.

It was as if they were doing their own Ken Dodd tribute when they went forward, The Dithermen.

Minutes later, it was Cliftonville who got it when Joe Gormley was played through and made no mistake. There was only one outcome as soon as he got the ball, and it looked like being only one outcome of the match once the ball hit the back of the net.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Louis Rooney and Ryan Strain for Matthew Clarke and Achille Campion. Already hampered by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury, when Linfield needed a goal, they were relying on a young player yet to score, and a striker low on confidence who hasn’t scored since September.

The chances that were plentiful at 0-0 had now dried up at 0-1. Linfield didn’t take them when they were there, and were made to pay for it.

For all their possession in the final ten minutes, Linfield never looked like equalising. There was one monent that summed it up.

A Cliftonville clearance in injury time went into Linfield’s half and a Linfield defender waited for the ball to come to him, rather than going to the ball and starting another attack. Those few second gave Cliftonville enough time to reorganise their shape and defend the situation. It’s the little things that can make such a big difference.

It was a feast of chances but a famine of goals. A whole season summed up in a match.

It got worse when the draw was made. As Jim Bowen would say, here’s what you could have won – a Semi-Final against Loughgall while Coleraine face Larne in the other Semi-Final.

This result is going to get a lot worse when Cliftonville capitulate to Coleraine in the Final. That’s if they don’t lose to Loughgall.

Cliftonville fans who believe in omens may be cheered by the fact that six of the last seven teams to beat Crusaders in the Irish Cup have gone on to win the trophy. The only one not to though, was Cliftonville in 2013.

Cheering on Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final is something we may have to do if we want to qualify automatically for Europe and avoid the farce of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, though part of me is hoping we finish 5th and win the UEFA Cup Play-Offs purely to laugh at the amount of pantwetting from opposition fans.

To be honest though, I prefer opposition fans to be pantwetting when we win the League.

If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, 3rd place will secure automatic entry to the UEFA Cup. Linfield are only four points off Glenavon, who hold that spot.

They are catchable. To do that, we’ll have to do something we haven’t done since August/ earlySeptember – Go on a winning run.

Elsewhere, three countries have applied to host the UEFA Nations League in June 2019. Portugal and Poland have recently hosted European Championships, which may let Italy in, while all three have hosted European club finals in the last five years.

I’ll keep an eye on that to see if it’s affordable and travelable whoever hosts it.

Next on my footballing agenda is Glentoran’s visit to Windsor Park on Saturday, as David Healy faces the only Irish League manager he hasn’t beaten as Linfield manager in the shape of Ronnie McFall.

McFall’s last visit to Windsor Park was in 2015 to a half built stadium to face a Linfield team managed by Warren Feeney, with Guy Bates pulling the strings. It really feels like a different century.

Hopefully, Glentoran fans will be keeping up one St Patrick’s Day tradition at Windsor Park on Saturday …… of people dressed in green feeling a bit sick at 5pm.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 10.3.2018

It was the same opponents, scoreline and venue as when Linfield kicked off their domestic season in August. The mood was very much different. A second successive title is long gone, but qualification for European football next season remains open on two fronts.

It was a Linfield team that had four changes, with Alex Moore, Robert Garrett, Mark Haughey and Stephen Fallon all coming in to the Starting eleven. It’s unsure if it was a response to the last game against Glenavon, or if Linfield had one eye on the next match against Cliftonville in the Irish Cup on Tuesday.

For the teenager Alex Moore, it was a second appearance, having played against Glentoran in February 2017. Curiously, that was Linfield’s last game before an Irish Cup Quarter-Final, if you believe in omens.

He did what he had to do. That is the only assessment of his performance. He didn’t have much to do. Not even joking, I could have played in goal for Linfield today and kept a clean sheet.

The game began with a flurry of Linfield chances, as Robert Garrett, Jamie Mulgrew and Niall Quinn all had attemps on goal saved by Carrick keeper Harry Doherty. It was Attack v Defence, with the only way that Carrick could stop Linfield was by cynical fouls.

It looked like being a matter of time until Linfield scored, but Carrick were able to ride out the storm as Linfield struggled to keep up the pressure on the Carrick.

Linfield were looking the most likely to score without actually looking like scoring.

Linfield weren’t helped by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury midway through the first-half, having had to receive treatment a few minutes earlier. The one positive was, that he wasn’t hobbling off, so hopefully it was just a precaution ahead of Tuesday night’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville.

Not that Carrick could relax with Waterworth not on the pitch, as Ryan Strain entered the field. It was Strain who came off the bench to provide the cross for Kurtis Byrne’s winning goal when the sides met at Taylor’s Avenue in January.

Carrick had a header easily saved by Alex Moore, before Jimmy Callacher went close with a header in first-half injury time, as Linfield had to make do with a 0-0 scoreline at half-time

In the early minutes of the second-half, Gavin Taggart was lucky not to be sent-off for high feet in a challenge with Jamie Mulgrew. Taggart was substituted soon afterwards.

Also substituted was Achille Campion, who couldn’t mark his birthday with a goal. The closest he had was when he was played in when he was in a position similar to Marcus Rashford for his first goal against Liverpool earlier in the day. Unfortunately, he was unable to cut inside and finish like Marcus Rashford. He was replaced by Kurtis Byrne.

It was Linfield’s other substitute Ryan Strain, who thought he was going to break the deadlock when he created space for himself in the box, but he fired just wide.

On 65 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when Mark Stafford headed home from a free-kick. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that is was Stafford who opened this scoring, having scored in three of Carrick’s last four visits to Windsor Park.

With Mark Haughey always scoring against Warrenpoint Town, the two Marks will be keeping an eye on the battle to avoid relegation as their goal tally next season could be severely reduced.

The first thing that came to mind when Stafford scored was a match against Distillery in March 2013 (the fifth anniversary of that match was the day before this one) when Linfield struggled in the rain and eventually took the lead, only to be pegged back to 1-1 immediately. This match had similarities.

With only one goal in the previous eight League games against Linfield since promotion in 2015, there was no form to suggest that Carrick looked like scoring. Never mind stats on paper, the way the match was going, Carrick never looked like scoring.

Any such fears were quickly dispelled when Jamie Mulgrew ran with the ball and finished from outside the box. That was the three points secured.

Mark Stafford had a header well saved and Kurtis Byrne fired just wide as Linfield looked to make it 3-0. 2-0 was enough.

This was the first of three home games in seven days for Linfield, and a timely win for Linfield, their first home win since February 3rd.

Having not been to any of the two home Irish Cup ties this season, it meant that this was Linfield’s first home League win since December 23rd. 2017. Yes, you read that right, Linfield’s first home League win of 2018.

It was a win that breathed some life into Linfield’s League campaign.

Unfortunateley, the goal now is about finishing 3rd. After defeat to Glenavon in their last League outing, that looked a long shot, being six points behind them and having played a game more.

Since then, Glenavon have crashed out of the Irish Cup, lost their game in hand and drew today.

They are now only four points clear and the two sides still have to meet before the season ends. Suddenly, 3rd place is a realistic target for Linfield, one that will secure European football if there is a Coleraine v Linfield Irish Cup Final.

I’m not sure how, but Linfield appear to have somehow put the jinx on Glenavon’s season. Long may it continue.

Reaching the Irish Cup Final, nevermind choosing the opponents, is still a long long way away.

Elsewhere, Linfield remain six points clear of Cliftonville, albeit with a game more played.

That was because Cliftonville beat Crusaders 3-1. I’m not sure how, but Cliftonville have suddenly started showing some balls whenever they play Crusaders. It would be nice if Linfield did likewise when they played Crusaders, like we did so effectively last season.

Of more immediate importance, is that we do so when we play Cliftonville in the Irish Cup Quarter-Final on Tuesday. If we do that, i’d expect us to get the job done, as we have done in the last two meetings.

Curiously, it will be the second successive year we will have played Cliftonville on March 13th. A repeat of the 2-0 win on that date last year will be very welcome.

Also welcome was the news that Ross Clarke scored a hat-trick for Ards against Ballinamallard. Hopefully, his loan spell will give him a run of games to challenge for a first-team position, in the same way that Brian McCaul benefitted from a loan spell at Glenavon in 2012.

There’s a quality player there, that’s why Linfield are prepared to give him every opportunity to improve his fitness, but it will be three years since he was a first-team regular by the time the Summer arrives.

You may remember me saying I was hoping to go to Waterford for a short break in mid March. Well, I farted about for too long and didn’t book it.

My main purpose for visiting would be to see Waterford Walls, but you should know by now that I like to sneak in a football match wherever I travel.

On Monday, Waterford face Bohs, and they are currently sitting second in the table, level on points with Cork City. They’re probably glad i’m not going as they’d probably be bottom of the League.

So, a big week awaits for Linfield. A Cup Semi-Final and three more points is the goal.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-2 GLENAVON 27.2.2018

When Glenavon won at Windsor Park at the end of January, with two games in hand and still to play Crusaders and Coleraine twice, they looked set to be in a position to launch a late title charge.

Draws since then against Warrenpoint Town, Cliftonville and Coleraine have since forced them to reevaluate their ambitions. Now they were looking to get three points to try and secure 3rd place.

They kicked off only three points clear of Linfield, but with a game in hand. With the two sides having to meet twice before the end of the season, Linfield knew they had 3rd place in their own hands.

Finishing 3rd could be so important. If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, it will secure automatic European football, and avoid the farce of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

Though, both teams were still in the Irish Cup at kick-off, they had that avenue to qualify automatically.

Linfield had been unbeaten since that defeat to Glenavon the previous month, though the form wasn’t sparkling with four wins and three draws.

This game should have been played last October, but was postponed due to Linfield’s involvement in the Scottish Challenge Cup. It wasn’t ideal to be playing it in the midweek before the Irish Cup Quarter-Finals, but as documented in previous blogs, this was a fallout from the delays of confirming if the away game against Cliftonville was going ahead.

Linfield started well, Achille Campion fired over from close range when he should have scored, while Andrew Waterworth had a shot saved.

The good start was undone when Glenavon took the lead through Josh Daniels, who took out four defenders with one touch before firing home.

Linfield had a brief flurry after that, but it soon died down. They were restricted to half chances. They didn’t help themselves with poor decision making.

They almost gifted Glenavon a goal from one of their own throw-ins whenever Stephen Lowry misread a throw from Joe Crowe, which set up a Glenavon attack, where Stephen Murray was played clean through but his shot was saved.

It was noticeable how quickly Glenavon attacked and how alive they were every time Linfield played a stray pass.

Linfield fans could only enviously look on and wish their team could do the same.

With ten minutes to go, a shot from Marc Griffin went over Gareth Deane to make it 2-0. Windsor Park began to empty, not that it was anywhere near full to begin with.

A few weeks earlier, Linfield made a late comeback to secure a point from 2-0 down against Coleraine. This was never going to happen this time.

A win would have seen Linfield jump level with Glenavon, giving them the opportunity to try and finish the season in 3rd, giving the, two possible avenues for automatic European qualification. Now, they only have one.

That, is the Irish Cup. Their Quarter-Final at home to Cliftonville was postponed due to the weather. Nobody knows the actual reason why.

It’s maybe not a bad thing for it to be postponed. It wasn’t ideal to have this match in he build-up, especially with Cliftonville having the midweek off.

It will be played ten days later than expected, we have to be ready for it.

Photo Album

ARDS 0-3 LINFIELD 24.2.2018

Didn’t we have a lovely time? The day we went to Bangor.

Due to roadworks, I arrived late, a couple of minutes into the game. As I entered the ground, Linfield were on the attack. It would be a theme that would continue throughout the game.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s first chance of note when he outpaced an Ards defender to unleash a first time shot, which was well saved.

The reason he was able to get that chance soon became cleared as the Ards defender he outpaced had to be substituted through injury.

Ards were struggling to handle Waterworth all afternoon, being involved in. It’s of Linfield’s attacks, putting Ards players under pressure to the point they were conceding cheap corners and throws, giving Linfield attacking opportunities where they shouldn’t have.

The same also applied to Achille Campion.

Mark Stafford looked like he was going to put Linfield 1-0 up but he headed wide from close range.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead from the first moment they really cut through Ards defence, when Niall Quinn was played through only to see his shot cleared off the line, but fell perfectly for Achille Campion to fire home from close range.

It was reported in the media that was his first goal for Linfield, so it’s safe to assume that the goal against Cliftonville had been credited to a Tomas Cosgrove own goal.

It was indisputable that this was his goal.

Jamie Mulgrew fired wide from outside the box as Linfield looked to second goal before the break.

It didn’t take long into the second-half for that to arrive, from the penalty spot after Andrew Waterworth was bundled over.

It looked soft, but it was a penalty. Bafflingly, there was a similar incident in the first-half where Linfield didn’t get a penalty.

It was Waterworth’s first penalty (I think) since the last day of last season, and it had the same result, chipping it down the middle and ending up in the back of the net to give Linfield a two goal lead.

I wouldn’t recommend him doing that if he takes a penalty in the near future, as a lot of goalkeepers will have noticed that.

If Linfield were in a commanding situation, they had the game won a few minutes later when Stephen Lowry made it 3-0 , firing in off the post after his attempted pass to Andrew Waterworth was blocked, the rebound falling kindly to him.

Linfield the turned on the style, Kurtis Byrne going close to scoring,

With the game won, Linfield were able to let some of their players have a rest, with Mark Stafford, Jamie Mulgrew and Achille Campion all getting substituted.

Joe Crowe suffered an injury during the game just as Stephen Fallon was coming on for Linfield’s third and final sub, but was able to continued, though he looked pained as he left the pitch at full-time.

Unsurprisingly, the final minutes were uneventful, apart from an Andrew Waterworth effort that just went over, as Linfield comfortably secured the points.

Below Linfield, Cliftonville lost 1-0 to a Glentoran side rejuvenated under their new young and dynamic manager Ronnie McFall, meaning that Linfield now have a six point lead over Cliftonville, and can now start to look upwards in the table.

Above Linfield, Glenavon secured a late win over Carrick to maintain their lead over Linfield. However, Linfield had to face Glenavon twice before the end of the season.

The first of those occasions would be on the Tuesday night following this game. That will be covered elsewhere. It would be a Glenavon side missing the Linfield bound Joel Cooper through suspension after being sent-off.

3rd place is still up for grabs, and Linfield have to grab it if they have ambtitions of securing European football next season. Winning the Irish Cup will see us there without having to rely on others or to win a Play-Off.

It’s not ideal to be playing Glenavon on Tuesday before the Irish Cup Quarter-Final, but that’s where we are. I don’t think Glenavon considered it to be ideal either. As it would turn out, there would be no Irish Cup Quarter-Final on the Saturday.

We had no choice as we were backed into a corner due to the late confirming of games on the weekend of 16th/17th February.

Hopefully, the lessons of that, and the shitstorm that was avoided if Crusaders had reached the NIFL Cup Final have been learnt, and won’t happen again in the future.

That is definitely me finished discussing the matter. I hope.

Talking of fixture scheduling, Northern Ireland have announced a home friendly against Israel in September. A bit underwhelming. I’ve already seen Israel, so there won’t even be a novelty factor for me.

It also makes a mockery of the UEFA Nations League, a competition designed to get rid of international friendlies, if teams arrange friendlies when they don’t have double headers.

Apologies for the lateness of this blog, as I had issues with my laptop battery. Stay tuned for a look at the match which followed this ……. if you want to relive it again.

Photo Album

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.

Photo Album