CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 13.1.2020

After five games in fourteen days over the Christmas/New Year period, a nine day break allowed Linfield to get the benefit of the Three Rs ahead of the second half of the season as they looked to win back to back titles – Rested, Refreshed and Ready.

You could add a fourth R to that list – Reds Beaten Again.

To say that the Christmas/New Year period did not go well for Linfield is a bit of an understatement, as they looked to bounce back from their Irish Cup defeat to Queen’s University, the biggest shock in Irish League Football since Liam Beckett started up an ASMR Channel.

Bizarrely, Cliftonville would have been perfect opponents for Linfield on the back of the game against Queens, having beaten twice after cup exits, in September after exiting the UEFA Cup and then in December after going out of the NIFL Cup.

Now, Linfield need to invent a cup competition that they can go out of just before they play Cliftonville in April.

Linfield’s run of results over Christmas/New Year showed how quickly fortunes can change in football. After victory at Warrenpoint, taking advantage of draws from Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders to pull clear at the top. The title was in the bag and the open top bus was ordered.

Three weeks later, Linfield were in crisis.

Yet on Sunday afternoon a Tweet of the recent form in the Irish League made for interesting reading. Linfield sat 4th in the Form Guide, over the last ten games, just two points behind in-form Cliftonville and only four less points than unstoppable Glentoran, both of whom only managed one more win that crisis club Linfield in that period.

There have been times in recent years where Cliftonville have went on winning runs, but that has been as a result of a generous run of games. Their current winning run of four League games saw wins over Coleraine, Crusaders and Larne, a statement of intent that they believe they can win big games.

A win over the reigning Champions, who they lost to in their last five meetings, would be the biggest statement, even though all the post match coverage would be of the continuing crisis at Windsor Park

It wasn’t quite a must win game, but it definitely was a must not lose game for Linfield. Defeat wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it wasn’t a conversation they wanted to be having.

Two televised games meant that this matchday would be staggered across four days.

Friday night saw Coleraine take on Crusaders on BBC Two. Whatever happened, at least one of Linfield’s rivals would be dropping points. A draw would have been perfect, but I could live with a Coleraine win if it meant Crusaders getting adrift. As it turned out, Crusaders won, but Linfield could live with it, as we could pull clear of Coleraine instead.

That defeat for Coleraine allowed Glentoran the opportunity to go top on Saturday afternoon.

If you find Saturday afternoons without a Linfield match to be unbearable, you had better get used to it, as a combination of cup exits and TV scheduling means that was the first of five Saturdays over the next eight weeks where Linfield would be inactive.

Glentoran took their opportunity to go top of the League with a 2-1 win over Warrenpoint. Just about. They were 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go when Warrenpoint’s keeper got sent-off, the third successive Saturday they’ve enjoyed a bit of luck (after goalkeeping error and then a dodgy penalty). I see those days are back.

Glentoran’s reign at the top would only last 48 hours, as the result of this match would see new leaders. Avoiding defeat would do the job for Cliftonville while only a win would do for Linfield.

Storm Brendan, it turned out, was not a Glentoran supporter. If he was, he would have got this match postponed to let them enjoy being at the top of the table for a little longer.

Other TV options on Monday fitted in nicely with this match. Getaways on BBC, which is what Linfield want to be doing in July and August, jetting off around Europe, ideally in the European Cup.

Cold Feet on ITV was what the crowd got, as they watched this match in chilly temperatures. Though, if you wanted to watch something that would make James Nesbitt grumpy, Coleraine’s defeat a few days earlier would have been a better option.

For me, this was my first night visit to Solitude. It meant a change to my pre-match superstitions.

Usually, I go to Papa Drew’s on Oldpark Road for lunch prior to a Saturday game, but it was closed. As was Cod Almighty a few shops down.

So, I had to make do with a Chinese. Not ideal. Though, if we won 10-0, it was have been Chinese all the way in future.

Despite Christmas being long gone, Linfield set up with a Christmas Tree, with a midfield three of Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Fallon and Andrew Mitchell being a midfield set up for a battle.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield had a bench with a lot of attacking options – Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin, Kirk Millar, Daniel Kearns and Bastien Hery being on call should they be needed.

It was Cliftonville who had the first shot with a Conor McMenamin shot from outside the box that was easily saved.

Ruaidhri Donnelly then headed against the bar. However, it was the top of the bar so it looked closer than it was. However, it was worrying that Cliftonville were winning headers in Linfield’s penalty area.

Linfield’s first real spell on the ball saw them get a penalty when Liam Bagnall handled a goalward shot.

Jordan Stewart looked as though he wanted to take the penalty, but it was left to Andrew Mitchell.

I was slightly worried when he stepped up as he was due a miss. Cliftonville fans were hoping that would be the case. They would be left disappointed as Mitchell put Linfield 1-0 up.

Cliftonville had the next attacking moment when a Joe Gormley cross went tantalisingly across the six yard box, but Ryan Curran couldn’t get on the end of it.

It was Gormley who made it 1-1 when Ethan Boyle was disposed and he ran through to score, despite protests for offside from Linfield.

It was Gormley’s first goal against Linfield since since November 2018. His record against us is bizarre. He either goes ages without a goal against us or scores in successive matches, so this is a bit ominous ahead of future games.

That goal seemed to make Linfield lose their discipline and shape, running about after the ball as if somebody had thrown a toy into a Dog Pound.

They were glad to get in at half-time at 1-1, to calm themselves down and go at it at half-time.

The half-time break saw a change for Linfield, with Mark Stafford coming on for the injured Mark Haughey.

The second-half saw a lot of early pressure, which got rewarded when Mark Stafford jabbed the ball home after a flick on from Ethan Boyle.

It wasn’t what he was brought into the team to do, but just like at Dungannon last season, it was a contribution that was welcomed. Just like at Dungannon last season, it was a goal that came when Linfield really needed it.

The goal came from an outswinging corner. It’s always good to have a bit of variety at corners instead of always going for an inswinger. That was probably due to them always being taking by a right sided player. It has been a bit surprising that neither Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper have taken corners in the absence of Niall Quinn.

You got the feel that if Linfield made it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

It looked like they were going to get it when Shayne Lavery burst clear after a defensive mistake, only to be denied by a save from Richard Brush, with the rebound going out for a corner after the ball went to wide to stick the rebound in.

Joe Gormley then left the pitch to ironic cheers from Linfield fans, as he made way for Michael McCrudden to make his debut for the club. It turned out that Gormley was injured, as it seemed odd that he would be substituted when they needed a goal most.

Linfield turned to their bench and freshened things up with a like for like change up front, with Kirk Millar coming on for Jordan Stewart.

Despite the narrow lead, Linfield were mostly comfortable and never really troubled in defence.

Jamie Mulgrew was having what I thought would be described as a silent influence on the game, the sort that goes unnoticed. However, a quick browse through Social Media proved me to be wrong, the general consensus that this was his best performance in a long time.

Every time Cliftonville got near or over the halfway line, they were usually to get the ball off Jamie Mulgrew within the next five seconds. Thou shalt not pass.

Not tonight lads, you’re not getting near our goal.

Despite holding out for most of the second-half at 2-1, it was only natural that Cliftonville would have more of the ball in the final minutes, as they had the greater need.

And so it proved, as Linfield had to survive a flurry of corners.

And penalty shouts. Well, you know what I mean. I’ve been to Solitude enough times to know that Cliftonville fans claim for everything when they attack their fans, it still makes you nervous.

That flurry of corners and possession would bring one big chance for Cliftonville, when a cross set up Aaron Donnelly perfectly for a header, but he made no contact with the ball.

Rohan Ferguson looked well positioned if he did, but Donnelly should have been asking the question.

As the ball went out, the clock hit 94 minutes. That was it, the game was gone. Rohan Ferguson completed the formalities, the final whistle blowing as soon as he took his goal kick.

At 2-1, Cliftonville looked short of ideas and self belief against a team they have struggled against in recent years. It was like watching this fixture between 2012 and 2016, but with the roles reversed.

If you like stats, here’s some for you.

This was Linfield’s 4th win in their last 5 games at Solitude, the other being a draw.

Since Cliftonville’s last title in 2014, Linfield have played 13 games at Solitude, winning 7 drawing 4 and losing just 2.

This was Linfield 6th successive League win over Cliftonville.

Most importantly, this was a result that saw Linfield go top of the League on goal difference ahead of Glentoran and Cliftonville.

If the result against Queen’s taught us anything, is that you can’t take any win for granted. However, upcoming games give Linfield an opportunity to go on a winning run and build momentum, putting pressure on the teams below us, as five of the next six games are against teams in the bottom half.

I didn’t want to say it at the time, but I was hoping that the free weekend in February could be used for a friendly away to a League Of Ireland side. No footballing value to it, I just wanted the prospect of a trip away somewhere to cheer me up.

Cork possibly, so I could lay flowers at the site where Billy Murphy fell and died and his brains were coming out of his mouth.

Derry City had similar ideas, with one paper running a story about a possible friendly between the sides after Declan Devine said they were trying to face an Irish League side that weekend.

It’s hardly an earth shattering revelation that League Of Ireland sides monitor the Irish Cup to see who is free in early February.

Such a game wouldn’t have been that appealing to me. I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, and I’ve already been to The Brandywell this season, so as a trip it didn’t offer me somewhere I hadn’t been before. As it turned out, Portadown got that honour.

As it turned out, Linfield are using that free Saturday to play midweek games around it. They’ve been a bit crafty about it. Other clubs have been happy to manipulate the fixture list for their own agendas, so why not Linfield?

We’ll be facing Larne on the back of games against Crusaders and Glentoran and just before their Irish Cup tie, which is what their season is about now. If they are the slightest bit tired or off focus, we must capitalise on it.

The following Tuesday, is Dungannon at home, with Dungannon coming off the back of an Irish Cup tie against Newry, which let’s be honest, has extra-time and penalties written all over it.

Midweek football is going to be quite frequent for me during January, as next week I head to Manchester to see United take on Burnley.

While i’m there on the Tuesday, Salford City face Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy, and FC United face Sheffield in the Integro Cup, the Northern Premier League’s version of the League Cup. Might take in one of those games.

Talking of football trips, the League Of Ireland First Division fixture list was announced and Bray won’t playing at home when i’m staying there during Euro 2020. I’ll have to make do with a Dublin game on the Monday night.

St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork is looking likely as Richmond Park is easier to get to, although it is tempting to get one last game at Dalymount Park, although I thought that when I visited it in 2016.

Coincidentally, government funding was announced this week for that redevelopment. I didn’t realise they had to wait for the Northern Ireland Assembly to get back together to release funding.

You’d think there was an election in the Republic of Ireland next month.

I’m still looking for somewhere to go over the July Holidays. I spent a miserable Sunday night looking for somewhere to go and got nothing. Estonia might night be happening.

Waterford might, it is very tempting. They play at home over that weekend too, against Cork. I know, what is it with this urge to see Cork City?

More immediate, is Linfield v Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, as part of a busy day where i’ll be going to see Badly Drawn Boy in the evening.

Hoping that the Linfield match can be described as Something To Talk About rather than a Silent Sigh or Pissing In The Wind.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

My first photo adventure of September 2019 was a trip to Solitude to see Linfield get a 1-0 win on their return to domestic competition after their European adventures the previous month.

That was then followed by a Windsor Park double header, taking in Northern Ireland v Germany and Linfield v Glentoran.

The day after that match saw me have an adventure, taking in some Street Art in Belfast, and Edwyn Collins doing an instore gig at Strange Victory.

My next adventure came the following Friday with Culture Night.

It was then two football matches, seeing Linfield get wins over Carrick Rangers and Glenavon.

The month ended with a trip to Yorkgate to check out a new mural.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Ulster Sports Club Street Art

Ulster Sports Club Street Art Photo Album

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory Photo Album

Culture Night

Culture Night Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Yorkgate Street Art

Yorkgate Street Art Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 0-1 LINFIELD 7.9.2019

To be honest, I’ve never really rated Andalucia or Cyprus as travel destinations and let’s be honest, Luxembourg is a bit dull.

Ok, so I haven’t got over Linfield’s UEFA Cup exit to Qarabag. I was mentally planning a long weekend in Barcelona if we drew Espanyol. I was thinking of basing myself in Birmingham if we drew Wolves, and was looking at sneaking in a day trip to Oxford.

The brutal reality is that Linfield’s European adventure is over. The only way they’ll get to relive it, is to qualify for European competition to get the chance to do it all again next Summer, preferably in the European Cup.

While Linfield were away, other clubs were playing, with Linfield kicking off in 9th position, ten points off the top of the table.

There is no margin for error. They would have been boosted by the fact they were playing a team they were looking to beat for the fourth successive time, a rare run of results in recent years considering how problematic matches against Cliftonville have been this decade.

In order to facilitate this return to domestic action, it was important to get the pre-match preparation done right. I am referring to my own.

Lunch at Papa Drew’s (We always win when I go there) and then a wee browse through Iceland and then into Ballysillan Leisure Centre to pick up some free newspapers for reading while sat on the bus.

Linfield’s line-up for this game was always going to be different from the European games. One change was enforced, with Shayne Lavery missing out due to being called-up to the Northern Ireland squad, with Andrew Waterworth taking his place.

The starting eleven was similar to that which began the early games of last season, the only ones weren’t regulars this time last year being Mark Stafford and Bastien Hery.

With Jordan Stewart also not in the eighteen, I presume due to injury, it meant that Linfield were light in terms of attacking options, though it did give new signing Matthew Shevlin a first opportunity to appear in a matchday squad.

Also appearing in a matchday squad for the first time this season was Gareth Deane, returning after injury. You would assume that midweek cup ties against East Belfast and Ballinamallard United over the next few weeks will allow him to get some game time.

Linfield had a lot of the ball early on, an early cross from Chris Casement flashed across the penalty area, although Linfield’s best opportunity came when a Cliftonville defender almost flicked the ball into his own net from a Kirk Millar corner.

Despite carrying the more believable attacking threat, Linfield couldn’t make it count. If they were able to get a goal, it could give them a platform to go on and win the game.

Garry Breen got a yellow card for a tackle similar to the one that Jamie Mulgrew got sent off for at Solitude last year.

Inevitably, Cliftonville began to see more of the ball as an attacking force, the big opportunity they created was Conor McMenamin getting in behind Linfield’s defence, having to take a first time shot which he dragged wide when he perhaps should have scored.

Every time Joe Gormley got the ball, Linfield’s defence weren’t getting close enough to him, giving him too much of a sight of goal for my liking. More often than not, he didn’t take the shooting opportunity that was there, but you don’t want to encourage him.

To be honest, Linfield would have been glad to see that out and go in at half-time 0-0, a chance refresh at the break and start again.

The game was similar to the recent game between Cliftonville and Crusaders, which was 0-0 at half-time, before Crusaders won 2-0.

It wasn’t a game that Linfield could win in 45 minutes, they would have to make use of the full 90 minutes. They would have to wear Cliftonville down to get their rewards.

The half ended for Linfield with an injury scare for Jimmy Callacher, who went down after defending a corner, having to receive medical attention on the pitch as everybody else was heading to the dressing room.

It was serious enough for Darren Murphy to arrive on the scene to assess the situation. Thankfully, all he needed was a bit of strapping on his wrist, and Linfield would be glad he was able to appear for the second-half.

The early minutes of the second-half didn’t do much to alter the analysis that this was looking like a 0-0 sort of game.

Just before the hour, Linfield broke the deadlock when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a corner. He seems to enjoy playing against Cliftonville for Linfield, this being the fifth time he had scored against them, the third time at Solitude.

However, it was his first goal at Solitude at the end where Linfield fans are based, so he got to fully enjoy the moment.

There was a small element of luck to the goal for Linfield. Daniel Kearns was looking to play a pass to the right, but it was intercepted by a Cliftonville player and fell back to him, meaning the attack had to move left. The resuling play saw Linfield win the corner that brought the goal.

Cliftonville’s instant response was a Joe Gormley header from a free-kick that was easily saved by Rohan Ferguson. That was all they offered in the minutes following the goal.

Stephen Fallon replaced Bastien Hery a few minutes after he was booked. In a fixture which has seen a lot of red cards for both teams in recent years, David Healy knew he could potentially be targeted and took evasive action.

Rory Donnelly had a shot over the bar as Cliftonville chased an equaliser. Their best opportunity came when a cross from Chris Curran went behind Ryan Curran, who could only scoop it into the hands of Rohan Ferguson.

Andrew Waterworth was substituted for Matthew Shevlin a few minutes after Cliftonville fans and players were screaming for a red card after a collision with Richard Brush. It never was.

Cliftoville fans were claiming for everything in the final minutes, such was their desperation. “Andbawl, Andbawl, Andbawl” should become their club anthem.

The chance for Ryan Curran aside, Cliftonville weren’t able to produce much from open play. As long as Linfield didn’t concede any soft or stupid set pieces, they would see them game out.

Matthew Shevlin didn’t do too bad on his debut. One chance passed him by when he couldn’t control the ball to get the shooting position he wanted.

He had one chance in injury time as he burst away on the counter attack. Had the option to pass or shoot, he crossed to Kirk Millar, whose close range shot was superbly saved by Richard Brush, who made himself big.

Linfield could really have done with a second goal to make the final minutes more relaxing, but it wasn’t costly, as they held out for a 1-0 win to lift them up to the heady heights of 8th.

It was also the first domestic clean sheet of the season. A good habit to start.

Elsewhere, there were no real surprises in other results. It’s too early to panic about the gap to the top. It’s important to note that three of Crusaders opening six games have been against the bottom three.

If Linfield had reached the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, the club would have had to play matches on a Sunday. Jim Allister was horrified by that prospect. I’m sure there would have also been negative points to this.

The first point is, it has already happened. Linfield’s Women’s Team played a Sunday match a few weeks back, and have played previously on a Sunday, while the Men’s Team played a match on a Sunday in 2016.

I prefer Saturday games, and this wouldn’t have been a permanent move, only facilitated by having to play matches on the previous Thursday.

The important thing is, the only people whose opinion matters is Linfield fans and Linfield fans only.

Maybe next year, we’ll be playing Thursday night games between September and December.

Postponing games in August is a one-off due to the nature of the matches, but it wouldn’t be sustainable to do it six times between September and December.

They might not say it publicly, but I think NIFL were glad that Linfield lost to Qarabag, as it eases some fixture scheduling dilemmas.

Something that hasn’t been noted about Linfield’s run in Europe has been the Co-Efficient points generated. It might take a few years to reap the rewards due to the way UEFA’s cycles work. It could end up potentially resulting in being seeded in the European Cup.

If Linfield had reached the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, there would be no free midweek to play the NIFL Cup match against Ballinamallard (originally scheduled for Tuesday 27th August) until October.

Despite Linfield not reaching the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, i’ll still be taking in a game at that stage of the competition as I’ve booked to see Manchester United take on Partizan Belgrade in October.

I’d hoped to make a long weekend as United are at home to Brighton the Sunday after, but the hotels that weekend were over £100 a night.

One time I did a Thursday-Sunday double header with United in 2016, I went to see Bury on my free Saturday, and it is sad to hear of their demise.

I’m needing some travel inspiration as i’m using up Annual Leave. Looking for somewhere from Belfast either Monday-Wednesday or Wednesday-Friday. The options from Belfast for Mainland Europe are shite, Vilnius is looking tempting though.

I know I think it every year, but this might be the year I finally decide to do a day trip to Dublin to take in the FAI Cup Final.

Outgoings from Windsor Park included Lorcan Forde, who has gone to Warrenpoint on loan, which will be a benefit to him to get games and fitness.

It’s a busy week at Windsor Park with three matches in six days. Linfield host Glentoran looking to rack up the points to continue their climb up the table. The highest they can get to next Saturday (if other results go their way) is 7th.

One step at a time.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

August began for me with the opening game of the 2018-2019 season, as Linfield travelled to Mourneview Park to take on Glenavon.

My next match was in the Scottish Challenge Cup, taking in Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers during a short break to Edinburgh.

Upon my return, it was back to Irish League football for me, with successive trips to North Belfast for Linfield, against Crusaders and Cliftonville.

Glenavon v Linfield

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

CLIFTONVILLE 0-2 LINFIELD 29.12.2018

To be honest, 2018 was an awful year for Linfield.

However, the Irish League doesn’t run on calendar years, and the second part of the year was a lot better, giving hope that 2019 could be a good year. Linfield arrived at Solitude hoping to make the final week of the year a very good week.

The busiest time of the year, both sides were coming into this game on the back of contrasting fortunes of their games on Wednesday afternoon. The quick turnaround meant there wasn’t a lot of time to analyse the games on Boxing Day, which was probably good for Cliftonville, after a 5-1 defeat at home to Crusaders.

Linfield didn’t really have to do much analysing of their match against Glentoran, they just had to repeat it.

The only positive that Cliftonville had on Boxing Day, was that they conceded less goals than they did in their previous game, a 6-4 defeat away to Institute.

All season, Cliftonville have conceded goals. Linfield know this, they stuck four past them in November, with Andrew Waterworth becoming a trendsetter, as everybody now scores a hat-trick against Cliftonville.

As you entered Solitude, you were greeted with a muted atmosphere amongst the home support, those two results creating a sense of doom and gloom. They looked like a beaten team in the warm-up.

Linfield’s preparations for this game weren’t exactly smooth, on and off the pitch. The lucky cafe I usually go to for lunch before games at Solitude was closed today. Just as big, was the absence of Joel Cooper through suspension, with some supporters who weren’t aware of this getting a shock as they saw him taking his seat amongst the away support.

His place in the starting eleven was taken by Matthew Clarke, when Daniel Kearns looked a more obvious option.

However, when the sides met last month, Clarke came on for Cooper with the score at 3-2 to Linfield, with Niall Quinn being pushed into midfield.

I had my doubts about this substitution, as I thought it was too defensive, but it proved instantly effective as Quinn set up the goal to make it 4-2.

David Healy was hoping for a similar outcome at Solitude.

On the back of the two previous results, Cliftonville were going to go at Linfield early on, and Linfield would have to ride it out.

That would be more because they have conceded early goals in those two games, meaning that it was a case of attack being the best form of attack.

Cliftonville had the first opportunity of the game when Rory Donnelly cut inside only to see his shot saved by Roy Carroll, before Matthew Clarke blocked Joe Gormley’s rebound when he looked certain to score.

Clarke required treatment afterwards, it looked as though he suffered turf burn on the artificial pitch.

It was a painful afternoon for Clarke as later on, he blocked a cross which hit him right inbetween the legs.

Linfield were poor in the opening minutes, giving the ball away with stray passes, and being caught in possession and easily dispossessed when they had the ball.

Too often, Cliftonville were first to every ball, and first in the air. They weren’t doing any damage to Linfield, but there’s no way that Linfield could get away with it for 90 minutes.

Linfield’s first real chance of note came when Jordan Stewart had a shot saved by Richard Brush.

Stewart then set up Niall Quinn, who fired past Brush, who came rushing out, only for the ball to go wide. He really should have scored. Worst of all, I was at the other end, a celebrated prematurely.

A few minutes later, Linfield went in front when a header from Jordan Stewart hit the post and rolled over the line, though from where I was, it looked like it was rolling across the line, meaning my celebrations were delayed, rather than premature when Quinn shot at goal.

Looking at the TV footage, it does look like an own goal by Chris Curran to me. We all know how the Dubious Goals Committee works in the Irish League. If an Attacker shouts loud enough, it’s their goal.

Cliftonville responded with a Rory Donnelly header which hit the post, but fell perfectly for Jimmy Callacher to clear, to remind Linfield that even though Cliftonville’s confidence is low, this game was far from won.

The half ended with a free-kick from Stewart being saved by Brush.

Inside a minute of the second-half, it was 2-0, when Andrew Waterworth got in behind Cliftonville’s defence shot past the keeper who came rushing out, but his shot was going wide, so Niall Quinn made sure from a few yards out.

I’m not sure why the keeper ran out, as Waterworth still had a lot to do to score. By rushing out, he made it so much easier for Linfield to score, not that I’m complaining.

Just like on Boxing Day, Linfield started to really play now they had a cushion. They couldn’t get the third goal they needed to secure the points.

Even though Cliftonville never looked like getting back into the game, Linfield still had memories of blowing two goal leads at Solitude in 2015 and 2017.

Andrew Mitchell came on for the injured Stephen Fallon, while Michael O’Connor came on for Andrew Waterworth.

O’Connor’s afternoon didn’t last that long, as he got sent-off for two stupid bookings. Linfield were comfortable, and didn’t need to give any encouragement to Cliftonville.

The only moment of worry they had was a long range shot from Ryan Curran that was saved by Roy Carroll. Linfield might have had a man less, but they had the ball, and Cliftonville couldn’t score if Linfield had it.

In the end, it was a comfortable win for Linfield.

At one point, in the second-half, with Linfield 2-0 up, Ballymena United, Crusaders and Glenavon were all dropping points. In the end, only Glenavon dropped points.

Three other results going in our favour was hopeful, but we’ll take one.

Next up, is the first game of 2019 on the first day of 2019, a trip to Ards. We’ve already slipped up there once this season.

Elsewhere, Ballymena play Crusaders. One, or possibly two, teams below us will be dropping points on Tuesday. A win at Ards is a must.

Linfield can’t influence other results, but we can take advantage of them.

Photo Album

2018 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August 2018 was a busy month, and it began at Mourneview Park for the start of the 2018-2019 season as Linfield beat Glenavon 1-0.

The following weekend, I headed to Custom House Square to see George Ezra in concert. That was followed by a day trip to Bangor where I squeezed in some Street Art photos, including a mural of John Lydon.

It was then back to the football as I went to see Edinburgh City take on Albion Rovers in the Scottish Challenge Cup while on a short break in Edinburgh. I also managed to get some Street Art photos while in Edinburgh.

Upon my return to Belfast, was a trip to Seaview to see Linfield take on Crusaders.

The next few days were spent at Custom House Square, seeing Kasabian, Turin Brakes and Travis in concert.

The following Saturday was a trip to Solitude to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

Glenavon v Linfield

George Ezra live at Custom House Square

George Ezra live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Bangor Street Art

Bangor Street Art Photo Album

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers

Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers Photo Album

Edinburgh Street Art

Edinburgh Street Art Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Kasabian live at Custom House Square

Kasabian live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Turin Brakes live at Custom House Square

Turin Brakes live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Travis live at Custom House Square

Travis live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

2018 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2018 began with a trip to The Limelight, a first proper concert of the year, to see Shed Seven supported by John Power.

That was followed the following midweek by a trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

The following Saturday, was Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

The following week was very busy, with Paul Weller at Ulster Hall followed by Ulster v Edinburgh and then Cliftonville v Linfield.

The weekend after that was a trip to the seaside, to see Linfield take on Ards.

That was then followed by a midweek trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose to Glenavon.

Around that time, it was getting cold. So cold, there was the possibility of snow. That didn’t come until March 1st, so you’ll have to wait until next month’s round-up to see that.

John Power live at The Limelight

John Power live at The Limelight Photo Album

Shed Seven live at The Limelight

Shed Seven live at The Limelight Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Paul Weller live at Ulster Hall

Paul Weller live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Ulster v Edinburgh

Ulster v Edinburgh Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

CLIFTONVILLE 1-1 LINFIELD 25.8.2018

With Matchday 4 being split across three games on Friday and three games on Saturday, Linfield fans expected to arrive at Solitude on Saturday afternoon with their side knocked off the top of the table on Friday night.

What may have surprised them was that it was Glenavon rather than Coleraine who led the table, with Coleraine missing the opportunity to do so with a 2-2 draw at home to Institute.

Linfield and Cliftonville had identical starts this season to what they had last season. Linfield with three wins and three clean sheets, while Cliftonville followed an opening day win with a defeat to Coleraine and a draw against a Bottom Six team.

Cliftonville’s start to 2018-2019 also mirrored 2017-2018 as Matchday 4 over the August Bank Holiday saw them welcome the dethroned champions, as Crusaders got a 2-1 win.

A similar result for Linfield would see them pull eight points clear of Cliftonville. Even at this early stage, it would be hard to see that being overturned.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had an unchanged team from the previous Saturday in North Belfast. There was no need to change anything.

The game began in a relatively subdued manner and atmosphere. That soon disappeared when Ryan Catney made a reckless tackles on Daniel Kearns and got away with a yellow card.

Yellow cards were plentiful for Cliftonville in the first-half. Cynical fouls with no intention of winning the ball, such as Garry Breen taking out Jamie Mulgrew (another foul for the counter, there will be a presentation for the player who commits the 5,000th foul on him, expected to be at some point this season).

The sort of fouls that frustratingly were yellow cards, even though you wanted more for them.

A well worked free-kick saw Andrew Waterworth go just wide, while Daniel Kearns thought he had played in Waterworth only for his pass to be intercepted. He probably should have shot at goal himself.

Not a lot was happening in the early minutes of the game, neither side having any real attempts at goal, but Linfield having more of the ball in the opposition half.

The game was to change just before the half hour when Jamie Mulgrew was sent-off after challenging for the ball with Jay Donnelly. A yellow card at worst, if there was to be a card. There is absolutely no doubt that the referee was influenced by Cliftonville players running to the scene of the foul, and it happening not far from the main stand where Cliftonville fans were housed.

He bottled it and allowed himself to be intimidated. One thing that Linfield could exploit was that so many Cliftonville players were on yellow cards, and could be targeted for second yellow. The only question was would the referee have the guts to issue that card.

The last time Linfield played Cliftonville, they had a first-half red card and went to pieces in the immediate aftermath, which ultimately cost them any chance of getting something from the game. Thankfully, that didn’t happen today. The knew they had to summon the spirit of Mourneview Park 2016.

Mulgrew became the fourth player to be sent-off at Solitude since 2013, joining Michael Gault, Robert Garrett and Sean Ward.

It could have been tempting to introduce Robert Garrett from the bench, but there was no need as Niall Quinn had started the season in centre midfield, so was able to slot in there.

Josh Robinson had a couple of headed chances as Linfield sought to make the most of any set pieces they had. The vast majority of set pieces were poor, often failing to beat the first man, or Linfield losing out on the second ball.

The half ended with Joe Gormley getting a yellow card for shoulder barging Roy Carroll as he held onto the ball. Carroll was targeted throughout at set pieces by Cliftonville players.

Linfield would have been glad to get in at half-time to take a breather. Despite only having ten men, at no point did they look like they were playing with ten men. They never looked like being troubled, but never really troubled Cliftonville.

They had promising situations, but just needed to get that pass right, or make that run on time.

This game was there for the winning.

Joel Cooper, already on a yellow card by this point, was lucky not to get a second yellow for a foul on Levi Ives in the Cliftonville penalty area. If he wasn’t already booked, he probably would have been booked there.

Michael O’Connor then came on for Andrew Waterworth, as Linfield searched for a winner.

On 73 minutes, Cliftonville took the lead when a throw-in bounced over Jimmy Callacher, and Linfield couldn’t get the ball off Jay Donnelly, who crossed for Joe Gormley to head home from close range. It was Cliftonville’s first chance of note in the game.

Callacher wasn’t the only Linfield player having problems on a very bouncy pitch. Every time a backpass went to Roy Carroll, you had your heart in the mouth as you didn’t know where the ball was going to go.

Linfield responded with an attacking substitution, Kirk Millar coming on for Matthew Clarke.

Despite only having ten men, it was Linfield who were outnumbering Levi Ives, with Millar, Kearns, Casement and Mitchell working opportunities down the right.

Kearns and Millar created space for Andrew Mitchell to cross right into the six yard box for Michael O’Connor to get a touch to divert the ball past Richard Brush.

It wasn’t a clean touch, but it was enough to go past the keeper, which is all that matters.

From where I was standing, I thought it was going just wide.

There was still time for either side to win the game.

Thankfully, Linfield had that extra bit of energy to see out Cliftonville’s attacks. They almost won it when Joel Cooper got in behind Cliftonville’s defence, shooting across Richard Brush, who saved it. If he parried it, Michael O’Connor would have had an open net to win the game for Linfield.

It finished 1-1, Linfield’s first dropped points, but it was Cliftonville who were left feeling that they dropped points, from two positions of strength, with a goal and a man advantage.

The draw sent Linfield back to the top of the League, one point clear of Glenavon. With three difficult away games against Top Six teams, you’ll take that, especially as they only managed two points from three games in 2009 and two points from four games in 2013 with similar starts.

Up next, is a League Cup tie at home to Moyola Park. I’ll be giving that a miss. If it was away though, i’d be all over that.

Next Saturday is the start of a new month, and my first visit to Windsor Park of the season for the match against Ards, with the mood more upbeat that the last time I headed to Windsor Park in April.

Ards is a must win game. Obviously, but especially when you look at upcoming fixture lists.

On Monday 3rd September, Matchday 5 will conclude with Crusaders watching Coleraine on Sky Sports. I may watch it if there isn’t a railway documentary on Channel 5.

One or both of them will drop points, Linfield have to win to take advantage of that.

On Matchday 5, Linfield travel to Warrenpoint while Crusaders and Coleraine are in Scottish Challenge Cup.

If Linfield can win those two games, they will pull away from at least one of their rivals.

And then in upcoming weeks after that, Glenavon will have to face Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville. More guaranteed points droppage for Linfield to take advantage.

Three points seperate 1st to 7th, there’s a traffic jam at the top of the League, led by Linfield. Long may that continue.

Thursday will see the draw for the Group Stages of the European Cup, and i’ll hope to take in one of United’s group games at home.

Hopefully, it will be a competition Linfield will be playing in during 2019-2020.

Photo Album

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.

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