Due to matches being postponed due to International Call-Ups, September’s football watching took a while to get going, having to wait until the middle of the month for my first match, Linfield’s trip to Portadown.
For me, like a lot of others, it was a first away trip since March 2020.
It was, eventually, an enjoyable trip with Linfield winning 3-2.
That was then followed by a home match against Coleraine, and trips to Glenavon and Glentoran.
November began with a day trip to Dublin. Naturally, while I was there, I took the opportunity to check out Street Art. Might as well, seeing as it was my first time there in two years.
Later that week, I did something else I hadn’t done for a long time. Not as long, just over eighteen months. I am of course referring to going to a concert, in this case, Lightning Seeds at The Limelight.
That was then followed by two road trips for Linfield away games, to Portadown and Crusaders.
Sandwiched inbetween that was another road trip, this time to Ards to get some Street Art photos, with a recent event having taken place.
It was a month of doing things I hadn’t done for a while. This time, going on a flight.
The destination was Gatwick, but not to go to London, but Brighton instead.
So many photo adventures, where to start?
Street Art in Brighton, of course. Also, a walk along Beachy Head, OMD in concert, and some sunsets while I was in Brighton.
Back home, a return to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville.
Two days later, I headed to The Limelight to see The Charlatans in concert.
The month ended with Linfield matches against Glenavon and Carrick Rangers.
September began with a stroll towards Royal Avenue, or rather streets around Royal Avenue, to take in the aftermath of Hit The North, taking place in around The Sunflower. I wasn’t able to attend on the actual day of the event.
The rest of the month was football matches, Linfield’s games against Portadown, Coleraine, Glenavon and Glentoran.
Saturday afternoon went well for Linfield. Too well you could say. While fans were making their way along the motorway to Lurgan, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Larne and Crusaders were all dropping points, making this game a great opportunity to move clear of some and pull closer to others.
This game was originally scheduled for the Friday night, but was put back when Linfield were scheduled to play Coleraine in the Unite The Union Cup. That match against Coleraine, would end up being postponed.
Thankfully, the game wasn’t played on the Friday night. Can’t say it would have been much fun matching the match in the middle of Storm Arwen.
A kick-off time of 5.30pm was a little strange, the first time I went to a Linfield League match this time. Even though it meant I would miss the start of Queen Night on BBC Two, it did have it’s advantages such as Applegreen not being full of uncontrollable wee shites in mid afternoon. I might demand that all away games outside Belfast be 5.30pm kick-offs.
If Linfield were to take advantage of others slipping up, they were going to have to do it at a ground where they have had a few slip-ups of their own in recent years, losing on three of their last four visits.
There was a name that stood out in the Linfield starting eleven, David Walsh, a young goalkeeper making his third appearance exactly a year after he made his debut, with Chris Johns missing out through injury.
Another name that caught people’s attention was Kyle McClean on the bench, making a welcome return after injury.
If Glenavon were thinking of putting the young goalkeeper under pressure to see how he handles it, they didn’t get a chance to. It was a very comfortable evening for him.
There was a bit of sloppiness in Linfield’s play early on, with Kirk Millar losing possession, resulting in Danny Wallace setting up Peter Campbell to have a shot blocked by Sam Roscoe.
That would be the only moment of discomfort for Linfield in the first-half, a half that they would dominate.
It didn’t take long for that dominance to be rewarded, when Christy Manzinga got in behind Glenavon’s defence, and had his shot from a wide angle saved by the keeper when a pass to one of two team-mates looked a better option. Just as numerous people were shouting “For fuck sake, pass!!!!”, he fired home to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Manzinga was in the mood for more than one goal, and looked to get it with a spectacular volley, which went over the bar.
The pressure continued, Jordan Stewart continuously making a fool out of whoever was brave enough to try and tackle him whenever he got the ball.
That pressure got rewarded when Christy Manzinga made it 2-0, finishing from close range after a low cross from Kirk Millar, after Glenavon couldn’t clear when Ahmad Salam had a shot blocked. Linfield now had a cushion.
They didn’t stop there, the pressure continued. Most of it coming down Linfield’s right hand side, giving the away fans sat there a close-up view of the attacks.
It didn’t take long before a third goal for Linfield, which came when Ahmad Salam smashed home after a header from Kirk Millar was hooked off the line. Salam continuing where he left off against Cliftonville the previous week. Throughout that attack, Linfield always looked one move ahead of Glenavon.
Even someone as pessimistic and nervous as me knew that the three points were heading to Windsor Park, unless Linfield did something really stupid or Glenavon improved dramatically.
If the performance against Cliftonville was the best in a long time, this was even better, converting dominance into goals.
Games against Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts look like convincing wins, but really they were won with quick goal bursts. This was a total 45 minute (ok, well 42 or 43) performance.
Naturally, Glenavon were going to come out at the start of the second-half. They had nothing to lose.
They had a bit of pressure, a couple of set pieces, but Linfield were able to see the pressure out.
Defending has been one of Linfield’s strong points this season, quite surprising considering the high turnover in defence. So far, they have kept 12 clean sheets in 19 domestic games.
With Linfield having a commanding lead and Glenavon not looking like they were going to eat into it, it was no surprise that the second-half became a non event.
It was obvious that David Healy was looking for Linfield to make it 4-0 as soon as possible so that he could dip into his substitutes with a busy run of fixtures coming up
That had to wait for a bit, but eventually did come in the final twenty minutes.
Amongst those introduced was Kyle McClean, making a welcome return to action after a long term injury.
Two of the other subs brought on, Matt Green and Martin Donnelly got in behind Glenavon’s defence with Donnelly waiting for a cross that never came when Green was out wide. If the roles were reversed, it would have been 4-0.
Three was enough, more than enough, as Linfield made easy work of a traditionally tricky fixture.
To give you an idea how tricky, this was the first time that Linfield have won away to Glenavon by two goals or more since April 2014, fourteen visits ago.
As fans were leaving the ground, they were treated to an interesting choice of music on the tannoy, The Only Way Is Up. The original by Otis Clay, not the cover by Yazz.
I presume it was meant to motivate Glenavon’s players after a disappointing result, but Linfield fans were hoping it would act as an omen/motivation for their own team, who had now moved up to 3rd, just four points behind Cliftonville and with a game in hand.
No goals, but still plenty of talking points, as Linfield’s attempts to get back to winning ways after losing their perfect start to the season enduring a frustrating afternoon in Lurgan, as part of a combination of results that were celebrated by both North Belfast teams.
There were a few familiar faces in the Glenavon squad. Joining Daniel Wallace, Sean Ward and Robert Garrett in the starting eleven were two of their three Summer signings from Linfield, Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth, with Mark Stafford on the bench.
Linfield’s former number 7 started the game on the pitch, but their current number 7 began on the bench alongside Jamie Mulgrew, with David Healy shuffling his team around ahead of a busy run of three games in six days.
Those changes resulted in first League starts for Ahmad Salam and Martin Donnelly.
Despite spending most of the opening minutes in Glenavon’s half, that was really as good as it got for Linfield as an attacking force.
Any time they got in behind Glenavon, there was usually a heavy touch or too many bodies in defence or not enough bodies offering support.
Glenavon had a Mark Hughey header go over as their best moment in a first-half that was a bit of a non event. Both defences were on top and you never believed that a goal was coming when either team got into their attacking third.
If the first-half didn’t have much incident of note, that was remedied in the opening minute of the second-half with an incident that resulted in a double red card, with Andrew Doyle stood on Christy Manzinga who kicked out in return. Doyle seemed intend on continuing the conversation as both players headed to the dressing room
A big blow in terms of the match, but the next two matches as well, as Linfield will be without a key player and one of their main attacking threats ahead of the Tuesday-Friday double header.
For the next ten or twenty minutes, you would have thought it was eleven v ten in Linfield’s favour as they appeared to react better to their loss than Glenavon, being camped in their half, being roared on by fans standing behind the goal.
It looked like there was going to be an instant breakthrough when the ball was pulled back for Cameron Palmer to strike, but his low goalbound shot was blocked by a defender.
Sensing that Linfield were now on top for the first time in the game, David Healy introduced some attacking substitutions, with Matt Green, Kirk Millar and Jamie Mulgrew entering the action.
Millar almost made the breakthrough when a cross came in perfectly for him to volley, which he did, only for a defender to get in the way and take the sting out of the shot, being easily caught by Glenavon’s keeper.
It had to be. His legs were wide open. If he didn’t catch the ball, they were going through them for an embarrassing goal that would give Linfield the lead.
That should have been a sign of things to come. When things are going your way, that slides under the keepers legs and the floodgates open.
Mike Newberry then had a volley fly over after the ball dropped to him at a set piece. Again, when things are going your way, that smashes into the back of the net.
One of the biggest frustrations for Linfield was the quality of set pieces, and they had a lot of them.
More often than not, not beating the first man, or not getting to the second ball.
In a game where Linfield were not creating a lot of clear chances in open play, they simply had to make the most of set pieces when they came.
Jordan Stewart and Billy Chadwick were brought on, to offer more attacking support as Linfield searched for a winner.
There was to be more frustration for Linfield as Matt Green flicked a header just wide from a corner.
You felt it was coming despite the clock running down. You only need seconds to score a goal.
There was a worry that it might come for Glenavon. It was one of those unwritten rules.
After spending most of the second-half playing for a draw, Glenavon decided they quite fancied winning the game.
Even though Linfield had sniffed out their danger all game, you just felt that Glenavon would score in the final minutes when they started to attack.
There was no evidence to back up that worry, it’s just one of those things. You know what I mean. I haven’t explained it properly, but you know exactly what I mean.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to continue to frustrate any Glenavon ambitions of scoring, going straight on the counter attack as the game became end to end, as if it was Goal The Winner in the school playground.
By now, Jimmy Callacher was basing himself further and further upfield to the point he was practically a centre forward.
Nobody could provide him with the cross to score. Nobody could provide anybody with a pass to score.
Despite all the possession and pressure in the second-half, Linfield couldn’t work a clear goalscoring opportunity.
There wasn’t a moment when you felt that Glenavon’s keeper made a great save or that a Linfield attacker had a shocking miss.
It has happened in the past, and will happen in the future, that Linfield will play worse than this and win.
In relation to Glentoran and Larne, the result wasn’t that fatal, with Glentoran losing 3-0 at home to Crusaders, and Larne drawing 0-0 at home to Carrick Rangers in a teatime kick-off.
The way that the day had gone, you just knew that Larne were going to draw.
However, there are teams other than Glentoran and Larne that Linfield should be focusing on.
Cliftonville have taken advantage of having a full schedule by getting points on board and sit six points clear.
Famous last words, I don’t think they’ll finish that way.
You can’t truly assess a league table until everybody has played each other, and they still have to face Linfield, Larne and Glenavon.
However, they got the points on the board early on in 2012-2013 and lay down a challenge to the rest of the league to catch them. We simply can’t let them get further ahead.
Coleraine have recovered from a poor start to sit in 2nd, no surprise there.
They sit ahead of Crusaders on goal difference, whose seven points against Cliftonville, Larne and Glentoran suggest they might be better than I thought they were based on their showing at Windsor Park on the opening day.
Up next for Linfield is a trip to The Oval, 6th against 7th, a mid table battle you could say.
The table is so tight that the winner can jump up to 2nd depending how Larne’s visit to Mourneview Park on the same night ends up. There’s no reason why that can’t be Linfield. Truthfully, between me and you, I think this game has 0-0 written all over it.
After two successive defeats in big games, Glentoran will be there for the taking. We simply cannot let them settle. We must be asking them the questions and not giving them a chance to answer.
That is followed three days later with a home game against Cliftonville, live on BBC Two.
It’s not an ideal schedule, but when you’re winning, you’ll want to play every day.
This is a great short term goal, win two games and shoot up five places and start breathing down Cliftonville’s necks, giving the rest of the League something to think about while having their Saturday morning Corn Flakes*
*Other breakfast cereals are available.
Ultimately, this was a frustrating day for Linfield. If they played the second-half for the entire game, they might have worn Glenavon down.
They’ll play worse and win at some point in the season, but they’ll have to play a lot better throughout the season if they want to win more often throughout the season.
Haven’t been to a match since Christmas, and then I turn up at the Irish Cup Final, I’m such a part-time supporter.
If only that was the case. Sadly, nobody has been in a football ground since December due to football fans being punished because the rest of society can’t behave themselves.
I’m surprised that my ticket application was accepted as I’m a bit of a jinx for Linfield in the Irish Cup in recent years, the last time I saw them win a game was the 2017 Final.
I don’t usually bother with home games against lower league sides, meaning I missed the games against Dergview and Newry in 2018, before turning up for the Quarter-Final defeat to Cliftonville.
The following year, I didn’t bother with the home game against Ballyclare, before turning up in time for defeat to Crusaders.
Away games against lower league teams excite me, but my jinxiness continued as Linfield lost to Queen’s University four days into 2020.
And the rest of the year didn’t get much better.
Thankfully, my application was successful, taking advantage of the later opening hours at Windsor Park on Wednesday to pay for it and pick up my testing list. You’ve probably worked out that my pre-match test on Wednesday was negative, or else it was BBC Two for me.
The tickets had to be printed off, which was a pain in the arse. Thankfully, I was able to make use of a nearby Internet Cafe to get that problem resolved.
Just getting a Final on Friday was a success, as Crusaders protest against their Semi-Final defeat was rejected.
If they did get a replay and won, they would have ground out a draw and won on penalties after Jonathan Tuffey saved every penalty while stood on the six yard line.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about how things are “Going back to normal”. This might come as a shock to those in the Media, but there quite a lot of people who don’t give a flying fuck about Pubs or Primark. Things aren’t “Going back to normal” until everybody’s life is “Going back to normal”.
One of this signs of normality is the pre-match ritual, making sure I’ve remembered everything such as money, ticket and scarf, before a pre-match meal in Applegreen if the game is outside Greater Belfast, just as this one was.
I’ve never realised how much I’ve missed Applegreen.
Masks, tests and a reduced crowd, this was going to be a Cup Final that would be different to others.
For the second successive season, it was on a Friday night (Let’s not make that a tradition when full normality returns) and, for the first time since 1975, outside Belfast, due to Windsor Park’s pitch being relaid for the European Super Cup Final.
In 1975, it was at Ballymena Showgrounds. It was a bit surprising it wasn’t there again. That and Mourneview Park were the only two options if they needed an all seater ground that could accommodate two different sets of fans and Social Distancing.
Disappointingly, there were no physical programmes available on the night, although I was able to order one online afterwards. Not a chance I would have been doing that if Linfield lost.
Linfield fans were housed in the Glenfield Road Stand. Or, in simpler terms, the Away Stand.
Normally, I sit at the far end when Linfield attack the home fans, and then move to stand behind the goal in the second-half. Allocated seating meant that wouldn’t be possible, my seat was around the halfway line, not too bad and it turned out to be very convenient later in the evening.
Having not been to Mourneview Park since November 2019, the first thing you notice when approaching the ground is the amount of new houses that have been built or are being built. Some houses at the end where away fans stand offer a decent view. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new owners were offering a corporate package to supporters.
Going into Tuesday’s Semi-Final against Ballymena United, Linfield had lost on three of their last four visits to Mourneview Park. Despite that, they were able to make themselves feel at home when using it to host European games in 2009 and 2014 when Windsor Park was unavailable.
It was expected that Linfield’s line-up would be unchanged barring injury. That would be the case, unfortunately for Stephen Fallon, as an injury would force him out. His place was taken by Matthew Clarke with Niall Quinn moving into midfield.
There was a bit of pre-match drama as Andrew Waterworth had to withdraw due to his wife going into labour, safely delivering a girl that night.
I actually didn’t realise he was unavailable until midway through the second-half when I had a quick check during a break in play to see what Linfield’s substitute options were.
The game got off to a false start, with Shayne Lavery already closing down a Larne player for possession before Larne kicked off. That would be the only false start for Linfield.
If Lavery’s eagerness was a suggestion that Linfield were up for this, there would be no doubt 38 seconds into the game when Matthew Clarke thundered into a 40/60 tackle to win the ball.
It was a mission statement, a statement of intent. That intention being, to win the Irish Cup.
Linfield had the first opportunity of the game when Shayne Lavery got the ball on the byline. It looked like winning a corner would be his only option, but a late run from Cameron Palmer created an opportunity for him, only to be denied by Conor Mitchell closing him down and making himself big.
Unfortunately, the rebound which hit Palmer didn’t go goalwards, but it didn’t go out, Larne had to clear the ball away, the resulting play seeing a free-kick to Linfield in a wide position.
That free-kick was cleared at the expense of a corner as Linfield continued to put Larne under pressure, unable to get out of their own half.
The resulting corner fell perfectly for an unmarked Shayne Lavery, who miskicked his effort into the back of the net, and gave me a sense of jealousy at the supporters at that end who were able to join in the celebrations with the players just four minutes in.
It wasn’t the first time Linfield had scored early in an Irish Cup Final, scoring inside one minute in 2010 and inside three minutes in 2007.
Larne fans would also remember they netted early in 2005 ………. and went on to lose 5-1.
More recent memories that would have given Larne fans hope would have been coming from behind to win after conceding an early goal to Linfield in January 2020, November 2020 and December 2020.
There wasn’t much indication that would be the case, as Linfield continued to dominate the game.
Eventually, Larne would have their moments, offering a shot from Ronan Hale that was easily saved, another Hale shot that was blocked by Conor Pepper.
When Linfield were looking lively, it was usually when Joel Cooper was on the ball. And when he wasn’t on the ball, he was usually winning it back with an incredible amount of tackles, and not a single foul.
Even more impressive when you consider that he isn’t that tall, so doesn’t have the advantage of long legs that he can use.
Just after the half hour, he put Linfield 2-0 up when a cross from Conor Pepper evaded Shayne Lavery but fell perfectly for Joel Cooper for fire home.
There was a delayed reaction from the Linfield support as it initially looked like Conor Mitchell had tipped it around for a corner.
Those that were near it realised it was in when they saw Cooper celebrating, prompting those at the far end to start celebrating.
A commanding lead for Linfield at half-time, the only disappointment was that it was only 2-0.
Larne responded at half-time by taking off Martin Donnelly for David McDaid.
Usually, when the scoreline is 2-0, you expect the team that is trailing to be on top at the start of the second-half as they have the greater need to score. If you walked into Mourneview Park at half-time, you would have thought that it was Linfield who were 2-0 down and looking to get an early goal.
The second-half began the same way as the first-half, with Larne camped in their own half.
Shayne Lavery had a header saved while Cameron Palmer had a shot go just wide. He punched the ground in frustration as he knew that if it went to 3-0, there would be no way back for Larne.
Eventually, Larne would offer a second-half response, a flurry of shots that were easily dealt with by Chris Johns.
Linfield remained on top, the most likely to secure a third goal.
Josh Robinson was forced into a last gasp interception to stop a through ball to Shayne Lavery while Joel Cooper had a shot saved as the ball wouldn’t bounce in the direction of Cameron Palmer who was rushing in to try and get on the end of a rebound.
A header from Jimmy Callacher almost brought a third goal, which would have added him to a surprisingly large list of players who have scored for two different clubs in an Irish Cup Final this century (Kevin Braniff, Kyle Neill, Andrew Waterworth, Philip Lowry and Mark Dickson have also done it, while Glenn Ferguson completed that achievement this century)
There would be a third goal in the game, coming to Larne in injury time as Jeff Hughes had space to fire home to make it 2-1.
Now the last 90 seconds were going to feel like 90 years.
There would be no worries, as Linfield were able to keep Larne in their own half, as far away from Linfield’s goal as possible.
The final whistle blew a few seconds early, but there was no controversy, as Linfield had an attacking free-kick deep in Larne’s defensive third. It was more an act of mercy.
My seat turned out to be very convenient as it provided a great view of the trophy presentation.
However, attention soon turned to the visit to Coleraine in the League, where Linfield need to avoid defeat to win the League.
As previously mentioned, this was the first football match I have attended since December 2020, so I have a lot to catch up on.
A few departures in the January Transfer Window for a start. The kindest thing you can saw about Ethan Boyle is that it didn’t really work out.
I was a bit surprised that Bastien Hery and Daniel Kearns were allowed to leave in January. I did expect them to leave this Summer, but they might have been kept for the run-in. Thankfully, we haven’t been short of numbers without them.
Hery was frustrating because he promised so much.
There will be departures this Summer as well, with Mark Stafford, Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth already confirmed due to being unable to commit to full-time football.
Joel Cooper will be returning to Oxford United while it is expected that Shayne Lavery will leave.
And then there’s Kyle McClean being out injured long-term.
That’s a lot of key players and experience that will need to be replaced, and quick, with European football starting in July.
The quick turnaround shows how badly organised this season is. Starting a 38 game season in October was absolute lunacy, and our clubs will be up against it in Europe next season due to the quick turnaround.
Once the club season is over, thoughts will turn to the European Championship.
Regular readers will know I planned on taking in a Last 16 game in Dublin, basing myself in Bray.
Sadly, that plan bit the dust due to Dublin losing their hosting rights, but I still have my booking in Bray, i’ll leave it to mid June to decide if to cancel or not.
Personally, I can’t see why the European Championship can’t be played in the Summer of 2022, especially when the World Cup is being played that Winter.
Sadly, it looks like Northern Ireland will be missing out after making a poor start in a difficult group, prompting the usual cries of how we need one football team like in Rugby, even though such a team wouldn’t come close to qualifying in either Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland’s group.
All of Northern Ireland’s games have been behind closed doors. I actually would have loved to have gone to the friendly against USA as it would have been different, and a new team to tick off.
Not sure I could have put up with some middle aged man shouting “Donald Trump!!!” for 90 minutes and thinking he’s hilarious.
Northern Ireland’s tour of The Baltics in September would be tempting, although the dates don’t suit, so it doesn’t matter if fans are allowed to travel. Hopefully, Lithuania again in Euro 2024 Qualifying.
My next football match, hopefully, will be the European Super Cup Final at Windsor Park on 11th August. I hope, not sure how I would blag a ticket.
There has been a suggestion that Belfast might miss out due to Istanbul being compensated for missing out on the European Cup Final.
Now, i’m all for Istanbul being compensated, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of Belfast. Surely they should be first in line for the next available European Cup Final. Although, if Belfast’s Super Cup is deferred by a year, there will be an increased chance of getting a ticket, assuming we’ll be able to accommodate a bigger crowd.
A ground that i’m hoping to see in 2021-2022 is Harland and Wolff Welders new ground. I usually make it one of my cycle routes and work is going well.
Paul Smyth won’t be a QPR player in 2021-2022 as they’ve free transferred him. Idiots. He won’t be a Linfield player either. I’m not allowing myself to dream of that one, he’ll be choosing from clubs in League One.
Easyjet introducing a Belfast to Inverness flight has got me dreaming of football trips again. Catch a bit of football while Highland Hiking.
It’s great to be back in a football stadium again. Unfortunately, that will be it for me and Linfield this season due to the last two games being away.
Sad to think of the great celebrations missed out on. Waterworth’s goal at Portadown, Stewart at Coleraine, Callacher at Crusaders, Lavery and Cooper at Crusaders, Waterworth at Larne. All the goals where Linfield fans would have been, and all vital goals.
We’re almost over the finishing line, let’s not do anything stupid and get over the line.
That applies to Linfield’s title challenge and the battle against Covid.