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

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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.

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.

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