Saturdays in Mid Ulster are far better than Tuesdays in North Belfast.
Aside from the trip to Carrick in August, Linfield have manged ok against the Bottom 6. It’s games against the Top 6 that have been the problem.
No drama (Well, apart from the final minutes of the half) and three points, as Linfield signed off January with a win, ahead of a February fixture list that has the potential to make or break their season.
Kirk Millar was back in the starting eleven for the first time since injury.
It would be a case of one in and one out for Linfield as Cameron Palmer had to go off injured and was replaced by Conor Pepper.
Midfielders are in short supply for Linfield at the moment. On the plus side, at least this was the last game of Kyle McClean’s suspension.
Joel Cooper won possession out right, played in Eetu Vertainen.
Vertainen was in too wide a position to go for goal, but Cooper chased up with him, making himself an option for a pull back, and when he received it, he simply couldn’t miss.
It was Portadown who had the next big chance of the game, when Eoghan McCawl curled an effort off the post, but it landed perfectly for Cathair Friel, who put the ball over with his outstretched foot, to a less than sympathetic cheer from the away fans packed behind the goal.
To be fair, the ball just hit him, but that wasn’t going to stop anybody from mocking him.
It was a moment that Portadown would be left to rue, as Eetu Vertainen put Linfield 2-0 up with a side foot finish after a bit of a goalmouth scramble.
After that, the game went a bit uneventful for a while. Shouldn’t really complain, this was the sort of game where you just want to get the three points and go home.
As the first-half neared it’s end, suddenly we had a game on as Paddy McNally headed home a free-kick to make it 2-1.
A frustrating end to a comfortable half for Linfield.
On a day when they could have done without any drama, it was set up to be a dramatic afternoon.
It was so important for Linfield to take control of the game as soon as the second-half started, not to give Portadown any encouragement.
They did just that, being camped in Portadown’s half, but it took a while to get a reward for it, until Kirk Millar worked space for himself out the left.
With everybody expecting a left foot cross, he surprised everybody by going for a right foot cross across the six yard box, perfect for Eetu Vertainen to finish from a few yards out to make it 3-1.
Even though it wasn’t totally job done, deep down we all new that there wasn’t enough in Portadown to come back from this.
Another goal would have been nice, just to be absolutely sure.
It came from another Kirk Millar assist, playing in Eetu Vertainen through on goal with only one outcome, a second successive Saturday hat-trick and 4-1 for Linfield.
Points in the bag, Linfield took the opportunity to give some game time to players needing it, with Niall Quinn and Chris McKee coming on.
A free-kick just outside the box looked like it was on a perfect position for Quinn to have an attempt on goal.
Instead, it was teed to Joel Cooper who fired home low to make it 5-1. Keeper should really have done better, not that anybody celebrating cared.
Without playing that well, Linfield were racking up a convincing win. It wasn’t the outright annihilation you would expect for a scoreline like this.
A welcome boost to the goal difference, especially with Cliftonville leading 4-0.
In a title race so tight, you have to account for every possible deciding factor.
That goal difference got a further boost in injury time with a sixth goal from Chris McKee, with his close range effort being saved by the keeper’s legs behind the line.
A second six goal win in Mid Ulster in a fortnight.
January completed but didn’t bring the County Antrim Shield as hoped.
It did bring two League setbacks but there were points in the other games to have some sort of recovery.
With six defeats already, Linfield should be well out of the title race. The inconsistency of others has allowed them to still be in it, albeit chasing.
Even within January, Cliftonville followed up their win over Linfield with draws against Carrick Rangers and Coleraine. Linfield’s wins on those two matchdays meant that actually gained a point on Cliftonville over a three game run despite losing to them.
With each setback though, Linfield are close to entering games where they are at the point of no return, especially with games running out.
Elsewhere that weekend, Brighton beat Liverpool in the FA Cup.
And why is that of relevance?
I’ll be in Brighton in late February. I only realised after I booked that it was the midweek of the FA Cup 5th Round.
Although, I would have been celebrating that result even if I wasn’t going to Brighton.
So, watching the draw, hoping Brighton get a home draw against opposition where tickets might be on general sale.
Talking of tickets, I would be sat in the Living Room listening to Radio Ulster for Linfield’s next match, having missed out on getting one for the Irish Cup clash with Larne.
I had hoped this would be a good omen. I haven’t seen Linfield win an Irish Cup game outside the Final since 2017.
Me not being there was surely going to guarantee victory.
Hopefully, they’ll use those free Saturdays to practice penalties.
In fact, they had only secured one point since then.
Stats like that would make Linfield fans nervous. Nobody wants to be the team on the receiving end when Portadown get their first win of the season. Linfield simply couldn’t afford to let that be the case.
A win on the Opening Day put Linfield top of the table. Their ambitions this time were more modest, to try and break through the Top 6.
It was Portadown who had the first chance of the game when Jamie Mulgrew got caught in possession trying to clear the ball, and Billy Steadman went just wide with his effort.
Linfield’s main response was a bit of pinball in the box where a series of shots were continuously blocked by Portadown defenders.
When you are sat behind the goal at the opposite end it is very easy to prematurely celebrate what you think is a goal. That is what happened when Joel Cooper hit a shot just wide, with Linfield fans thinking he had scored when they saw the ball rolling behind the net.
Portadown were giving every bit as good as they were getting, with Chris Johns having to tip over a cross/shot that was threatening to sneak in.
Linfield’s only other attacking moment of note in the first-half was a Robbie McDaid diving header from a corner that was easily saved.
The first-half was a tough watch. Linfield only had a handful of attacking moments, and Portadown were comfortable.
This was a team who were bottom of the table and had just come off a 4-0 defeat. We should have been making life uncomfortable for them from the very start. Linfield had to do so much better.
Kirk Millar went off injured at half-time, and was replaced by Eetu Vertainen.
Even though it was an enforced change. It was one that worked for Linfield, they were already showing more of an attacking threat in the opening minutes of the second-half, not that the bar was high.
If only the bar was high when the ball fell to Jimmy Callacher at a corner, as he blazed the ball over. It was a big chance.
Despite that, this chance perked up Linfield’s support.
No matter how bad they are playing, or who they are playing, there is something special when Linfield are attacking a goal their fans are based behind.
One thing that Linfield couldn’t afford to do was go 1-0 down. They simply couldn’t give Portadown something to hold onto.
That almost happened when Stephen Teggart fired towards goal, his effort had to be turned around by Chris Johns.
Linfield’s approach was to give the ball to Joel Cooper, Fair enough, he makes things happen.
For the first time in the game, you felt like a goal for Linfield was only a matter of time.
It looked like Cooper was going to set up the opening goal of the game for Linfield when he played in Andrew Clarke, but the angle was too tight for him to finish.
There wasn’t long to wait for a Cooper assist, when he pulled the ball back from the byline for Sam Roscoe to knee the ball in to make it 1-0.
You’ll take a goal by any means.
Linfield now had the goal to go with their dominance, it was time to kick on.
They were given a reminded that this game was not won when Portadown hit the post with a long range shot a few minutes later.
Portadown couldn’t find a way to stop Joel Cooper.
When he is unstoppable, things happen for Linfield. That’s why they always try to give him the ball.
It wasn’t until the final minutes of the game that he got his reward, when another cross from the right was headed home from close range by Robbie McDaid. That was the points officially in the bag for Linfield.
There was no doubt as to who the Man Of The Match was. It was a landslide decision.
Given how lazily these awards are handed out to goalscorers, the fact a player on a winning team who hadn’t scored was winning it so comfortably said how good he was.
The goal we all wanted to see came in stoppage time when he was played through by Jamie Mulgrew and smashed it into the roof of the net, before lapping up some well deserved adulation.
It was a tough watch in the first-half, but a lot better in the second. It simply had to be.
More of that second-half performance and less like the first-half please.
Portadown on the opening day had been problematic for Linfield twice in the past decade, but thankfully not today.
If Linfield are planning to be managing a calendar of domestic and international competition through September and October, it’s probably a good idea to get as many points on the board in August.
There was one eye on the Euro Conference game against RFS of Latvia, with some changes to the Linfield starting eleven, as like the Starship Enterprise, they were led by Captain Kirk, with Kirk Millar being captain in a week that saw him make his 350th appearance and celebrate his 30th birthday.
It was Robbie McDaid who had the first chance of the game for Linfield when Joel Cooper pulled the ball back to him, but he couldn’t control the ball to get the shot away when a goal looked certain.
There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to take the lead.
It came indirectly from Joel Cooper who was able to flick on an overhit pass, turning keeping the ball in play into an art form by setting up Eetu Vertainen to cross for Kirk Millar to fire home via a Portadown defender trying to stop it on the line.
At the ground, it looked like the ball was going in, so we’ll give it to him.
Having seen a replay on the BBC, i’m not so sure. It might have been hitting the post so it technically should be own goal.
It was his birthday week, so he should be awarded the goal. I think that is a rule.
Linfield were in the mood for getting this game wrapped up as soon as possible, and almost got a second when Joel Cooper chipped an effort just wide.
Stephen Fallon then had an effort saved while Ethan Devine had a bicycle kick go just wide as Linfield searched for a second.
Linfield were then denied when a goalbound shot by Ethan Devine was accidentally blocked by Robbie McDaid, such is his luck at the moment. He never hid though.
Portadown did have some possession in Linfield’s half and a few shots at goal, but nothing that was going to trouble Chris Johns making his 100th appearance for Linfield.
Ethan Devine then had a shot blocked at the expense of a corner while Joel Cooper headed over from close range as Linfield looked to kill the game off.
1-0 at half-time and it was looking like a repeat of the League game in February.
Although Linfield won that game, it was a bit nervy at the end.
Sam Roscoe then had a headed chance early in the second-half when he headed against the post (In real time, I thought he had headed straight at the keeper) from a few yards out.
Thankfully, there wasn’t long to wait for a second goal for Linfield, when Kirk Millar pulled the ball back for Ethan Devine to hook the ball in just over the head of a Portadown defender.
Even though 2-0 isn’t a definitive lead, you felt that would be the game for Linfield.
Although, such confidence was almost misplaced within minutes as Portadown had a clean through opportunity which was blasted well over the bar.
You felt they wouldn’t have as good an opportunity to score again, they really needed to make the most of any chances that came their way.
It looked like Linfield were waiting for the opportunity to make some changes ahead of the big European game.
Jamie Mulgrew and Daniel Finlayson came on at 2-0. Most were expecting David Healy to wait to see if Linfield could go 3-0 up to be absolutely sure and make all five subs at once.
There wasn’t long to wait for that 3-0 lead, when Kirk Millar, who scored the first goal and set up the second goal crossed for Ethan Devine, who scored the second goal and now set up the third goal by heading across for Eetu Vertainen to head into the empty net.
The way the Score/Assist thing was going, it would be Vertainen’s turn to set up the next goal.
That goal was the signal for more substitutions, with Cameron Palmer, Andrew Clarke and Chris McKee coming on.
Jethren Barr made further saves, from a Joel Cooper shot and then an Andrew Clarke shot on the line.
From where I was, I thought it was in, the lack of a vociferous protest by Linfield players following up suggested that I was wrong.
Replays proved that to be the case.
Robbie McDaid would be next to be denied by Barr as he looked to squeeze the ball in from a tight angle.
McDaid would sort of have the last laugh when beat Barr to a header to set up Andrew Clarke to put Linfield 4-0 up.
Still time for a fifth, which would put them top of the League.
It was not to be, as they had to settle for four which left them 2nd.
No need to panic, there are still 37 games to get the points to finish top.
Thoughts now turned to the European game in Latvia. The first 89 minutes were good. Let’s not talk about the rest of it.
However, the reserve game between the two sides saw a very interesting name in the Linfield eleven for that game in the shape of Jimmy Callacher. A welcome return as he continues his recovery from injury.
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.
If, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in Politics, then the same (well, eight days) can be said about Football as Linfield regained top spot in the Irish League.
It is easy to moan about scraping a 1-0 win against Portadown, but if Glentoran had managed it ten days previously, they’d be sitting two points clear at the top of the table.
Glentoran’s visit to Larne on the Friday night was always going to be part of the narrative of this game.
Honestly, i’d expected Linfield’s task would be to keep up with Glentoran. I’d hoped it would be cutting the gap. The chance to overtake them provided by Larne’s win was most welcome.
Although, Linfield could have been kicking off this game in 3rd, if Cliftonville had beaten Dungannon Swifts, but that match was postponed, meaning that they have two games that need rearranged, the other being a match against Warrenpoint Town on the week of the League Cup Final.
There was no Christy Manzinga in the starting eleven for Linfield, giving Eetu Vertainen a first start alongside Chris McKee as people were trying to work out the formation which turned out to be 3-5-2 with Jake Hastie as wing-back in the absence of a recognised left-back.
Told you we should have given Ryan McGivern a new contract.
It took just sixteen seconds for Hastie to be involved, finding himself free in a crossing position but the ball went out for a goal kick.
Linfield were getting a lot of joy out left, so it was no surprise they were looking to exploit that, with Hastie and Jordan Stewart having most of the ball in the early stages trying to work an opening as the game started to resemble Attack v Defence.
Chris Shields flicked an effort wide from a corner while Chris McKee had an effort go wide as Linfield searched for an opener.
On a day like this, getting a 1-0 lead as soon as possible would be key, although it was still too early to start panicking that this would be a repeat of the 1-1 draw at Windsor Park in 2017 (five years and two days ago)
Thankfully, the goal came, when Jake Hastie crossed the ball into what Commentators call “The corridor of uncertainty” and the ball ending up in the back of the net.
Who of? was the question, as Chris McKee and Michael Ruddy went for the ball with Jethren Barr, with some media outlets giving it as an own goal before TV footage confirmed it was McKee.
McKee certainly celebrated it as if it was his goal, sending out a pre-emptive message to the Dubious Goals Committee.
Now that Linfield had the lead, they had to push on and get a second to kill the game.
It looked like that was going to come when a neat passing move saw Eetu Vertainen be set up to fire home, only for a Portadown defender to block him and deny him a Goal Of The Season contender.
1-0 at half-time, a satisfactory 45 minutes for Linfield.
The need for a second goal became more and more emphasised when Portadown began to cross the halfway line in the second-half, with Adam Salley having an effort go over.
Despite not creating a clear opportunity, Portadown were almost gifted a goal when a backheader from Jimmy Callacher looked to have left Chris Johns stranded, but in truth, Johns claimed it easily, the view from the opposite side of the ground made it look worse than it actually was.
Callacher was having a frustrating day at the other end, loitering with intent at set pieces but often finding himself frustrated with the outcome.
Jake Hastie was taking most of them, usually firing the ball into the six yard box or penalty spot, forcing Portadown to worry a lot.
Ironically though, it was a Jordan Stewart corner that almost brought a second goal, with a Stephen Fallon header just going wide.
Ethan Devine then came on for Eetu Vertainen, before a double change saw Ahmed Salam and Kieron Evans come on for Chris McKee and Jake Hastie.
Evans showed some decent touches in his brief cameo.
Kyle McClean had an even briefer cameo, coming on in injury time for Jordan Stewart as Linfield looked to see out the win.
With five minutes of injury time indicated, the final minutes were going to be nervous for Linfield, although they will have been used to on visits to Windsor Park for League matches since the start of November, with all bar one game being a one goal win for Linfield or a draw, meaning the game was up for grabs in the final minutes.
The only two goal was was secured with a goal in the last five minutes. A whopping five minutes of relaxation.
It looked like Linfield might get a second goal when Ethan Devine had a shooting chance, but he dragged his shot wide because the Quadrant inbetween the North and Railway Stands.
If you can’t score, that’s the best place to miss, denying Portadown an opportunity to get the game restarted as soon as possible.
There would be no late scare for Linfield seeing the game out for a 1-0 win, a welcome clean sheet after five games without one.
Elsewhere, Crusaders beat Carrick Rangers, meaning they will be seven points off the top if they win their game in hand. Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville just can’t seem to get rid of them.
I got my Northern Ireland Campaign Card sorted for the Euro 2024 and UEFA Nations League games, and i’ve moved from The Kop to the Railway Stand as The Kop has gone “A bit Holyland”.
I don’t want to be that guy, but i’m right. Being so pissed at 6pm you can barely walk is embarrassing, and i’m fed up of not being able to breathe while watching the game due to cigarette and vape smoke.
That is despite having a signposted and dedicated area for their trampy lifestyle choice.
Don’t give me “Oh, but they’re sick and they can’t help it”. Bullshit. They’re not, and they can get help.
It takes a special kind of scumbag to have people go out of their way and accommodate them, and then turn around and say it’s not good enough.
Being in the Railway Stand also means I won’t have to walk all the way to Boucher Road to get in, which is handy.
One of those games might be against Estonia, where I am considering visiting in May, flying from Dublin. Just looking at it at the moment, also try to take in a football match of one of the Tallin teams. We shall see.
To be honest, it’s not Covid 19 that is the worry there, it’s that Estonia is “A bit close to the action” if it all kicks off in Eastern Europe.
Also celebrating a victory was the UK, who scored a resounding 20-0 win over Covid with all twenty goals coming from Boris Johnson, every one of them he got the ball and skinned their entire team.
As a responsible adult, I feel that I should speak up and say a few things.
Covid is not over, it’s just that your Government has decided to stop pretending to give a shit.
Language is so important, but let me spell it out. Being politely asked to wear a mask when going into a shop is not, and I repeat, IS NOT A FUCKING RESTRICTION.
Being asked to isolate when you have an infections virus, IS NOT A FUCKING RESTRICTION.
Bill Bailey summed it up perfectly with his routine about how the Nazis loved mildly inconveniencing people.
Softest lockdown in Europe, and people still felt they were oppressed.
There were a lot of media outlets who had the brass neck to get outraged at events at Wembley in July.
When you spent the early months of 2021 pushing a narrative of “We’re all going to go mad when this is over” then come early summer run weeks of headlines of “Freedom Day”, that is what you get.
That is why language is so important.
This is the worst possible time of the Pandemic, the absolute worst in society have been egged on and emboldened to believe they can behave how they feel, leaving everybody else to pick up the pieces.
Let us never forget, that this country as a collective, told old and vulnerable people to fuck off and die because The Court Of Popular Opinion found them guilty of closing pubs.
We are a country paralysed by our obsession with Pubs and War, people giving more of a shit about closed pubs and increased beer prices and closed hospital wards and increased Covid figures.
All throughout the Winter of 2020-2021, we heard more about reopening pubs than about getting The R Number down.
A nation of Grifters, Spivs and Charlatans, who all hijacked Covid for their own agendas.
Be careful who you listen to. The same people who were demanding that pubs should reopen “Because mental health” will laugh at you and taunt you if you ask for a bit of room on the footpath or if you asked them not to climb over you to get something from a supermarket shelf.
They speak from their bank balance, not their heart, in a lot of cases.
There are a lot of behaviours that were actually an issue before Covid. They’re an even bigger issue now.
Belfast people seem to have a default setting of “Nobody tells me what to do” even when what they’re being told to do is show some basic courtesy towards others.
It’s amazing how Boris Johnson is a liar who can’t be trusted, except when he says it’s ok to do things you like doing. In which case, he’s ok.
Just a reminder that just because others can get away with dropping their standards, doesn’t mean you should as well. A reference that is applicable to a certain funeral.
“We can’t be afraid and stay indoors forever”. Nobody is asking you to stay indoors. All you’re literally being asked to do is just be careful and use your brains when you go outside.
“Why should I have to stay indoors because of old people and vulnerable people? Let them shield so I can live my life”. Why should old and vulnerable people have to stay indoors because others can’t behave themselves?
We also need to knock this Economic Gaslighting on the head as well. “You must go to the pub”, “You must go to the office and go out for lunch”, “You must shop in City Centres”. It’s my money, and it’s staying in my pocket until you provide me with a safe environment to do so.
If you don’t wear a mask indoors or in a crowd, you’re very naive. That’s me being kind. There are other terms which I could use which are more accurate.
I’m not one of those people who wears a mask to protect others. I’m not that great a guy. I wear a mask to protect me from others, because nobody else is going to protect me.
If we have to “Live with Covid”, fair enough, but i’m not living with stupidity.
Having lived through Covid, I know everything that has happened, and I will challenge every bullshit historical revision in years to come.
No mask requirements, no legal need to isolate. You expect me to be jumping for joy at being exposed to Covid like this?
I’m not afraid of Covid, I just want to make sure I don’t get it. I’m not going to gamble on being in a wheelchair in my 50s or 60s with Long Covid because this country can’t behave itself.
You can do things right, or you can do things quick. We’ve decided to do things quick.
It’s like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer takes on a Max Power alter ego. “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way” to which Lisa points out that the Max Power way is the same as the wrong way, only for Homer to point out, “But faster”.
There is another Simpsons episode that sums the UK up perfectly. Home is hailed a hero for stopping a nuclear explosion by closing his eyes and pushing a button at random.
Towards the end of the episode, Homer is outed as a fraud, and one of the final shots is of a dictionary with the definition of Homer.
“To pull a Homer. To succeed despite idiocy”.
This is what we as a nation are trying to achieve.
Apologies for the brief diversion into Politics, nonsense football ramblings will resume at Carrick, where hopefully it will be third time lucky for Linfield to get a Friday night win in February.
If they do, three will be a very magic number for Linfield. That would be how many points clear they would be of Glentoran with a win, and really put the pressure on Glentoran and Cliftonville.
For many, it will be their first chance to see Linfield play at Taylor’s Avenue since the more innocent times of March 2020.
Little did we know that it would be seven months before we see our team play again.
Certainly puts the ten day gap between games after Carrick into perspective.