Another Tuesday night, another defeat in North Belfast.

Three games, no goals, with one trophy gone and another potentially slipping away.

Linfield never got going from the start, with Crusaders on the attack straight from kick-off.

Adam Lecky gave an early warning when got to a cross first a few yards out, but his instinctive header went just wide.

It was a warning that wasn’t heeded, as within a few minutes, Crusaders went 1-0 up.

Jordan Forsythe made the most of being unmarked in the penalty area to put Crusaders 1-0 up with a free header.

Having blown a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 in the last two seasons, Linfield were hoping this would be some sort of reverse omen they could make the most of.

If this was going to happen, there wasn’t many signs that it was going to. There was no immediate response from Linfield.

Passes were either going astray, or they weren’t advancing Linfield into any decent attacking position.

A shot from Eetu Vertainen after a nice turn which swerved well wide was the best that Linfield could offer.

Adam Lecky then made space for himself in the box, far too easily, and saw his shot from a wide angle punched over for a corner.

Even at this early stage, and with Linfield having 45 minutes attacking towards their own fans, they were going to be in big trouble if they went 2-0 down. It was non negotiable.

Linfield suffered a blow in the final minutes of the half when Jamie Mulgrew went off injured, but it did create the opportunity for a tactical reshuffle with Kirk Millar making a much awaited return from injury, to boost numbers in the attacking area of the field.

It was much needed as Linfield had offered very little as an attacking outlet.

At the interval, there was another enforced change, with Chris McKee coming on for Andrew Clarke.

Michael Gault, watching the game as a spectator, was probably going to be asked if he could find his boots for Saturday at this rate.

The early minutes of the second-half saw Chris McKee hit the post when played clean through.

He was flagged offside though (I didn’t think he was at the time but replays proved that he was) but he still should have scored the chance.

It was far better from Linfield, although it couldn’t get much worse than it was.

For the first time in the game, there was a sustained period of pressure on the Crusaders goal.

Although, it didn’t result in a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Crusaders were too smart for that. They had the knack of winning cheap possession to snuff out any attack.

And if they ever lost the ball, it was in areas where Linfield couldn’t do any damage.

Having survived the spell of Linfield pressure, Crusaders struck. As good as the strike from Philip Lowry, it was a goal from Linfield’s own doing.

Daniel Finlayson failed the clear the ball, conceding a cheap throw in his final third. The resulting throw saw the ball worked out to Philip Lowry, who fired home spectacularly from outside the penalty area.

In the first-half, it was clear that Linfield were going to be in trouble if they went 2-0 down. There was nothing offered to suggest that wouldn’t be the case now it happened.

The response was to throw on as many strikers as possible and hope that it worked.

Linfield did start creating chances. More because they had to. Too late, the damage was already done.

Ethan Devine had a scuffed shot on the stretch saved. If it landed at his feet, he surely would have scored.

Robbie McDaid then had a low volley easily saved by Tuffey.

The best moment came when Ethan Devine got on the end of a cross but fired over from six yards out.

It was that point you knew this wasn’t going to be Linfield’s night.

They had played awful but suddenly had created enough chances to be level. They needed to take them, and soon.

Contrary to what was said previously, if they could get a goal, you felt they could push on to get at least a point if they made the most of the momentum it brought.

Getting that first goal was the problem.

And so it proved, as Crusaders saw the game out to comfortably win 2-0.

Another poor night for Linfield against a Top 6 team.

One goal in seven matches against Coleraine, Crusaders and Cliftonville.

They’d better start to win big matches. They have quite a lot of them coming up.

Photo Album


Not a major trophy, but still annoying. Even when you lose eight County Antrim Shield Finals in the last fifteen years, you’d think you’d be used to it.

No rotation for this game, with a mostly full strength team for Linfield, although David Walsh came in goal for this game, as he had done throughout this season’s competition.

The opening was mostly even, although Larne were having the slightly better chances. Neither side had anything clear.

Larne had the best moment when Leroy Millar diverted a shot with his head, just wide of the goal.

Just before half-time, the game swung in Larne’s favour when Kyle McClean was sent-off for a foul.

It was a bad tackle but it wasn’t reckless. Only a yellow.

Taking place in front of the Larne support, and followed by a melee, McClean never stood a chance.

Linfield now had to hold on until half-time and regroup.

Unsurprisingly, Larne were looking to immediately make the most of their advantage.

Linfield held firm from a flurry of corners. The only moment of worry was a header from Leroy Millar which hit the top of the crossbar.

Having made it to half-time at 0-0, Conor Pepper came on for Eetu Vertainen as Linfield looked to get an extra body in midfield.

Holding out for penalties? Not a bit of it.

Linfield came out and were the most likely team to score in the early minutes of the second-half. They needed to make the most of it though.

Despite all the possession and time spent in Larne’s final third, Linfield weren’t able to create a clear opportunity.

Having survived a period of Linfield pressure, Larne tried to press home their one man advantage.

Just like when Linfield were having a spell on top, Larne couldn’t really create a clear goalscoring opportunity.

With ten minutes to go, David Walsh was forced into a save when he had to turn a deflected effort from Micheal Glynn around the post.

At this point, just as in the previous year’s Final, it was looking like goal the winner as the seconds ticked down.

Paul O’Neill should have got that goal, but he headed over from close range when he should have been hitting the target.

Larne were finishing the game strongly. A flick on followed by a spot of pinball from a corner caused worry for Linfield fans, but not for David Walsh, who made the save with no worries whatsoever.

As the game neared it’s conclusion, Chris McKee came on for Joel Cooper, perhaps with an eye on a possible penalty shoot-out.

Despite the efforts of both sides, this was a match that was heading this way.

Going to be playing an hour with ten men, it was a surprise that Cameron Palmer wasn’t brought on, to freshen things up.

There would be a final substitution for Linfield, not one they were planning to make as David Walsh suffered an injury when making a tackle as Larne broke through at the start of four minutes of injury time.

As Linfield counter attacked the counter attack thanks to Walsh’s tackle, it soon became apparent that Walsh’s injury was serious.

Chris Johns was soon getting warmed up as Walsh continued to receive treatment, as Seaview fell silent, concerned for Walsh.

Suddenly, there was an announcement on the tannoy. A lot of people were speculating that it might have been for an abandonment, but it was to announce that the teams will be taken off the pitch for ten minutes.

By the time those ten minutes passed, Walsh was removed from the pitch.

Thankfully, it would later emerge that he would be released from hospital during the night, and was even able to participate in light training later that week.

It was unsurprising, with the long delay, short time remaining in the game and the conditions, a decision was made to prematurely blow the full-time whistle, the match finishing 0-0 and going straight to a penalty shoot-out.

A draw was a fair result. Even though Larne had the slightly better opportunities, neither side could really claim that they deserved to be outright winners.

The biggest compliment that you could pay Linfield, was that you didn’t really notice that they were playing with ten men.

So to penalties, which would be taken in front of Linfield’s fans.

I was at the other end of the pitch, where Linfield attacked in the second-half. I was too comfy to move, so i’d be watching the shoot-out from (relatively) afar.

A good start for Linfield when they were 2-1 up after two kicks, and taking first meant that they had the opportunity to go 3-1 up and really put the pressure on Larne.

It was too good to be true as Andrew Clarke had his penalty saved, and then Larne made it 2-2. All level now after three.

Mike Newberry then smashed his penalty against the bar. It was now advantage to Larne. They took it. Jeff Hughes put them 3-1 up after four kicks.

Linfield’s choice for next take took a lot of people by surprise, as Chris Johns got ready to step up.

He made no mistake, smashing it into the back of the net to keep Linfield in the match. Might be worth having him as back-up in case Chris Shields is unavailable.

It was only a temporary reprieve, as Mark Randall stepped up to win the game for Larne.

One trophy gone, albeit not the main aim for the season.

How crap must Cliftonville be at penalties if they have lost penalty shoot-outs to Linfield in successive seasons?

Onto Ballymena on Saturday.

Photo Album

BANGOR 2-1 DUNMURRY REC 24.12.2022

When the calendar gives you a Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Eve because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, it would be rude not to take advantage of it, especially as the next opportunity to do so won’t fall until 2033.

Knowing this, I was keeping a very close on the results of this season’s competition.

Obviously, I was wanting Linfield Swifts to get to the Final again.

I hadn’t been keeping a close eye on the competition in recent years, as I was unaware that clubs from The Championship were taking part.

That meant that Bangor were probably the biggest club in the competition, so I was expecting them to be in contention for this Final.

As soon as Linfield went out, I was pinning my hopes on an Ards Rangers v Bangor Final, with this season being thirty years since North Down invaded Belfast for the Irish Cup Final.

It turned out that Bangor would get to the Final, but their opponents would be Dunmurry Rec. Now I would have to decide whereabouts in Bangor or Dunmurry I am from.

Bangor has a Pickie Pool, Jamie Mulgrew and is Steve Bruce’s Ancestral Homeland.

Dunmurry has, um, err …….

I purchased a ticket for the Bangor end but it turned out there was Unoffitcial Segregation in place, you could walkabout and stand or sit wherever you liked.

As I was attending as a Neutral, both teams had cases to support them.

Bangor had Lee Feeney as Manager, but Dunmurry, and I didn’t realise this until I saw it in the programme, had Noel Bailie’s son playing left midfield.

Naturally, he was wearing 11. He could hardly wear any other number.

I wasn’t the only neutral there. I saw many regular faces from Windsor Park, as well as hats and coats from Larne, Glentoran and Carrick Rangers.

And a Crusaders coat which was keeping Darren Murphy, who I spotted watching the game, warm. I guess he hasn’t been issued with a Finn Harps one yet, or that the saying that the sun always shines in Donegal is true.

I didn’t see Gary Lightbody though. I did see a much bigger star, who I thought would have been too busy today to attend a football match.

Santa Claus himself was there, or it may have been a man dressed as Santa.

Not that it mattered to a child who approached him thinking he was the real Santa, and now the supporter trying to watch in fancy dress was having to get into character.

We was a fair sport and was happy to pose for photos with the child and his dad.

This game had a lot to live up to after the World Cup Final last weekend. Dunmurry were hoping that Argentina would provide some inspiration.

Surely they were destined to be the second team in sky blue and white stripes to celebrate a trophy this week.

It would have been more appropriate if they were playing Linfield Swifts to make it feel like a proper rerun of last Sunday.

If you squinted your eyes slightly, you could have imagined this was Argentina v Brazil.

Bangor dominated the early stages of the game, with Jamie Glover having a shot which forced Dunmurry’s keeper into a save before Seanna Foster hit the bar a minute later. Bangor were out to get an early goal.

As the minutes went by, Dunmurry continued to frustrate Bangor. That was their plan. Their keeper wasn’t exactly being quick to restart the game when he had a free-kick or goal kick.

Bangor’s frustration was such, they were resorting to long range shots in the hope that one got lucky, but they never did.

A header from Michael Halliday fell perfectly for Adam Neale to smash home, until he saw Dunmurry’s keeper making himself big to make a save from point blank.

0-0 at half-time with Bangor being the better team, but unable to convert their possession into goals.

The focus on Bangor’s half-time teamtalk will have been to get those goals to win the game. Inside the opening minutes of the second-half, they were chasing the game.

A sloppy backpass presented an opportunity for Andrew Carberry to score, a low finish putting Dunmuryy 1-0 up with their first attempt of note on goal.

Standing at the side of the pitch not far from the dugouts, I could see a member of Bangor’s coaching staff going ballistic on the touchline.

Ben Arthurs came on for Michael Halliday and had a near instant impact, with an equaliser within a few minutes of coming on.

A shot fell perfectly for him, and he finished from a few yards out.

The goal from Dunmurry had jolted Bangor into life. They might have been better off scoring with two minutes to go rather than two minutes into the second-half.

The pressure continued as Bangor looked to take the lead.

That pressure was rewarded when Adam Neale headed in a cross from close range to make it 2-1.

It was hard to see Dunmurry come back from this, even though they still had twenty minutes to retrieve the situation.

Naturally, their keeper was hurrying up with goal kicks and free-kicks, to ironic cheers from the Bangor support.

As injury time approached, Bangor had a glorious opportunity to clinch the game when Reece Neale won possession and found himself through on goal, and dinked the ball over the keeper.

Just as he was getting ready to celebrate, the ball agonisingly hit the post and went out for a goal kick.

If Dunmurry get an equaliser and then win the game in extra-time or on penalties, that would be the moment that Bangor fans would be reliving in their nightmares for years to come.

The need for a goal prompted Dunmurry to bring their keeper up for set pieces, to more ironic cheers from the Bangor support.

That sort of sarcastic taunting was asking for trouble. It was all set up for him to silence them with a dramatic equaliser.

Not quite, but a robust foul on him did cause a bit of a rammy.

Bangor survived the inevitable late Dunmurry to win the trophy, as they look to kick on and secure promotion to The Championship.

Much as been made of the size of the crowd and suggestions have been made that this game should be moved to Christmas Even in future.

I’ll admit that the match being on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day tempted me to go. I’d definitely be up for it. As stated earlier, I wasn’t the only neutral there.

However, there are other factors.

The most obvious one was that Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday this year. It’s still a working day for a lot of people.

Even if you are lucky enough to be let out early, you’re not going to make a 10.45am kick-off.

Also, the biggest team in the competition reached the Final. Bangor were always going to bring a decent size support for a Steel and Sons Cup Final.

2023 leaves room to work with as Christmas Day falls on a Monday.

You could play the Final on Saturday 23rd, with there still being enough time for people to travel to 3pm games that day.

Or you could play it on Christmas Eve, a Sunday. It’s worth testing the water when the calendar falls this way.

If it works, you’ll only have to wait until 2028 for the dates to fall this way again.

2023 or 2033, who knows when my next Steel and Sons Cup Final will be. Bangor will be hoping to be in too high a League to be competing for it by then.

Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Harland and Wolff Welders 2014

Dundela v Linfield Swifts 2016


April began with a football free Saturday, so I headed to Scrabo Country Park, got lucky with the weather and got lots of nice photos.

The rest of the month was all about football, the next two weekends saw me attend Linfield’s matches against Cliftonville and Glentoran.

With two Public Holidays for Easter, I decided to go for walks up Cregagh Glen and then up Cavehill.

That was then followed by Linfield’s matches against Crusaders, Larne and Coleraine.

Just hours after seeing Linfield winning the League against Coleraine, I headed to Custom House Square to see Echo and the Bunnymen, my first concert of 2022.

Scrabo Country Park

Scrabo Country Park Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Cregagh Glen/Lisnabreeny Hill

Cregagh Glen/Lisnabreeny Hill Photo Album


Cavehill Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Larne

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Echo and the Bunnymen live at Custom Hosue Square

Echo and the Bunnymen live at Custom House Square Photo Album


I really hope this new kit, as wonderful as it is, isn’t going to be a jinx, as Linfield blew a 1-0 lead for the second successive season. Just like in November 2021, it leaves them with a bit of work to do in the title race, but no need to panic.

It could and should have been so much better. Defeats in their last two games had seen Crusaders slip out of two cup competitions. A third in a row could have seen any hopes of the League title slip away, even at this early stage.

The three points in the bag puts them very much back in the race, as well as the damage to Linfield as Glentoran and Cliftonville were now being presented with an opportunity to pull clear.

No surprises in Linfield’s starting eleven, but the subs made for interesting reading with a lot of attacking options and not much defensive cover.

It was an even start, with both sides having attacking moments but no real opportunities, although Crusaders were getting slightly further into Linfield’s third than Linfield were getting into Crusaders third.

Linfield weren’t really helping themselves with some sloppy passing, giving the ball away far too easily.

Eventually, Linfield began to flex their attacking muscle when a quick counter-attacking move saw Robbie McDaid put the ball over on the stretch from a few yards out.

During various stages of the attack, it might have been better for Joel Cooper or Kirk Millar to shoot instead of passing, especially Millar.

A shot across the goalkeeper would surely have resulted in a goal.

McDaid would be denied again when he ran on to a through ball but his low shot under pressure was well saved.

Linfield were now putting on the pressure,but needed a goal to show for it.

Sam Roscoe was denied from a header as another chance went astray for Linfield.

No need to panic for Linfield at half-time with the score at 0-0.

I did think to myself that if Crusaders went 1-0 up, there would be no need to panic as Linfield were more than capable of getting the goals to win the game, and that if Linfield could get 1-0 up, there would be no way Crusaders would be able to come back.

Spoiler alert, that observation would turn out to be spectacularly off the mark.

The second-half started perfectly for Linfield, with a goal inside the opening minutes, just as against Moyola Park three days previously.

Just as against Ballymena (twice) it came from a cross from Stephen Fallon on the left hand side, who worked space for himself despite having two defenders for company, straight to Joel Cooper to hook the ball home from close range.

To describe it as a dream start to the second-half would be an understatement. Now to push on and wrap up the three points.

Well, not quite. Not only did Linfield disappear as an attacking force, Crusaders started to get back into the game and were denied when Jimmy Callacher had to block a goalbound shot after Chris Johns dropped a cross under pressure.

The reprieve didn’t last long with Philip Lowry finishing from close range after a corner that Linfield simply couldn’t clear. Crusaders always seemed to be one touch ahead of them.

All the good work at the start of the second-half was now undone.

Just fifteen minutes earlier, it was looking like a matter of how many Linfield would win by. Now you would have happily taken a draw.

Even at this early stage, it was obvious that changes in personnel were needed.

There were plenty of options to freshen things up front, while there was Jamie Mulgrew and/or Niall Quinn to freshen things up in midfield.

However, there was no activity from the away dugout.

As the personnel stayed the same, so did the flow of the match.

If you hoped that the Crusaders goal would waken Linfield up, it would turn out to be false hope.

Crusaders continued to be on top as they pushed for a winner.

It was Linfield who had the next big chance of the game when a Jimmy Callacher header from a corner was agonisingly saved.

With just under ten minutes to go, Crusaders took the lead, and it was a self inflicted blow from Linfield.
Stephen Fallon lost possession and the cross from the resulting attack was scuffed into the net by Jordan Forsythe to put Crusaders 2-1 up.

The goal had been coming.

Eventually, Linfield made some changes, a bit late, you could say, bringing on every striker they could find.

As a result, Linfield had no shape, and were basically just hitting and hoping.

In fact, it was Crusaders who looked most likely to score when they countered.

For the second successive season, Linfield threw away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 at Seaview.

This was three points thrown away, against a side who was there for the taking, before the match and during the game.

Crusaders had went into this game without a win in three, including losing their last two games, exiting two cup competitions.

We could have killed off their season, now it has breathed new life into it.

Two defeats already and a game in hand to play, Linfield are having to make up a lot of lost ground.

It’s not an impossible task though.

Hopefully, a traffic jam at the top will distract Linfield’s rivals and present an opportunity to blast through it.

Although getting into the Top 6 would be a start, as they sit in 7th.

Win the game in hand and it’s up to 4th, only four points off the top.

When Linfield lost at Seaview last season, Cliftonville had threatened to pull away as they did in the Winter of 2012-2013.

Linfield beat them the following week, reeled them back in, and used it as a launchpad for a run of results that sent them top for the first time in the season, where they (apart from a few weeks in February) stayed there.

It’s not Cliftonville they need to overhaul, it’s Glentoran. There’ll be an opportunity to reel them in a few weeks time, we’ve got two opportunities to get points on the board by then,

That game will be Linfield’s first home match in nearly two months. We’ll be needing directions to Windsor Park by then.

Should have been at home to Larne on the Tuesday after this, but it was postponed due to International Call-Ups, having been originally postponed due to clashing with Linfield’s European games.

Then the match at home to Cliftonville the weekend after this, but that match has been postponed due to both clubs playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Unfortunately, i’ll be going to Northern Ireland v Kosovo so will miss Linfield’s trip to Buckie Thistle.

Plus, it’s an absolute nightmare to get to, the logistics might have defeated me anyway.

Fingers crossed we get a win and a favourable draw in the next round.

This is now the second of three away defeats in the League.

We’d better sort out the away form, as we’re slap bang in the middle of nine away games in a row in all competitions.

Photo Album


This is it, the title run-in.

I was there, getting photos of Linfield’s last five games of the season, against Cliftonville, Glentoran, Crusaders, Larne and Coleraine.

It had a happy ending, as Linfield won the League. I managed to get some photos of the celebrations.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Larne

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album


January 2022 began with a trip to a very wet Stangmore Park to see Linfield put six past Dungannon Swifts.

I then treated myself the following week with a trip to a match as a neutral, and to a ground I had never visited before.

Blanchflower Park was the destination, my first opportunity to check it out since it opened, to see Harland and Wolff Welders take on Annagh United in the Irish Cup.

Three days after that, it was off to Seaview for the County Antrim Shield Final between Linfield and Larne.

It was back to Windsor Park on the next two Saturdays for Linfield’s home matches against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The month finished with two away trips for Linfield, to Cliftonville and Coleraine.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Harland and Wolff Welders v Annagh United

Harland and Wolff Welders v Annagh United Photo Album

Larne v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Linfield v Glenavon

Cliftonville v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield


November 2021 was a mixed bad for Linfield with away trips, to Portadown, Crusaders and Glenavon.

Oh, and there was a home match against Cliftonville sandwiched inbetween that, before a midweek home match against Carrick Rangers on the last day of the month.

Portadown v Linfield

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Carrick Rangers


I guess you could say this was …… a big win. A big big win.

With games running out, every win counts, especially with Cliftonville winning as well, as a goal from Ethan Devine kept Linfield top of the Irish League with just two games to go.

Crusaders had went into this game with five wins in a row and six wins out of seven.

That one defeat though, came against Linfield last month. Incidentally, that was Linfield’s seventh win in eight against Crusaders and tenth out of the last fourteen League games against Crusaders.

While Crusaders had a good recent record, Linfield had a very good recent record against Crusaders.

Jake Hastie and Eetu Vertainen were rewarded with starts after cameos from the bench on Good Friday. Both of whom would have chances to score early one.

There was a difference to this game at kick-off, with Linfield attacking the goal where their own fans are based in the first-half instead of in the second-half.

Having got myself in position to see them attacking the home end, I quickly had to powerwalk to the other end of the ground to get into position. In case you’re wondering. I like to base myself where Linfield are attacking, if possible.

When I get caught out like this, i’m always hoping that Linfield don’t score in the opening minute while i’m getting my new view. Score as many as you wish in the following 89 minutes.

They almost did score in the first minute, when Eetu Vertainen managed to work his way into the box into a shooting position but fired over.

Jake Hastie was then next to be frustrated when he volleyed over from a cross.

A bright start from Linfield, there were goals in this game for them.

They still had to be wary of the attacking threat posed by Crusaders, and got a gentle reminder when Jordan Owens headed wide from a set piece.

It looked like Linfield might get that opportunity when a Jordan Stewart shot was blocked by a Crusaders defender.

Despite appeals for a handball, nothing was given.

Replays showed that it wasn’t a handball, but when a defender charges out with arms in the air, you’re always going to claim it.

The wait for a goal didn’t last too long when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick.

With Linfield looking to kick on, it looked like Matthew Clarke was played in. Just as he was about to shoot, a Crusaders player was able to get a tackle in.

There were goals in this for Linfield.

As it turned out, there needed to be, as Jordan Fosythe headed home from a corner in the final minutes of the half. For the second successive game, Linfield threw away a lead almost as quickly as they got it.

However, there was no need to panic. Eetu Vertainen looked like he had a goal in him. Or a card. He was having one of those nights, getting into positions, creating shooting opportunities for himself and battling against defenders.

The one big disadvantage Linfield had, was that they wouldn’t be attacking their own fans in the second-half. That would be a different experience.

Those Crusaders behind the goal were almost treated to a goal from Eetu Vertainen, but his header agonisingly struck the post.

Surely not a third successive frustrating draw?

Linfield went for the win in the only way they know how, by bringing on Ethan Devine. Crusaders had already been on the receiving end of one of his goals this season.

And so it proved, when he was played in by Matthew Clarke in the penalty area, firing home to put Linfield 2-1 up with twenty minutes to go.

A bit early by his standards. But welcome. Needed a third goal though.

That third goal didn’t come but it was ok, just about, as Linfield were doing an ample job of holding Crusaders at bay.

It just needed one lucky bounce to fall Crusaders way for all that to be undone.

Kyle McClean came on for Eetu Vertainen to provide an extra body in midfield.

Ahmed Salam then came on for Kirk Millar. As Millar was walking off towards the touchline, he realised where he was and what the situation needed, so he did a detour and took the scenic route off the pitch instead to kill a bit of time.

Time was on Linfield’s side, but they needed to make sure Crusaders had as little of it as possible to get an equaliser.

They didn’t. Linfield saw out the game to win 2-1.

A big win, which got big celebrations.

Cliftonville also won, meaning that the gap at the top of the table remained one point in Linfield’s favour.

The draw at The Oval between Glentoran and Larne meant that both Linfield and Cliftonville secured European Football for 2022-2023. What competition is still to be decided.

Elsewhere, Newry have as good as secured promotion from The Championship. Just one more point needed.

Away in August or September, teatime kick-off, sneak off to Carlingford again. Would be nice.

A night when some things were decided but in the end, nothing really was.

Photo Album

LARNE 1-0 LINFIELD 11.1.2022

It was definitely the first of three. Meetings between Linfield and Larne over the next month. Linfield were hoping it would be the first of three, as in trophies this season. Instead, it ended up being the second of two (successive County Antrim Shields for Larne) and seventh in fourteen for Linfield (County Antrim Shield Final defeats).

The venue, was Seaview. A surprise perhaps. The more obvious ones would have been The Oval or Ballymena Showgrounds. However, Ballymena Showgrounds was unavailable for this game.

Larne would have been happy with this, returning to the venue they won the trophy at last season, although they would be playing in front of a crowd this time.

Linfield had also won the County Antrim Shield at this venue, but you have to go back to 2006 for it. Their only other wins in the competition since then, in 2014 and 2017 were both in Ballymena. Perhaps they should have asked for the game to be rearranged for a date when Ballymena Showgrounds is available.

Curiously, if you include the 2017 Charity Shield, David Healy was hoping this would be the seventh different venue he has won a trophy at as Linfield Manager, joining Ballymena Showgrounds, Solitude, Windsor Park, The Oval, Coleraine Showgrounds and Mourneview Park on the list.

In terms of atmosphere, Seaview would always be the best ground in this regard, a smaller ground where fans are closer to the pitch.

Having rested players in previous rounds, Linfield went strong for the Final, meaning that David Walsh missed out in goal despite his penalty saving in the Semi-Final.

With Trai Hume now gone to Sunderland, there was an appearance at right-back for Niall Quinn. Not sure about that, he’s not a right-back, especially when Mike Newberry was on the bench. It feels like shoehorning players in instead of playing them in their proper positions.

Inside ten seconds, Linfield had conceded a corner. The next twenty seconds were a lot better, winning the ball back and going straight back on the attack.

Jamie Mulgrew ran with the ball and found space, thinking why not, his long range show as tipped over by Rohan Ferguson, although for some reason the Officials awarded a goal kick.

Linfield were hoping to replicate their fast start to last season’s Irish Cup Final.

That didn’t materialise as Larne found their way back into the game, with Chris Johns forced into a save from a low shot before a header from a set piece hit the post.

The game was now end to end. For Linfield, Jordan Stewart had a shot go just wide while Christy Manzinga while Larne had a goal disallowed.

Although, Linfield weren’t helping themselves at times with some defensive indecisiveness, especially against a side like Larne who don’t give you a minute.

Just before the hour, it looked like Linfield were going to get the breakthrough when Christy Manzinga, making a welcome return after injury, was played in to a shooting position but he scuffed his effort wide.

That was much to the relief of a Larne defender who did an airshot when trying to clear it. If he did make contact with the ball, he probably would have put it into his own net.

Even with only an hour played, it was obvious this was only going to be a 1-0 game. The question was, who was going to get it?

Larne sent on new signing Lee Bonis in search of that goal, just two days after his big money move from Portadown.

Matthew Clarke had a spectacular scissor kick go just over the bar, having had a shot blocked minutes earlier as Linfield looked for a decisive opener.

Larne replied with a shot from Lee Jarvis being saved.

With just over ten minutes to go, Larne took the lead with a header from Tomas Cosgrove. A vital lead in a game which didn’t look like it was going to provide many goals despite both teams efforts.

Ten minutes wasn’t a lot of time to hold out, but it was enough time for Linfield to get an equaliser.

David Healy responded by turning to his bench, bringing on Martin Donnelly and Ahmed Salam for Matthew Clarke and Kyle McClean, meaning that McClean wouldn’t be getting a chance to recreate his last minute heroics of the Semi-Final.

Suddenly, Larne’s players were suffering from cramp. They weren’t when it was 0-0.

Martin Donnelly had special motivation to get Linfield back into the game, as if he could, he would be winning the County Antrim Shield with a fourth different club (Crusaders 2009-2010, Cliftonville 2011-2012 and Larne 2020-2021 being the others) which I presume would be a unique record.

He was involved in Linfield’s best chance of an equaliser when he was played in, forcing Rohan Fergsuon to rush out and deny him, the ball falling to Jimmy Callacher, whose goalbound effort had to be headed off the line at the expense of a corner.

Andrew Clarke then entered the action as Linfield put on more attackers in search of an equaliser.

It was not to be, as Larne were able to hold out and win the County Antrim Shield for a second successive season.

The night got worse for Linfield as they finished the match with ten men after Jordan Stewart had to be stretchered off after a bad injury.

Thankfully, the early diagnosis isn’t as bad as feared, but he will be missing for a while.

An even game, Larne got the goal and Linfield didn’t. Linfield will and have played worse and won. Onto Saturday.

However, it was a game that emphasised the need to dip into the Transfer Market this month. An experienced striker to come off the bench and occasionally start, a defender to boost numbers and now a winger to cover for Jordan Stewart.

As disappointing as this result was, it will be forgotten about very quickly with a win over Ballymena United the following Saturday which would see Linfield open up a gap at the top of the table and then put their feet up while Cliftonville and Glentoran play each other on Sky on Monday night to keep pace.

It’s been a busy week with Matthew Clarke being given a two game ban for “Provoking the general public”. How horrific. At least he didn’t punch a corner flag. The club have appealed it so he should be able to play while that appeal is being heard.

What a slippery can of worms that has been opened. There’ll be teams going into matches in March with ten players banned if this is the benchmark.

The match against Ballymena is massive. Looking at January’s fixture list (and early February), teams in the Top 6 seem to be playing each other in every matchday. There’s the potential for a bloodbath, but also for Linfield to pull away if they keep their nerves.

Elsewhere, it has been announced that Northern Ireland will play Hungary at home in a friendly in March. More than likely giving this a miss.

It’s only a friendly and i’ve seen Hungary twice before. Not worth risking being around The Rugby Crowd (AKA, Pissed By Six Brigade) for.

I’ll hopefully be back for the Nations League games in June.

Ticket prices for the League Cup Final were also announced, although Linfield won’t be in it. Only a tenner, good to see. Hopefully, sensible pricing structures will be in place for the Irish Cup Final.

Oh, and that Linfield are in it.

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