One down, ten to go. Or if you prefer – Three down, thirty to go.
Having got back to the top of the League with a win over Dungannon on Tuesday night, Linfield were intent on staying there.
All they have left this season is League matches, eleven of them to go in order to win the League.
The first of those was at Warrenpoint, a ground they had won at in all eight of their previous visits, as well as a win at Stangmore Park when Wareenpoint played there in the early months of the 2013-2014 season.
Not all of those wins have been straightforward, some have been dicey.
With the Top 5 separated by four points, there was no room for error from Linfield, or indeed the four teams below them.
Linfield were boosted that two of them, Glentoran and Coleraine, would be facing each other. The fact that at least one rival would be guaranteed to drop points made getting three points even more important for Linfield.
Linfield were boosted by the return of Shayne Lavery after suspension, and he came straight in for Rory Currie, hoping to repeat his feat of scoring in his previous two games against Warrenpoint this season.
This match would be played in the early stages of Storm Ciara, and Warrenpoint were hoping to take advantage of it, playing into the wind in the first-half and shooting straight from kick-off, forcing Rohan Ferguson into a (albeit, easy) save three seconds into the game.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a shout from the crowd for Linfield to sort it out, that Warrenpoint were all over them.
It was a slow start from both teams as they tried to settle themselves in the conditions.
Shayne Lavery had Linfield’s first chance when his shot from a wide position was well saved by Warrenpoint’s goalkeeper, although a cross would have been a better option for Lavery.
Stephen Fallon had a shot easily saved before Joel Cooper cut inside but fired well wide as Linfield began to put Warrenpoint under pressure.
It didn’t feel like a Linfield goal was imminent, but it start to feel that Linfield were starting to take control of the game.
Eventually, Linfield did take the lead, but the assist came from a Warrenpoint player, after a header from Colm Deasy back to his keeper was short (The keeper actually shouted for him to head the ball back to him) and Andrew Waterworth jumped knocked the ball over the keeper first time to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Like on Tuesday night, the question wasn’t if he would score, but if he would get to the ball in time to score. Waterworth must think that it’s Christmas with all these presents he’s got this week.
Apologies for using the C Word in February.
Linfield’s next chance to extend their lead came just before the half-time whistle when Kirk Millar stretched to get a shot on goal, but the shot was saved.
A very satisfactory half for Linfield, nullifying Warrenpoint’s wind advantage, and getting a 1-0 lead themselves. Now they had to go and complete the job.
There was a goal in the early minutes of the second-half, but it was for Warrenpoint, as a heavy touch from Jimmy Callacher saw him lose the ball and one pass saw Ryan Swan make the most of his free space to fire home and make it 1-1. This was not what Linfield had anticipated.
The goal galvanised Linfield, and made them more determined to get the three points.
Warrenpoint couldn’t get out of their own half due to a wave of Linfield pressure.
That pressure was rewarded when Jimmy Callacher headed a free-kick across the penalty area, and Andrew Waterworth was bundled over before he could get on the end of it.
There was only one man going to take it. It was a pressure penalty. If he missed it, you felt that this could end up being a frustrating day for Linfield. He stepped up, and panenkaed it, just as he did at Solitude in 2017.
For a brief moment, it looked like the keeper had saved it, but thankfully, it was only a touch of the ball as it ended up in the back of the next to put Linfield 2-1 up.
Even though a second goal was welcome, Linfield needed a third just to be sure.
It looked like that was going to come when a speculative long range shot from Stephen Fallon got deflected and looked up and then picked up a bit of pace, but Warrenpoint’s keeper was able to adjust his bodyshape and make the save.
Throughout this game it was obvious that Linfield were managing the conditions better. When the wind was against them, they were able to get their passes and through balls to hold up and keep the pressure on. When the wind was with them, they were able to use the wind to get passes in behind Warrenpoint’s defence.
It looked like that third goal was going to come when Shayne Lavery got on the end of a Joel Cooper cross but Warrenpoint’s keeper made himself big and saved the effort, doing the same when Lavery tried to backheel the rebound in. You just know it would have found the back of the net in September or October, such is the life of a striker.
The lack of a third goal made things nervous for Linfield. The only real moment of worry was an Emmett Bennett header straight at Rohan Ferguson. Either side of the keeper, and it would have been a real worry for Linfield.
In injury time, Warrenpoint had a flurry of possession and balls into Linfield’s penalty area, but Linfield were able to hold out and get a 2-1 win.
Any win is a good day, but things got even better when scores from elsewhere were digested.
Coleraine beat Glentoran, a draw would have been perfect, but if you had to choose a winner, you’d go for the team that are further behind. Cliftonville usually have (at least) one bad result a season against Dungannon Swifts, I thought they’d be saving that for the Irish Cup game in a few weeks time rather than in the League, while Crusaders lost to Glenavon.
That means that Linfield are now four points clear at the top, a bit of daylight. Not a lot, that cane disappear very quickly. The aim is to keep on winning.
The next Matchday is very interesting.
Linfield travel to Ballymena United on Friday night in one of only four games next weekend.
Ballymena have lost their last six League games. I know what you’re thinking. I’m fearing that as well. Let’s make those fears unfounded.
The reason why there are only four League matches next weekend is due to the League Cup Final.
Because of that, Coleraine and Crusaders won’t have a League match, and neither will Cliftonville, as they were due to play Crusaders.
All the games are important, but this one especially so. Three rivals inactive, and guaranteed point droppage from one of them when they do play. This is a great opportunity for Linfield to get more points on the board and put the pressure on their rivals.
Linfield fans have been talking about the benefits of games in hand, now we can be talking about the benefits of how points on the board are better than games in hand. We just need to get those points on the board.
It seems silly to have these games on a Friday night when the League Cup Final kicks off at 7.30pm on the Saturday night. League games on a Saturday could easily be accommodated alongside this, even if they were earlier kick-offs.
Hopefully, if this is the new kick-off for the League Cup Final, League games that weekend can be moved to the Saturday from 2021 onwards.
But on to more short term issues. Three points at Ballymena please.