LINFIELD 4-1 CRUSADERS 8.12.2018

This winner of this match was never going to automatically go on a title charge, and the loser was never going to be out of the title race. However, it is Crusaders who are trying to take that positive spin, as Linfield put in a display that was more exciting than a branch of Primark opening.

At one point this season, Linfield’s points lead over Crusaders was in double figures, but dropped points over the past eight weeks had seen that reduced to five, giving Crusaders a sniff at the title when Linfield should have been out of sight. A win here, and they would be two points behind Linfield and right into the mix.

Linfield were straight on the attack, winning a corner inside the first minute that Josh Robinson was unable to get on the end of an repeat his feat of scoring in the first minute of this fixture, as he did last season.

Meanwhile, Chris Casement had a free-kick go over while Kirk Millar and Jordan Stewart were unable to get on the end of a Jamie Mulgrew cross.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead when Stephen Fallon played in Joel Cooper in acres of space. Crusaders defenders backed off him, which only invited him to shoot, doing so, and putting Linfield 1-0 up via a deflection.

Just like on Crusaders last visit to Windsor Park, Linfield got an early goal and were on top. That day, they couldn’t get a second goal and let Crusaders away with it. Not today, they were thirsty for more.

A few minutes later, another attack saw Jordan Stewart run at Crusaders defence. He had options left and right but decided to shoot, his effort deflecting out for a corner.

That resulting corner saw Jimmy Callacher head home to put Linfield 2-0 up, just as he did against Crusaders at Windsor Park on New Year’s Day 2016.

The uncertainty in Crusaders defence not being helped by announcing the signing of a new goalkeeper on Thursday night, with the current occupant knowing he has a month of games to play before being replace in January. It clearly had an effect. Not that Linfield were worried by that.

When Crusaders hit crossfield balls, they went out for a throw. When Linfield hit crossfield balls, they would find somebody, usually Joel Cooper. Kyle Owens, playing despite being sent-off last week (I assume his red card was successful in appeal, or it has been appealed in order to stall the ban) being dragged out wide, and looking as comfortable as you’d expect a big lump playing at full-back to look.

Paul Heatley had a speculative shot go wide. That was as close as Crusaders got in the first-half, barring a shot which looked to be going over, but dropped down and hot the top of the net.

Andrew Waterworth chased a through ball, getting to the ball ahead of a defender, but his quick shot hit the keeper and went out for a corner.

Linfield knew if they got a third, it would secure the points by half-time, but they just couldn’t get it. Just as importantly, they kept Crusaders out, the main significant difference between this game and the game against Cliftonville a few weeks back.

Even if it was 2-1, Linfield still would have left the pitch confident of getting the points.

Crusaders were all over the place defensively. A couple of throw-ins from Sean Ward saw Crusaders losing the ball in areas where you don’t want to lose the ball. Every time there was a break in play, Crusaders defenders were having an impromptu conference.

At half-time, Billy Joe Burns and Philip Lowry came off the bench as Crusaders looked to get a goal back. All they offered in the early minutes was a shot from Paul Heatley which was easily saved by Roy Carroll.

Soon after, Linfield got the third when Crusaders couldn’t clear a free-kick, and it fell for Josh Robinson to smash home.

A few minutes later, Joel Cooper nutmegged Sean Ward and played in Jordan Stewart. If it was me, I would have smashed it in, but decided to go around one defender and the keeper before firing into the empty net.

It was like a cover version of his goal against La Fiorita last season.

What stands out the more you watch the video of the goal, is that Billy Joe Burns gives up and doesn’t chase back as soon as the ball goes to Stewart. If he did, he might have been able to stop him from scoring, or put him under pressure.

His season, like his Linfield career, has taken a while to get going. Now to keep this up.

Crusaders pulled a goal back when Philip Lowry scored from close range after a corner. You never got the feeling that it was going to be the start of a comeback, and so it proved, as Linfield held out for the 4-1 win.

It would have been nice to get a first clean sheet in nine games though.

They almost won 5-1 when a counter attack saw substitute Michael O’Connor unable to get on the end of a cross.

Appropriately, the match ended with Linfield keeping the ball for the final minute of injury time and Crusaders unable to get it. It was like that the entire game.

Not only does this win put Linfield eight points clear of Crusaders, they went six points clear of Glenavon (albeit with a game more played). They still remain behind Ballymena United. With home games for Ballymena against Institute and Newry City between now and Boxing Day, you’d expect their winning run to continue. And it gave their goal difference a boost.

You can’t really rule out a team until Linfield go ten points clear of them. Linfield only have that gap from Coleraine, but Coleraine have a game in hand.

The truth is, Linfield are looking up and have a cushion from the teams below them.

Next Saturday, sees a trip to Newry, which has been pushed back to Saturday from Friday night due to Linfield’s involvement in the NIFL Cup.

You have to say fair play to Newry regarding that, as they would have been entitled (and probably tempted) to tell Linfield to clear off when asked to move the game. The 1pm start gives Linfield a chance to put points on the board early in the day and put the pressure on their rivals as they enter the pitch for their 3pm kick-offs.

Before that, is a trip to Stangmore Park in the NIFL Cup with a place in the final up or grabs. Feeling pessimistic about this, Dungannon are due one against us. I’m not saying we are awful in this competition, but it was so long ago since we won it, Glenn Ferguson scored the winner.

Talking of negative optimism, Glentoran haven’t won in eight matches (seven in the League).

The thought of them going into Boxing Day without a win in nine fills me with dread. You know what will happen.

Since my last blog, the fixtures for Euro 2020 Qualifiers have been announced.

Estonia and Belarus at home first. That’ll do. Then the return games in June 2019. We simply need to have twelve points on board before we face Holland and Germany.

The first games against those two, in September and October, are standalone fixtures. Unfortunately, UEFA rules state that teams must play a friendly on free dates, which is inconvenient, as Northern Ireland would be better off concentrating on that one Qualifier and not have a friendly in the way.

I imagine there will be a friendly arranged before the June double header in order to stop players going stale after so long without a game for their clubs. A random game in a random English ground, like Qatar in Crewe would be great.

The away game in Holland will be in Rotterdam. I’ve been to Rotterdam, and listened to Rotterdam by The Beautiful South on my ipod as I entered. I went to a match there, between Excelsior Rotterdam and VVV Venlo, which even had a player eligible for Northern Ireland playing. I visited De Kuip to have a look around, though there was no match on.

The home match against Holland will be on Saturday 16th November at 7.45pm, so it will mean Linfield will be away that weekend, though the date is still to be confirmed. Previously, when Northern Ireland have been at home on a Saturday night, there have been 3pm games that day. Hopefully, Linfield won’t have a long trip that day if they do play.

Another draw this week was the Irish Cup. You always want a lower league team away. We got one at home. I would have been all over Ballyclare away, even though my last visit there was a defeat in 2014.

And finally, the game against Glentoran on the 26th is live on Sky. That’s 26th January, and it’s now been moved to Monday 28th January. I fly out to Manchester the next day. Good job it’s not an early morning flight.

That will be Linfield’s second appearance on Sky Sports this season. Let’s hope for a third one in mid February.

Photo Album

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2018 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2018 began for me with a trip to Smithfield, to snap a new mural commemorating Smithfield Market.

Two days later, on Easter Tuesday, it was a trip to Lurgan for me to see Linfield take on Glenavon.

It was a month dominated by football, as I went to Linfield’s matches against Ballymena, Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville.

The month ended as it started, with me checking out some Street Art, well, mostly the now finished garden at CS Lewis Square which featured a tribute to famous East Belfast people and landmarks.

Smithfield

Smithfield Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Cliftonville

East Belfast Wall Of Fame

East Belfast Wall Of Fame Photo Album

2018 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2018 began for me photographing snow. Yes, you read that right, the snow came down in the early days of March 2018.

That snow caused the postponement of Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville, so I had to wait a week for my first football match of the month, as Linfield took on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed up the following midweek by Linfield’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville.

Two days later, I headed to The Odyssey to see Stereophonics in concert.

St Patrick’s Day was spent watching Linfield draw 1-1 at home to Glentoran.

The following Thursday, I headed to The Limelight to see Feeder in concert.

Off work the next day due to needing to use up excess Annual Leave, I made the long journey to Ballinamallard to see Linfield drop two points in the last minute.

That weekend, and the month, ended with me heading to East Belfast to get photos of some new murals that had appeared during the month.

Belfast Snow March 2018

Belfast Snow March 2018 Photo Album – Thursday 1st March

Belfast Snow March 2018 Photo Album – Saturday 3rd March

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Linfield v Cliftonville

Stereophonics live at The Odyssey

Stereophonics live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v South Korea

Northern Ireland v South Korea Photo Album

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

2018 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2018 began with a trip to The Limelight, a first proper concert of the year, to see Shed Seven supported by John Power.

That was followed the following midweek by a trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

The following Saturday, was Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

The following week was very busy, with Paul Weller at Ulster Hall followed by Ulster v Edinburgh and then Cliftonville v Linfield.

The weekend after that was a trip to the seaside, to see Linfield take on Ards.

That was then followed by a midweek trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose to Glenavon.

Around that time, it was getting cold. So cold, there was the possibility of snow. That didn’t come until March 1st, so you’ll have to wait until next month’s round-up to see that.

John Power live at The Limelight

John Power live at The Limelight Photo Album

Shed Seven live at The Limelight

Shed Seven live at The Limelight Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Paul Weller live at Ulster Hall

Paul Weller live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Ulster v Edinburgh

Ulster v Edinburgh Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

2018 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2018 was supposed to start for me heading to Coleraine, but the weather saw Linfield’s match on New Year’s Day postponed.

I had to wait a week for a photo adventure, heading to a very wet Carrick to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win.

A week and a bit later, it was my first visit of the year to Windsor Park, to see Linfield take on Glenavon.

The following weekend, I headed to London. Unsurprisingly, I was out with my camera, capturing a lot of Street Art, going to see Turin Brakes do an instore concert at Fopp, and seeing Millwall take on Rochdale in the FA Cup.

Upon my return from London, it was to Coleraine, to end the month with a rearranged game that should have kicked off the month.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

London Street Art

London Street Art Photo Album 1

London Street Art Photo Album 2

Turin Brakes live at Fopp Covent Garden

Turin Brakes live at Fopp Covent Garden Photo Album

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

BALLYMENA UNITED 2-1 LINFIELD 1.12.2018

It was supposed to be the second meeting in four days between Ballymena United and Linfield, but the weather on Tuesday meant that it wasn’t. There was never a danger of this match being postponed, but Linfield ended up wishing that it was.

Linfield were the last team to beat Ballymena, in late September. It is doubtful that even the most optimistic Ballymena fan would have predicted the return fixture being a top of the table clash, with Linfield kicking off one point ahead of their hosts.

It was slightly surprising that this game wasn’t regraded as a County Antrim Shield Semi-Final in order to get it wrapped up as soon as possible and stop it dragging on. I’ll be covering fixture scheduling, a favourite topic of mine, later on.

Having played Midweek-Saturday for the last few weeks, I don’t think Ballymena were too unhappy with the postponement, to give them a break going into this game, and Ballymena were sharper in the opening minute when a header fell to Adam Lecky, who fired over from close range when he should have scored.

It was poor defending from Linfield. Firstly, in not winning the header even though it wasn’t going to be an attempt at goal, and then nobody tracking Lecky.

If Linfield weren’t sharp at one end, they were sharp at the other, when Stephen Fallon got to the ball on the byline before crossing for Andrew Waterworth to finish from close range to put Linfield 1-0 up.

The question now, was would Ballymena capitulate. They didn’t, going in search of an equaliser and having a goal disallowed for offside, while Linfield also had a goal disallowed for offside.

The theme of the first-half for Linfield was sloppy passes. Far too many were going astray, giving the ball away, stopping promising attacks. and conceding soft possession. On most occasions, it came when they were under no pressure. It was really basic stuff.

On one occasion where Linfield lost the ball when put under pressure, it set up a Ballymena shot which was turned around for a corner by Roy Carroll.

Stephen Fallon was involved in Linfield’s two main attacks of note in the later moments of the half, stabbing the ball goalwards from a corner, and then narrowly being unable to get his head on a Jimmy Callacher flick on.

As the team’s left the pitch at half-time, Linfield fans will have had a smile on their faces with this scoreline, and with scorelines elsewhere, with Glenavon and Crusaders drawing their respective matches.

Linfield went in search of a second goal they needed at the start of the second-half, and almost got it when a goalmouth scramble saw the ball blocked on the line. In the aftermath of that, there was a kerfuffle which saw Josh Robinson booked.

I have been critical of Robinson this season for getting involved and getting yellow cards where he doesn’t need to be involved, but he did nothing wrong in this incident. He went for a ball that was there to be won. It seems that the reaction of the Ballymena players got him booked. I can’t help but wonder if he has now made himself a marked man amongst referees.

Ballymena got an equaliser when a free-kick was headed home by Johnny Addis, with Roy Carroll coming out and not getting the ball.

It’s easy to ask questions of Carroll, but there were two Ballymena players fighting to win the header unchallenged. If they score a free header and Carroll stays on the line, we’d all be asking just as many questions.

We had enough bodies to defend it, yet there were two Ballymena players unmarked in the box.

Soon after, Ballymena went 2-1 up with a strike from Leroy Millar. It was a repeat of the meeting at Ballymena in November 2017 where an early Linfield goal was cancelled out by a quick Ballymena double in the first fifteen minutes of the second-half.

They had two further chances on the breakaway with Linfield in search of an equaliser, Roy Carroll keeping Linfield in the game twice with superb saves.

Linfield never really looked like making them pay for it, apart from when a header from a corner which went just wide.

Jordan Stewart, surprisingly left on the bench for Robert Garrett, came on for Joel Cooper. That was then followed by a belated Linfield debut for Lorcan Forde, coming on for Kirk Millar.

Despite all the pressure on Ballymena’s goal, the ball just never bounced in Linfield’s favour, as Ballymena held out for the win, and it got better for them when they heard the scores from elsewhere, with Glenavon and Crusaders both drawing.

That makes it worse for Linfield, they could have pulled away from the team’s below them. Even a draw wouldn’t have been a bad result when you combined with the other results.

Crusaders had two players sent-off. I would not be surprised if they appealed them purely to delay the suspensions ahead of the visit to Windsor Park next Saturday. They seemed to be quite affronted that a referee from Latvia should come over hear and not tolerate their thuggery.

It’s a setback, but not a disaster. Two points is retrievable, and there are plenty of games left in which to do it. The gap can’t get any bigger.

Ballymena have a generous run of games coming up, and we’ll need to win to keep up with them.

Up next is a trip to Portadown in the League Cup, potentially, the second of five away games in seventeen days. A fixture pile up which isn’t our fault, but we’ll have to get on with it.

Two Cup Finals and pulling clear of Crusaders and Glenavon is the prize on offer. That should be enough to get through this run of games.

And the draw for the Irish Cup is this Thursday. A crap lower league team away please.

Laptop battery issues mean that this blog is going out later and the draw for Euro 2020 has been made, and it’s a nightmare for Northern Ireland. We are really paying the price for out Nations League performance. It gets worse when you see Austria’s group.

We shouldn’t finish lower than 3rd, which should be good enough for a Play-Off, but may not be. We’ll also be keeping an eye out on Austria and Bosnia’s group. Meanwhile, one of Georgia, Belarus, Macedonia and Kosovo will be guaranteed a place in the finals regardless of where they finish in their qualifying groups.

The spin we had which was repeated by some Northern Ireland fans is that it gives us a better chance to qualify.

Remind me, how does the UEFA Nations League give Northern Ireland a better opportunity to qualify?

To make it worse, there’ll be no new teams for me, having already seen Holland, Germany, Estonia and Belarus.

That will start in late March 2019. Hopefully by then, Linfield will be back on top of table.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 4-2 CLIFTONVILLE 24.11.2018

The last time David Jeffrey sat on top of the Irish League table (Remember them days?), it was a result in a match between Linfield and Cliftonville at Windsor Park which knocked him off. History repeated itself, but in a lot happier circumstances than the last time it happened in March 2014.

Ballymena’s win over Newry City the night before sent them top, but Linfield knew that a win would knock Ballymena off the top and also keep them ahead of Glenavon, ensuring that next week’s visit to the Ballymena Showgrounds would be between the top two in the League.

Cliftonville arrived at Windsor Park doing their usual unnecessary use of away kit, wearing white/green/green and resembling Bulgaria.

Such is the Jeckyll and Hyde nature of Cliftonville, you knew they would resemble Bulgaria at USA 94. Wether it would be the group defeat to Nigeria (0-3) or 3rd Place Play-Off v Sweden (0-4), or the side the beat Argentina, Mexico and Germany remained to be seen.

Cliftonville arrived at Windsor Park looking for a boost after a bad week, losing to Ballymena in the League, and Dungannon Swifts in the League Cup.

That defeat to Dungannon meant that this would be the first of two meetings in five weeks, rather than the first of potentially three meetings in five weeks.

This was a match that I would be watching the first-half from The Kop.

Recently, having fans in The Kop was trialled against Ballymena, but not used against Newry City and Warrenpoint Town.

There were no concerns that it was being dropped after one game, but rather not being used against bottom six teams (Glentoran excepted). It was brought back against Coleraine, but I gambled that Linfield would attack The Kop in the second-half.

The game began with a lot of Linfield pressure. Cliftonville could barely get out of their own half. If Cliftonville players were wanting to “Leave one on” Roy Carroll in the opening minutes, they didn’t get an opportunity to.

Joel Cooper, in for the (I presume) injured Michael O’Connor, and Jordan Stewart were the main threats for Linfield down the left.

Cooper had lost his way a bit after getting injured at The Oval in early October, but a brief cameo at The Brandywell last week saw glimpses that he had found his way again.

That was evident in the first-half. Every time he got the ball, Cliftonville were scared of him, resorting to tactical and cynical fouling, which went unpunished in terms of cards, which only encouraged them.

Conceding lots of free-kicks by Cliftonville meant that Linfield were able to keep the pressure on. Cliftonville players were just getting to the ball, they weren’t clearing it. The ball was either going out for another corner, or it was being kept live for the Linfield attack to continue.

On one such occasion, the ball fell to Stephen Fallon, whose shot went just wide. From where I was sat, it looked like it was going in, and that he would repeat his feat from last season by putting Linfield 1-0 up against Cliftonville in front of The Kop.

The first-half was one way traffic, similar to the Irish Cup tie last season. Linfield found out the hard way that night about the importance of taking your chances when you are on top. They had to make this pressure count.

Cliftonville couldn’t hold out. On 17 minutes, Jimmy Callacher headed home to put Linfield 1-0 up. It was the second successive home match against Cliftonville that he scored in. The circumstances were different. On the last day of last season, the goal was just a consolation, a low point in a season of low points. This time around, it was a team chasing for the title looking to kill a rival in late November.

The pressure continued. Kirk Millar got his foot the a cross but couldn’t divert it in. Josh Robinson headed from a few yards out but couldn’t get the direction.

Andrew Waterworth missed a free header from a few yards out. He really should have scored. He didn’t need me to tell him that. The collective groans around Windsor Park told him that.

Within minutes, that miss was forgotten as Joel Cooper broke down the left and his cross was turned in by Andrew Waterworth from a few yards out. It was now looking like a case of how many will Linfield win this game by.

A third goal would have put the result beyond doubt. Linfield couldn’t get it.

As the half neared it’s end, Cliftonville made their first ventures into Linfield’s final third. One of those saw them do a cover version of Alan Shearer’s goal against Holland in Euro 96, always seeming to have an extra player in the attack, with Joe Gormley firing home.

It changed the whole mood around the first-half. At 2-0 up, it would be a matter of seeing the job out. At 2-1, Linfield were now having to make sure of the points.

They ended up happy for it to be 2-1 at the break, as sloppiness crept in during the final minutes, most notably Joel Cooper not tracking back because he didn’t think the Cliftonville player would keep the ball in, meaning they gained possession when he did.

In the aftermath of Gormley’s goal, Roy Carroll was booked for kicking the ball away, the first yellow card of the game. All this while Cliftonville’s cynical fouling went unpunished in terms of cards.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Andrew Waterworth fired wide when through from a tight angle, when Jordan Stewart (pass) and Joel Cooper (cross) were better options.

Just like in the first-half, Waterworth amended a miss within minuted by heading home to put Linfield 3-1 up. That would surely be the three points secured.

Nope, not yet. Within minutes, Cliftonville pulled it back to 3-2 when Jamie Harney headed home from close range. It was a bad goal to concede, especially when the initial header which set him up was at the far post, Harney finding himself unmarked in the six yard box.

If Linfield needed reminded that they were in a came, it came when Jay Donnelly ran unchallenged and his long range shot hit the top of the net.

It was frustrating from Linfield, as the match should have been put to bed by now.

It was obvious that Linfield needed to turn to their bench. They had some new options today, with both Andrew Mitchell and Lorcan Forde both returning from injury. In the case of Forde, it was his first appearance in a matchday squad after suffering an injury in pre-season, not long after signing from Warrenpoint Town.

Hopefully, Daniel Kearns, Cameron Stewart and Mark Haughey will be available for selection in the New Year.

Linfield were able to work with 14-15 players in the first two months of the season. That would never have lasted the season. In recent weeks, Stephen Fallon, Jordan Stewart and Mark Stafford (briefly) have come into the team. The squad is key.

Robert Garrett got the nod ahead of Mitchell to come on, replacing Jordan Stewart.

David Healy hoped for some punk poetry when Cooper was replaced by Clarke, with Niall Quinn being pushed forward.

That wouldn’t have been a sub I would have made, but it had it’s reward within a few minutes as Quinn got in behind Cliftonville’s defence to cross for Waterworth to make it 4-2.

And that is why i’m not the manager of Linfield.

It wasn’t the first time Waterworth has scored a hat-trick against Cliftonville (any excuse to bring up the 2017 title win) but it was the first hat-trick by a Linfield player against Cliftonville at Windsor Park since Chris Morgan in November 2000.

And that, definitely was that, even though Cliftonville did have a couple of moments where they went close.

As injury time approached, Daniel Reynolds came on for Andrew Waterworth. It would have been nice if Lorcan Forde had got on, to ease him into the team after injury.

Other results didn’t go for Linfield, but they won, which is all that matters. The most important thing is to help yourself.

Coleraine had another bad result. Of course, their only win recently comes against Linfield. Same with Ards. I’m quite glad that the next two League games come against teams on form. I hate it when we play teams on a bad run of form.

Glentoran are without a win in five games, which is a worry ahead of Boxing Day, so hopefully they can get a few wins before then. That is something I never thought I would write.

That result sees Linfield go 11 points clear of Cliftonville, albeit that Cliftonville have a game in hand. Realistically, they are out of the title race, if they were ever in it.

Though, I said something similar about Ballymena in late September. A few defeats can put you out of the race, just as a few wins can put you back in it. You have to review it on a game by game basis.

Tuesday night, sees Linfield travel to Ballymena United in the County Antrim Shield. It’s not our biggest priority in terms of trophies, but we’re in it, we might as well try to win it. And it would pop Ballymena’s balloon ahead of next Saturday.

Fingers crossed that David Jeffrey is awarded Manager of the Month before then, and suffers from the jinx as a result.

Ballymena’s form has grabbed the headlines, but Linfield have also found a bit of form, with eight goals in two games, five for Andrew Waterworth. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Ballymena were only one game unbeaten.

I won’t be there, i’ll be making my first trip of the season to Old Trafford and I have to say I am excited by it. Mostly about Manchester Christmas Market and Empire Exchange. Can’t say i’ve any urge to watch highlights of a 0-0 draw at home to Crystal Palace.

Next Saturday, Linfield travel to Ballymena in the League for a game that has 0-0 written all over it. If Linfield beat Portadown on the Tuesday after it, they will face five road trips (Ballymena x 2, Portadown, Dungannon and Newry) in the space of seventeen days.

If you’re stuck for ideas for a Christmas present for a Linfield supporter, petrol vouchers will be handy.

Elsewhere, a date has been confirmed for the Bohs v East Fife Scottish Challenge Cup game, Saturday 2nd February 2019.

That’s an Irish Cup date. If Linfield are out (heaven forbid) or have a home game against a lower league team, I might be tempted by a Dublin day trip.

It’s not petrol vouchers that Linfield supporters will be wanting over the next month, it’s three points, three more points, and then three more points. And repeat.

Photo Album

INSTITUTE 1-4 LINFIELD 17.11.2018

As a mid season slump continued last weekend with a 2-1 defeat at home to Coleraine, Linfield will have been glad to be facing a team they have beaten twice this season by an aggregate of 8-0, but maybe not so glad that they would be facing them at a ground they haven’t won at since the 1960s.

Damage to Drumahoe caused by flooding in the Summer of 2017 meant they will be playing this season at The Brandywell (Soon to be renamed Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium), which meant there would be a new ground for me to visit.

The Brandywell wasn’t a new ground for Linfield, with a flurry of visits between 2005 and 2012. They didn’t bring joy for Linfield, with three draws and two defeats from those five games, though they were awarded a 3-0 win when Derry were thrown out of the Setanta Cup in 2009-2010. If anyone asks, I scored a hat-trick.

Jamie Mulgrew and Robert Garrett started the last time Linfield played at The Brandywell, but only Mulgrew would be doing so in this match, with Garrett dropping down to the bench with Michael O’Connor, Josh Robinson and Stephen Fallon coming into the team.

Joel Cooper was one of those who dropped to the bench, having suffered a dip in form since being kicked out of the game at The Oval a few weeks back. Purely coincidental.

O’Connor missed last week’s game against Coleraine due to suspension, in farcical circumstances due to the club having to flag it up. We might have disadvantaged ourselves against Coleraine, but it would have bitten us in the arse later down the line, so honesty was the best policy.

Linfield were almost punished again for a poor refereeing performance thee months later.

Pre-match arrangements meant meeting at Drumahoe Park and Ride, just past Drumahoe as you drive into Derry City Centre.

A 1pm kick-off wasn’t surprising, but if it was a 3pm kick-off, I would have headed up early and spent some time in the City Centre.

Popping to a local shop to get some lunch meant that I didn’t get a chance to have a nosey around the ground, which stands abandoned. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.

Linfield struggled in their first visits to Drumahoe, losing their first two visits and drawing their third, which was almost costly in the title race in 2004. Since then, they’ve been unbeaten there.

I had visited Drumahoe three times, all of which were tricky games for Linfield, a 1-1 draw in 2014, a 1-0 win in 2015, and a 2-0 win in 2017 which sounds a lot more comfortable than it was.

Those with a sense of humour will have noticed that Linfield were lining up at The Brandywell wearing red and white, in a game that had a slow start, the first real attacking moment of note coming when Chris Casement found space down the right, but Andrew Waterworth couldn’t get on the end of his cross.

A few minutes later, a quick Institute counter attack saw Michael McCrudden fire home after a shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

The goal was timed at 13 minutes. It was the fifth successive Saturday that Linfield had gone 1-0 down. Four of those were in the first twenty minutes. I keep saying it, it’s a bad habit to get into, and we don’t appear to be getting out of it. We won’t come from behind every time we go 1-0 down, the last four weeks have shown this.

This week was different, the response from Linfield was more positive. They actually looked like scoring in response.

Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth both had shots saved as Linfield searched for an equaliser.

It wasn’t all one way traffic, as Michael McCrudden curled an effort just wide. For a moment, it looked in from where I was.

It was already tough enough coming from 1-0 down, we really could have done without going 2-0 down.

Crosses were coming in quicker, not giving Institute a chance to defend it properly, and second balls were being picked up, usually by Jamie Mulgrew.

One of those saw a goalbound shot which was denied by a world class save, before a run was halted by a foul on the edge of the penalty area.

Chris Casement and Niall Quinn were around the ball, but it was set up perfectly for Quinn. It wasn’t a clean strike, but it was enough for the ball to go into the back of the net for 1-1.

Importantly, it meant that unlike the previous four Saturdays, Linfield had remedied the 0-1 deficit in the first-half.

They almost went in at half-time in front. They had enough chances, with a Kirk Millar header from the byline being unable to be finished, while Michael O’Connor headed just wide.

In the early minutes of the second-half, Andrew Waterworth finished from close range, only to be denied by an offside flag to little progress.

There was a roar from Linfield’s fans, to urge their team on, but that soon changed to a goal roar, as the Referee overruled the Linesman and awarded the goal. TV footage revealed this to be the correct decision as the ball hit an Institute defender last.

Andrew Waterworth had a shot deflected over while Kirk Millar had an overhead kick saved as Linfield searched for a third goal that would surely secure the points.

It was Millar who got that goal when he headed home from close range to make it 3-1.

Millar was then replaced by Joel Cooper, who went straight on a run which set up a shot for Jordan Stewart, as he looked to recover his form to get back into the starting eleven.

Jamie Mulgrew fires just wide as Linfield searched for a fourth goal.

Robert Garrett then came on for Stephen Fallon who was superb, usually making himself available for a pass, or making things happen when he got the ball.

One final sub for the closing minutes, as Matthew Clarke came on for Jordan Stewart to see out the game.

As the final minutes approached, Andrew Waterworth was played in by Michael O’Connor to make it 4-1. It’s a pity the goal didn’t come before the third sub, as a 4-1 scoreline could have given Daniel Reynolds or Brandon Doyle some gametime.

One advantage of the 1pm kick-off was that as Linfield fans were leaving The Brandywell, other games were just about to kick-off.

The fixture list was kind to Linfield in terms of other games, as there were two games between clubs in the Top Six. Linfield had the points in the bag, and would be able to sit with their feet up.

As it turned out, Crusaders beat Glenavon while Ballymena United beat Cliftonville.

That means Linfield leapfrog Glenavon at the top, though Glenavon have a game in hand. Ballymena United play twice before Linfield play again, and two wins will send them top.

Those games are against Glentoran and Newry City. I’d be surprised if they weren’t.

Linfield are now eight points clear of Cliftonville. A win next Saturday against them, will make that eleven, and we’d be almost out of sight in relation to them.

One result that didn’t happen today was Bohemian v East Fife in the Scottish Challenge Cup, which has been postponed indefinitely due to scheduling conflicts. What an absolute farce.

Surely the Scottish FA could have had something in place for scheduling a Quarter-Final involving an Irish team. It also craps over East Fife fans who will have to plan travel arrangements to Dublin. At some point in time.

Talking of farces, we move onto the NIFL Cup.

You may remember last season when I spent two months talking about how the Semi-Final postponements dragging on was affecting Linfield.

Due to Portadown’s Quarter-Final (against Linfield) being postponed, the Semi-Finals have been put back a week to December 11th.

Portadown or Linfield have been drawn away to Cliftonville or Dungannon Swifts.

That could mean Linfield fans having to get tickets and buses to Solitude arranged at seven days notice. That will be fun.

One positive if that situation did arise would be that Linfield have a home game sandwiched inbetween.

One thing that is guaranteed will be that Linfield will play Cliftonville next Saturday.

We’ll have to be up for this, and be smart. They’ll try to bully us, and we’ll have to stand up for ourselves and not react. A strong ref would be a good start. A repeat of the performance at Seaview in August would be even better.

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LINFIELD 1-2 COLERAINE 10.11.2018

Struggling for form after an early season change of manager will have seen Linfield fans know what Coleraine’s plight was from 2015, but very little sympathy, as they looked to get back on the road to recovery after a bumpy run of form.

Despite Coleraine’s struggles since the appointment of Rodney McAree, Coleraine were approaching a year unbeaten away from home in the League. The last team to beat them away from home? Linfield fifty one weeks previously.

Regardless of the result, Linfield would be the last team to beat Coleraine away from home, but would the date be updated?

For the first time this season that numerous players injured, with Michael O’Connor and Andrew Mitchell joining Daniel Kearns on the injured list, presenting a first League start for Jordan Stewart.

With Kearns out until January (according to Liam Beckett on Radio Ulster), it presented an opportunity for Stewart to have an extended run in the team.

Linfield had some good pressure on Coleraine’s goal in the opening minutes of the game, straight on the attack and getting Joel Cooper on the ball as much as possible. Coleraine’s defending was far from assured, with a series of sloppy passes continuing Linfield’s attacks.

One of those sloppy passes saw Stephen Lowry be lucky to escape a yellow card for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew while stretching to try and retrieve a misplaced pass.

Coleraine recovered and started to have chances of their own. The best one came when a headed clearance fell perfectly for Aaron Burns, who surprisingly fired over when free inside the penalty area.

Within minutes, Coleraine fans were celebrating a goal, but erroneously, as Eoin Bradley hit the side netting, causing some Coleraine fans to prematurely celebrate due to their angle in the North Stand.

A couple of minutes later, Coleraine fans were celebrating for real when Darren McCauley ran down the left hand side and his cross was diverted into his own net by Matthew Clarke, trying to get to the ball before Eoin Bradley.

Nobody could say that the goal wasn’t coming.

Coleraine’s domination continued to the point that Linfield were glad to be going in at half-time only 1-0 down.

It was a familiar scoreline for Linfield fans, as this was the forth successive League game that Linfield went in at half-time 1-0 down.

The previous three games resulting in a mixed bag for Linfield – one win, one draw and one defeat.

Even if this game was recovered, it’s still a bad habit to get into, as I have been saying the last few weeks.

Curiously, Coleraine’s goal came at the same time Warrenpoint went 1-0 up last Saturday, and just as Coleraine scored, Warrenpoint went 1-0 up away to Glenavon.

Glenavon being in the same situation was only a consolation for Linfield fans. It wasn’t Glenavon pulling away that is the main worry, it’s the possibility of teams below them catching up with them.

Jordan Stewart had Linfield’s first chance of the second-half but his deflected shot was easily saved by Chris Johns.

Roy Carroll was forced into a save after Eoin Bradley managed to get space in the penalty area.

A bit of pinball after a set piece saw the ball fall to Joel Cooper but his low shot was blocked by a Coleraine defender when he looked set to score.

It was the first time in the half that Coleraine had a moment of worry.

Before you could say that this chance could lift Linfield in their bid to get an equaliser, they were 2-0 down as a quick Coleraine counter-attack saw Kirk Millaw put the ball into his net when trying to get to the ball before Eoin Bradley.

Trying to stop Bradley from scoring would have been Linfield’s intention pre-match. Putting it into their own net instead of him would not have been their intention.

There was still time for Linfield to retrieve the game, but they hadn’t looked like scoring beforehand, now they would have to step it up and score at least two.

Linfield needed a fresh injection from the bench, but there were no obvious options. Two attacking players being injured had decimated the attacking options.

Stephen Fallon the only experienced attacking player on the bench, and he was brought on for Matthew Clarke.

Despite leaving Linfield in the Summer, Stephen Lowry almost added to his assist statistics when a misplaced backpass fell to Andrew Waterworth, who was fouled by Johns but a free-kick to Coleraine was awarded. We would have missed it anyway.

Brandon Doyle and Daniel Reynolds, the two attackers on the bench, but with less than a handful of appearances for Linfield between them were brought on for Jordan Stewart and Joel Cooper. There was nothing to lose.

With a few minutes remaining, Linfield pulled a goal back. Of course, it was an own goal, the third of the game, and it gave Linfield a glimpse of hope.

Belatedly, Linfield began to start playing and attacking Coleraine, sensing that they could repeat their feat from January when they secured an unlikely draw with two late goals.

As injury time approached, it looked set up for it to happen as Linfield had a free-kick just outside the penalty area, but Niall Quinn fired over. Even though injury time remained, you felt that Linfield’s chance had gone.

Of that injury time, there was only three minutes, which was quite remarkable considering how much time Coleraine took at dead ball situations.

At a stoppage as the third of those minutes approached, Roy Carroll adopted the sleeping position to protest at the referee, suggesting that it was taking so long it was almost time for bed. It really wasn’t the time for banter.

Linfield didn’t really themselves by trying to get the game restarted quickly, or by highlighting it to the referee to put pressure on Coleraine players to restart the game. It was a familiar story the entire game, as Linfield showed very little urgency throughout.

There would still be one more chance. Like last week, Kirk Millar had the ball in a wide position deep into injury time. However, his cross was caught by the keeper instead of being headed home.

Coleraine held on for a deserved win. Linfield were second best all afternoon, and showed no urgency to attack. They made it too easy for Coleraine.

When a Linfield player had the ball, there were numerous Coleraine players around him. When a Coleraine player had the ball, they had the freedom of Windsor Park.

It was the forth successive game that Linfield went 1-0 down. It’s a bad habit that needs eradicated as soon as possible. There might have comebacks against Dungannon and Warrenpoint, but there won’t be comebacks every game.

There was no urgency or anybody attacking Coleraine.

Roy Carroll hit a goal kick straight to Andrew Waterworth, and his flick on went straight to Chris Johns. It was all too predictable.

Glenavon eventually drew with Warrenpoint, meaning they are now one point ahead of Linfield with a game in hand. We are in no worse a position than last Friday teatime.

However, it is not upwards we should be looking, we now need to start looking below us as Ballymena United (four points behind with a game in hand), Crusaders (six points behind) and Cliftonville (eight points behind with two games in hand) are now coming up the rear view mirror when they should be an irrelevance.

Luckily for Linfield, the next few matchday sees two games where top six (Ballymena United v Cliftonville and Crusaders v Glenavon) sides meet, making the trip to Institute game must win. It was always must win, regardless of who is playing who.

Over the past few weeks, i’ve commented on how in recent years October and November has been a difficult time for Linfield.

A bad run in 2015 cost us the title. 2016 almost cost us the title. 2017 cost us any chance of having any interest in the title race in 2018.

It is something that will need addressed for November 2019, where there will be five Saturdays.

It would be better to address it for November 2018, where there are still two League games to play in the month.

To give a sense of perspective, Linfield are a point better off than they were at this stage of their last title winning season.

Results and performances recently have been concerning. Another bad result against Institute, and the situation will be upgraded to worrying.

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LINFIELD 1-1 WARRENPOINT TOWN 3.11.2018

This was always going to be a game that Linfield had to win regardless of the result between Ballymena United and Glenavon on Friday night. However, Ballymena’s late win in front of the TV cameras meant that Linfield fans entered Windsor Park before the match with a spring in their step. They left in a different mood, one of relief.

The last time the two sides met was in early September which resulted in a 5-0 win for Linfield. That was Warrenpoint’s sixth successive defeat at the start of the season. That result kickstarted a six match unbeaten run for Warrenpoint which saw them move off the bottom of the table, but arrived at Windsor Park on the back of two successive defeats.

This was Linfield’s first match in November. Considering how awful they’ve been in October in recent years, the fact we finished October 2018 with five wins out of six is a miracle.

Even though it is a new month, Linfield weren’t over the worst of it, as November has been a difficult month in recent years.

2013 saw costly defeats away to Dungannon Swifts and Cliftonville.

I’ll give you 2014, four wins and a draw was a decent return, even though the drawn game was two dropped points.

2015. Let us never speak about November 2015 ever again.

2016 saw a costly home defeat to Cliftonville which allowed Crusaders to go seven points clear, a deficit Linfield faced until Spring.

Even though November 2017 saw successive wins over the then top two, Coleraine and Glenavon, it also saw a costly defeat at Ballymena United and a League Cup exit at Crusaders.

An injury to Daniel Kearns saw a change in line-up and formation for Linfield, with Michael O’Connor coming in as part of a front two. He wouldn’t be lining up against his brother Ciaran, who missed today’s game through suspension.

An injury to a Warrenpoint player in the opening minutes saw a lengthy stoppage as the game struggled to get any sort of rhythm.

Linfield’s first chance of the game came by accident, when a wayward shot from a cut back free-kick was diverted goalwards by Andrew Waterworth, which was saved by Aaron McCarey.

Soon after, a counter-attack saw Warrenpoint saw them win a penalty for a foul by Matthew Clarke. He did get a touch of the ball, but not enough. We’d have been screaming for a penalty if it was the other way around.

What was annoying that even though the Warrenpoint player was setting up for a shot, he was in a wide position having been pushed out there by Clarke.

Sometimes when a penalty is getting ready to be taken, you know what the outcome is going to be. You just knew that Simon Kelly was never going to miss, as he slotted home to give Warrenpoint the lead.

It was the third successive game that Linfield had fallen 1-0 down in the first-half. It’s a bad habit to get into. We can’t keep giving teams something to defend.

Things didn’t get better for Linfield as Andrew Mitchell was forced off injured, making him the third injured right-back that Linfield currently have injured. We’ll be getting Alan Dornan out of retirement at this rate.

Josh Robinson came on for him, but instead of going to right-back, Linfield changed to 3-4-3.

McCarey then denied a low Joel Cooper shot before almost emulating Jim Montgomery (One for ESPN Classic viewers) from Andrew Waterworth’s rebound.

As the half neared it’s end, Jimmy Callacher had a shot go just wide, as Linfield continued to be frustrated.

Even more frustratingly, there was a lot of great crosses going in but nobody there to finish them, or they were just agonisingly missing their target, such as when Joel Cooper narrowly missed being on the end of a cross during the second-half.

Linfield just needed to keep it simple, something they haven’t done for a few weeks. Too many crosses being flashed across the box when there were people who could have been picked out, or crosses not going in first time, giving Warrenpoint enough time to get men in the box.

Warrenpoint weren’t without their chances, as Francis McCaffrey fired wide from the edge of the beox after being given too much time to do so, in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Jordan Stewart came off the bench, surprisingly for Joel Cooper. It wasn’t Cooper’s bets game, but you’d rather have him on the pitch than sitting on the bench.

Michael O’Connor volleyed over from a corner as Linfield looked for the goal that still wouldn’t come.

It looked like being one of those days, but those on the pitch and in the stands still had to believe that it wasn’t.

Daniel Reynolds came on for Matthew Clarke, hoping for a repeat of the last time he played in a League match at Windsor Park, scoring the winner, albeit as a Cliftonville player last season.

Every time it looked like being Linfield’s moment, Warrenpoint always seemed to get a body in the way. Jordan Stewart looked like he was going to equalise, when the ball fell to him in the penalty area. Guess what, a Warrenpoint player got their body in the way.

It looked like time was up for Linfield, but they had one last attack. It was an attack that was pulled back due to Roy Carroll taking a goal kick while the ball was moving.

This was not what Linfield needed when time was not on their side. The resulting attack saw a Jamie Mulgrew shot saved, but the rebound came to him, he gave it to Kirk Millar, whose cross was headed home by Andrew Waterworth, to muted celebrations, as the crowd knew there would be no time for Linfield to go on and get a winner.

There was a delay in getting the game restarted, as Waterworth and a Warrenpoint player were both injured going for the ball and required treatement.

Warrenpoint can complain about the amount of injury time, but if their goalkeeper knew how to tie his shoelaces, that wouldn’t have been an issue.

As it was a header, it technically wasn’t the last kick of the game as it was a header, but it was the last meaningful touch as the full-time whistle blew.

One point gained or two dropped? We’ll have to wait until April to find out.

The only positive is that we have cut the gap on Glenavon at the top of the table, but we have allowed Ballymena United, Cliftonville and Coleraine to cut the gap and get ideas about rejoining the title race.

We can end those Coleraine dreams next week with a win. We simply have to get back on the winning wagon to avoid being sucked into a traffic jam in the table.

Teams around us play each other on November 17th, so we need to go into that weekend in a healthy position.

That day, Linfield are away to Institute at The Brandywell. I got my ticket today. It’ll be a new ground for me to visit, though the 1pm kick-off and the location of bus pick-up and time means I probably won’t get an opportunity to explore the City Centre.

Linfield faced Institute this week, and won 5-0, setting up a League Cup Quarter-Final away to Portadown. Talking of ground visits, it’s coming up to three years since I was last at Shamrock Park.

That game will be played on December 4th, the date set aside for the Semi-Finals.

I see a potential farce coming up if there is incliment weather in Portadown that week, and trying to fit in a date for that game, especially if Linfield advance in the County Antrim Shield.

One Cup Final that could be held at Windsor Park in the future is the 2021 European Super Cup Final with the IFA being announced as a bidder this week.

Hopefully, they’ve read the bid criteria and acted upon feedback of previous bids (hint, if smoke free stadia is a criteria, don’t be giving them signposted areas). If this one fails, we should park that bus for a while. Don’t want to be like Turkey and the Olympics.

I went in 2014 and it was a fantastic experience. It would be great to have this game in Belfast.

A stoppage for an injury after an injury time equaliser brought back memories of a frustrating evening against Portadown in February 2017.

Little did we know, Linfield would be going on a domestic run of sixteen (spread across two seasons) successive wins.

Not asking much, a repeat would be very welcome.

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