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.