“Farewell Edinburgh, i’ll see you again in 2018” I thought to myself as I sat in the Departure Lounge at Edinburgh Airport less than a month ago, but the draw for the Irn Bru Challenge Cup had other plans for me.
Regular readers will know that I visit Edinburgh every August and take in a game. Having got a bit bored of alternating between Hearts and Hibs, i’d been commenting on how I wanted to see Spartans get promoted to League Two and take in a game at Ainslie Park.
I did get to see a League To game at Ainslie Park, but it was an Edinburgh City game, as they will be groundsharing with Spartans for the next three years due to Meadowbank Stadium being redeveloped. I’d previously never considered going to see Edinburgh City at Meadowbank Stadium as watching football in a ground with lots of empty seats miles away from the pitch sounded grim.
So, after wanting to visit Ainslie Park, I would be doing so twice in four weeks.
An away game in the Central Belt was convenient, not knowing who not so convenient, with Spartans only being confirmed as Linfield’s opponents nine days before, making it hard for fans to make independent travel arragements. Thankfully, the club offered a package for supporters to travel by bus.
It had been a while since I last travelled to Edinburgh by bus, and I suddenly remembered why I usually fly to Edinburgh.
It was a much changed Linfield starting eleven, far from what you would consider to be Linfield’s first choice eleven, be it if you consider the team that finished last season or the team that has started this season, minus Paul Smyth obviously.
In truth, i’m not sure anybody knows what Linfield’s strongest eleven is at the moment, in a good way, due to there being so many options.
This game offered a first start of the season for Jimmy Callacher after injury, and a start for Matthew Clarke after being on the bench due to injury. Clarke picked up where he left off, linking up well with Niall Quinn on the left hand side.
The only two names that might have been unfamiliar to Linfield fans would have been two recent loan signings Brandon Adams and Louis Rooney up front, though Rooney introduced himself with a hat-trick off the bench on his debut against Distillery in the League Cup.
A hat-trick from Rooney on his debut brought obvious comparisons with another Rooney. It must be remembered, that Wayne Rooney went three games without a goal after a hat-trick on his Manchester United debut. Just to manage expectations.
Spartans had the first chance of the game inside the first minute when Linfield couldn’t clear in their own half, but a long range shot went over.
After that, it was all Linfield pressure, with Brandon Adams having a shot blocked, Niall Quinn heading wide and Josh Robinson firing wide from a corner.
All that Spartans could offer was a Ross Allum shot that was saved.
Adams and Rooney were trying to get used to each other as a partnership. You could see there were promising signs but still need some work on the training ground.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield got an opportunity to take the lead after a penalty for handball, which Louis Rooney scored with ease.
Within the opening minutes of the second-half, a quick free-kick allowed Stephen Lowry free space to shoot home from the edge of the box.
At 2-0 up, the game looked over and began to meander.
David Healy turned to his bench to give Adams and Rooney the afternoon off.
With about 76 minutes gone, a long ranger shot was spilled by Gareth Deane, and the rebound was finished by Blair Atkinson. Suddenly, the game had become interesting. A lot more interesting than it should have been.
It looked like Stephen Fallon was going to make it 3-1 but his close range effort before Ross Allum had a similar chance saved.
Once Allum’s shot was saved, you got the feeling that was it for Spartans, their best chance of extra-time had gone.
So it proved, as Linfield held on for a win that should have been more comfortable than it was.
Attention turns to the next round, and Linfield’s possible opponents. Here’s the outlook for possible away games.
Doable from Glasgow : Dumbarton, Falkirk, St Mirren
Doable from Edinburgh : Dundee United, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Raith
Bollocks to get to : Inverness
Doable by boat : Queen Of The South
Doable from Aberdeen : Elgin, Peterhead, Montrose, Cove
Short trip across Belfast : Crusaders
Dream : Stranraer
If there is a Football Santa, i’m hoping i’ve been a good boy and Linfield get Stranraer away.
Talking of long trips, Linfield got Ballinamallard in the League Cup. We’ve won every time i’ve went but this is on a weeknight. They can beat them without my presence inspiring them?
With Linfield being inactive today in League terms, Coleraine took the opportunity to go top of the League with a win over Glenavon.
Up next for Linfield, a home match against unbeaten Glentoran. Now, that would be a nice bubble to burst.