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

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : SEPTEMBER

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

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

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Cliftonville v Linfield

CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 17.2.2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this game, it was more of an inconvenience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last August, I went to see Edinburgh City.

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

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

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

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

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