PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2017-2018

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look back at the 2017-2018. The less said about what happened on the pitch, the better.

I took a lot of photos, so i’ve rounded up my favourites.

Feel free to vote for your favourite.

PLATT LANE

This was taken in June last year when The Oval was being used for filming a movie about Bert Trautmann, and was decorated to look like Maine Road. I went to get some photos.

I specifically wanted one with 1950s Maine Road and 2017 Oval both in the same shot, and this was my favourite from that day.

CLANDEBOYE

You have roadworks to thank for this photo.

I was held up heading to Ards v Linfield and missed the first couple of minutes.

This was the scene that greeted me as I entered, a crowd with their eyes fixated on the pitch on a warm summer evening.

GARRETT

I like the composition of this photo.

You may be surprised that Robert Garrett is attacking and not defending, he had just kept the ball in play and was now being surrounded by two Dungannon defenders.

PHOTOGRAPHER

I just like the composition of this shot. Taken during Spartans v Linfield in Scottish Challenge Cup.

RAINBOW

Me being arty farty. I love trying to get pictures of rainbows over football grounds. Taken at half-time during Ballinamallard v Linfield in November. A rare time that afternoon when it wasn’t raining.

HAUGHEY

Same match, everyone huddled in the stand to avoid the rain. I like the composition of this shot.

FLEGS

Taken during the Northern Ireland v Switzerland match in November, green and white flags were left out before the game for fans to wave. I decided to take a shot as they were being waved and got lucky.

CELEBRATION

Everything fell into place for this shot, the sky, a well worked goal, and the whole team coming together to celebrate.

GOAL

I like this shot because it captures the emotion of a last minute equaliser as part of a late comeback that never looked like coming.

TIPTON

I was heading to the exit for a quick getaway (in my defence, it was an away game on a weeknight) and stumbled upon this framing as Matthew Tipton looked on as Warrenpoint took on Linfield.

CAMPION

Taken during Cliftonville v Linfield in February, the guy in the red coat makes it makes it with his celebration as Linfield players celebrate in front of their fans.

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me with a midweek trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

That was followed four days later by Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

Two away games followed for Linfield on the following weekends, against Cliftonville and Ards, before finishing the month with a midweek home match against Glenavon.

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

September’s football watching began for me in Edinburgh, seeing Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup. That was followed two days later with World Cup action, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

After that, it was all about Irish League action, taking in Linfield’s matches against Glentoran, Crusaders, Ballinamallard and Cliftonville.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Cliftonville v Linfield

CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 17.2.2018

It was a far different scenario than when Linfield made their second visit of the season to Solitude last season.

Of course, as you will remember, that game in April 2017 saw Linfield needing three points to secure the title. This time around, the three points were needed to put pressure on Glenavon in the race for 3rd, while a defeat would see them drop to 5th.

As recently as last Saturday, Linfield fans didn’t know if or when this match was going to take place. I’ll be touching on that later.

I headed to my usual spot for lunch when I go to Solitude. Every time I go there, we win. Well, apart from the last time I visited Solitude. I’m blaming it on my trip to The Co-Op afterwards to get a banana for jinxing us.

It definitely wasn’t us playing defensively and trying to hold onto a lead and giving the initiative to Cliftonville.

I had to take a carry-out lunch as there were two Linfield players (not in the matchday squad) hogging a table. Shameful behaviour that brings the game into disrepute. Okay, it’s not quite stealing a taxi, but still.

Linfield got off to a good start, putting Cliftonville on the back foot, with Andrew Waterworth flicking the ball over a defender only to see his shot saved. Kurtis Byrne then had instinctive close range shot saved.

Jay Donnelly then had Cliftonville’s first shot, but it was easily saved.

Achille Campion, recalled to the starting eleven, was involved in most of Linfield’s attacks, making life uncomfortable for Cliftonville’s defenders, as was Niall Quinn, with most of Linfield’s attacks coming down their left.

Campion fired over from inside the penalty area after the ball came to him after a Kirk Millar shot was blocked.

Gareth Deane was then forced into his first real save when he made himself big to deny Chris Curran after the ball fell to him.

Cliftonville were then denied when Jamie Harney hit the bar after a header from a free-kick.

Both sides had reason to feel aggrieved that it was still 0-0.

It was becoming clear that this was a game where the first goal would be vital. Five minutes before the break, Linfield got it when a Kirk Millar corner was headed home by Jimmy Callacher

It was the second time he has scored for Linfield at Solitude, having scored there, and at the same end in March 2016.

Paul Smyth made it 2-0 and secured the points that day. He did the same yesterday, but unfortunateley for Linfield fans, it was at Loftus Road, setting up Matt Smith to give QPR a 2-0 win over Bolton.

The opening minutes of the second-half saw some desperate defending from Linfield, with Mark Stafford blocking a shot on the line, and then blocking a shot from outside the box.

Kurtis Byrne then had a shot saved by Brian Neeson as Linfield looked for the second goal that they needed.

Byrne then made way soon afterwards, replaced by Ryan Strain.

At the same time, Cliftonville made a change, bringing on Rory Donnelly for Joe Gormley, the second successive match against Linfield that Gormley had been substituted just after the hour mark.

With fifteen minutes to go, Linfield got the two goal lead they needed when a Niall Quinn free-kick went in. It wasn’t Quinn who scored it, somebody got a touch to put the ball in. Who? That is up for debate.

I was stood to the left of the goal and thought it was headed in by Achille Campion. He celebrated like he scored it. Some media outlets have given the goal as a Tomas Cosgrove own goal. The TV footage is inconclusive.

It will probably go to the Dubious Goals Committe, which in the Irish League is if the attacking player shouts loud enough for it to be awarded to him.

What’s the French for “Oi! That’s my goal?”

2-0 up and coasting, Linfield fans started taking the piss out of Cliftonville goalkeeper Brian Neeson. He responded by offering one of them out, and it wasn’t for a date.

He even managed to do his own Conor Devlin tribute by booting the ball away (like for his red card in the Irish Cup tie in 2016) as Linfield had a corner. He managed to get a yellow card.

It was hilarious to see a goalkeeper getting so wound up and distracted so easily. This is something our players should be looking to exploit in two weeks time. It’s a pity we won’t have fans in the Railway End for that game.

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, Cliftonville pulled a goal back on 81 minutes from a low Jay Donnelly shot. It looked a goalkeeping mistake from where I was stood. On looking at the TV replay, it looks like a small deflection off a Linfield player which took the ball over Deane.

Gareth Deane has made some errors earlier in the season but there’s been absolutely no complaints about his performances since he came into the team against Coleraine in late January. Don’t forget, he made a vital save from Chris Curran when the score was 0-0.

The goal also ruined his own personal record against Cliftonville. Prior to this game, he had faced them three times, won every match (by an aggregate of 10-0) and obviously kept three clean sheets.

Four clean sheets in a row was gone, but he was still on course for four wins out of four.

It was around this point in the game that Cliftonville began their comeback in September.

At that game, you could feel a bad vibe at what was going to happen next.

At this game, it was more of an inconvenience.

Cliftonville fired a lot of crosses in, but that it what Linfield had to deal with. Both of their Donnellys had headers, but they went well wide of goal. Gareth Deane wasn’t troubled, and neither were Linfield.

Special mention to new signing Joe Crowe who was solid and reliable and kept it simple. He already looks like a decent acquisition to the squad.

However, David Healy appeared not to learn the lessons of September by bringing on Josh Robinson for Achille Campion. You could argue that Andrew Mitchell would have been a better choice. The real answer was, Stephen Fallon or Brandon Adams. Going defensive to hold on to a lead doesn’t work. It’s bitten us on the arse too many times in recent seasons.

Linfield were able to see the game out and get the win. There was no real danger of points being dropped, as Cliftonville couldn’t get hold of the ball in injury time.

Thankfully. Having been at the Ulster match the night before, I wasn’t in the mood for last minute heartbreak on two successive days.

This match was originally scheduled for the Friday night but was played on the Saturday afternoon. The confusion regarding arrangements for this game has been utterly farcical.

When the fixture list is done in June, the games I look out for are International Weekends and the NIFL Cup Final for possible postponements. The further that Cliftonville advanced in the competition, the more this game was in doubt.

Linfield also had another motive for monitoring Cliftonville’s cup progress as we could have used any potential free weekend to play their oustanding (Postponed from 7th October due to International Call-Ups and also Linfield playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup) League match against Glenavon.

Cliftonville’s NIFL Cup Semi-Final against Ballymena United was postponed three times. That was unfortunate. The fact they were having the third go just ten days before the Final was stupidity on behalf of NIFL.

There were three spare midweeks between week commencing 10th December and week commencing 5th February that weren’t used.

I can understand clubs being reluctant to play on week commencing 17th December as it led into two successive Saturday-Tuesday double headers.

There was a free midweek on week commencing 8th January. Clubs might have been reluctant to play that midweek having played Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, but Linfield played Carrick Rangers on Tuesday 9th January.

If it was good enough for Linfield and Carrick Rangers, it should have been good enough for Cliftonville and Ballymena United.

The third midweek not used was week commencing 29th January.

On Monday 29th January, Cliftonville played Glenavon in a game that was broadcast on Sky Sports, having been postponed on it’s original date of Saturday 9th December 2017.

It is worth noting that Cliftonville v Glenavon on Saturday 9th December was not to have been broadcast on Sky Sports.

Sky Sports schedule their Irish League games on either International Weeks, Midweek Premier League Fixture Lists, European Weeks or FA Cup Weekends as their have no games to show, or don’t have the rights to broadcast games.

We are now in peak season in terms of knockout European football. There are plenty of midweeks in the next month where Cliftonville v Glenavon could have been scheduled for broadcast.

Why was a competition that is timebound for late March (So that 33 games can be played before the split) given priority over a competition that is timebound to be completed for mid February?

Why was Ballymena United v Cliftonville not scheduled for week commencing 29th January 2018 just as Dungannon Swifts v Crusaders was?

The knock on effect was that Linfield fans didn’t know if their team would be playing until 5pm last Saturday.

It wasn’t just any normal game. It is a game where we have to buy tickets and be bussed in. This all had to be arranged in a week.

Linfield fans were expected to purchase tickets during the working week. Thankfully, the club was open late on Tuesday evening for supporters. I was able to take advantage of this but others might not be able to.

The club deserves credit for making this option available to fans.

Linfield fans have all sorts of lifestyles and arrangements and should be given more than one week’s notice as to wether a match is on or off, and what day of the week it is taking place on, so that they can make arrangements to go to the game if they wish, and if they have anything that needs arranged in order for them to do so.

Ballymena United v Cliftonville being postponed three times was unlucky, but the point stands that three spare midweeks were not used to schedule this game into. Linfield fans have been inconvenience by utter incompetence by fixture schedulers.

As a result of Ballymena United v Cliftonville being played last Saturday, Cliftonville’s League game against Warrenpoint Town was postponed to Tuesday, and Cliftonville and Warrenpoint’s Friday games were put back to Saturday, presumably, to allow for more recovery time.

If I was Glentoran and Ards, i’d be asking questions as to why they were expected to play Tuesday and Friday, but other clubs were allowed to play Tuesday and Friday.

Upon heading home from this game, I watched the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts on Sky Sports. Well, flicking between that and the United match on BT Sport.

I was tempted to go to the NIFL Cup Final as a neutral but I was never going to make it from Solitude in time.

I’ve already said in a previous blog that Windsor Park was a poor choice for the Final due to it being too big. It was a lazy choice because they were backed into a corner because they had to choose a venue without knowing who the finalists are.

It was even more hilarious that the link for tickets was being advertised on my Social Media feeds, despite the fact that my own team was playing earlier that day.

Now it has been established (Well, it was established in 2012 when two League games were played at the same time as the Final) that League games can be played on the same day as the League Cup Final, hopefully, this will put an end to Friday night games on this weekend in future years.

Regular readers will know that I go to Edinburgh every August for the Festival, but I also like to take in a match while i’m there.

Last August, I went to see Edinburgh City.

They currently groundshare with Spartans due to the redevelopment of Meadowbank Stadium, which now won’t meet SPFL criteria. I’ll be monitoring this one. Hopefully, it all gets resolved.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Ards followed by a home double header against Glenavon and then Cliftonville in the Irish Cup.

So that’s the short-term goal for Linfield. Win the next three games and we’ll be (at worst) level with Glenavon and into the Semi-Finals of the Irish Cup.

Linfield’s season began to go awry after the visit to Solitude in September. Hopefully, it will get on course for a strong finish after the visit in February.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

September 2017 began with a road trip, and a long one at that, to Edinburgh, to see Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Two days later, it was another football match with an international feel, an actual international, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

The following weekend was busy, taking in Ryan Adams at Ulster Hall and then Linfield’s match against Glentoran.

There was more football to follow, taking in Linfield’s matches against Crusaders and Ballinamallard.

The following weekend was football free but not photo free, as I was out capturing Culture Night, and Street Art painted as part of Hit The North.

The month ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield take on Cliftonville. The less said about which, the better.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Culture Night 2017

Culture Night 2017 Photo Album

Hit The North 2017

Hit The North 2017 Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

2017 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April began for me with a trip to Lurgan for the Irish Cup Semi-Final, to see Linfield secure a late 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend was another 1-0 win for Linfield and just as important, a League win against Crusaders that blew the title race wide open.

April saw the launch of a new mural in Belfast City Centre, in the Cathedral Quarter, which I went and got photos of.

On Easter Saturday, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena 2-0.

On Easter Monday, I cycled to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos from the City Centre.

The following night, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield secure vital win over Glenavon.

On the following Saturday, the football continued, heading Coleraine to see Linfield beat Coleraine and finally get to the top of the Irish League.

Towards the end of the month, a mural of The Two Ronnies appeared in Belfast City Centre, so I headed out to get photos of this.

The penultimate day of the month saw me head to Solitude where Linfield needed to avoid defeat in order to win the Irish League. It didn’t look good at half-time, but a Andrew Waterworth hat-trick in the second-half saw the trophy head to Windsor Park.

Immediately after the game, there was a celebratory event at Windsor Park so that supporters unable to get into Solitude could join in the celebrations. Naturally, I was there getting photographs.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Pure Here, So It Is

Pure Here, So It Is Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

And It’s Goodnight From Me

And It’s Goodnight From Me Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 3-2 LINFIELD 30.9.2017

I thought the days of Linfield blowing two goal leads against Cliftonville were over. Seemingly not, as they made a worrying return today at Solitude.

Linfield went into today’s game boosted by Glenavon’s draw on Friday night against Dungannon, where they could have went top with a win, the draw only putting them into third, one point behind Linfield.

Last weekend, Linfield pulled the gap to Coleraine to one point, today represented a chance to put pressure on Coleraine, and move seven points clear of Crusaders before they travel to The Oval on Monday night.

This was a return to the venue that Linfield won the title at last season. Linfield fans arriving will have been glad to have seen the hat-trick hero that day Andrew Waterworth out on the pitch, albeit only taking part in the warm-up as he continues his recovery from injury.

It was a slow start by Linfield, Cliftonville having a lot of possession but not doing a lot with it. That said, they had two situations where Mark Stafford was forced to take no chances and put the ball out for a corner.

The closest they came was from a quick counter-attack after a misplaced Linfield pass which saw Joe Gormley get enough space to shoot from the edge of the box, going just wide.

On 15 minutes, Linfield took the lead with their first attack of the game, Chris Casement found enough space after taking a throw in to cross for Aaron Burns to finish, in a repeat of his goal against Warrenpoint Town last week.

Having done nothing of note and then potting up with a goal, it was perhaps an apt goalscorer for Linfield, a thirs in four games for him.

Cliftonville’s defence had failed it’s first examination.

We were then treated to yellow card inconsistency from the referee, with three of Linfield’s midfield – Kirk Millar, Robert Garrett and Jamie Mulgrew walking on a yellow card tightrope, while Cliftonville players were being given final warnings for similar (and in some cases, worse) fouls.

Joe Gormley sliced a shot over, before getting in behind Linfield’s defence, only to be denied by a save from birthday boy (40 today) Roy Carroll.

In first-half injury time, Chris Casement had a free-kick go just wide as Linfield aimed to go in 2-0 up. They had to make do with 1-0. They should have been thankful for it.

It was a performance similar to their last visit to Solitude, although this time, they had a 1-0 lead this time.

Louis Rooney was replaced at half-time by teenage striker Ryan Strain. I can only presume it was due to an injury. Rooney didn’t have the best performance in the first-half, but he wasn’t bad enough to be taken off at half-time.

Strain was a busy player but suffered from isolation in a 4-5-1 instead of being part or a duo.

Joe Gormley soon had another shot that was easily saved by Roy Carroll. Linfield were still giving Cliftonville far too much encouragement.

Just before the hour, another susbtitution for Linfield, with Stephen Lowry coming on or Jordan Stewart. Too early to be so defensive, albeit there being an obvious benefit of having a centre midfielder not on a yellow card out there.

Midway through the second-half, Aaron Burns got enough space in the box with the ball, only to be fouled.

I shouted for a free-kick (in my defence, the line markings at Solitude aren’t the clearest) but TV replays proved it to be a penalty.

As well as Cliftonville had played, you felt a second goal for Linfield would kill the game.

Aaron Burns finished it, just about, as Cliftonville’s keeper got a hand on it, to make it 2-0 for Linfield.

Despite that setback, Cliftonville were straight on the attack, trying to get back into the game. It was soon clear that Linfield might need a third just to be sure of the three points.

David Healy then turned to his bench, bringing on Andrew Mitchell for Kirk Millar. Another defensive minded sub when the obvious player to bring on was Ross Clarke.

You don’t have to fill the pitch with defensive players to defend a lead, as Healy struggles to fit four centre midfielders into his team.

On 80 minutes, Cliftonville got back into the game when Chris Curran fired home from outside the box. The last ten minutes were more nervous than they should have been.

Strangely, despite all their possession and chances (all bar one of Carroll’s saves were ones you would expect him to make), Cliftonville had never looked like scoring, with Linfield doing a lot of clearing and blocking but doing enough to get rid of the danger.

On 85 minutes, Jay Donnelly got enough space in the box to head home. You could see his run a mile off (literally, from the away end at the other end of the pitch) but nobody on the pitch did. It was now two dropped points.

Cliftonville went in search of a winner and were denied by a Mark Stafford header on the line.

The resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly by Linfield, a cross being headed home by Garry Breen to win it for Cliftonville.

Linfield responded by going forward in search for a third goal, something they should have done ten or twenty minutes earlier. It was too little too late. They never looked like scoring once they went behind, as Linfield paid the price for being too defensive, and throwing the points away against a team who were there for the taking.

It was a game Linfield should have seen out. Curiously, it was another defeat against a team beginning with C. The last League defeat against a team who didn’t start with C was against Portadown in February 2016.

They’d better remedy that soon, as their next two League games are against teams beginning with C.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine won at Ballymena to open up a four point lead at the top of the table, the first time this season they’ve had what you would consider to be a significant lead.

Crusaders didn’t play today, as they play Glentoran on Monday night on Sky Sports. I’m hoping for a draw in that game. I might watch it, but there is a documentary about Paddington Station on Five at the same time.

Next Saturday, sees the top four inactive as Linfield (and Glenavon as a result, as they were due at Windsor Park) and Crusaders in Scottish Challenge Cup action, while Coleraine’s match against Ballinamallard has been postponed due to international call-ups.

That last one is a stroke of luck, as it denies Coleraine the chance to open up a seven point lead at the top of the table before Linfield visit on October 14th.

That is followed by a free Saturday as the home match against Crusaders has been put back to Monday 23rd to be broadcast on Sky Sports.

Now would be a good time to remedy the problem of playing against teams beginning with C ahead of the games against Oleraine and Rusaders.

Before then, is two cup games, against Ballinamallard in the League Cup and Dundee United in the Scottish Challenge Cup, both away.

I won’t be at Ballinamallard or Dundee. I would have loved to have gone to Dundee but the flights back on the Sunday are just too expensive. Oh well, I guess Stranraer away in the next round will make up for it (positive thinking)

Since the last blog I wrote, Windsor Park was in the running to host the 2019 European Super Cup Final. It didn’t win. it was awarded to Besiktas ground. Booo.

Talking of European hosting and all that, Cardiff has entered the running to host finals games due to problems with the new stadium in Brussels. One to keep an eye on for me, even though I have an eye on going to games in Dublin and Glasgow.

And that neatly links into the new competition set up by UEFA called the UEFA Nations League, due to take place in 2018-2019.

It sounds like UEFA had a pot party and somebody went “Wouldn’t it be like, cool man, is, like there was a League for international teams?”

Northern Ireland look set to be in League B, AKA The Championship.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t see this having a long term future, especially with the calendar having to be rearranged due to the 2022 World Cup being held in Winter.

It looks like something to fill up the summer calendar in the years when there isn’t a World Cup, European Championship or Confederations Cup.

The game against Crusaders being moved for Sky means the County Antrim Shield match against Ards has been put back to Monday 30th, meaning we play them twice in forty-eight hours.

It means i’ve gone from missing it due to going to OMD to missing it to going to Liam Gallagher.

A few weeks back, Sunday Life doorstepped a Celtic fan from Portadown who tried to attack a PSG player a few weeks back.

Like with the Linfield fan in July, that behaviour is out of order and not in any public interest. Report on his charge, report on his sentencing and punishment, but there’s no need to harrass someone going about their business.

Back to today, a setback but not a disaster, but improvements must be made, and that would have been the way even if we won.

However, win the next two games, the worst that will happen will be that we are one point behind Coleraine and four behind Crusaders and all will be well.

We hope.

Photo Album

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2016-2017

So, the 2016-2017 season is over for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic look back at the season just gone.

I’ve selected some of my favourites, so feel free to vote for the one you like the best.

POLSKA

Taken back in June 2016 at Northern Ireland v Poland, I like the composition, how everyone is fixated on the action at the other end of the pitch, and the colour co-ordination of both sets of fans.



WILGAR

Taken at a pre-season game between Linfield and Dundela, it captures the joys of going to football matches in pre-season, sunshine and relaxation ahead of the hard slog ahead.



SEAVIEW

I like the framing of this, as the crowd is in position, awaiting kick-off in a big match.



CELEBRATION

Linfield fans celebrating Jimmy Callacher’s winner against Glentoran in October. I just like this for some reason other than the obvious.

PALMERSTON

There’s just something about the architecture of old football grounds that does it for me. This is out of use turnstiles at Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South.

APPEAL

Linfield fans appeal in unison, all making the same hand gestures, for a goal to be allowed. The goal was disallowed for a foul.



ELF

Taken at the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Some people like getting dressed up for Christmas.

GAYNOR

I like the composition of this, from Ross Gaynor’s posture, to substitutes chatting to each other while the game goes on.

UNITED

I like the composition of this, all eyes fixated on the penalty area and the incoming corner.

SPOT THE BALL

I like the composition of this shot, it looks like a Spot The Ball image, except that the ball is in the shot, with two players getting ready for an aerial tussle.



COLERAINE

I love the framing and seeing players in the background running to join the celebrations.

WATERWORTH

Celebrations after Andrew Waterworth’s second goal against Cliftonville, capturing the joy of the event and the achievement just about to happen.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April’s football watching began in Lurgan on the first day of the month, heading to Mourneview Park to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in a Irish Cup Semi-Final.

The following week, was another 1-0 win for Linfield, this time at Windsor Park in a key title decider against Crusaders.

Easter arrived in the middle of the month, and a double header of wins for Linfield, against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The following Saturday, I headed Coleraine to see Linfield win 5-1 and go top of the League for the first time all season, with just one game to go.

That game was at Solitude, which Linfield won, and I captured the post match celebrations, as well as the celebrations later that day at Windsor Park.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 1-3 LINFIELD 29.4.2017

With 37 out of 38 games of the Irish League season completed, there were still some things that needed to be decided.

Portadown’s relegation had been confirmed, as had Coleraine’s qualification for the UEFA Cup. We knew who would be playing in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, but not who would be playing who. Most importantly, the league title was still up for grabs.

On thing was guaranteed, that the title would be won in North Belfast. Linfield fans were hoping that the trophy would not be staying there as their side headed to Solitude looking to win the League for the first time since 2012.

The maths was simple, all they had to do was avoid defeat. If they did lose, they would be hoping that Crusaders would fail to beat Glenavon.

You could say that the venue was apt. The last time Linfield had entered the field as League Champions was in April 2013. The fans who arrived at Solitude did so hoping that things would now go full circle.

Cliftonville fans had a sense of deja vu going into this game. They’re used to seeing the title won in the flesh. As well as their side’s successes in 2013 and 2014, Glentoran (2009), Linfield (2010, theoretically in 2011) and Crusaders (theoretically in 2015, 2016) win the league against them.

The omens were good for Linfield. I was travelling on my own (We’ve lost the three times my dad has went) and I had my lucky scarf with me. I bought it from a charity shop last November, and Linfield have won all but one of the games i’ve had it with me. That game was a draw with a last minute equaliser.

Just to be sure, I went and had lunch at the same place on Oldpark Road I had lunch in before the 3-0 Irish Cup win at Solitude last season. This was not a day to leave things to chance.

If the Irish League was a TV show, we were treated to a reintroduction of a former character ahead of the series finale, in the shape of Tommy Breslin (assisted by Peter Murray) being appointed Cliftonville interim manager for the remaining two, possibly three games of the season. Crusaders fans were hoping this would result in one final plot twist.

Paul Smyth was serving a one match ban meaning there would be one change to Linfield’s starting line-up. The general consensus was that Kirk Millar would come in and replace him. David Healy sprung a surprise by bringing in Mark Stafford, moving Mark Haughey to right-back and pushing Chris Casement to right-midfield.

It was a move designed at countering Cliftonville, though it wouldn’t be as if Chris Casement would be spending the game in his own half.

It wasn’t just Linfield’s starting eleven that raised eyebrows. The faces on Linfield’s bench were just as much of a pre-match talking point as the new faces on Cliftonville’s.

Joining Millar on the bench was Cameron Stewart, back after injury, and Gareth Deane, a rare occasion that David Healy named a goalkeeper on the bench.

The game got off to a slow start. Mark Haughey had Linfield’s first attacking moment of note when he shot from a wide position when a cross looked a better option.

Within a minute, Cliftonville won a corner. A few minutes earlier, they had a corner, and every player was tightly man marked and the best they could get was a speculative header from a wide angle that went well wide.

This time, they changed it, taking a short corner, and caught Linfield out, with Daniel Hughes finding enough space in the box to head home.

It got worse for Linfield. By this point, Crusaders were already 1-0 up against Glenavon. As things stood, the title was heading to Seaview. Linfield were Heartsing it.

It was so important for Linfield not to concede early on. Not just to stop giving Crusaders encouragement in their own fixture.

In recent years, there have been very few occasions when the team who scored first has lost. Linfield hadn’t come from behind to beat Cliftonville in the League since 2011. They hadn’t come from 1-0 down to beat Cliftonville in the League since 2005. In that same time, Cliftonville only had wins at Windsor Park in 2012 and 2014 where they had come from behind.

All that Linfield could offer in response was a Matthew Clarke cross that evaded everybody. Cliftonville almost made it 2-0 when Roy Carroll had to tip around a goalbound Chris Curran shot. Linfield were playing so bad that their fans were hoping they could go in at half-time only 1-0 down.

Despite that, Linfield had one big moment in the first-half, their only moment of quality attacking play which saw Andrew Waterworth get free in the box to get on the end of a cross, only to head wide. Well wide. He really should have scored.

Linfield went in at half-time, a half which had a ridiculous lack of injury time considering how long Cliftonville took at set pieces, 1-0 down. A vast improvement was needed.

There were mixed emotions in the away end. Some felt that their side was going to blow it at the final hurdle. We all knew, that when Linfield attack a goal with their fans behind it, that anything was possible.

Linfield needed a quick response in the second-half.

Their first attack saw Niall Quinn almost get in behind Cliftonville’s defence. He caused enough panic for Cliftonville to concede a corner.

From that corner, Mark Stafford headed across goal and it fell perfectly for Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close range.

In truth, I barely saw it. All I saw was players celebrating and fans going wild and limbs all over the shop. Those really are the best goals.

As it stood, Linfield would be champions, but there would be no margin for error.

A few minutes later, Waterworth got the ball in a wide position, advanced into the penalty area, creating enough space to fire home and make it 2-1. It looked like there would be a plot twist on the last day, but the twist was in Linfield’s favour.

It then looked like Waterworth was going to get a hat-trick as he set himself up to shoot from a few yards out, a foul by Chris Ramsey denied him. The referee awarded a penalty, and a red card to Ramsey.

It was Linfield’s seventh penalty in ten matches, four in the last three. Who would take it was up for debate. Logic dictated that Aaron Burns would take it having scored in his last two games. He was denied a second penalty against Coleraine due to being subbed when it was awarded.

However, Andrew Waterworth wanted a hat-trick, and nobody was going to tell him he wasn’t taking the penalty. He put the ball in the net to make it 3-1.

I thought he had panenkaed it. TV replays suggested he scuffed it. Things were going his way, he probably could have farted the ball into the net.

It was the third successive game that Linfield had a quick flurry of goals. Against Glenavon, they went from 0-0 to 3-0 in fifteen minutes. Against Coleraine, they went from 0-1 to 3-1 in seven minutes.

Against Cliftonville, it was 0-1 to 3-1 in thirteen minutes.

This is a Linfield team that gets on top and goes for it, showing no mercy to opponents and kills the game when they are on top, and doesn’t give rivals an opportunity to get back into the game.

They wanted more goals. Aaron Burns couldn’t adjust his body to score when the ball fell onto his right foot, while Chris Casement fired over from outside the box.

David Healy then turned to his bench, bringing on Cameron Stewart for Aaron Burns, his first appearance since injury in March.

It was a good day to be a Stewart in Belfast (isn’t every day?) with Liam Stewart winning a medal at the Ice Hockey World Championship at The Odyssey later that day.

It is unclear if his dad Rod stopped by at Solitude before heading to The Odyssey, having got a guided tour of the ground in 2013.

It was too early a kick-off to say that Tonight’s The Night for Linfield, but it certainly was the day, as Cliftonville never looked like scoring or making an unlikely comeback.

Kirk Millar then came on for Chris Casement while Sean Ward came on for Andrew Waterworth, who unsurprisingly got a standing ovation after Van Persieing Linfield to the title.

Waterworth was one of seven David Jeffrey signings (not including Chris Casement, who was originally signed by Jeffrey, then re-signed by Healy) in Linfield’s starting eleven.

They had all been through the lean years together.

That stat isn’t designed to take away from David Healy’s achievement. He’s taken Jeffrey’s players, he’s taken Warren Feeney’s players, and added his own, and turned them into title winners.

Much will be made of the gap Linfield closed down from mid February onwards, but it shows what Healy has added.

Linfield surrended the title too quickly and too easily in 2014 and 2015. The day the title was won, Linfield lost on those days. They didn’t push their opponents all the way.

Even when Crusaders went eight points clear in April last year, Linfield kept on winning (wining their four final games by an aggregate of 12-0) and made Crusaders have to win the title.

This year, Linfield did the same. They issued a challenge to Crusaders and never gave up. They got their reward.

Any time over the previous four seasons, Linfield would have lost this game. They would have lost at Coleraine. They would have conceded a late equaliser at home to Crusaders. They would have lost at Ballinamallard.

Not this season, not this Linfield team.

I was under the impression that any trophy presentation would take place at Windsor Park later in the day, I was caught by surprise when a podium was starting to be erected.

I thought it was just for celebration photos to get the sponsor’s logo in.

It was a nice surprise to see the Gibson Cup at Solitude, ready to be presented.

The podium almost blew over in the wind. It gave us all a laugh.

Talking about the presentation, it was great that it took place close to Linfield’s fans, meaning that fans could get close to the ceremony.

I appreciate that the arrangements were different due to being at an away ground, but a big complaint about Windsor Park presentations were that they took place in the centre circle, far away for fans to see.

Hopefully, should Linfield win the League in future and be presented with the trophy at Windsor Park, the presentation will take place closer to the stands.

Elsewhere this week, new air routes from Belfast were announced. They were mostly sunbathing places with no real football teams of note. Naples stuck out though.

Those of us of a certain age will feel a romantic nostalgia to Napoli. Maradona, Careca, that sky blue top sponsored by Mars.

Plus, there are murals of Maradona in Naples.

I’m already dreaming of a trip to Naples. I’m not booking one in the immediate future though.

These results confirmed the Semi-Finals of the European Play-Offs as Ballymena United v Dungannon Swifts and Cliftonville v Glenavon. I’m glad that Linfield aren’t taking part in this ridiculous charade.

Hopefully, natural justice will prevail, and 4th place Ballymena win in, just like 4th place Cliftonville did last year.

Ideally, either Ballymena or Dungannon for me. Mainly because they’ll play home games at Seaview, which would be convenient for me to attend if they draw a team in the 102 Club list.

These games will take place on Monday 8th May and Friday 12th May.

I can’t see why they can’t be accommodated on Sunday 7th May and/or Saturday 13th May. Weekend dates will be more convenient to fans of competing clubs, and might even attract some neutrals.

Talking of Play-Offs, Ballyclare and Institute meet to face Carrick for the last spot in next season’s top flight. I’ve no particular favour to any of the three teams regarding who goes up.

The second leg of Carrick’s game will also be on Friday 12th May. Surely it could have been on a different date from the European Play-Off in order to make it a standalone event in terms of unique media coverage.

It’s looking like Linfield will start next season in late June in the First Round of the European Cup. 26th May 2018 in Kiev if you’re optimistic and into forward planning.

Hopefully, a tie against a team from San Marino, Andorra or Malta. More than winnable.

Playing European games on Tuesday and Wednesday will also be convenient in terms of arranging Saturday friendly games inbetween, as opposed to playing on a Thursday.

Pre-season friendlies can wait, 2016-2017 is still ongoing.

It’s already been good. It could end up great.

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