If seven was the number last week, five was the number this week.
Five goals, five games to go, and the gap at the top reduced to five points.
There was one change to Linfield’s starting eleven, with Ethan Devine coming in for Kyle Lafferty.
Linfield’s substitutes bench had some unfamiliar names on it.
Rhys Annett, recently signed from Dundela, and 15 year old Braiden Graham were the names looking to make their debuts.
The start to the match was mostly even. Dungannon had the first strike on goal just over a minute in, when Ben Cushnie dragged a shot just wide of the post.
As well as creating chances for themselves, you felt that Dungannon might accidentally create some chances for Linfield with the way they were passing it out from the back.
Linfield didn’t need any assistance from Dungannon to take the lead, they did it themselves.
The ball made it’s way to Chris McKee after a Dungannon defender challenged Ethan Devine, and he made no mistake from close range despite being under pressure from another Dungannon defender.
A good start but the points were far from in the bag, Dungannon weren’t going to give it up. More goals were needed from Linfield.
It almost came when Ethan Devine volleyed on the stretch, but the ball went agonisingly just wide of the post.
The move deserved a goal, but it wasn’t to be.
That frustration was forgotten within a minute when Devine was played in by Kirk Millar, and he made no mistake, smashing the ball through the goalkeepers legs to make it 2-0.
Not quite points in the bag, but a commanding lead.
It was going to take a spectacular comeback or capitulation for Linfield not to leave Stangmore Park with three points.
Dungannon responded with a cross/shot easily held by Chris Johns, before he was forced into a save with his legs, as Linfield were having to work to make sure they went in at half-time 2-0 up.
Which is what they did.
A satisfactory half for Linfield. A two goal lead without being dominant. Dungannon had shown enough in the first-half that they weren’t going down without a fight. Linfield needed to start the second-half strongly, and ideally get a third which would kill the game off.
To say they made sure of the points in the opening minutes of the second-half would be a bit of an understatement.
Joel Cooper got the ball out wide on the right, and drilled the ball low into the back of the net, to the shock of a lot of people.
It wasn’t quite a cross, it wasn’t quite a shot. Whatever it was, it ended up in the back of the net, and surely secured the points for Linfield.
What it also meant was that they could rest players and give others minutes, which was handy even if the next match is two weeks away.
Remember in 2020 when Linfield scored within seconds of the game restarting after conceding a goal against Dungannon?
Well, this time, they scored within seconds of the game restarting against Dungannon, except it was after one of their own goals.
An attempted interception fell perfectly to Ethan Devine who once again finished, firing through the goalkeeper to make it 4-0.
Just as you were about to say “My word, this is a jolly good start to the second-half from Linfield”, it got even better.
Kirk Millar picked up possession, cut inside and fired home from outside the box. It was the second successive season that he had scored a long range strike at Stangmore Park.
Having kicked off 2-0 up, within five minutes they were 5-0 up. If Linfield kept this ratio up, they would win this 29-0.
That would be a nice boost to the goal difference.
In all seriousness, this and the win against Newry had wiped out Larne’s advantage over Linfield in this regard, and the combination of results where the title would be decided by this would only see Linfield get a further boost.
Jimmy Callacher had a chance to make it six when a flick on from a corner fell to him, but he got his feet all wrong and the ball went well wide.
Thankfully, it wasn’t costly.
Kirk Millar was next to be frustrated as he was played in but his effort hit the post.
With the points long in the bag, Linfield made some substitutions. One of those coming on was 15 year old Braiden Graham.
Jamie Mulgrew was in his third season as a Linfield player when he was born.
Even though he now wasn’t many saves to make, Chris Johns was still keeping himself busy stopping soft throw-ins and corners being conceded. He was desperate for a sixth successive clean sheet.
He would be leaving the pitch with a clean sheet, as it finished 5-0.
The following day, Larne drew 0-0 away to Coleraine, meaning their lead at the top was cut to five points. Things just got interesting.
Five wins for Linfield and they need Larne to fail to win just one match.
Easier said than done.
The following day, the post split fixtures were announced.
Frustratingly for Linfield, they have to play three more matches before facing Larne.
Ideally, that would have been the first game, to try and get the points to cut that lead and really put the pressure on.
We’ve had 33 games to try and get to the top of the table.
There’s still 5 games to try and fix it.