The first weekend of March 2022 saw me visit Carrick to see Linfield win a rearranged game, then the following morning, head up Cavehill.
Then the rest of the month was Linfield matches, against Ballymena United, Crusaders, Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town.
With the match against Warrenpoint Town being a lunchtime kick-off and the weather being nice, I decided to head to Warrenpoint Beach for some photos. I also headed to Carlingford, but I didn’t get any photos there though.
The month ended with my first Northern Ireland match in over two years, the friendly at home to Hungary.
It would be tempting to say it was Devine Intervention, but it might fall under something else beginning with D. Not Deserved, far from it, more like Daylight Robbery, but we’ll take it. You have to take every point you can get at this time of year.
Warrenpoint is usually a decent away day, usually helped by the fact that Linfield have won every time they’ve played there in front of a crowd (Yes, i’m discounting games behind closed doors to manipulate stats when it suits) but the fact the the recent sunny spell would be continuing into this game.
By my recollection, I think this is the first time that Linfield have played there on a sunny afternoon. It does help that you only need to jog your memory eight years.
This game was chosen for live TV coverage, but moved to 5.30pm and then to 12.30pm. I was slightly disappointed purely because I was hoping to get some sunset photos while the game was going on. However, 12.30pm gave me the opportunity to explore South Down and County Louth. You can check that out in the following blog.
Regardless of the kick-off time, this was a big game for Linfield, especially in the context of the weekend’s fixtures with Cliftonville’s match being postponed and Glentoran not playing until Monday night. An opportunity to pull (deceptively) clear and put pressure on rivals.
There was a pleasant surprise on entering the ground that there were programmes on sale. Flicking through it, I noticed that Warrenpoint were twelve points adrift at the bottom. I hadn’t really been keeping an eye on the bottom of the table so that passed me by. I’d just assumed the bottom four were all bunched together.
Due to that, this could be Linfield’s last League visit to Warrenpoint for a while. As well as a programme, there was also a Beer Tent which was utilised by some of the crowd. They really were spoiling us.
Chris McKee was away on International Duty, meaning a call-up for Ethan Devine. Christy Manzinga was still banned, the third and final match of his ban for a red card at Ballymena according to the Commentator on Sky (Yes, I watched a bit of the match back) which was a pleasant surprised as i’d expected him to be banned for at least four games.
Another pleasant surprise was Eetu Vertainen playing as i’d expected him to be featuring for Finland Under 21s.
The opening minutes of the game were uneventful, no clear opportunities for either side.
Linfield’s best opportunity almost came via two Warrenpoint defenders with a clearance hitting another defender, giving Stephen Fallon a sniff of an opportunity, only to be beaten to the ball by Conor Mitchell.
Mitchell, wearing a mask due to a facial injury, was being serenaded by the away fans behind his goal to the tune from the classic Batman TV series. Disappointingly, he wasn’t being forced to do any heroics. Kerpow, Biff, Zoink indeed.
The game took a turn on 14 minutes when Warrenpoint took the lead with a header from Stephen Ball after a cross from a quickly taken throw. It was such a bad goal to concede.
Stood at the opposite end, I saw the ball hit the post and roll across. My hopes of it rolling along the line were proved to be ambitious when I saw Warrenpoint fans behind the goal celebrating.
The shock of the goal was too much for Warrenpoint’s players, who were needing treatment for Cramp at various intervals throughout the half.
Linfield’s response didn’t quite materialise. You were thankful that it was only 1-0.
Ball almost got a second before the half hour, reacting after Chris Johns spilt a free-kick, but recovered to make himself big and divert the ball over.
This was a 2014-esque struggle.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield were dealt a blow when Eetu Vertainen had to go off with injury, being replaced by Jordan Stewart.
Stewart had a near instant impact, scoring with a low finish being the first to react after a free-kick was headed across the box.
The goal came in first-half stoppage time didn’t really change Linfield’s half-time team talk, they still had to do so much better. To be doing it from 1-1 rather than 0-1 was most welcome though.
Early in the second-half, it looked like Linfield were going to go in front when Ethan Devine headed goalwards from close ranger only to see his effort blocked on the line and then his follow-up be blasted over the bar. Surely it wasn’t going to be one of those days?
More frustration came when Jamie Mulgrew had an effort cleared off the line, and the ball spinning just past the post.
Chasing a winner, Jake Hastie came on for Ahmed Salam, making a welcome return after injury.
Those misses were almost even more costly when an error allowed Alan O’Sullivan to get through on goal.
The only option was to knock the ball over the keeper, which he did. He did everything right, but for some reason the ball bounced over the bar in a way that defied science.
It was at that moment, you knew Linfield were going to win the match.
There wasn’t any evidence on what you had seen on the pitch to suggest it, but you just knew.
Thoughts turned back to Ballinamallard away on the exact same weekend in March 2017.
So many similarities. A trip on the road, lovely sunny weather, 1-0 down, pulled it back to 1-1, struggling to make it 2-1.
It didn’t end there, with a matter of minutes to go, a defensive mistake put an opposition player with the only option to knock the ball over the keeper to score.
The only difference was that Ballinamallard hit the top of the bar while Warrenpoint went over.
As the minutes ticked by, it didn’t look like history repeating as Warrenpoint were holding on for a 1-1 draw unlike Ballinamallard.
Two points dropped that Linfield couldn’t afford to drop.
Not only would it give Cliftonville an opportunity to go top, it would allow Glentoran a chance to cut the gap and make it a three team race again.
In injury time, Linfield got the lead when Ethan Devine headed home from a Jake Hastie corner with 92 minutes on the clock.
An early goal by Devine’s standards. It was also four assists in his last three appearances for Hastie.
Despite that, with just under two minutes remaining, the game was not yet won.
Warrenpoint still had one last attack. A shot inside the penalty area that was volleyed over the bar. And relax, that was it. The only time that Linfield fans could relax all day.
A cliched win without playing well and when up against it, to the sound of smashed TVs in North and Eat Belfast.
Despite the elation, Linfield will have to play far better than that in their final five games.
Nobody would have noticed much if Linfield stormed to a routine win.
To win it in the way they did must have felt like a kick in the balls for Cliftonville and Glentoran.
Neither of those two were playing on this day, although Glentoran did win against Carrick Rangers, also on Sky, two days later.
It is Cliftonville who are Linfield’s biggest worry in terms of the table. They’ll have to wait another week to play their game in hand.
They will be the first opponents after the split, followed by Glentoran, Crusaders, Larne and Coleraine.
Three of games will be at home, where Linfield are unbeaten in the League this season.
Coleraine on the last day is a 5.30pm kick-off, meaning i’ll have to dash to Echo and the Bunnymen later that night.
Hopefully after getting lots of trophy lifting photos.
Flybe announced a comeback this week. Relaunching with the same routes they had before so no instant dreaming of football trips.
One of those might be to Euro 2028, where England launched a co-host bid with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland.
Really looking forward to endless moaning about Windsor Park not having a capacity of 300,000 in order to host Austria v Slovenia.
Rival bids have come from Russia and Turkey. Some brass neck there from Russia.
Two days after celebrating his sixth anniversary as Linfield manager, David Healy returned to where it all began, as Linfield travelled to Warrenpoint Town.
The scoreline was the same as it was on Matchday 1, but the manner of the result was a lot more convincing than it was that day in October 2015.
There was a bit of pre-match drama, with Jordan Stewart coming in to replace Cameron Palmer. who was originally named in the starting eleven.
Palmer wasn’t the only midfielder missing for Linfield, with Jamie Mulgrew missing due to a visit to the Maternity Ward.
Inside the first minute, Jordan Stewart almost made it an inspired decision to bring him in, getting in behind Warrenpoint’s defence but being unable to take advantage of it.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield were having the ball in Warrenpoint’s half, but not all of it, Warrenpoint were having their own attacks which were easily snuffed out by Linfield.
Thankfully, there wasn’t long to wait for a Linfield goal, coming after a run from Christy Manzinga, who was brought down by a Warrenpoint player who couldn’t keep up with him.
There was a brief moment where I was trying to work out who would take it. Andrew Waterworth and Shayne Lavery are now gone, Jordan Stewart did take them until he missed one against Crusaders.
I couldn’t think of a penalty that Linfield had got this season, until I remembered that they got one in Europe that was taken by Chris Shields, who stepped up again to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Two out of two from the spot for him. Might as well enjoy that stat while it lasts.
Linfield should have been warned from their visit to Milltown last season where they led 1-0 before losing 2-1.
At least they were still defending a perfect record at Milltown in front of a paying crowd.
Kirk Millar had a shot fired over before a stray pass played him through, giving him a chance to make it 2-0.
Even though he isn’t a striker, there was never going to be a doubt about the outcome, slotting him to put Linfield 2-0 up.
Soon afterwards, Christy Manzinga gave us his obligatory goal to make it 3-0. He has scored in every League game he has played in, apart from one, the one that he as sent-off in.
Last Saturday’s match against Carrick Rangers was the 40th time that Linfield had scored four or more in a League game under David Healy. This looked like it was set to be Number 41, especially as Warrenpoint Town shared an unwanted record with Dungannon Swifts as the side who have suffered most under David Healy, with Linfield scoring four or more on seven occasions against them.
Mike Newberry had a shot blocked on the line as Linfield searched for that fourth goal, but three was enough for a commanding half-time lead.
Milltown wasn’t the only ground that Linfield were winning at, they were also winning at Solitude, sort of, as the 1-1 scoreline between Cliftonville and Larne meant that were going top of the League for the first time this season.
There was nothing Linfield could do about the game at Solitude, they could only help themselves, and they were doing that very well.
Steven Ball looked like he had pulled one back for Warrenpoint early in the second-half, but he hit the side netting.
From where I was, it looked like it was in, but the lack of celebration from Warrenpoint players, one even angrily asking why he wasn’t passed to, it soon became apparent that it was not a goal.
Linfield replied with a header from Mike Newberry that went wide. That was all they offered in the second-half, as the game became a non event, the second successive Saturday where Linfield had the job done in the first-half. We even find something to moan about when we win convincingly.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield took the opportunity to make some substitutions with October being a busy month, with just the seven games instead of eight. More on that later.
Although, they do have the luxury of a six day break after the County Antrim Shield match against Dundela.
As the players left the pitch, Christy Manzinga found himself to be a man in demand, fielding and obliging to various requests from fans for selfies as he head to the Dressing Room.
Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Larne, meaning that Linfield have jumped up to 2nd, just two points behind Cliftonville and a further two ahead of Larne, who they play next.
A win wouldn’t put Larne out of the title race, but it would be nice to put a bit of distance away from them, no longer part of a sandwich at the top of the table, breathing down Cliftonville’s necks rather than worrying about Larne breathing down their necks.
We are due a win at Inver Park? Right?
Just a reminder that it’s live on Sky Sports if you’re unable to go.
Glentoran and Coleraine drew meaning that Linfield were able to pull clear of both clubs, but not far enough away to discount them from the title race yet.
Elsewhere, it was confirmed that Linfield would be competing in the Unite The Union Cup, facing Coleraine with the prize of a Final against a League Of Ireland side at Lansdowne Road.
Just as in 2019, the scheduling is a bit of a pain in the arse, even if it is a low commitment with a maximum of two games. Plus it means a League trip to Coleraine is postponed. Thankfully, the backlog of League fixtures is manageable at the moment.
If we do end up going to Lansdowne Road, i’d be tempted to try and sneak in another trip to Bray.
Linfield should have been playing Glenavon on the Friday night after playing Coleraine on the Tuesday. Thankfully, that trip to Lurgan has been put back to the Friday.
What it does mean is that my planned trip to Blanchflower Park for November 27th won’t be happening. I think the next possible opportunity will be December 18th. I’ll be hoping for an Irish Cup trip there in January at this rate.
If we do get that draw, hopefully, it goes better than the last time I saw Linfield face Championship opponents in the Irish Cup.
The first game was played yesterday and the ground looks impressive. The honour of the first goal went to Patrick Burns, who had a better day than his older brother Bobby.
Finally, Linfield’s NIFL Cup match against Institute was postponed due to Institute playing an ineligible player in the previous round, being replaced by PSNI. You’re all expecting me to joke that the Peelers planted an ineligible player on them.
It creates a scheduling issue with Linfield not having a free midweek until the date of the Quarter-Finals, three days before Northern Ireland v Lithuania.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it got slotted in to wc November 1st to keep Windsor Park free from usage ahead of those internationals as Linfeld would be away to Ballymena if they get through.
There is a precedent for rescheduling NIFL Cup games, as the Semi-Finals in 2018-2019 were put back a week due to a backlog caused by postponements in previous rounds.
Let’s hope after Tuesday night’s game against Dundela, we’ll be looking to slot in another game somewhere.
Bloody hell, what a year. As you can imagine, not a lot of football matches were attended.
Still, fingers crossed that i’ll get to some games in 2021, nothing in the calendar yet.
As a bonus, hopefully i’ll get to go to a ground that isn’t Windsor Park, as much as I enjoy visiting it.
Matches : 19
Goals : 68
Red Cards : 5
Missed Penalties : 0
Hat-Tricks : 1
Andrew Waterworth (Linfield v Carrick Rangers)
Teams Seen : 17
Accrington Stanley, Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville, Crusaders, Dundela, Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon, Glentoran, Institute, Larne, Linfield, Manchester United, Queen’s University (1st time), Salford City (1st time), Warrenpoint Town
Stadiums Visited : 10
Ballymena Showgrounds, Inver Park, Milltown, Moor Lane (1st time), Old Trafford, Solitude, Taylor’s Avenue, The Dub (1st time), Wilgar Park, Windsor Park
Competitions : 5
County Antrim Shield, FA Premier League, Football League Trophy (1st time), Irish Cup, Irish League
Over for a United match, I was able to take in a Salford City match while I was there. The first thing you see as you walk towards the ground is the floodlights in the shape of the club badge. I managed to capture it in all it’s glory.
Well, that was my favourite photos of 2019-2020, feel free to vote for your favourite, even though i’ve canvassed for what I think you should vote for.
Hopefully, it won’t be too long until i’m back in a football stadium taking photos so I can have a similar poll for 2020-2021.
February 2020 was a strange month of football watching, a month which began and ended on a Saturday, both of which were football free. The football matches sandwiched inbetween were quite good though.
My first football match of the month saw Linfield get a win over Dungannon Swifts to go top of the table, and then cement their place with a win at Warrenpoint Town the following Saturday.
The following weekend, I spent my birthday in Ballymena. Grim, I know. It wasn’t all bad, as Linfield secured a 4-1 win.
Four Goal Fridays continued the following weekend, as Linfield hammered Crusaders 4-0 live on TV.
Usually, these photo round-ups cover one month at a time, but I only got to go to one match in March 2020 because of you know what, a trip to Taylor’s Avenue to see Linfield beat Carrick Rangers.
Leaving Taylor’s Avenue that day, looking forward to the match against Larne the following weekend and the title run-in, unaware of what was to follow.
March was still a better month than April, not a single football match attended. Not even a single photo taken, football or otherwise.
Or May …. Or June.
I had anticipated being at Euro 2020, instead I was stuck indoors as my football watching for the season was officially confirmed as over, and I have no idea when i’ll be in a football ground again.
Be positive, you have to. I’ve already booked to do a Dublin/Bray break to try and blag a ticket for the Last 16 match of Euro 2021 in Dublin.
As I won’t be going to Edinburgh in August, i’m hoping to do a mini tour of Scotland towards the end of the year. I may take in a game while i’m there.
The problem is, waiting to see when crowds are allowed in, I can’t book any football specific trips. When the fixtures are released, I immediately jump in to book a trip to Old Trafford knowing i’ll get a good price. There’s no point booking if I don’t know if i’ll get in.
So, that was 2019-2020, ended prematurely in exceptional circumstances.
Usually, I sign off Photo Diary Of A Football Season by saying i’ll continue to take photos the following season.
There’s no guarantee of that, but as soon as i’m allowed back into a football ground, you know i’ll be taking photos.