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.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March began for me at Solitude, to see Linfield take on Cliftonville in the Irish Cup, and get their first win there for four years.

The following week, Glentoran were the opponents, but the result was the same, a 3-0 win for Linfield.

After that, it was Solitude again, with Linfield only managing a 2-0 win this time.

Over the Easter Weekend, I went to see Northern Ireland take on Wales in Cardiff, and decided to make a trip of it between Bristol and Cardiff, getting some Street Art photos, and see Bristol Rovers take on Cambridge United.

Upon my return, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Slovenia.

The next day, I headed to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint, ending a busy Easter period of football watching.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Cliftonville v Linfield

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art Photo Album 1

Bristol Street Art Photo Album 2

Cardiff Street Art

Cardiff Street Art Photo Album

Wales v Northern Ireland

Wales v Northern Ireland Photo Album

Bristol Rovers v Cambridge United

Bristol Rovers v Cambridge United Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Slovenia

Northern Ireland v Slovenia Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2015-2016

I hope you’ve enjoyed the month by month look at the 2015-2016 season just past. The 2016-2017 is only a matter of days away. Scary, I know.

Before I wrap up the 2015-2016, it’s time for my favourite photos. Hopefully, you’ll agree. Feel free to vote for your favourite.

BRAY

Taken at my very first game, back on 27th June 2015, I like the composition and framing of this.

TAYLOR’S

Taken on my first visit to Taylor’s Avenue, I love how everyone is focused on the player with the ball (I think it’s Guy Bates)



FANS

Taken at Ballinamallard in September. I don’t know why I love this photo, I just do.

ENCOURAGEMENT

I was taking a photo of the corner, but this guy just got up and started to encourage Linfield players, which made the photo for me.

A photo of just the corner kick would actually have been boring.



GREECE

Taken on that famous night against Greece just after Davis first goal, and trying to capture what it meant.

RED SKY

No filtering or magic tricks, that’s what the sky was like when Linfield travelled to Ballymena in December. Just had to get a snap.

CELEBRATIONS

Taken after the Irish Cup tie at Solitude in March, what it means to win at a ground you haven’t won for four years, and to do so in a convincing manner.

TERRACES

Taken at Dalymount Park, terracing that isn’t used anymore, other than to hang flags on. I like the composition of this.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – MARCH

March began for me at Solitude, seeing Linfield beat Cliftonville 3-0 in the Irish Cup.

The following saw another 3-0 win for Linfield, this time at home to Glentoran.

It was back to Solitude the following week, this time for a league match, Linfield only managing a 2-0 win.

Over the Easter Weekend, I went to see Northern Ireland take on Wales in Cardiff, before heading to see Bristol Rovers v Cambridge United the following day.

Upon my return, it was matches on successive days on Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday – Northern Ireland’s home match against Slovenia, and Linfield’s trip to Warrenpoint.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Linfield v Glentoran

Cliftonville v Linfield

Wales v Northern Ireland

Wales v Northern Ireland Photo Album

Bristol Rovers v Cambridge United

Bristol Rovers v Cambridge United Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Slovenia

Northern Ireland v Slovenia Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

That match against Slovenia saw a pop-up shop appear in the Railway Stand for fans to be sold Northern Ireland merchandise.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield and Cliftonville draw 3-3, amidst unceratinty over the future of Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Five days later, I was at Windsor Park to witness Northern Ireland get the win they needed against Greece to send them to Euro 2016.

The party continued for a few days, but the Irish League was back to work, as Linfield faced Glentoran at Windsor Park less than 48 hours later.

By now, Warren Feeney was gone, and it was apt that it was Warren(point) where his successor David Healy took charge of his first game in charge.

The final two games of the month saw Linfield take on Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Greece

Northern Ireland v Greece Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

CLIFTONVILLE 0-2 LINFIELD 19.3.2016

The cliche about waiting ages for a bus then two come along at once could be applied to Linfield wins at Solitude. Quite apt, seeing as Linfield fans spend most of their pre-match waiting for a bus.

Suspended last week, Jimmy Callacher and Paul Smyth returned to the Linfield team. By full-time, Linfield fans were thankful they did.

Like in the Irish Cup tie two weeks ago, the opening minute saw Linfield having a shaky moment in defence, conceding a soft corner due to a defensive mix-up. Thankfully, the corner didn’t come to much.

Both teams were getting in a lot of crosses in the early moments, Linfield’s causing more concern that Cliftonvilles, which were usually missing everyone and going to the far post.

The first real attacking moment came when Sean Ward had a shot cleared off the line.

Cliftonville’s first attempt on goal saw Jude Winchester hit the net. The side of it rather than the back of it thankfully.

There wasn’t a lot happening in the first-half, until Linfield came into it in the later stages. Mark Haughey looked like he was going to score when he reached for a header, only for the ball to go across goal.

Paul Smyth ran at Cliftonville’s defence, creating enough space to get a shot at goal, forcing Cliftonville’s goalkeeper Peter Burke into a save.

Like in the second-half two weeks ago, you could see the fear in Cliftonville’s defenders every time he got the ball.

Even when he didn’t have the ball, and was running onto a pass, you could see the fear they had.

Cliftonville’s defenders tried to kick him, he defiantly stood his ground. They couldn’t kick him out of the game, they would need to find another way to stop him. They couldn’t think of another way to stop him.

Soon afterwards, it looked like Haughey was going to score this time but his goalbound header was tipped onto the post, only to fall to Jimmy Callacher to finish from a few yards out.

Soon after, Ross Gaynor had a shot saved from a wide position after nice link-up play from Jamie Mulgrew.

At the start of the second-half, the much anticipated Cliftonville onslaught didn’t metrialise. It was all relatively comfortable for Linfield. It would have been more comfortable if they could get a second goal.

That almost came when a defence splitting pass from Sean Ward set up Reece Glendinning to cross for Paul Smyth, who hit the side netting.

Chris Curran had a half chance for Cliftonville, a reminded for Linfield that they needed a second goal to be sure of the points.

Linfield had more attacking purpose than their hosts, and almost doubled their lead when Paul Smyth ran at Cliftonville’s defence, got enough space for a shot, only to hit the post.

Agonisingly, the rebound hit Andrew Waterworth straight in the face and went over.

The reprieve for Cliftonville was brief, as Paul Smyth went on another run and made it 2-0 with a shot before making use of a sterile area at the side of the pitch to do a somersault after asking his team-mates to give him space to do so. Linfield’s players were as accommodating as Cliftonville’s defence.

Linfield were able to see the game out, with Cliftonville never looking like scoring. Even if they did pull a goal back, it would have been an inconvenience for Linfield rather than a cause to panic.

Cliftonville are finding out the hard way, like Linfield did when Peter Thompson began to suffer injury problems, that goalscorers are hard to replace.

That result saw Linfield go eight points clear of Cliftonville. Realistically, that should rule Cliftonville out of the race for automatic European football. Glenavon got a late winner to jump over them, six points behind Linfield.

It’s a good lead over them, but it would be nice to get further ahead of them to be sure.

Linfield remain five points behind Crusaders, who play their game in hand against Carrick on Tuesday night, a game they should win, meaning Linfield need to recover eight points in seven games.

With the two sides playing each other, Linfield need to win all their games and hope Crusaders draw one and lose one. Not inconceivable.

Glenavon and Cliftonville’s position swap will be of interest in the context of post split fixture order. Crusaders need one win from their next three games to be Team 1, with Linfield being Team 2.

According to my basic maths, here’s the provisional schedule :

Apr 9 : Crusaders (1) v Linfield (2)

Apr 16 : Glenavon (3) v Crusaders, Linfield v Coleraine (5)

Apr 19 : Cliftonville (4) v Crusaders, Glentoran (6) v Linfield

Apr 23 : Linfield v Cliftonville, Crusaders v Coleraine

Apr 30 : Glentoran v Crusaders, Glenavon v Linfield

Of course, those provisional positions can change between now and game 33 on 29th March.

Up next for Linfield, is Ballinamallard on Thursday night, a game brought forward to keep the Windsor Park pitch in shape for Northern Ireland v Slovenia on March 28th

If the game is to be brought forward, surely it should have been to Wednesday night, as a lot of people, myself included, will be in Cardiff for Wales v Northern Ireland.

The rearrangement could work in Linfield’s favour, giving them an extra two days rest ahead of the Easter Tuesday trip to Warrenpoint, and two days extra rest for Ballinamallard, who face Crusaders that same night.

Talking of rearrangements, Linfield’s Irish Cup Semi-Final against Lurgan Celtic had been changed from Friday 1st April to Saturday 2nd April. Sadly, the ridiculous ticket prices and ticket purchasing arrangements are still in place, meaning i’ll be giving this game a miss.

Not complaining about the new date, as it means more rest time between games, playing Tuesday-Saturday instead of Tuesday-Friday.

I do feel sorry for supporters of the four Semi-Finalists who’ve had to change plans they’ve put in place to attend based on the original dates.

There’s no reason why both games couldn’t be played on Saturday 2nd April at other grounds.

Windsor Park should only be used in an Irish Cup Semi-final if Glentoran are involved. And even then, that would be dependent on who their opponents are.

Next for me, is Wales v Northern Ireland. I’m basing myself in South-West England and taking in Bristol Rovers v Cambridge as well while i’m over.

Bristol Rovers are currently 3rd in League Two, aiming for successive promotions. They had a good win today, 4-1 away to Newport County, avenging their 4-1 home defeat to Newport earlier in the season.

As you can imagine, not a good day for Warren Feeney. Thankfully, his former club had a good day.

Photo Album

CLIFTONVILLE 0-3 LINFIELD 5.3.2016

It was all about the Irish Cup today as Linfield arrived at Solitude looking to get their first win at the North Belfast venue since 2012, the last time they won the Irish Cup.

The tie of the round, we almost got a dramatic early goal in the first minute when Davy McDaid flicked the ball over Mark Haughey to get himself into a shooting position, but Gareth Deane was quick off his line to save the shot.

Deane was in the team due to Ross Glendinning being suspended following his red card last week. It’s a lazy cliche that pundits use that a goalkeeper coming into a team needs a good touch. This was a good touch for him, but one Linfield would rather he not be having.

Linfield were nervous in defence, conceding cheap possession in their own defensive third. Thankfully, Cliftonville weren’t able to capitalise on it.

Gradually, Linfield got more into it. Their first shot at goal came when Matthew Clarke fired a free kick over the bar.

A corner kick then evaded everybody and fell to Andrew Waterworth. That wasn’t the plan, but it almost worked, but unfortunately, his shot was tipped over the bar by Conor Devlin.

Linfield then had a flurry of corner kicks, with Jimmy Callacher being a menace in the Cliftonville box, having a header which needed headed behind (it was goalwards but probably would have hit the post) and then heading just over.

Jay Donnelly, who scored the winner when the sides last met in November, forced Deane into a save. It was the sort of save that you would expect a competent goalkeeper to make.

Despite the fact that Cliftonville’s attacking players were more involved in the game than Linfield’s, there didn’t appear to any immediate threat of a goal from Cliftonville.

Gareth Deane didn’t have a lot to do, but what he did have to do, he did well.

It wasn’t the best game of football, and Linfield hadn’t played well, but they were more than in game, and would have 45 minutes attacking their own fans.

Without having a shot on goal, Linfield made a better start to the second-half, having more possession in Cliftonville’s half and looking more cohesive going forward.

On 55 minutes, they got the breakthrough, when the ball was flicked through to Ross Gaynor, who had enough space on the edge of the box to toepoke it past Conor Devlin.

This was the sort of game where getting the first goal would be so important. Linfield had it, and were now ready to make the most of it.

Cliftonville had their chances at 1-0, Johnny Flynn heading at Deane while McDaid dragged a shot wide of the post. Linfield supporters at the other end thought the ball was going in for 1-1.

Despite that, there was never a time when I thought Cliftonville would score, even allowing for a combination of my natural pessimism and Linfield’s awful run of form in this fixture of the last couple of years.

However, 1-0 is a dangerous lead, and Linfield needed a 2nd just to be sure.

On 75 minutes, they got it when Kirk Millar, on as a substitute for Aaron Burns, played a ball to Andrew Waterworth who got just enough space behind his man to fire home.

Being 2-0 up against Cliftonville has been problematic for Linfield in recent years, blowing that lead twice in 2015 to draw league matches. That was never going to happen today.

In those two previously mentioned games, Linfield had their 2-0 lead at half-time. It might sound stupid, but it’s easier to make a comeback at half-time rather than after 75 minutes. You have 15 minutes to plan how to do it nad get your point across. It’s not so easy to do the same ingame.

There’s another factor to take in, Linfield are now a better team than they were in February 2015 and October 2015.

Cliftonville didn’t appear to have anybody who knew how to get them out of this mess. Their fans knew it, and they began to head for the exits before the game had restarted.

In both of those games, Cliftonville had made their comeback by goals in quick succession, so the game wasn’t won for Linfield yet. Cliftonville looked devoid of attacking ideas. As each minute passed, Linfield fans knew the job was done.

In fact, it was Linfield who looked most likely to score, with Mark Stafford heading against the bar from a corner.

After a quiet first-half, Paul Smyth was more involved as an attacking force in the second-half. His presence alone put fear in Cliftonville’s players, with them chasing the game playing right into his hands.

In injury time, he got an opportunity to run at Cliftonville’s defence, getting past his man before being fouled by Conor Devlin for a penalty.

Linfield fans wanted a red card, that was never going to happen, as just a yellow card given.

With Aaron Burns substituted, there was going to be no repeat of last week’s battle for the ball, as Ross Gaynor fired home to make it 3-0.

The red card for Conor Devlin that Linfield fans had wanted for the penalty came after the penalty, when he got a second yellow card for kicking the ball at Gaynor during his celebration.

It was the second successive Linfield match that had a red card for a goalkeeper. Like last week, the team who had the goalkeeper sent-off didn’t have a replacement on the bench, so an outfield player had to go into goal – in this case Johnny Flynn.

There was still time for another red card, with Caoimhin Bonner getting a second yellow for a foul on Guy Bates.

The only downpoint of the afternoon for Linfield fans was that Cliftonville’s implosion didn’t come 10 minutes earlier.

The draw for the Semi-Finals saw Linfield paired with Lurgan Celtic, who beat Portadown 3-2, a result that saw Ronnie McFall resign after the game after 29 (TWENTY-NINE) years in charge.

It’s hard to imagine an Irish League without Ronnie McFall, Roy Coyle and David Jeffrey on the touchline, but that’s where we are. Football waits for nobody and the game continues regardless.

That game will be played on Friday 1st April at Windsor Park. Can’t say i’m particularly keen on both date and venue. It should be a Saturday 3pm game at Mourneview Park with Crusaders v Glenavon being at The Oval on the same day.

Without sounding arrogant, but it’s a game that Linfield should win. There’s still a lot to play for in the season. The title might be ultimately too much to ask for this season, but it’s important to finish the season strongly and set down a marker for next season.

At some point during the split, Linfield fans will be able to use the South Stand for the first time. Hopefully, they’ll be getting to use it on May 7th.

Photo Album

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2015

My football watching for 2015 is now over, so, it’s time for a statistical look back at the football I watched.

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 143

Red Cards : 10 (Doesn’t include Caoimhin Bonner being sent-off in the tunnel after the game)

Missed/Saved Penalties : 6

Hat-Tricks : 2 (Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Dungannon Swifts. Andrew Waterworth, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 40

Arsenal, Ballinamallard United, Ballymena United, Bray Wanderers, Carrick Rangers, CE Europa (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee (1st time), Dunfermline Athletic (1st time), Dungannon Swifts, Espanyol (1st time), Finland, Glenavon, Glentoran, Greece (1st time), Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Hungary, Institute, Latvia (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Masnau, Northern Ireland, NSI Runavik (1st time), Partick Thistle (1st time), Portadown, PSNI, PSV Eindhoven (1st time), Qatar (1st time), Rangers, Romania (1st time) Scotland, Sligo Rovers, Spartak Trnava (1st time), Tobermore United, Valencia (1st time), Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 23

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Drumahoe, East End Park (1st time), Estadi Cornella y Prat (1st time), Ferney Park, Fortwilliam Park (1st time), Gresty Road (1st time), Hampden Park, Ibrox, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newforge (1st time), Nou Sardenya (1st time), Old Trafford, Seaview, Shamrock Park, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue (1st time), The Oval, Tynecastle, Windsor Park

Competitions : 13

European Championship, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, Irish League Championship, La Liga, League of Ireland, Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup (1st time), Scottish Premier League, Tercera Division (1st time), UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

No real curiousities, other than a match with kick-off delayed for an hour due to the weather

UEFA 102 Club : Espanyol, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia (now at 35 clubs)

2015 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began for me with a trip to Solitude, to see Linfield and Cliftonville play out an entertaining 3-3 draw, as uncertainty reigned about the future of Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

The following week was very busy, beginning with Weird Al Yankovic at The Limelight.

The next night, it was Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Greece knowing that a win would take them to Euro 2016. They got that win, and a party soon followed.

Back to The Limelight 24 hours later, for Cast.

And from music, back to football, to see Linfield take on Glentoran, with Warren Feeney gone and Andy Todd in temporary charge.

Later in the month, work took me to Stroke City. On my lunch, I spotted some Street Art, so I naturally headed out to get some snaps.

Back to football, it it was to Warrenpoint, as Linfield had their 3rd manager of the month, with David Healy now in permanent charge having his first game in charge.

I went back on the trail of Street Art, this time in Belfast. mopping up some pieces I missed on Culture Night the previous night.

The month ended with two football matches, to see Linfield taking on Carrick and Dungannon.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Weird Al Yankovic Live At The Limelight

Weird Al Yankovic Live At The Limelight Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Greece

Northern Ireland v Greece Photo Album

Cast Live At The Limelight

Cast Live At The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Stroke City Street Art

Stroke City Street Art Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

North Street Art October 2015

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

CLIFTONVILLE 3-3 LINFIELD 3.10.2015

If today was to be Warren Feeney’s last game as Linfield manager, it was certainly a dramatic one to go out on, as rumours continue to link him with a move to Newport County.

Pointless anecdote time – I once went through Newport on a train, and then two days later I was sat beside Warren Feeney on a plane.

Back to today, Linfield arrived at Solitude looking to get their first win there since 2012, but more importantly, maintain their four point lea over Crusaders while moving eight points clear of 3rd placed Cliftonville.

Linfield began the game with one change from last week, with Stephen Lowry coming in for Kirk Millar. Bit of a surprise for me, I would have played Millar. He could have been not 100% fit though, but if he was, I would have played him.

Cliftonville’s early attacking play came through David McDaid, helped by Linfield’s defenders backing off him. His best moment came when he was able to get a clear shot at goal, but Glendenning saved it, and managed to push it away.

He didn’t see out the game though, being substituted in the first-half through injury.

Linfield then took the lead when they managed to get the ball out the left, and a low cross came to David Kee, who got there before his marker to put Linfield 1-0 up.

The closest Cliftonville came to an equaliser was when a Seydack free-kick went wide.

Linfield went 2-0 up soon after with a Mark Haughey header. Strange, I thought he only scored against Warrenpoint or Glenavon. Three goals in successive games for him. He’s almost turning into a goal machine.

Having just seen a video of the goal, Conor Devlin was blocked off by two of his own defenders. I’m sure they didn’t practice that in training.

Having seen Linfield struggle from defending set pieces in recent weeks, Cliftonville didn’t put any men in front of Glendinning.

Linfield were comfortable defending and didn’t look like conceding. It is noticeable how much Cliftonville’s goal threat from open play is reduced without Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley.

The next time Linfield had a corner, Conor Devlin wasn’t blocked by his own defenders and was able to rush off his line to palm the ball away from Mark Stafford, who was certain to head it home and make it 3-0.

Not only were Linfield comfortable when defending, they also showed fight and smartness, qualities that had been sadly lacking in too many recent trips to Solitude.

By smartness, I mean, winning soft free-kicks to kill attacks or start attacks, and killing the game to stop Cliftonville getting any sort of momentum going.

As the half ended, Linfield fans thought they were going to go in 3-0 up when Andrew Waterworth got in behind Cliftonville’s defence and fired wide. He had to hit a shot first time, but he will still be disappointed not to have hit the target.

2-0 to Linfield at half-time, but that was the score during a league meeting in February this year. Cliftonville pulled a goal back and then got an equaliser when Linfield got nervous. With this in mind, they needed a 3rd goal just to be sure.

They almost got it in the early moments of the second-half, but Andrew Waterworth fired his shot wide.

Before you could say Linfield need to keep Cliftonville out and not do anything stupid in the early minutes of the second-half, Martin Donnelly pulled a goal back to make it 2-1.

It was a poor goal to concede, in terms of it sneaking in the near post, and him being allowed to have a free strike in the final third.

Soon after, Cliftonville were lucky to have their full compliment of eleven on the pitch when George McMullan had his arm around Niall Quinn’s neck. Not even a yellow card. The first of many shocking decisions made in the second-half by referee Arnold Hunter.

Within minutes of their first goal, Cliftonville made it 2-2 after Caoimhin Bonner headed home after Johnny Flynn original header on goal to divert it in. Ross Glendinning was diving to save Flynn’s header and could do nothing about Bonner’s header.

It didn’t look like a rehearsed set piece, but they made their own luck by having a player in the right position to head it home. There were two headers for Linfield to win, and they didn’t win any of them.

It was now a different game, and Cliftonville were in the ascendancy.

Linfield weren’t helping themselves by giving possesion away cheaply. Ross Glendinning is always eager to start an attack when he has the ball in his hands, as demonstrated by the first goal last Saturday, but he was perhaps too eager, as his kickouts were giving the ball back to Cliftonville.

Cliftonville were getting a lot of joy down their left, and were targeting Linfield’s left hand side. They almost exposed this when Stephen Garrett was put through down that side, butthankfully fired over.

George McMullan soon got a yellow card for a foul on Sean Ward. If the referee had done his job earlier in the half, he would have already been sent-off, or was now getting his second yellow card/

It was Sean Ward who was soon to be getting sent-off after bringing down Chris Curran when he was running through on goal. No complaints about the decision, it was a rare case of Arnold Hunter getting one right.

Ward perhaps could have tried to nick the ball with his right foot, but it’s easy for me to say that when i’m watching the game from the other end of the pitch.

Thankfully, for Linfield, the resulting penalty was saved. The reprieve didn’t last for long though, as George McMullan put Cliftonville in front after Niall Quinn backed off him and gave him the opportunity to shoot.

The same George McMullan, who should have been sent-off earlier in the half.

Aaron Burns came on for Jamie Mulgrew as Linfield came into it more. The biggest compliment you could give them was that you didn’t notice they were playing with ten men.

It was Burns who found space in the box to head home from a Niall Quinn cross to make it 3-3.

Ivan Sproule was introduced to the action but didn’t get a chance to make an impact. It was a foul on him in injury time by Eamonn Seydack get a second yellow card. Eventually, one of them was going to get sent-off. Johnny Flynn was also lucky to stay on for a foul on Andrew Waterworth as he chased a through ball. I’d need to see a replay again though.

It looked as though Arnold Hunter was saving his red cards for the final whistle, as BBC were reporting that Caoimhin Bonner was sent-off in the tunnel after the game. There is still no official confirmation of this though.

Both teams will be relieved at getting a point when staring into the abyss, while also frustrated at throwing away two points from strong positions.

It was another away game without a goal from Andrew Waterworth or Guy Bates. Maybe it’s just coincidental, or do we need to adapt or game away from home. Though today it was third away game out of five that we have scored three goals, so perhaps it’s not that big an issue, yet.

Today was the third game in four that Linfield have conceded three goals in, which is a bit worrying. It was also the second successive week in which Linfield had lost a two goal lead, though a positive is that we have might a fightback after doing so.

We couldn’t get a favour today as Ballymena’s run of good form ended today with a defeat against Crusaders. I’ve been watching Linfield long enough to know we don’t get any favours, we have to help ourselves.

Next for me, is the Northern Ireland v Greece match, as Northern Ireland look to get the win that will send them to Euro 2016.

If they do, expect to see peace and love break out amongst Irish League fans as we celebrate the national team’s achivement.

This utopian dream will last for less than 48 hours, as Linfield face Glentoran next Saturday. This will be the landmark 11th game of the season, when everybody will have played each other once. If Linfield can get a win, that would be nine wins out of eleven, top of the league, scoring goals for fun and having played the other teams in the top four away from home.

That would be a very good start to the season, but just a start. We still have to go out there and win the game.

More importantly, hopefully, we will go into that game with a manager.

Photo Album