2017 IN PICTURES – JUNE

June 2017 began for me chasing after murals, starting with one of Northern Ireland legends outside Filthy McNasty in Botanic.

From there, it was across South Belfast to get a photo on Lower Ormeau Road of a mural by Emic.

There was more Street Art photos as I followed the progress of a mural of music legends in Hill Street.

In the middle of the month, I headed to Ormeau Park for Belsonic, to see The 1975 in concert.

That weekend, I headed to Manchester in the 1950s. Sort of. The Oval was dressed up to look like Maine Road for a film, so I went and got some photos of it.

The month ended with some football, heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on La Fiorita in the European Cup.

Filthy McMural

Filthy McMural Photo Album

Emic Mural

Emic Mural Photo Album

Hill Street Wall Of Fame

Hill Street Wall Of Fame Photo Album

The 1975 live at Ormeau Park

The 1975 live at Ormeau Park Photo Album

Maine Oval

Mine Oval Photo Album

Linfield v La Fiorita

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2017 IN PICTURES – MAY

May 2017 began with Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and a trip to Custom House Square to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

That was followed that weekend, by the Irish Cup Final, where Linfield beat Coleraine 3-0.

I then filled a football free Saturday afternoon by cycling to Lisburn and getting some Street Art photos.

Well, just the one football free Saturday, as the following weekend, I took in one more football match, travelling to Manchester to see United take on Crystal Palace.

While I was in Manchester, I took the opportunity to get some Street Art photos.

The month ended with a trip to The Limelight to see George Ezra in concert

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017 Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Photo Album

George Ezra live at The Limelight

George Ezra live at The Limelight Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April began for me with a trip to Lurgan for the Irish Cup Semi-Final, to see Linfield secure a late 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend was another 1-0 win for Linfield and just as important, a League win against Crusaders that blew the title race wide open.

April saw the launch of a new mural in Belfast City Centre, in the Cathedral Quarter, which I went and got photos of.

On Easter Saturday, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena 2-0.

On Easter Monday, I cycled to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos from the City Centre.

The following night, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield secure vital win over Glenavon.

On the following Saturday, the football continued, heading Coleraine to see Linfield beat Coleraine and finally get to the top of the Irish League.

Towards the end of the month, a mural of The Two Ronnies appeared in Belfast City Centre, so I headed out to get photos of this.

The penultimate day of the month saw me head to Solitude where Linfield needed to avoid defeat in order to win the Irish League. It didn’t look good at half-time, but a Andrew Waterworth hat-trick in the second-half saw the trophy head to Windsor Park.

Immediately after the game, there was a celebratory event at Windsor Park so that supporters unable to get into Solitude could join in the celebrations. Naturally, I was there getting photographs.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Pure Here, So It Is

Pure Here, So It Is Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

And It’s Goodnight From Me

And It’s Goodnight From Me Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2017 began for me with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield beat Crusaders in an Irish Cup tie. That was followed a few days later by my first concert of 2017, seeing Blossoms at The Limelight.

It was then back to football for a Monday night match between Linfield and Cliftonville, and then returning to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ards.

I was then out on the trail of Street Art, getting photos of a mural of a Dancer in Belfast City Centre.

The following weekend, I headed to Fermanagh to see Linfield get a late win against Ballinamallard.

I then headed out again in search of Street art, getting photographs of a new mural of East Belfast legends.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Blossoms live at The Limelight

Blossoms live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

The Dancer

The Dancer Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

East Belfast Wall Of Legends

East Belfast Wall Of Legends Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2017 began for me in Manchester, heading over to see United take on Hull City, while also getting some Street Art photos.

Back in Northern Ireland, I was on the road to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute in the Irish Cup.

The next day, I was out on my bike for my biannual (usually February and August) visit to Belfast Peace Wall to get some photos of the Wall Art on the walls.

The following Saturday, another road trip, to Carrickfergus to see Linfield at Taylor’s Avenue

The following weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield, and a disappointing draw against Portadown.

The morning after, I was out on my bike to get photos of a Jamie Dornan mural in Belfast City Centre.

Later that day, it was another cup final, the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena and Carrick.

The following weekend, I was Oval bound to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Be My Valentine

Be My Valentine Photo Album

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

LINFIELD 1-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 2.12.2017

December will be a busy month. Thankfully, there won’t be a lot of travelling, with four Saturday games at Windsor Park this month. The first of those, saw Dungannon Swifts visit Windsor Park as Linfield aimed to win three League games in a row for the first time since the opening weeks of the season.

It is because of that statistic that every game is now must win, especially today, with the four teams above Linfield all having games you would expect them to win.

Unfortunately, i’ve only got 89 minutes of football to review, as I missed the opening minute. My reason? I was getting myself a Boxing Day ticket. It was Members and Season Ticket holders only today, and i’ll be having to get a few more next week.

It’s one of those milestone events in the year that indicates that Christmas is getting very close. There was a disappointing lack of “SANTA IS A BLUEMAN” hats at this game though.

I might have missed 1 minute, but Cameron Stewart would miss the whole 90. Injured, I presume. Disappointing for him, having scored the winner at Mourneview Park last weekend.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s first chance, when he was played in from a counter-attack, his first time shot going just wide.

A few minutes later, he controlled a Kirk Millar cross to swivel and shoot, his shot saved by Stuart Addis. Carrying on from his performance at Mourneview Park last weekend, he was in the mood, and wanted goals.

It wasn’t all one way traffic though, a Dungannon break seeing Roy Carroll make a save from a Ryan Harpur header.

A low cross fell perfectly to Jordan Stewart but he shot wide. If he hit the target, he would have scored.

Kirk Millar and Chris Casement were combining well down the right for Linfield, but they couldn’t assist a goal between them as Dungannon held out.

Andrew Waterworth was the next to miss when he headed over from a cross. He got too much power on it. A gentle touch would have put the ball in the net.

Despite their pressure, it was 0-0 at the break. Despite their missed chances, Linfield needed to step it up to get the three points.

The way the match seemed to be going the same way. It seemed to be similar to the Irish Cup Semi-Final against Dungannon last season, where they had to be patient to get the winner. The worst case scenario, was that it would be a repeat of the League match against Portadown in February. It had that vibe.

In short, Linfield needed a goal, and they needed it as soon as possible, and they needed to get it before Dungannon.

A scuffed effort from Andrew Waterworth was the best they could offer in the opening minutes, as Roy Carroll had to rush out to deny Dungannon taking the lead to smother the ball just as a shot was about to be unleashed.

David Healy turned to his bench. He had three attacking options to choose from – Ryan Strain, Louis Rooney and Ross Clarke. Surprisingly, he plumped for the teenager Ryan Strain ahead of Louis Rooney.

Just as surprisingly, it was Jordan Stewart who would be replaced. I thought it would have been Niall Quinn.

Stewart was playing well, but it was obvious he was needed out wide rather than through the middle. It was clear that Linfield needed another option through the middle.

Strain almost had an instant impact, when he fired goalwards from a low cross. Agonisingly, it went just wide. It is the sort of chance you see missed in the final minutes of a 0-0 draw. For Linfield, there was still time to win this.

Strain was at it again, controlling the ball from the sky like Dimitar Berbatov, before unleashing a shot that forced Addis into a save. Strain then had a long range shot go just over.

As well as his team-mates, Strain’s personal battle with Stuart Addis lifted the crowd, but still the goal eluded Linfield.

Do you remember my lucky scarf from last season? Well, it looks like I have an unlucky coat.

At the Coleraine match, I got a Linfield raincoat from the Club Shot for a fiver. It was a Nike one, so they were looking rid of it. With a bit of rain at lunchtime, it looked like a good opportunity to wear it.

For some reason, I took it off in the second-half. It was desperate times, maybe my coat was bringing bad luck? Within minutes, Linfield scored.

I think I might get rid of it. It’s yours for £6 if you want it.

Linfield took the lead when Andrew Waterworth headed home. That’s four in five League games for him now.

With Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville all winning, Linfield had to do likewise just to keep up with them.

Despite that, Linfield needed a second. Ryan Strain was determined to get it, but he kept getting denied by Addis.

Roy Carroll was keen to emulate Addis saves by diving at his feet to deny Peter McMahon. When he was beaten by a long range shot, he was relieved to watch as the ball went narrowly over. This game was far from won for Linfield. Windsor Park was nervous.

Andrew Mitchell came on for Kirk Millar. The obvious sub if Millar was to be withdrawn was Ross Clarke . We don’t play well when we try to defend a lead.

Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out and get the win. They had to, as the four teams above them all won.

Next week, Cliftonville face Glenavon while Linfield travel to Carrick. Crusaders and Coleraine face Bottom six opponents. There will be points dropped above us. We simply have to taken advantage. Even though the furthest we can jump will be up to 4th with a win, it’s a jump we must make. Small steps and all that.

I’m not sure of the exact rules, but I think today was the deadline if we wanted to bring the match against Crusaders forward ahead of the Coleraine away game. As there is no news yet, it looks like we’ll be playing Saturday-Monday over Christmas/New Year.

We still have to arrange a date for our home match against Glenavon. I’ve noticed that we are due to play Cliftonville away and Glenavon are at home to Crusaders on the weekend of the NIFL Cup Final. If it’s a Crusaders v Cliftonville Final, expect Linfield and Glenavon to make the most of their free weekend and face each other at Windsor Park. Expect some movement in that regard the week after next one way or the other.

Elsewhere, Paul Smyth was an unused sub for QPR today. Good to see him make progress so quick. Hopefully, a start and a hat-trick against Leeds next weekend.

From Linfield’s past to Linfield’s future, and the signing of Kurtis Byrne from St Patrick’s Athletic was announced this week, effective when the January window opens.

I don’t really know much about him, but his Wikiepedia stats suggest he has scored a respectable return in struggling sides the last two seasons. It actually dawned on me that I have seen him play in the flesh. He scored and his team won 5-1. That’s the benchmark that has been set and i’ll be expecting it every week.

Talking of League Of Ireland, the 2018 fixtures will be released on 19th December. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, to fit a game around my annual short break to Dublin. I’m eyeing up Friday 13th July 2018 when i’ll already be off work.

Crewe play Blackburn in the FA Cup tomorrow, so i’m hoping for a draw as i’ll be in Manchester the week of the Replays. Failing that, Rochdale to draw away to Slough on Monday would be nice.

Due to spending most of the pre-match queuing to get a Boxing Day ticket, I didn’t get a chance to get the updated version of Every Other Saturday. I may wait until the Crusaders match on 30th December before purchasing, just in case Santa gets it for me.

If I get it, I could read it at half-time at the Steel and Sons Cup Final if I go. Still undecided on that one, or maybe at The Oval the following day. Not even joking, I saw someone in reading a novel at the League match in February this year, the match was that bad.

And finally, Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia. That’s a tough group. Our opening match against Brazil is nice symmetry as they were our last opponents at Mexico 86.

Sorry. Sorry. I’m still in denial about that one.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2017 began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose 1-0 to Coleraine. Not the best start to the year.

Things got a bit better the following Saturday when I headed to The Oval to see Linfield beat Glentoran in the Irish Cup after extra-time.

It wasn’t all football in January, as I headed out to get photos of a George Michael mural which appeared in Botanic.

Back to football, and I was on the road to Lurgan to see Linfield beat Glenavon 2-1. The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

The next day, it was back to murals, as I headed out to get photos of a mural of Princess Leia that appeared in East Belfast, and then across Belfast to get pictures of a mural of Jon Snow. The guy from Game Of Thrones, not Channel 4 News.

The following weekend, it was back to football and back on the road, as I headed to Stangmore Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts

I then headed to Manchester for a few days, to see United take on Hull City. While there, I got some Street Art photos of Salford Quays.

I headed over on 31st Janaury. You’ll have to wait for February’s round-up for the match and Street Art in Manchester.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

George Michael Mural

George Michael Mural Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Princess Leia Mural

Princess Leia Mural Photo Album

Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

GLENAVON 0-1 LINFIELD 24.11.2017

Last week, Linfield did Glenavon a favour by beating Coleraine, enabling them to cut the lead at the top of the table to two points. On Friday night, they did Coleraine a favour by beating Glenavon and giving them the opportunity to increase their lead to eight points, having beaten Ards in midweek. Crusaders wouldn’t have been too unhappy to see Coleraine and Glenavon lose games.

Linfield weren’t interested in helping Coleraine, Glenavon or Crusaders, they were only interested in helping themselves. They certainly did that over a six day period.

This is the run of games when teams are playing each other twice, but Linfield and Glenavon were only meeting for the first time, with their scheduled meeting in October being postponed due to Linfield’s involvement in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

That outstanding game has yet to be rearranged. There were games the previous midweek, but two teams playing each other on Tuesday and Friday was never going to happen. The next logical available date would be in January, but with a scheduled meeting on 20th January, the two sides could potentially be having a double helping of meetings in the new year. Just hope they avoid each other in the Irish Cup.

As mentioned last week’s, Linfield’s visits to Mourneview Park in recent years have been silly, great for the neutral, not so much if you support one of the two teams, so this promised to be an entertaining game, especially as these were the only two teams in the League to have scored in every League game so far this season.

It was Glenavon who had most of the ball in the opening minutes. They were up for it. They want to win this game early.

Despite Glenavon’s possession, Linfield were comfortable. Glenavon didn’t have a clear chance. They were having too much of the ball for Linfield to be too comfortable.

The first real chance of the game fell for Linfield, when Andrew Waterworth burst down the right wing and crossed for Cameron Stewart, who got the ball caught between his legs and scuffed the opportunity. He really should have scored. You had the feeling that if the roles were reversed and Andrew Waterworth was on the end of the cross, Linfield would have been 1-0 up.

A few minutes later, another Linfield breaks saw Linfield win a corner. As the corner was about to be taken, someone near me shouted “COME ON STEWART!!!”. I’m guessing that was aimed at Cameron rather than Jordan.

He might have known something was about to happen, a believer in the unwritten football rule that if a player misses an easy opportunity to score, they will score a harder opportunity a few minutes later.

And so it proved, as Cameron Stewart headed home to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Glenavon complained about it, claiming there was a push by Stewart. There was physical contact, but a foul? Seriously? The Glenavon defender should have been stronger. If Linfield conceded that goal, i’d be asking questions about our defence. Glenavon also had an opportunity to clear the ball before it came to Stewart.

After the game, Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton complained about “Pressure” being put on the referee by Linfield recently. After being eliminated from one competition and potentially losing the League in the space of four weeks due to gross incompetence, I think Linfield are entitled to ask questions about the standard of officiating, just as Glenavon did over a referee’s performance in two games at Mourneview Park between October and November 2014.

It seems as though some people have short memories.

All that Glenavon could offer in response was a low shot that was easily saved by Roy Carroll.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s next chance when he broke through but his shot was saved by Jonathan Tuffey.

Glenavon might have had most of the ball, but Linfield were making the most of it when they had it, and looked the more dangerous side when attacking.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield had another break, an advantage played despite two fouls saw a Niall Quinn cross only be cleared as far as Stephen Lowry, who fired home from close range.

Or so he thought, as the goal was disallowed for handball.

I didn’t get a clear view of it, and TV pictures were inconclusive. Linfield could have done with a second.

They could have had it in the opening minute, when Jordan Stewart got space in Glenavon’s box to shoot, only to see his shot saved, and Niall Quinn unable to head home the rebound.

Linfield were putting pressure on Glenavon’s goal in the opening minutes of the second-half. You would have thought they were the team that was 1-0 down and had just been given a dressing down at half-time.

Unable to get a second that would surely have clinched the points, they were almost pegged back when Sammy Clingan fired from outside the box.

I was behind the goal at the other end, and it looked like it was going in. It looked like it was unsavable, but Roy Carroll got a hand on it and saved it.

Aaron Burns came on for Cameron Stewart and linked up well with Andrew Waterworth. Waterworth was winning the personal battle against his defender throughout the second-half, constantly getting in behind Glenavon’s defence.

Unfortunately, the shot or the final pass was just short. It was clear he is still suffering from missing pre-season through injury. The fitness will come. If this match was four or five weeks time, he probably would have had a hat-trick. Despite that, Glenavon’s defence was terrified every time the ball went near him.

Having been sent-off at Mourneview Park last November, Roy Carroll was once again in trouble with the referee, getting a yellow card as he took a goal kick. Literally, as he took a goal kick. The referee declared that he was timewasting.

Now that referees are cracking down on this, I look forward to opposition goalkeepers being booked against Linfield in the coming weeks, especially at Windsor Park.

Carroll was targeted at set pieces by Glenavon and was offered no protection by the referee when he was blocked off. Luckily, Linfield’s defenders were there to save the day.

Linfield’s players were getting into the Black Friday spirit by scrapping for and holding onto three points as if it was a discounted TV.

Aaron Burns appearance off the bench was brief, as he was stretchered off after a challenge. He was replaced by Louis Rooney.

He, or any of the none other outfield players couldn’t get that second goal. Niall Quinn headed agonisingly wide in stoppage time. I was right behind it and could see it going wide from the moment it hit his head. Everyone around me knew that the three points were still not secure, even though the 90 minute mark was approaching.

Glenavon had one late chance, that went just wide. four minutes and fifty seconds into five minutes of injury time, Glenavon were not going to get another chance, and so it proved, as the final whistle blew and Linfield had the three points.

I said last week that i’d take a boring 1-0 win. It was a 1-0 win, but it wasn’t boring.

In the end, it was a deserved win for Linfield. A week previously, Linfield hadn’t beaten a team higher than 6th, now they had beaten the top two, and deserved to do so on each occasion.

As well as cutting the gap at the top of the table, Linfield fans left Mourneview Park knowing one of Saturday’s results would go in their favour, as Crusaders would travel to Coleraine.

There would be no bad result for Linfield. A Coleraine win would have put Crusaders closer to Linfield. A Crusaders win would have put Coleraine to closer to Linfield. It ended up a draw, and Linfield are two points closer to both of them. Cliftonville beat Ballymena to stay a point ahead of Linfield, but Linfield have a game in hand.

It might look like Cliftonville are on a good run of form, but it’s deceptive. They’ve had a run of games against sides in the bottom half. I’m not to concerned about being below them hit as they’ll hit a brick wall in December when they have a run of games against sides in the top half.

The gap now to leaders Coleraine is nine points, but Linfield have a game in hand. Until the gap gets shorter, i’m going to continue to lament those ten minutes of madness at Ballymena a few weeks back.

Without sounding arrogant, the fixture list is kind to Linfield, with Dungannon, Carrick and Warrenpoint coming up next.

If Linfield have ambitions of winning the League, that has to bring a return of nine points. If it does, we are looking at a five game winning run going into the Christmas/New Year fixtures. A perfect time to go on a winning run, not that there is a bad time to do so.

Next Saturday, should see wins for Coleraine, Crusaders, Glenavon and Cliftonville. The two weeks after that will be of interest, as Glenavon will face Cliftonville and Crusaders.

There will be points dropped above us in the coming weeks, we simply have to take advantage.

Linfield have taken a lot of deserved criticism for their record in big games this season. This month, Coleraine have failed to beat Glenavon, Linfield and Crusaders, and have led in two of those games, one of which was against ten men.

It will be interesting to see if Coleraine’s title credentials come under the same amount of scrutiny as Linfield’s.

Up next of interest to Linfield fans is the Steel and Sons Cup Semi-Final against Immaculata, the winners will play Newington. I know, we’ll all be trying to decide if it’s worth getting up early on Christmas Day. At least last year, it was on Christmas Eve.

Of those Christmas/New Year games alluded to, the game away to Coleraine has been brought forward from Tuesday 2nd January to Monday 1st January.

It’s not that surprising. It stood out when the fixture list was made. It is fair to say that the decision could have been made earlier for those making arrangements.

Hopefully, the club will bring forward the match against Crusaders to Friday 29th, to give the players extra recovery time. It’s our home game, so we can make the call. We have until the end of the week to make the call.

Playing Tuesday-Friday-Monday isn’t ideal, but it’s slightly better than Tuesday-Saturday-Monday.

Next weekend, i’ll be looking at draws. I’ll be hoping that Crewe draw with Blackburn in the FA Cup so that the Replay will be the midweek when i’m in Manchester. Might be tempted to go along.

Next Friday, is the World Cup draw. If Switzerland end up in a group with Russia, Iran and Panama, I might just cry.

Hopefully, Linfield beating Dungannon at Windsor Park the following day will cheer me up.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-1 COLERAINE 18.11.2017

The last time Coleraine visited Windsor Park was for the Irish Cup Final in May. Saturday wasn’t a cup final, thought it might have felt like it. There wouldn’t be a trophy presented today, but defeat would surely have seen the League trophy slip away from Linfield’s hands.

Linfield were Back In Blue after a Highway To Hell which brought two away defeats which left them Thunderstruck.

Last week’s defeat at Ballymena was a missed opportunity for Linfield with Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders all inactive in the League. Coleraine kicked-off eleven points clear of Linfield. Victory would put them fourteen clear of Linfield. Even at this relatively early stage, that would be too much.

Victory for Linfield cuts the gap to eight points. Tough, but doable.

October and November have been rotten months for Linfield in the last few years. 2017 was no different, as Linfield have suffered seven defeats in the last ten games.

It’s been a perfect storm. Bad finishing, bad defending, bad luck, bad decision making (by officials and Linfield players). Sometimes, it’s been all four in the same game.

Coleraine made a good start in the opening minutes, having a lot of the ball in Linfield’s half, even though they didn’t really do a lot with it.

Linfield then had their own moments on top, making more of the ball when they had it. Chris Casement had a free-kick tipped over while Mark Stafford heading wide.

Jordan Stewart was Linfield’s main threat, getting into good positions but failing with the final ball.

Cameron Stewart was troubling Coleraine’s defence by just being a general nuisance.

Andrew Waterworth broke into Coleraine’s penalty area and was fouled. Penalty to Linfield. Finally, a break. Well, so we thought, we’d probably miss.

Thankfully not, as Andrew Waterworth slotted the ball home to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Coleraine were now nervous in defence. Linfield were almsot getting in behind them. A poor pass or a lucky leg stuck out saving Coleraine. It was going to be a matter of time before Linfield got it right. They had to. They simply had to take advantage while they were playing well.

A quick free-kick saw Niall Quinn get in behind Coleraine’s defence, and cross for Mark Stafford to run in and head home from close range. It was similar to Ivan Perisic’s goal for Croatia against Greece in the World Cup Play-Offs recently. For Linfield fans, it was just as vital.

On Wednesday night, it didn’t look like Stafford would be playing in this match. We’ll get to that later.

Linfield needed a third goal while they were on top. They couldn’t get it. They had to make do with just the two goals.

In the final minute of the first-half, Coleraine had their only real chance of the first-half when Jamie McGonigle was played through on goal.

Just like when he ran through on goal in the last minute of the meeting between the sides last month, Roy Carroll saved his effort. This time, it went out for a corner. It was definitely over the line. No dispute this time. No cost to Linfield this time.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second-half would be massive. If Coleraine could get a goal, they would fancy their chances of getting something from this game.

Coleraine had a lot of the ball and a lot of pressure, but Linfield held firm. However, if the pressure continued, it would only be a matter of time before Coleraine scored.

Linfield’s rare forays into Coleraine’s half saw them lose possession quickly. They couldn’t even win a corner.

Linfield couldn’t get to the hour with a clean sheet. Just before that milestone, a well worked move saw Darren McCAuley fire home for Coleraine. It was game on.

You felt like it was now going to be a case of Goal The Winner. 3-1 would secure the game for Linfield. 2-2, and it would be hard to see Coleraine not winning.

David Healy responed by bringing on Kirk Millar and Aaron Burns.

Millar played well, holding on to the ball when he had it, and always making himself an option when another Linfield player had it.

Niall Quinn got into a good position but just headed wide from a cross. The final minutes were unsurprisingly nervous. Coleraine had a header just wide. It looked like a goal from where I was sat at the other end.

When you’re on a run as bad as Linfield, you always expect the worst. Adam Mullan had a header saved by Roy Carroll. It just hit him. The luck was now all with Linfield.

Deep into injury time, a Coleraine corner was headed goalward. I was at the other end, and couldn’t see what happened, with so many players in the crowded penalty area.

I knew there two things I couldn’t see. The netting moving, and Coleraine players celebrating. I knew it was ok. The final whistle blew immediately and Linfield had the win.

Linfield players got the blocks when it mattered. In recent weeks, it was opposition players who were doing that. Linfield scored when they were in top. In recent weeks, it was the opposition scoring when they were on top.

It is only one win, but every success begins with one win.

It was also a first win of the season against a top half team of note. Sorry, Glentoran.

It is worth pointing out, that this time last year, Linfield had won only one of eight matches against Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville. They remedied that in spectacular style in the second-half of the season.

It makes the defeat against Ballymena even worse, as the gap would only be five points and things would be very interesting indeed. No point crying about it, the Ballymena game is gone. The title, is not.

Next up, is a trip to Mourneview Park on Friday night. Friday night isn’t ideal, especially when there is a Record Fair in Lurgan that could have made next Saturday a double trip, but we might as well make the most of it and get the three points to cut the gap on Glenavon and put pressure on Coleraine and Crusaders, who play each other.

There will be points dropped above us next weekend, we simply have to take advantage.

Without sounding arrogant, there are a run of games against bottom half teams in December, which represents an opportunity to get a winning run of form ahead of Cliftonville, Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine in succession over Christmas/New Year.

If we can kick on from this, it would make the early months of 2018 very interesting indeed.

Since I last wrote, Northern Ireland have been eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Switzerland.

Two days later, Republic of Ireland went out after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Denmark.

Predictably, Wednesday’s media was covering “Calls” for a combined football team.

“Calls”. Anybody can call for anything, that doesn’t make it newsworthy. Look at who is calling for it. Politicians and Journalists. That tells you all you need it to know. There are no calls, no demands, just people using their influence or “Fame” to pursue an agenda through the media.

Why were there no calls at 7.49pm on Tuesday night?

Let’s address this “Issue”.

The famed Ireland Rugby team gets mentioned in this type of nonsense. “Why don’t we have one team like in Rugby?” they cry.

Surely if this was going to be happen, would people not want them to be successful and decent, unlike the Rugby team.

But yes, if we’re using the Rugby model, why not have a Britain and Ireland football team? You know, like the Lions?

What’s that? I’m using sport to push a political agenda and deny people the chance to see their national team compete in international competition? Sorry about that.

When you see Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia and Ukraine fail to Qualify, wouldn’t it be amazing if all the former Soviet states formed a combined team with Russia?

What’s that? Trying to have countries that no longer exist compete in international football is just silly. Sorry about that.

I guess your idea is brilliant and mine are stupid. Fair enough.

The big mistake people who support this idea make, is that they think Northern Ireland fans have to justify their team’s existence. We don’t. We have never had to, and we will never have to.

It is up to those who want this to happen to convince us that it should happen.

Nobody has made a suggestion that is even remotely acceptable to us. Not even close.

First question, what would this team be called? It sounds simple, but what would it be called. You can’t call it “Ireland” as that is the brand name the FAI use for their representative team, and that would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland fans.

Who would be their sponsors? Neither Vauxhall or 3 would accept anything less than prominent position on training gear.

Who would be their kit supplier? Both teams have different contracts that would have to be cancelled and a new one negotiated?

Who is the manager? Who is the coaching, support and admin staff? You can’t have two sets. Somebody will miss out.

Where will they be in the FIFA Rankings? As a new team, they would have to start on 0 and be in Pot 6 for qualifying competitions. Being in Pot 6 will make qualifying for tournaments very difficult.

Where would they play their home matches? Northern Ireland fans would not accept feeding off scraps of home games against teams seeded five and six.

So, we have a team in Pot 6 with no staff and sponsors. This doesn’t sound very appealing.

I wish there was some sort of recent political event where people demanded something without taking into account the consequences.

To quote the great political thinker Joe Quimby, are they getting louder or stupider?

Tuesday’s result was not a shock. Republic of Ireland rarely win big games at home. Germany and Bosnia were exceptions.

In the past 16 years, Russia x 2, Switzerland x 2, France x 2, Israel, Germany x 2, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Monetnegro, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria x 2, Scotland, Poland, Wales, Serbia and Denmark have come home from competitive games in Dublin unbeaten.

Northern Ireland have had some awful results, but we haven’t conceded five in a competitive match at Windsor Park since 1979. Republic of Ireland have done it twice in the last five years.

Perhaps they should look at their own failings rather than trying to use us to deflect attention away from them.

I’m quite confident that I speak on behalf of Northern Ireland fans by politely declining the offer.

We can address it again when journalists report on “Calls” for this when Republic of Ireland get eliminated from Euro 2020.

This week, saw France confirmed as hosts of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Very tempted to do a football/rugby trip. Nice is a host city. A return visit sounds very tempting. It’s still six years away so there is no rush.

And now, Mark Stafford’s red card on Wednesday. A red card for being fouled. I’m surprised a goal for Coleraine wasn’t awarded when he scored today.

It cost us the game. We had most of the possession in the second-half. Most of the possession, against ten men, attacking our own fans. I’m fancying our chances here.

That’s two games in the past month that we have been cost due to refereeing incompetence.

The referee bottled it in the face of an angry mob of Crusaders players. We need to start standing up for ourselves on the pitch. We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams.

It’s not just Linfield who have suffered in the face of incompetent refereeing. Just ask Warrenpoint Town fans about the last day of the 2015-2016 season.

So, up next for Linfield is a trip to Mourneview Park. Linfield at Mourneview Park in November is usually interesting.

2014 saw four red cards. 2015 saw a five goal thriller. 2016 saw a two goal comeback with nine men, one of whom was a defender in nets.

I’ll happily take a boring 1-0 win in 2017.

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BALLYMENA UNITED 2-1 LINFIELD 10.11.2017

With Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders not in League action this weekend, the trip to Ballymena was a must win game which presented them with an opportunity to cut the gap at the top of the table. Defeat means that next Saturdays game against Coleraine at Windsor Park is more about staying in the title race rather than becoming actively involved in it.

There were two enforced changes from the starting eleven against Ballinamallard the previous week with Roy Carroll (International Duty) and Josh Robinson (Suspension) being replaced by Gareth Deane and Mark Stafford.

It didn’t take long for Linfield to take the lead in this game. Just three minutes were on the clock when a headed clearance fell to Robert Garrett who fired home low from outside the box to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It looked like it was going to be the first of many for Linfield as Ballymena looked nervous in defence, panicking and needlessly conceding cheap throws and corners. They looked like they were going to gift Linfield a goal at any time.

More Linfield pressure followed. Stephen Lowry had a shot cleared off the line and Kirk Millar fired over from a similar position to which Garrett scored.

Garrett tried his luck again from outside the box, but it was turned around the post by Ross Glendenning.

Inbetween that, there was a brief flurry from Ballymena. The best effort was a free-kick that Gareth Deane dropped it out for a corner when he should have held it. The resulting corner was headed over, reminding Linfield that this game was far from won.

Linfield led 1-0 at half-time and it could have been more. The game was far from won. A second goal should have been enough.

Linfield never got going at all at the start of the second-half, and it was no surprise when Conor McCloskey equalised from a long range free-kick.

The response was immediate, and Josh Rooney had a chance, but he toepoked wide, the finish of a player who is struggling for goals.

On the hour, Ballymena took the lead when a goal kick was flicked on for Johnny McMurray to spectacularly score from long range.

There’s no doubt it was a world class finish, and a video of the goal has been doing the rounds all over the internet.

However, from the defending team’s point of view, there have to be questions about the goalkeeper’s position (from an opposition goal kick) and why a defender close to him wasn’t immediately putting him under pressure as soon as he got the ball.

Linfield had their chances to equalise. Jordan Stewart fired over from inside the box just after Ballymena scored. He really should have scored.

Aaron Burns came on for Louis Rooney as Linfield searched for a comeback win. They closest they came was when a Mark Stafford header was saved by Glendenning.

That was the problem. Ross Glendenning was making saves, but he wasn’t making top class saves. They were just saves. Saves that you would expect any goalkeeper to make.

Linfield couldn’t get any momentum going.

Brandon Adams was brought on for Chris Casement. The Killers might not be in Belfast until the following Friday. Linfield fans were hoping that this would be the Friday night for Brandon to shine.

Kirk Millar fired wide on his left foot when he should have hit the target.

The problem when you miss the target at Ballymena is that it takes and age to get the ball back. Ballymena weren’t slow in slowing the game down, as Ballboys seemed to be reluctant to distribute the ball to restart the game.

Once again, another referee made a mug of. A referee who gave Andrew Waterworth a talking to for scoring when he was flagged offside, but stood and did nothing when Ballymena players were slowing the game down.

We need to get smart to this. We need to be getting in officials faces and making sure they act on it and stop giving teams a chance to kill games. Opposition players aren’t slow in letting the ref know if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

If Linfield could get an equaliser, they would surely go on and win the game. The problem was, getting that equaliser.

With each passing minute, Linfield’s ambitions were being downgraded to wanting an equaliser to be the springboard to winning the game, to just getting an equaliser to salvage something from the game.

That wasn’t helped when Robert Garrett got sent-off for a second yellow card in the final minutes.

Those final minutes saw five minutes of injury time. It could easily have been six.

There were plenty of stoppages in those five minutes, but only an extra five seconds were played. The game ended as Linfield were about to take an attacking throw.

The League table doesn’t make good reading as Linfield have now dropped to 5th after Cliftonville’s win over Ballinamallard. The ambition this weekend was to get closer to the top, not fall further behind.

It’s hard to explain. Linfield had enough chances to win. It sounds simple, but we need to take our chances and concentrate throughout the entire game.

There’s a November 2015 vibe about this current run. Games are being decided by small margins. This one was decided by two freakish top class goals.

The damming truth was, that when Ballymena went 2-1 up, we were hoping Linfield would get back into the game rather than expecting it.

Up next in the League is Coleraine and Glenavon. They were already must win, they are even more so now. It was a scrappy 1-0 win over Coleraine that got us out of a rut in the Winter of 2015 and kickstarted a run of form. We just need something to go our way.

With this win, Ballymena moved up to 7th, creating a damming statistic that 8th placed Dungannon are the highest ranked team that Linfield have beaten away from home in the League this season.

There’s a good starting point. How to fix it though?

It is in contrast to last season’s away form, where they last failed to win in November 2016, winning 16 successive games in all competitions. That statistic doesn’t include 2 games on neutral venues.

The big fear is, that this result might see a return of 451 in forthcoming matches.

Elsehwere, i’m in Manchester on the midweek of FA Cup 2nd Round Replays (I’m seeing United v Bournemouth on the Wednesday) and the draw has given Rochdale, Crewe and Wigan away games. Hoping for one of them to draw and play on the Tuesday night.

It is interesting to note that Crusaders Scottish Challenge Cup Semi-Final will be on 17th or 18th February. The NIFL Cup Final is scheduled for 17th February. There could be a major storm brewing if Crusaders reach the final of it.

Linfield could do the NIFL a massive favour by beating Crusaders on Wednesday night in the Quarter-Final.

They could give themselves a big one as well.

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