LINFIELD 3-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 15.9.2018

With Robert Prosinecki and Andy Herzog occupying the Manager’s Seat in the away dugout at Windsor Park this week, I was part expecting Gheorghe Hagi to keep up the theme of cult 90s midfielders by taking temporary charge of Dungannon Swifts following the departure of Rodney McAree to Coleraine for a match that wasn’t quite as exciting as a holiday in Salisbury.

It was Terry Fitzpatrick who had the manager’s role for Dungannon today. Even though they had no wins this season or a permanent manager, Dungannon had cause for optimisim as they had a relatively good recent record at Windsor Park, only losing one (and narrowly, 1-0) of their last four visits, and winning on their last visit, against Ballymena United in the League Cup Final.

After four months away from Windsor Park over the close season, this was my third successive Saturday visiting Windsor Park this month. The two previous visits had seen dominance from the home team not rewarded with a win.

Linfield began the game with an unchanged starting eleven from their last game at Warrenpoint. Slightly surprising, as Jamie Mulgrew was now available after suspension, but was on the bench.

That decision may have been made with an eye on the upcoming trilogy of games against Coleraine, Ballymena United and Glentoran.

Linfield had the first attacking moment of note when Michael O’Connor and Joel Cooper combine to pickpocket a Dungannon defender trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick, with Cooper crossing for Kirk Millar whose shot went just over.

Michael O’Connor then went close with a spectacular overhead kick as Linfield searched for a goal.

You always felt there was a mistake in Dungannon’s defence. A miscontrol from a pass across the penalty area almost resulted in a chance for Linfield, with some last gasp defending resulting in the concession of a corner.

Even though the goal didn’t come from the sustained pressure, there was no frustration from Linfied’s support.

Eventually, Linfield got the goal when Joel Cooper made space for himself in the penalty area and fired home from a tight angle.

Or did he? On viewing of TV footage afterwards, it appeared to go in off Daniel Kearns. I’ll let the Dubious Goals Committee decide it. It didn’t matter, Linfield had the lead.

Soon afterwards, it was 2-0, when Daniel Kearns found space, only for his shot to hit Michael O’Connor and fall perfectly for Joel Cooper to finish low to make it 2-0.

It may have been a stroke of luck for the ball to fall so perfectly for Cooper, but that’s the way the ball is bouncing for Linfield right now, might as well embrace it.

Dungannon had their own attacking moments, the best of which saw Paul McElroy hit the angle of post and bar.

A head injury for Michael O’Connor saw his game end at half-time, with Andrew Waterworth coming on for him.

Dungannon had their first real sustained period of possession and pressure, the closest they came was when a Chris Hegarty shot was saved by Roy Carroll. Unsurprisingly, with five clean sheets from six games, Linfield were able to see out the danger. Dungannon never looking like picking themselves up for another period of pressure.

Despite that, Linfield still needed a third goal just to be sure. They thought they had it when Joel Cooper fired in low, but the goal was disallowed for a handball.

That denied him a possible hat-trick (he would surely have been awarded the first goal if he had bagged another one). Curiously, September hat-tricks have been a thing for Linfield players in recent years.

Winky Murphy would have had one if it wasn’t for his honesty against Portadown in 2012, having to make do with two goals. Andrew Waterworth got one against Ballymena in 2013, and then four against Warrenpoint in 2015, while Jordan Stewart got one against Ballinamallard on this weekend last year.

There wouldn’t be one for Cooper. He would have to make do with two goals and an assist, or one goal and two assists depending on who gets awarded with the first goal. Still, that is a good afternoon’s work.

Andre Waterworth headed over from close range before later making it 3-0 after a pull back from Niall Quinn.

Quinn had been introduced into the action alongside Jamie Mulgrew in a double substitution for Daniel Kearns and Robert Garrett.

That was the game over. Not much else of note happened as Linfield secured the points. It was a useful three points, as Linfield went four points clear at the top ahead of Glenavon, and five clear of Coleraine, after Coleraine drew with Ards, 0-0, just like Linfield did a fortnight ago.

It is however, a deceptive lead, as games in hand skew the League table.

If Glenavon win their game in hand, they will be one point behind Linfield. If Coleraine win their game in hand, they will be two points behind Linfield. If Glentoran win their game in hand, they will be three points behind Linfield. If Ballymena United win both their games in hand, they will be one point behind Linfield.

Linfield have the points in the bag, but you can’t fully evaluate the League table until the outstanding games are played over the next few weeks.

Next weekend, has some big games, with Linfield travelling to Coleraine while Glenavon are at home to Crusaders.

Even though a draw wouldn’t be the worst result, we have to go there looking for the win, knowing that we could have Coleraine on the ropes by mid September, and pull further clear of Glenavon and/or Crusaders.

With Ballymena United and Glentoran coming up, three wins could knock three rivals for six.

Before Coleraine, is a County Antrim Shield game against the PSNI. Hopefully, some fringe players will get a run out. It’s a game I would expect to win, even though Linfield scraped a draw against the PSNI in pre-season.

That trip to Coleraine, like the trip to Glentoran in early October is pay on the day. I’m pleasantly surprised that Coleraine isn’t all-ticket. I must admit, I did have fears that Linfield fans would be stitched up by a late announcement regarding this.

Elsewhere, it was announced that UEFA are planning on launching a third club competition. We’ll probably be represented by the Steel and Sons Cup winners seeing as we don’t decided UEFA Cup places on merit.

I’m hoping it’s based on the idea floated in 2015, a competition for clubs to drop into when they go out of the European Cup or UEFA Cup before September.

Meanwhile, looking at possibly going away for a weekend in March. Obviously, taking in a football match would be part of the criteria.

The options from Belfast to go to Mainland Europe are bloody awful. Amsterdam is cheap to get to, with Den Haag and Ajsx both at home on seperate days, but hotels are expensive. Prague is expensive to get to, which is a pity as there is a weekend in March with three teams at home. London is a lazy option. Nothing against London, but I don’t want to go every year.

One football trip I definitely am doing is Coleraine away next Saturday.

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WARRENPOINT TOWN 0-5 LINFIELD 7.9.2018

Two successive draws in the League and knocked off the top of the table, it could be easy to suggest that things were going wrong for Linfield. That was far from the case.

The first of those draws, was coming from behind away from home with ten men. The second, against Ards, was a game they should have won, and they had enough chances to do so.

Despite deserving to beat Ards, they didn’t, and it was two points dropped, especially when you saw they other results in Matchday 5, with Glenavon and Glentoran drawing. With Crusaders to face Coleraine, one or both of them would be dropping points. It was an opportunity to pull clear that was missed.

If Linfield felt that a draw at home to Ards was two points dropped, that will be evened up by the fact that Coleraine will probably feel the same about their draw at home to Institute the previous week.

Only separated by one goal (There’s still over thirty games for Linfield to remedy that), Linfield and Coleraine will both be feeling they should have an outright points lead. They face each other on 22nd September. There are still two League matches between now and then. Coleraine shouldn’t even be a thought until then.

Two draws in a row wasn’t cause for concern for Linfield, but a third game without a win would prompt a lot of questions to be asked about Linfield’s title ambitions.

If you were having problems in front of goal and looking to get back to winning ways, Warrenpoint would have been the opponents you would have chosen to face, having conceded seventeen goals in their opening five games, the last of those five games was a 6-1 defeat at home to Ballymena United.

With Coleraine, Crusaders, Glenavon and Ballymena United all not involved in League matches this weekend, this was an opportunity for Linfield to pull clear from the chasing pack, albeit with them having a game in hand.

Linfield started the game looking for goals, with Daniel Kearns almost getting in behind Warrenpoint’s defence straight from kick-off.

Warrenpoint couldn’t get out of their own half, with continued Linfield pressure resulting in Warrenpoint conceding a soft free-kick for a foul on Kirk Millar.

That was punished when the free-kick came in, Simon Kelly diverting the ball into his own net.

Having failed to get a goal against Ards, Linfield were on the scoresheet inside three minutes. As the game went on last week, Ards had something to hold on to. Warrenpoint wouldn’t have that.

Warrenpoint responded well to the goal, having some of the ball in Linfield’s half without troubling Roy Carroll. It was only a temporary respite.

Michael O’Connor went narrowly wide with a shot while Jimmy Callacher had a header cleared off the line.

Warrenpoint goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, on his debut, was so busy, a supporter behind the goal shouted at him “Keeper, I bet you’re wondering what the fuck you’ve signed up to”. Cruel.

Meanwhile, a cat ran onto the pitch during the game. Yes, an actual cat, to cheers from the crowd.

You’ll be glad to know that cat was up in front of Newry Courthouse on Saturday morning charged with Football Related Offences and was issued with a Banning Order.

Proper order too. If we don’t address things like this in Irish League football, next thing there’ll be pigs painted in team colours in grounds and a cockerel walking along the side of the pitch during a game.

More Linfield pressure continued as they searched for a second goal. Despite being in control of the game, Josh Robinson got himself a cheap yellow card for throwing the ball on the ground after a free-kick was awarded against him.

Somebody needs to have a word with him about discipline as it was a stupid yellow card, only a few weeks after needlessly getting involved in situations against Crusaders at Seaview.

With Mark Stafford waiting on the bench, primed for action, he could easily lose his place in the team if he gets suspended for reaching the yellow card threshold.

Eventually, Linfied’s pressure got it’s reward when a free-kick was headed across the six yard box for Daniel Kearns to head home from close range to make it 2-0.

The half ended with more Linfield pressure and a flurry of corners. They just couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net.

Linfield were in a commanding position, but the only case of game set match came in the Tennis Court behind the goal they were attacking.

That was resolved in the early minutes of the second-half when Michael O’Connor finished after his original header hit the bar.

Within a few minutes, if there was any doubt over the result, it was gone when a defensive mix-up saw Joel Cooper get hauled down by Aaron McCarey just as he was about to put the ball into the empty net. A penalty was awarded, and a red card eventually followed.

Substitute goalkeeper Berraat Turker tried to psyche out Andrew Mitchell as he waited to take the penalty. I’m not sure why, the game was over even if he missed. He didn’t, and made it 4-0.

With the game won, David Healy could now give some of his substitutes some game time.

There were goals in this game for Linfield, so it was unsurprising that Andrew Waterworth was given an opportunity to get one. Jordan Stewart also got some minutes. It was a surprise that Niall Quinn came on for Daniel Kearns, as Jonathan Smith or Stephen Fallon would have benefitted from the minutes.

Only one more goal for Linfield, as Waterworth got to a through ball before Turker, and put the ball into the empty net.

A win was the most important thing, but it was nice to do so with no drama, and go get a few goals for the tally. Still a long way to go, but it’s good to get the goals in the bank in case the title is decided on goal difference.

Elsewhere, big news of the day was Oran Kearney’s departure from Coleraine to manage St Mirren. Good luck to him. Hopefully, his departure will have the same destabilising effect that Warren Feeney’s departure had at Linfield in 2015.

If it does, Linfield simply have to take advantage, starting with a home match against Dungannon on Saturday.

It’s been three matches since I saw Linfield win at Windsor Park. If they don’t win this one, I think I might be getting a Banning Order.

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LINFIELD 0-0 ARDS 1.9.2018

Top of the league and and eight goal win in the League Cup, it’s fair to say that August went quite well for Linfield. The first day of a new month saw Ards visit Windsor Park, knowing that if they continued their early season form over the next three weeks, they would have an opportunity to pull clear at the top of the table.

At kick-off, the Top 7 were separated by 3 points. This matchday had two games that pitted two of them against each other, 2nd place Glenavon at home to Glentoran and, most notably, Crusaders at home to Coleraine.

With point droppage below them guaranteed, Linfield knew that they could pull clear of at least two rivals with a win, especially with Crusaders and Coleraine being inactive in League terms next weekend.

A run of games against the bottom three represented a great opportunity for Linfield to rack up points in September.

For two of those games, Linfield would be without Jamie Mulgrew following his red card at Solitude last week, having served the first of a three match ban against Moyola Park in midweek.

After the Crusaders game two weeks ago, I stated that a case could be made for resting Mulgrew during the season. I certainly wasn’t advocating it for the first week of September. Two games out, two games in then three games out isn’t ideal for getting momentum, but having seen him slot in like he’d never been away against Crusaders, there shouldn’t be any concerns about his performance when he returns against Dungannon Swifts.

This has been a kind fixture to Linfield in recent years, winning all six meetings since Ards returned to the top flight in 2016, including keeping five clean sheets, though Ards will have fond memories of their last visit to Windsor Park, winning 1-0 in the County Antrim Shield last season.

In a game like this, an early goal is always a bonus, and Linfield almost had one inside thirty seconds when an overhit cross from Niall Quinn almost went straight in, with Ards just about clearing the resulting corner.

Even though Ards had the ball in Linfield’s half in the opening minutes, they never looked like causing any danger, as Linfield looked the most likely team to score when they had the ball.

Michael O’Connor looked like he was going to head home but was blocked off by an Ards defender to deny him an attempt on goal, before another header later on went over.

The pressure continued when Matthew Clarke had a low shot saved while Michael O’Connor fired a long range shot wide.

Linfield’s best chance came from a Joel Cooper run which saw Andrew Waterworth’s perfectly timed run get him in behind the Ards defence, with Sam Johnstone getting in the way of his goalbound shot, taking enough sting out of it for Jonny Frazer to make a goalline clearance just as it looked like.

Despite all of Linfield’s pressure, it looked like Ards would be going in at half-time 1-0 up when David McAllister dispossessed Chris Casement and ran through on goal only to see hid left foot shot saved by Roy Carroll, who had made himself big. A shot across Carroll would have scored, thankfully, he went for the near post.

0-0 at half-time but no need to panic. If Linfield kept attacking and creating chances, there would be no way Ards would hold out.

Though Linfield continued to have a lot of the ball but there was no real urgency, Ards weren’t holding on. It took a while for Linfield to get going.

In both halves, Linfield won a lot of corners but never had any real joy. Most of them were going straight into the arms of Sam Johnstone.

This prompted a change in tactic, moving from inswingers to outswingers.

Inswinger or outswinger, there was no change in fortune. If Johnstone wasn’t catching it, there always seemed to be an Ards body in the way.

After trying to get Michael O’Connor sent-off after a tangle with a spot of playacting, Johnny Taylor got himself booked for a foul a few minutes later.

Having been sent-off against Linfield at Windsor Park in 2016 and 2017, Taylor is a walking red card, and Linfield fans were hoping he would add 2018 to the list to give their side a lucky break they needed.

More Linfield headers came but the goal didn’t. With each passing minute, it was becoming abundantly clear that if there was to be a goal, it would probably win the game.

Who would get that goal, if it came, was still in doubt, as despite Linfield’s pressure, Ards, and specifically Jonny Frazer were posing a threat on the break.

Any attempts that Ards were making to waste time were promptly stopped by quick thinking Ballboys who always made sure a new ball was immediately on the pitch to restart the game. Good to see.

David Healy turned to the bench for some attacking substitutions, with Kirk Millar and Jordan Stewart coming on for Niall Quinn and Matthew Clarke.

Jordan Stewart was transfer listed in August but i’m glad he’s still at the club as he’s a player I rate. To say it didn’t happen for him today would be kind. His only moment of note was an overhit backpass on the halfway line which resulted in a corner for Ards.

With five minutes to go, a crossfield pass from Daniel Kearns and a first time cross from Chris Casement saw Andrew Waterworth get on the end of it, only to see his close range effort hit the bar.

Linfield fans thought it was going to be their moment. It turned out to be another moment that confirmed it was going to be “One of those days”.

For the final minutes, Ards had the ball in Linfield’s half but had very little ambition of going for goal, although a shot from Michael McLellan which was going well wide was almost headed in by Kyle Cherry.

In future games (apart from against Linfield) Ards will be hoping to have Ryan Strain on the end of crosses, or wayward shots, having joined on loan from Linfield on Friday night.

It was not that surprising that Strain has gone out on loan, and it’s good to see he’ll be doing so at a top flight club, like Alex Moore.

The match ended with more Linfield pressure on the Ards goal, but they just couldn’t get that pass right, or that header on goal.

If the match had lasted for ten more minutes, Linfield might have snuck a win, but they had ninety minutes to score.

It’s a frustrating two points dropped, but we had more than enough chances to win. If Linfield had got an early goal, they would have won comfortable. If – the biggest word in football. Linfield will play worse and win at some point over the next eight months.

For me, it was my first visit to Windsor Park since April. That’s three games i’ve visited since I saw a Linfield win. If we don’t beat Dungannon in two weeks, you’ll be more than justified in asking for a Banning Order put out against me.

Thankfully, results went in Linfield’s favour today, with Glenavon and Glentoran drawing. The Top 6 are separated by three points, with Ballymena the big movers up to 3rd, a point off the top, with Glenavon missing the chance to jump above Linfield.

That means we’ll all be hoping for a draw between Crusaders and Coleraine, just so that no damage is done by today’s result, as opposed to wanting to make capital of a win today.

That match is on Sky Sports. I won’t be seeing any of it as i’ll be seeing The Kooks at The Limelight.

Whatever the result of that game, both sides are inactive in the League next weekend due to their involvement in the Scottish Challenge Cup. Add to that that Glenavon’s trip to Ards has been postponed, Linfield simply have to win at bottom placed Warrenpoint on Friday night.

There’s a traffic jam at the top of the League, which Linfield lead, but they need to start pulling away.

Elsewhere in today’s results, Cliftonville lost 1-0 away to Newry City and now find themselves closer to the bottom of the League (five points) than the top (six points)

Next weekend’s games will be taking place on Friday night as Northern Ireland are playing Bosnia at home in the UEFA Nations League on Saturday afternoon. UEFA Nonsense League more like.

A competition devised to end pointless friendlies, yet teams who only have one game scheduled are using the spare date to play pointless friendlies. What a waste of time, just jump straight into the Euro 2020 Qualifiers.

Northern Ireland are one of those countries playing a pointless friendly, against Israel, which i’ll be giving a miss to, unless I score a free ticket in a competition.

If you are a Bosnian fan over for that game, or even a Fortmarine United fan over for their match, next week, there’s some great groundhopping opportunities next weekend.

Of course, you should go to Warrenpoint v Linfield on Friday, but Glentoran and Cliftonville are at home on Friday if you don’t want to leave Belfast, then Northern Ireland v Bosnia, then a walk to City Hospital for a train to Coleraine for Coleraine v Fortmarine United at 7.45pm on Saturday.

The draw for the Group Stages of the European Cup took place last week, and i’ve booked a trip to United’s match against Young Boys Berne. Of course, I was always going to choose a game taking place during Manchester Christmas Market.

Finally, the draw for the NIFL Cup took place, a competition we never win. We’ll be losing on penalties at home to Institute if you care.

Overall, a day of frustration but relief elsewhere. Even though no damage was done, it was still two points dropped.

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CLIFTONVILLE 1-1 LINFIELD 25.8.2018

With Matchday 4 being split across three games on Friday and three games on Saturday, Linfield fans expected to arrive at Solitude on Saturday afternoon with their side knocked off the top of the table on Friday night.

What may have surprised them was that it was Glenavon rather than Coleraine who led the table, with Coleraine missing the opportunity to do so with a 2-2 draw at home to Institute.

Linfield and Cliftonville had identical starts this season to what they had last season. Linfield with three wins and three clean sheets, while Cliftonville followed an opening day win with a defeat to Coleraine and a draw against a Bottom Six team.

Cliftonville’s start to 2018-2019 also mirrored 2017-2018 as Matchday 4 over the August Bank Holiday saw them welcome the dethroned champions, as Crusaders got a 2-1 win.

A similar result for Linfield would see them pull eight points clear of Cliftonville. Even at this early stage, it would be hard to see that being overturned.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had an unchanged team from the previous Saturday in North Belfast. There was no need to change anything.

The game began in a relatively subdued manner and atmosphere. That soon disappeared when Ryan Catney made a reckless tackles on Daniel Kearns and got away with a yellow card.

Yellow cards were plentiful for Cliftonville in the first-half. Cynical fouls with no intention of winning the ball, such as Garry Breen taking out Jamie Mulgrew (another foul for the counter, there will be a presentation for the player who commits the 5,000th foul on him, expected to be at some point this season).

The sort of fouls that frustratingly were yellow cards, even though you wanted more for them.

A well worked free-kick saw Andrew Waterworth go just wide, while Daniel Kearns thought he had played in Waterworth only for his pass to be intercepted. He probably should have shot at goal himself.

Not a lot was happening in the early minutes of the game, neither side having any real attempts at goal, but Linfield having more of the ball in the opposition half.

The game was to change just before the half hour when Jamie Mulgrew was sent-off after challenging for the ball with Jay Donnelly. A yellow card at worst, if there was to be a card. There is absolutely no doubt that the referee was influenced by Cliftonville players running to the scene of the foul, and it happening not far from the main stand where Cliftonville fans were housed.

He bottled it and allowed himself to be intimidated. One thing that Linfield could exploit was that so many Cliftonville players were on yellow cards, and could be targeted for second yellow. The only question was would the referee have the guts to issue that card.

The last time Linfield played Cliftonville, they had a first-half red card and went to pieces in the immediate aftermath, which ultimately cost them any chance of getting something from the game. Thankfully, that didn’t happen today. The knew they had to summon the spirit of Mourneview Park 2016.

Mulgrew became the fourth player to be sent-off at Solitude since 2013, joining Michael Gault, Robert Garrett and Sean Ward.

It could have been tempting to introduce Robert Garrett from the bench, but there was no need as Niall Quinn had started the season in centre midfield, so was able to slot in there.

Josh Robinson had a couple of headed chances as Linfield sought to make the most of any set pieces they had. The vast majority of set pieces were poor, often failing to beat the first man, or Linfield losing out on the second ball.

The half ended with Joe Gormley getting a yellow card for shoulder barging Roy Carroll as he held onto the ball. Carroll was targeted throughout at set pieces by Cliftonville players.

Linfield would have been glad to get in at half-time to take a breather. Despite only having ten men, at no point did they look like they were playing with ten men. They never looked like being troubled, but never really troubled Cliftonville.

They had promising situations, but just needed to get that pass right, or make that run on time.

This game was there for the winning.

Joel Cooper, already on a yellow card by this point, was lucky not to get a second yellow for a foul on Levi Ives in the Cliftonville penalty area. If he wasn’t already booked, he probably would have been booked there.

Michael O’Connor then came on for Andrew Waterworth, as Linfield searched for a winner.

On 73 minutes, Cliftonville took the lead when a throw-in bounced over Jimmy Callacher, and Linfield couldn’t get the ball off Jay Donnelly, who crossed for Joe Gormley to head home from close range. It was Cliftonville’s first chance of note in the game.

Callacher wasn’t the only Linfield player having problems on a very bouncy pitch. Every time a backpass went to Roy Carroll, you had your heart in the mouth as you didn’t know where the ball was going to go.

Linfield responded with an attacking substitution, Kirk Millar coming on for Matthew Clarke.

Despite only having ten men, it was Linfield who were outnumbering Levi Ives, with Millar, Kearns, Casement and Mitchell working opportunities down the right.

Kearns and Millar created space for Andrew Mitchell to cross right into the six yard box for Michael O’Connor to get a touch to divert the ball past Richard Brush.

It wasn’t a clean touch, but it was enough to go past the keeper, which is all that matters.

From where I was standing, I thought it was going just wide.

There was still time for either side to win the game.

Thankfully, Linfield had that extra bit of energy to see out Cliftonville’s attacks. They almost won it when Joel Cooper got in behind Cliftonville’s defence, shooting across Richard Brush, who saved it. If he parried it, Michael O’Connor would have had an open net to win the game for Linfield.

It finished 1-1, Linfield’s first dropped points, but it was Cliftonville who were left feeling that they dropped points, from two positions of strength, with a goal and a man advantage.

The draw sent Linfield back to the top of the League, one point clear of Glenavon. With three difficult away games against Top Six teams, you’ll take that, especially as they only managed two points from three games in 2009 and two points from four games in 2013 with similar starts.

Up next, is a League Cup tie at home to Moyola Park. I’ll be giving that a miss. If it was away though, i’d be all over that.

Next Saturday is the start of a new month, and my first visit to Windsor Park of the season for the match against Ards, with the mood more upbeat that the last time I headed to Windsor Park in April.

Ards is a must win game. Obviously, but especially when you look at upcoming fixture lists.

On Monday 3rd September, Matchday 5 will conclude with Crusaders watching Coleraine on Sky Sports. I may watch it if there isn’t a railway documentary on Channel 5.

One or both of them will drop points, Linfield have to win to take advantage of that.

On Matchday 5, Linfield travel to Warrenpoint while Crusaders and Coleraine are in Scottish Challenge Cup.

If Linfield can win those two games, they will pull away from at least one of their rivals.

And then in upcoming weeks after that, Glenavon will have to face Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville. More guaranteed points droppage for Linfield to take advantage.

Three points seperate 1st to 7th, there’s a traffic jam at the top of the League, led by Linfield. Long may that continue.

Thursday will see the draw for the Group Stages of the European Cup, and i’ll hope to take in one of United’s group games at home.

Hopefully, it will be a competition Linfield will be playing in during 2019-2020.

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CRUSADERS 0-2 LINFIELD 18.8.2018

Do not be afraid of Crusaders. Do not be afraid of Crusaders. Do not be afraid of Crusaders.

There are too many teams in this League who are afraid of Crusaders. Shamefully, last season, Linfield were one of them.

The opening two games of 2018-2019 suggested that Crusaders were there for the taking. In the opening game, they blew a 2-0 lead against Ards and needed a late goal to secure a 4-2 win. That was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Ballymena United. A team full of players approaching or in their 30s who are leaking goals. There was nothing for Linfield to fear.

Especially so, as they had won their opening two games without conceding a goal.

Despite that, this was not going to be an unchanged Linfield team, now that Jamie Mulgrew was back from suspension.

There’s a case to be made for resting Jamie Mulgrew against last season’s bottom five (Dungannon, Ards, Warrenpoint, Institute and Newry City) considering his age and the fact he is returning from injury, picking and choosing his matches.

Even if he is picking and choosing his matches, this is a match where he would play if it.

It was expected that Niall Quinn or Andrew Mitchell would miss out, but it was Kirk Millar who did, with Quinn moving out left.

Just like at Lurgan two weeks previously, there was a sizeable away support there to cheer their team on.

It was Crusaders who had the first chance of the game when Ross Clarke drifted past four players before shooting straight at Roy Carroll. He really should have scored, considering he had a clear strike at goal and a choice of sides to go to.

Having survived that, Linfield came more into the game, spending a lot of time in Crusaders half and winning a succession of corners.

Nothing came of them but Crusaders weren’t fully dealing with them. Not once did Sean O’Neill catch one, his punches not fully clearing the danger, giving Linfield a second ball to fight for and keep the attack alive.

It was a first-half littered with Crusaders yellow cards. Oh the joy of seeing a ref prepared to not tolerate their tactical fouling, and a Linfield team prepared to stand up to them. Crusaders didn’t know how to respond. They lost their discipline, and handing the game to Linfield. Linfield players knew this, which is why they were so keen at times to stop Josh Robinson getting involved. They had Crusaders right where they wanted them, and they weren’t going to give up this advantage easily.

Chris Morgan on Radio Ulster seemed to be offended by Linfield players surrounding the referee. He may have a point that it’s not nice to see, but teams freely do it against Linfield. Too many times last season, Linfield were outsmarted by stupid teams. Crusaders players were being told in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t be kicking anybody off the field today.

Joel Cooper was Linfield’s main attacking threat in the first-half, having Linfield’s two main shots at goal.

The only moment of worry that Linfield had was when Jimmy Callacher had to head out a cross in the six yard box out for a corner.

On 35 minutes, it was Linfield who get the breakthrough when some neat passing out the right, where Linfield were getting a lot of joy through the half, saw Chris Casement cross low for Joel Cooper to finish from close range, a reversal of the previous week against Institute when Cooper crossed low for Casement to score.

Cooper was everywhere when Linfield attacked, and Crusaders didn’t know how to handle him. They didn’t know which way he was going to go. Thankfully, Linfield’s players did, and wether he went left or right, there was always someone available for a pass.

Linfield began the second-half, now attacking their own fans, on the attack, with Chris Casement having a free-kick saved. Again, it was another punch by Sean O’Neill.

The second goal wasn’t long in coming when Joel Cooper got possession on the right wing, cut inside before playing a defence splitting pass.

I was on the opposite side and thought initially that it was Niall Quinn, but it was actually Jamie Mulgrew, who made no mistake to make it 2-0.

It wasn’t quite the three points in the bag, but it was hard to see Crusaders coming back from this.

Crusaders response was a Jordan Owens shot which went over and into the stand. A Crusaders supporter threw the ball away from Roy Caroll who was waiting to take a goal kick. The supporter celebrated as Carroll was able to take his time, and kill any hopes Crusaders had of getting some momentum and getting back into the game. They really aren’t the brightest.

In fact, the closest that Crusaders came was from a sliced clearance by Matthew Clarke hitting the bar. At no point did Linfield look troubled.

If any team looked likely to get the next goal, it was Linfield, with Michael O’Connor, on as a substitute for Andrew Waterworth, getting in behind Crusaders defence only to see his low shot saved, while a deflected cross from Daniel Kearns almost snuck in.

Joel Cooper was replaced by Kirk Millar, a bit surprising, as Andrew Mitchell was getting bandaged up for the umpteenth time. A few minutes later, Mitchell couldn’t carry on any longer, being replaced by Robert Garrett, who was able to help Linfield see the game out with no fuss.

This result sent Linfield five points clear of Crusaders. Nothing to get too excited about, they were five points clear of Crusaders at this stage in 2015.

The game after this would be a trip to Cliftonville. A win would give Linfield an eight point lead over them. The matchday after that sees Crusaders face Coleraine. With one of them dropping points, the game against Ards is a must-win. That is followed by a game against Warrenpoint while Crusaders and Coleraine are playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup. There is a great opportunity to get some momentum and pull clear of rivals.

Linfield players celebrated this win in dignified fashion, there was no throwing of food in Nandos.

Later that night, David Healy made a guest appearance in the Panto taking place at Windsor Park that night, content that his side landed a massive punch, but not quite a knock-out blow.

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GLENAVON 0-1 LINFIELD 4.8.2018

It had been a long three months since Linfield ended 2017-2018 in embarrassment and failure. A glorious World Cup might have distracted us but that is now a distant memory, not even Glenavon having the same kit as France can keep the memory of events in Russia alive.

If Linfield wanted an easy start to ease them into the season, the Fixture Computer didn’t deliver. You have to face your rivals at some point, might as well issue a statement of intent in the opening month of the season.

What will have given Linfield fans cause for optimism was their side’s recent record at Mourneview Park. They won twice there last season (Glenavon responded with two wins at Windsor Park, a draw in one of those games would have secured European football for Linfield), which made it three successive League wins there, with an Irish Cup Semi-Final win against Dungannon Swifts sandwiched in that run.

The last time they failed to win at Mourneview Park was the 2-2 draw in November 2016, coming from 2-0 down after playing with nine men for 80 minutes with an outfield player in nets. It felt like, and was celebrated like a win. There would be no Mark Haughey heroics in nets today though. More of that later.

Before that game, was a dead rubber last game of the season win in April 2016. Overall, it’s a run of five wins and one draw in the last six visits to Mourneview Park.

The last time Linfield lost in Lurgan was a 3-2 defeat in November 2015. The two goalscorers for Glenavon that day, Joel Cooper and Daniel Kearns were lining up for Linfield this afternoon.

One of the problems Linfield had last season was the unavailability of key players through injury and suspension. 2018-2019 didn’t get off to a much better start, with Jamie Mulgrew, Mark Stafford, Ryan McGivern, Mark Haughey, and Robert Garrett all unavailable for selection. The team picked itself, because there was nobody else available in defence or midfield.

That was further evident in those taking their place on the bench, a bench which will now include seven players, with only one of the six outfield players, Benny Moller Nielsen, not being an attacking player.

Seven players on the bench now means there is no excuse for not having a goalkeeper amongst the subs, with Gareth Deane taking his place on the bench today, meaning it is unlikely that Mark Haughey will be repeating his goalkeeping heroics any time soon. Unless a goalkeeper gets injured or sent-off and all three subs have been used. Haughey’s own injury means it could be a while before he is on the pitch himself, in whatever position.

It was a surprise to see Benny Moller Nielsen on the bench, even though he signed in the week leading up to the match, as he had been with the club in pre-season and was already part of the squad. That meant that it was Niall Quinn and Andrew Mitchell lining up in centre midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

In the run-in last season, Linfield were decimated with suspensions. It’s easy to say the players need to watch themselves, but Linfield had six yellow cards today in a game where there was barely a bad tackle, as the referee seemed to be booking Linfield players for the first foul.

I was held up getting into the ground and missed the first minute. As I arrived, there was a corner kick being prepared for with Linfield’s attackers in the box and a flamboyantly dressed goalkeeper on the line.

Linfield on the attack, good to see, I thought to myself.

It turned out that Jonathan Tuffey was at the other end of the pitch dressed relatively coservatively in a colour best described as orange highlighter, while it was Roy Carroll who was dressed head to to in what can be best described as yellow highlighter.

As is unwritten tradition at Mourneview Park, Glenavon attack the end where Linfield fans are situated. It was a sizeable away crowd of Linfield fans. To give you an idea of how much, all the seats that could be filled (The end of the stand has no access in order to create a buffer zone between opposing fans) in the stand were filled, while the overspill covered the whole way across, and was a couple of rows deep.

Those that were stood behind the goal were watching Glenavon on the attack, with a penalty being awarded for a handball by Chris Casement. Not for me.

Last season, Linfield’s Andrew Mitchell was prolific from the penalty spot. Thankfully, Glenavon’s one was not, blasting his shot over the bar, meaning any debate as to wether it was a penalty didn’t matter.

On Friday, NIFL posted an article on their website advising clubs how to minimise the risk of spectators being hit by footballs. Mitchell’s penalty was so high, no Linfield supporters were in danger of being hit by the ball. Shoppers in Lurgan Town Centre may have had to duck for cover when the ball eventually landed.

If the award of the penalty felt like a return to the bad vibes of 2017-2018 for Linfield, the miss and the manner of it might have felt like luck was returning in their favour.

It certainly felt that way a few minutes later when Chris Casement, booked for his involvement in the penalty incident, was lucky to avoid a second yellow for a foul as Glenavon fans screamed for a second yellow.

Linfield rode out the early pressure and came into the game. Their first attacking moment of note saw Jimmy Callacher head home from a free-kick, only for celebrations to be cut short by an offside flag.

If that was a wearning to Glenavon, they didn’t heed it, as a free-kick from a similar position on the opposite side of the pitch fell to Daniel Kearns who was able to stick his foot on it and finish under pressure.

Mark Sykes, on his 21st birthday, got into space and was played in, but his shot was saved by Roy Carroll, who made himself big.

Linfield finished the half strongly, but couldn’t get the second goal they needed, the best moment coming when Joel Cooper fired a long range shot just over.

In the opening minute of the second-half, it looked like that much needed second was going to come in bizarre fashion when Jonathan Tuffey tried to head clear, but it hit Andrew Waterworth, who shot towards the empty net from a wide position, but a Glenavon defender was able to get back onto the line and clear the ball.

Mark Sykes was not enjoying his birthday, as he was played through, lobbed the ball over Carroll into the side netting when he really should have scored.

Jordan Jenkins, off the bench, had two shots saved by Carroll. The second of which was parried into the six yard box straight to Chris Casement, who cleared.

You get the feeling that if that happened last season, it would have fallen straight to a Glenavon player to equalise, and they would have won it in injury time.

Linfield were able to see the game out in a sizeable amount of injury time and get three points on the board at the first attempt. It was the forth successive opening game win for Linfield. I can remember when we used to always drop points on the opening day.

The four other games all produced winners, with no shock results. Two of today’s winners, Coleraine and Cliftonville meet next Saturday, meaning that Linfield will have an opportunity next weekend to go into a lead over one or two teams expected to be in the Top Six.

Linfield’s game next weekend at home to Institute has been brought forward to Friday night, which is inconvenient for me as i’ll be at George Ezra. Hopefully, it goes a bit better than the last time I missed a Linfield match to go to a concert, in May this year.

Unless George Ezra gets a sore throat next Friday, I won’t be at Windsor Park until September.

The game against Institute being brought forward does mean that Linfield have the opportunity to lay down an early gauntlet to their title rivals by getting six points on the board and then putting their feet up on the Saturday afternoon while they are trying to keep up. It must be taken.

My Saturday plans will now be a trip to Bangor Vintage Market as part of Open House Festival and to see the mural of John Lydon.

The Fixture Computer for Clandeboye Park next Saturday will see Glentoran travel to Ards. I’ll give that a miss.

It has been a busy week of comings and goings at Windsor Park, with Benny Moller Nielsen, who played in pre-season, joining permanently. I was only at one of the matches he played in and he did ok, mopping up in front of the defence.

In case you’re wondering, he’s Richard’s grandson, whose record at Windsor Park was one win, one defeat and one draw. Hopefully, Benny’s win percentage will be a lot better.

Joe Crowe left the club by mutual consent, which was a bit surprising with Mark Haughey injured. I rated him and he was decent defensive cover. It was clear though from pre-season games that Chris Casement was going to start the season at right-back.

Despite his departure and the injury to Haughey, we have Andrew Mitchell as cover for that position.

Alex Moore went out on loan to Dungannon Swifts, which is a brilliant move for both parties, with a good young goalkeeper getting the opportunity for regular top flight football.

Eamon Scannell has went out to Warrenpoint. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Strain went out on loan before September, with Cameron Stewart going out on loan in January when he recovers from injury in January.

The morning of this match was spent getting a ticket for the game at Seaview in two weeks.

I know the date was only confirmed on Thursday due to Crusaders elimination from the UEFA Cup.

Could those responsible not have begun ticket sales a week or two weeks ago with the disclaimer that the game could be postponed, instead of inconveniencing fans with short notice sales.

There is also a game at Solitude that will need ticket sales in the coming weeks. There is no reason why these couldn’t be on sale now, to allow fans to purchase tickets on a Saturday morning.

Especially so with only one home match before these two games.

Not everyone is able to get to Windsor Park during the week.

Next Friday night could be fun with Institute tickets, Season Tickets, Crusaders Tickets and Cliftonville tickets all on sale at the same time.

With a bit of planning, those in charge could have had Crusaders and Cliftonville tickets on sale last week or the week before, making it more convenient for supporters to purchase on a staggered basis rather than in one swoop on a matchday.

That game away to Crusaders will be my next Linfield match. Later that night, i’ll be going to see The League Of Gentelemen. I’ll let you insert your own joke.

My next football will be at Ainslie Park when i’m at the Edinburgh Festival to see Edinburgh City take on Albion Rovers in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The two sides met today in League Two, with Edinburgh City winning 4-0.

This weekend last year, I was at Ainslie Park to see Edinburgh City lose 3-1 to Montrose. Today, Montrose unfurled a flag for winning League Two. At least one team in blue I saw last season had something to celebrate.

Hibs and Rangers will both be in UEFA Cup action on the weekend i’m there, but away from home. Useless showers.

So Linfield are looking to improve on last season’s 4th place finish and get 2018-2019 off to a winning start.

Then you check the League table, and they sit 5th. Oh for crying out loud.

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PSNI 1-1 LINFIELD 24.7.2018

It had been a while since I had seen Linfield take on the PSNI. So long in fact, that they were known as the RUC.

That was back in the Summer of 1995, but it had similarities with the Summer 2018, as Linfield added a host of new names to their squad to regain the title after a poor defence of it the previous season.

We all now how the next few years went after 1995, hopefully there won’t be a repeat this time around.

This was a game I was looking forward to as soon as it was announced. Not too far to travel, easy to get to, and a ground I hadn’t seen Linfield play at, though I did visit the ground in 2015.

No floodlights at Newforge, which made the 7.30pm kick-off a bit of a surprise, though a lovely summer evening negated the need for lights.

There were nor Trialists for Linfield, but some new signings getting an opportunity in the case of starts for Joel Cooper and Michael O’Connor, and a debut for Ryan McGivern, who had signed earlier that day.

A central midfielder is a priority, but when a player of McGivern’s ability becomes available, it would be rude not to take advantage.

Cooper and O’Connor were in the thick of the action when Linfield went forward, both of whom hitting the bar, while Cooper had a low shot saved after cutting in from the right.

There was a moment of worry for Linfield in the first-half when Kirk Millar went down in agony after a tackle. Thankfully, a bit of magic sponge and he was better. The pitch wasn’t in the best condition, so it was always going to cause concern when a player went down.

As well as a new centre midfielder, a right foot for Jordan Stewart wouldn’t be a bad purchase.

On Saturday, he wasted a great opportunity to shoot by wanting to get the ball onto his left foot, and missed a great opportunity to cross in this game.

When games are decided on small margins, Linfield can’t afford to pass up on attacking opportunities.

Though pre-season is all about fitness and players settling in, it is nice to win. Linfield had the chances in the first-half but couldn’t really say they were dominant.

Only ten minutes for half-time, due to wanting to make the most of the sunlight, Linfield were straight on the attack in the early minutes. There looked to be only one team going to win this game.

Of course, that could only mean one thing, a PSNI goal, and the Peelers issued some rough justice with a lobbed finish to go 1-0 up.

From where I was, at the opposite end of the pitch, it looked like Gareth Deane could have done better with his positioning.

If he was at fault for the goal, he more than redeemed himself throughout the rest of the game with a series of saves to keep Linfield in the game.

Linfield responded to the goal by bringing on Andrew Waterworth and Jamie Mulgrew.

It was a game similar to a League Cup tie at Ballyclare in 2014. Only one team winning it at 0-0, then conceded a goal which gave them something to hold on to, which they did.

As the game wore on, Linfield put more pressure on the PSNI goal, hitting the bar for a third time as they searched for a get out of jail card.

Eventually, the pressure was rewarded in injury time when the ball fell to Andrew Waterworth in the box, and he made no mistake.

It felt like last season all over again. Hopefully, we’re just getting it out of our system before the seasons starts.

Hopefully, it will have been a distant memory by the time the sides meet next, in the County Antrim Shield in late September, the draw taking place on Tuesday teatime.

Another draw that took place this week was the UEFA Cup draw, meaning that both Hibs and Rangers are away on the week i’m in Scotland, so i’ll have to make do with Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers when i’m there.

In other news, the away match against Glentoran in October will be live on Sky Sports. Hopefully, there’ll be a repeat of the time we beat Cliftonville 2-0 rather than when we lost 5-2 to Crusaders. Set your recorders.

Up next is a friendly against Ballyclare, where it is expected that players not involved in this game will take part, as Linfield look to make the most of their squad.

It is a squad that if it had one more centre midfielder, is more than capable of a title challenge.

Where do you get that player? There’s no point signing somebody for the sake of it.

If we get him, there is cause to be optimistic for 2018-2019.

We’ll have to do better than this game though.

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KNOCKBREDA 0-2 LINFIELD 21.7.2018

It was a new ground for me to visit as Linfield continued their pre-season preparation with a trip to Knockbreda, based on the Upper Braniel Road. It’s as close as you’ll probably get to High Altitude Training for an Irish League team.

Unsurprisingly, it was Linfield who dominated the early minutes, Chris Casement was played in behind the defence but played it across when he should have been selfish and shot, a Knockbreda defender getting in a last ditch tackle.

Last ditch tackles and sliced clearances were a theme throughout the first-half, and Knockbreda almost scored an own goal on a couple of occasions.

Eventually, Linfield’s pressure was rewarded when quick thinking from a corner saw a cross come in which was dropped by Knockbreda’s goalkeeper straight to Andrew Waterworth, who made no mistake

Knockbreda’s keeper would make up for that mistake later in the half with a superb one handed save from a Josh Robinson header.

A bit of pinball in the penalty area saw Chris Casement finish to make it 2-0. That was the game won for Linfield.

I presume it would have been planned anyway, but the commanding lead allowed Linfield to make changes at half-time. Caomihan McGuiness, Jordan Stewart, Michael O’Connor and youngster Lewis Houston entering the action.

O’Connor was the mystery man who scored twice to win the friendly against Waterford on Wednesday as a Trialist. When I heard his name, I thought we had signed the former Crewe player.

There was a Trialist on the field for Linfield today, wearing number 6 and playing in midfield. He was neat and tidy and did the simple things well, though we didn’t really see much of him as an attacking force.

Even though Knockbreda forced Gareth Deane into a few saves, Linfield’s win was never in doubt. The second-half was a non event.

The most exciting thing about the second-half was that there was a dog fetching the ball every time it went behind the goal.

Glenavon’s defeat to Molde confirmed that Linfield’s trip to Mourneview Park will definitely take place on Saturday 4th August. It was perhaps apt that a European match involving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be decided by two goals in injury time. Sorry, any excuse to sneak in a reference to the 1999 European Cup Final.

Meanwhile, Cliftonville manager Barry Gray was complaining in the Belfast Telegraph about the IFA not doing enough to help Irish League teams in Europe.

He has some cheek, as his side shouldn’t even have been in this season’s UEFA Cup, but the Irish League believes in Play-Offs rather than merit. The whole League being dragged down because Ballymena fans moaned about their 7th place side having nothing to play for in April every year.

And in ten year’s time, we’ll be sitting about wondering why our co-efficient is so low.

Talking of Ballymena, their pitch has suffered some damage due to stock cars being more wayward than a Tony Kane pass.

Due to work on the pitch, you won’t be seeing any football at Ballymena until October. Or indeed after October when Ballymena start playing home matches again.

They should write a letter to their local MP to get the issue resolved, but I hear he’s busy.

Meanwhile, does any one know any good blogs that cover Sri Lankan club football? I’m going there for a free trip soon and would like to take in a game while i’m there. This blog post is brought to you in association with the Sri Lankan Tourist Office and is perfectly above board.

Back in the real world, up next for Linfield is a trip to the PSNI. They’ll be ready for this game and will have gathered intelligence on, I mean, scouted Linfield.

It is one of two games next week for Linfield, their last before the League season starts.

It’s been a busy schedule for Linfield this week and last week, it’s all about getting ready for Glenavon. One more midfielder and we should be ready to go.

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DUNDELA 1-4 LINFIELD 7.7.2018

Hasn’t the World Cup been brilliant? In truth, World Cups are like dogs, they’re all brilliant. Some are just better than others.

So, Saturday had arrived, and the big game was here.

All that failure and disappointment since their last title, but their fans were believing this was their year.

While some of you were watching England v Sweden, I was on my way home Wilgar Park, as Linfield began their pre-season preparations.

All the focus is on the opening day of the League season and an away match against Glenavon. Unfortunately, there will be no focus on European football due to the fact that the Irish League decides that UEFA Cup places are to be decided by a lottery rather than merit. Just watch the co-efficient slide.

In order to avoid clashing with the England match, this match was moved to lunchtime. Off the top of my head, I think that was Linfield’s first Saturday lunchtime game since Warrenpoint in 2014.

Since Linfield visited Wilgar Park last summer, the ground has had a bit of work done, with the terracing at one side gone and replaced by a flat standing area.

Everyone has their own wishes when it comes to pre-season friendlies. Some hope to have high profile opposition. Personally, I prefer away trips to smaller grounds, and/or grounds never visited or haven’t been to for a while.

When this year’s pre-season schedule was announced, there were two games that stood out for me – Dundela and PSNI.

I’ll be in Dublin next weekend (more on that later) so won’t be at Bangor. Even if I wasn’t, we’ll be going there twice in the League in 2018/2019. We’ve recently been to Carrick, so i’ll be giving that a miss. If you’re superstitious, you may want me to go. I’ve been to Carrick three times and the matches have ended 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0. Logically, my next visit will be a 0-0 draw. Might as well have it come in a friendly.

Ballyclare would be pushing it fine on a working day.

Since that original list was announced, a new game was added, a home friendly against Waterford.

Not going to lie, if that was an away game, i’d be all over it, giving me a chance to take in Waterford Walls. Trust me, i’ll eventually get my arse into gear and arrange a trip.

There’s no reason why that game can’t be moved to Midgley Park, especially as there’s no women’s game that night. If you think that is a silly suggestion, we have recently played friendlies against Sligo Rovers at Clandeboye Park and The Dub.

Hopefully, they’ll return the favour and give us a visit to Sligo Showgrounds some year.

I was hoping we could sneak in a trip to Scotland, but it was not to be this year. Not going to lie, I was totally jealous that Glenavon got that trip.

I guess my hopes of away games against Knockbreda and Moyola Park will have to wait until the Summer of 2019.

This is a fixture that has become a bit of a tradition in recent years, with Linfield visiting Wilgar Park in 2016 and 2017. There was also a game in 2015, but that was billed as a Linfield XI.

A welcome sight for Linfield fans at the start of this game was the return of two players whose 2017-2018 ended prematurely, in the shape of Jordan Stewart (February) and Jamie Mulgrew (March)

There was also a Trialist from Scotland starting the match at right-back. He was very vocal and not afraid to get stuck in. Mulgrew was joined in midfield by Joe Crowe, who wasn’t as effective as when he usually plays at right-back.

If Linfield fans were hoping that 2017-2018 was behind them, there wasn’t much to suggest that it was, as Dundela were by far the better team.

Lining up in red/red/green, Dundela looked like Portugal. Thankfully, their finishing was more like Helder Postiga than Cristiano Ronaldo.

If their finishing was more like Cristiano Ronaldo, Dundela could have been a couple of goals up by the time they deservedly took the lead midway through the first-half.

The only Linfield player that looked at the game was Andrew Waterworth.

Eventually, Linfield got more into it, with Jordan Stewart getting a lot of the ball down the left, and Jamie Mulgrew getting more of the ball to make things happen.

It was Andrew Waterworth who got the equaliser for Linfield, blasting home after being played through.

A few minutes later, Dundela got a penalty. The award ranged from soft to dodgy. If it was a competitive game, there would have been protests.

It didn’t matter, as Roy Carroll saved the penalty.

In the second-half, Linfield were an entirely different team. Literally. On a day when England were playing in their first World Cup Quarter-Final since 2006, it was a nice tribute to friendlies during Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign as England manager by making eleven substitutions.

Among those introduced were Mark Stafford, Niall Quinn, Andrew Mitchell, Chris Casement, Stephen Fallon, Robert Garrett, and a debut for Joel Cooper, while another former Glenavon player, Daniel Kearns, played as a Trialist.

Dundela were made to rue not taking their chances in the first-half, as Stephen Fallon put Linfield 2-1 up, before Daniel Kearns smashed home from the edge of the box to make it 3-1.

Joel Cooper had an impressive debut, always being available for a pass and making things happen when he got the ball.

As the game neared it’s end, he got a deserved goal when he headed home from a corner, hitting the bar before the ball bounced in. You could hear the thud as the ball hit the bar. It was the sort of goal that Alan Partridge would love.

A winning start to pre-season, but not a convincing one. It’s always hard to judge on the first pre-season friendly, but if that first-half performance is repeated, it’s going to be a long one.

For me, the 2018-2019 season is up and running.

Next for me, i’m off for a short break to Dublin. Naturally, i’ll be hoping to take in some football in amongst the touristy stuff.

I usually visit Dublin once a year, usually a day trip or an overnight stay. I’ll be heading over on Fridayy for an overnight stay. I have a choice of two matches, Bohs v Sligo or Shelbourne v Drogheda United.

As it stands, i’m going for Shelbourne v Drogheda United, just to try and squeeze in one last visit to Tolka Park.

Bad news for Shelbourne fans is that i’ve never seen Drogheda lose, seeing them win and draw (but win on penalties) against Linfield in 2006 and 2007, and then draw with St Patrick’s Athletic in 2013, and then beat Bray in 2014.

I could cross my fingers and hope that Shamrock Rovers v AIK on Thursday is postponed for some reason, and would have to be played on Friday lunchtime.

Talking of football visits to Dublin, the schedule for Euro 2020, which has Dublin as one of the host cities, has been announced.

As you will see, no kick-off times are announced, just dates and venues. 2pm or 5pm in Dublin would mean a day trip, while 8pm means overnight. It would be nice to know so I could make plans in advance, instead of having to participate in a scramble for hotel rooms.

The 2020 European Super Cup Final was awarded to Porto, meaning that Windsor Park misses out on that again.

And finally, the 2026 World Cup will be held in Canada, Mexico and the USA. Yep, what a disaster this is going to be. 32 teams was perfect, 48 will be bloated. Two host countries is tolerable but three makes it a shambles, especially when one is taking on most of the workload.

This means that people will be getting ideas about a UK co-host bid for a future World Cup, and when Northern Ireland is unable to be part of it due to not having a big enough stadium, we’ll have to put up with the Maze Brigade coming out of the woodwork and starting to pipe up again.

During the close season, we’ve seen Politicians embarrass themselves when it comes to football, with Sinn Fein demanding that Northern Ireland postponed their friendly against Israel in September.

I’m not quite sure why they waited until June to make these calls as the game was announced in February. I’m no expert on the Middle East, but I can’t think they were all holding hands and singing at the start of the year.

This was jumping on the bandwagon of Argentina’s decision not to play Israel prior to the World Cup.

Northern Ireland’s fixture schedule will not be dictated by Argentina, or by any MLA. They are free to play whoever they wish. In fact, they can play anybody who isn’t a member of FIFA if they wish. I’d love an away friendly against Yorkshire.

I haven’t got a clue about the Middle East. I don’t know who is right or who is wrong. It’s hard not to be disengaged when this particular matter is a cause celebre for one particular movement in Northern Ireland, one who is hostile to the existence to the Northern Ireland football team.

The irony of all this is, i’m not going to the Israel game. It’s an underwhelming choice of opponent and a team i’ve already seen before. I’ll be giving this game a miss.

Meanwhile, Jolene Bunting, an Independent Councillor in Belfast City Council is wanting to try and establish a Northern Ireland version of the Football Lads Alliance (whatever that is) to protest against bad shit and stuff. The last thing we need is to create our own version of a fuckwit movement.

If England win the World Cup, i’m really looking forward to the DUP absolutely embarrassing themselves by trying to jump on the bandwagon, demanding England flags at Stormont and inviting them to a Civic Reception.

I’m indifferent to the England team, so don’t really care if they win it or not, but them winning it will have some positives, such as culchies having meltdowns, DUP embarrassing themselves, and a possible Bank Holiday.

Fixture lists for the new season have been published. In the Premier League, i’m planning to visit Old Trafford to see United take on Burnley (January) and Cardiff (March), as well as a European Cup group match, hopefully.

In the Irish League, the fixtures were published in late June, far later than they should have been in comparison with England and Scotland. So, i’m going to have a quick analysis.

Glenavon away first will be tough, but they usually make slow starts, so we have to exploit this.

That game will be put back to the Monday night if Glenavon get past Molde in the UEFA Cup. I can’t see that happening. There is no reason why it couldn’t be moved to the Sunday instead.

The first home game is Institute, inconveniently moved to the Friday night as i’ll be at George Ezra. Hopefully, Linfield will be riding shotgun, underneath the hot sun. Whatever that means.

You may remember I wanted us to be away to Institute that day, so I could make a weekend of it by going to Stendahl to see Embrace.

The away game against Institute will be on an international weekend (Northern Ireland are at home the following day) but hopefully it won’t be postponed. The release of Linfield’s new away kit means that they will be playing at The Brandywell wearing red and white. This will be a new ground for me to visit.

The following week will see Linfield travel to Seaview on the same day I go to see The League Of Gentlemen at The Odyssey. I’ll let you insert your own punchline.

How many times do the players have to be told? DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CRUSADERS. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CRUSADERS. I thought we had put that nonsense behind us in 2016-2017.

If you get a nice book for Christmas, that will be handy, as you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting around Ballysillan Leisure Centre on the Saturday afterwards.

If you’re planning a late night on New Year’s Eve, you won’t have far to travel on the opening day of 2019, as Linfield travel to Ards.

It’ll be a tough opening 33 games, and the 5 games post-split will be tough as well.

Even though it’s a relatively new tradition (2014) it is disappointing that there will be no Charity Shield this season due to being unable to find a date.

Why not have it on weekend of 4th August, and slot in a midweek fixture list somewhere?

It is interesting to note that there are no midweek League games scheduled in 2018-2019, barring Bank Holidays, albeit there are two Friday night games, one for an International on the Saturday afternoon, and the other for the League Cup Final.

On that note, I hope that NIFL already have contingency plans in place for the fixtures scheduled for Saturday 23rd March should Northern Ireland have a home Euro 2020 Qualifier, the draw taking place in late 2018. You can never be too prepared.

Mixing friendly wishes and former player news, Grant McCann is the new manager of Doncaster Rovers. Go on, Summer 2019, a friendly at The Keepmoat, ideally on the weekend of Tramlines in Sheffield.

2018-2019 hasn’t even started and i’m already talking about 2019-2020 pre-season games. On that note, decent headliner at Buncrana Music Festival and Finn Harps at home on the same weekend could give me an idea.

And finally, i’ll be heading to Edinburgh next month to take in the Edinburgh Festival.

The only confirmed match on when i’m there is Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers in the Irn Bru Cup, while there is the possibility of Hibs being at home in Europe on the Thursday night, or a short trip to Glasgow if Rangers have a decent home tie.

2018-2019 is finally here. Hopefully, it’s a lot better than 2017-2018.

Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield 2016

Dundela v Linfield 2017

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2017-2018

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look back at the 2017-2018. The less said about what happened on the pitch, the better.

I took a lot of photos, so i’ve rounded up my favourites.

Feel free to vote for your favourite.

PLATT LANE

This was taken in June last year when The Oval was being used for filming a movie about Bert Trautmann, and was decorated to look like Maine Road. I went to get some photos.

I specifically wanted one with 1950s Maine Road and 2017 Oval both in the same shot, and this was my favourite from that day.

CLANDEBOYE

You have roadworks to thank for this photo.

I was held up heading to Ards v Linfield and missed the first couple of minutes.

This was the scene that greeted me as I entered, a crowd with their eyes fixated on the pitch on a warm summer evening.

GARRETT

I like the composition of this photo.

You may be surprised that Robert Garrett is attacking and not defending, he had just kept the ball in play and was now being surrounded by two Dungannon defenders.

PHOTOGRAPHER

I just like the composition of this shot. Taken during Spartans v Linfield in Scottish Challenge Cup.

RAINBOW

Me being arty farty. I love trying to get pictures of rainbows over football grounds. Taken at half-time during Ballinamallard v Linfield in November. A rare time that afternoon when it wasn’t raining.

HAUGHEY

Same match, everyone huddled in the stand to avoid the rain. I like the composition of this shot.

FLEGS

Taken during the Northern Ireland v Switzerland match in November, green and white flags were left out before the game for fans to wave. I decided to take a shot as they were being waved and got lucky.

CELEBRATION

Everything fell into place for this shot, the sky, a well worked goal, and the whole team coming together to celebrate.

GOAL

I like this shot because it captures the emotion of a last minute equaliser as part of a late comeback that never looked like coming.

TIPTON

I was heading to the exit for a quick getaway (in my defence, it was an away game on a weeknight) and stumbled upon this framing as Matthew Tipton looked on as Warrenpoint took on Linfield.

CAMPION

Taken during Cliftonville v Linfield in February, the guy in the red coat makes it makes it with his celebration as Linfield players celebrate in front of their fans.