CARRICK RANGERS 0-2 LINFIELD 7.3.2020

After a Fruitful February (four games, four win), Linfield were hoping for a Marvellous March, returning to League action after a weekend off, with a trip to Carrick Rangers, as the season reaches the final straight.

This would also be Linfield’s last game of the season against an opponent in the bottom half of the table. Despite Carrick’s position outside the Top 6, this wouldn’t be an easy game for Linfield.

Despite the scorelines of 3-0 and 2-0, Linfield’s two previous meetings with Carrick have been anything but comfortable.

Their recent record against Carrick is good. Very good. In the four seasons Carrick have played in the top flight since promotion in 2015, Linfield have won ten and drawn one of the eleven meetings, only conceding one goal. An incredible run of nine successive clean sheets against Carrick. And the one goal that Carrick have scored in this period was a penalty.

Despite scoring four goals in each of their last two games, Linfield were forced into two changes through injury, Two Fs – Ferguson and Fallon, probably generating a few Fs amongst Linfield supporters when they heard the news. This was the first game that Rohan Ferguson had missed in the League this season.

Alex Moore got the nod ahead of Gareth Deane to replace him, his first appearance for the club since May 2018.

Bastien Hery, fresh from an international call-up for Madagascar, got the nod to replace Fallon in midfield.

Linfield’s squad was being stretched, just as it will be in January 2021 if Madagascar qualify for the African Cup Of Nations.

Also in receipt of good news, or not if you’re superstitious, is Andrew Waterworth, who won the Player Of The Month award for February, after a run of six goals in four games.

There are cynics who believe the award in jinxed, so it might not be a cause for celebration.

If you are of that persuasion, you’ll be hoping Oran Kearney beats David Healy to the Manager Of The Month award. Glentoran, Crusaders and Cliftonville were be hoping they get a joint award.

Thankfully, it was announced on Sunday morning that the winner was Kearney, which is good news if you believe the award is jinxed.

Positioned ready for the end that Linfield usually attack in the first-half (the one behind the goal where you just stand with no shelter), I got a shock when the sides switched ends and Linfield would now be attacking the away stand they usually attack in the second-half.

So, a quick dash to get into the position where Linfield were attacking, I was hoping there’d be no goal for Linfield inside the first minute of the game, so I wouldn’t miss it or have an obstructed view while being in motion.

They almost did, taking just ten seconds for Andrew Waterworth to look like he was going to get in behind Carrick’s defence, a bad bounce denying him the opportunity, and Carrick were able to clear the danger.

Joel Cooper got the crowd excited with a run out wide as Linfield searched for an early goal to settle the nerves.

They suffered an early blow when Niall Quinn went off injured. Thankfully, Linfield had a ready made replacement on the bench in the shape of Matthew Clarke.

Every weekend for what seems forever, there has been a named storm. No named storm this weekend, but Carrick has it’s own microclimate where today it was very windy. Carrick had it to their advantage in the first-half, and weren’t afraid to hit speculative long range shots.

A lot of them looked like they might be causing Alex Moore problems when the ball was in mid air. However, when the ball dropped down to earth, they turned out to be easy saves.

Whilst Moore was making a lot of saves, none of them were causing any trouble to Moore. You still have to make those saves.

Jordan Stewart had Linfield’s first effort on goal when he got into space but just over.

Soon after, Linfield took the lead when Chris Casement burst down the right wing and got himself into a crossing position in the penalty area. His cross was deflected onto the post, before an attempted clearance hit Kirk Millar and went into the net to put Linfield 1-0 up.

A stroke of luck perhaps, but you make your own luck. If Casement doesn’t make the run and if Millar doesn’t go into the penalty area, Linfield don’t get the goal.

An early goal was exactly what Linfield needed. They’ve struggled this season against teams who have had something to defend. They’ve especially struggled in the previous meetings with Carrick after failing to establish control of the game early on.

They couldn’t get the second goal that they needed. Andrew Waterworth thought he was going to get it but he was flagged offside.

Waterworth looked as though he was going to set up Kirk Millar (Should it not be the other way around?) when the ball fell loose to him after a challenge with Carrick’s keeper, it looked like he was going to put the ball into the empty net, only to be denied by a last ditch tackle.

1-0 up at half-time. Not playing great, but not playing awful. One more goal, and that would be three points.

They started the second-half determined to get that goal, with Joel Cooper firing a shot over in the opening seconds.

There wasn’t long to wait for that second goal, when Kirk Millar curled in a spectacular free-kick to make it 2-0.

It was such a good goal, even one of the Carrick subs warming up beside me applauded it.

Realistically, that was the game for Linfield. There was no way Carrick were going to score two. They didn’t even look like getting one.

Despite that, Linfield still needed a third just to be sure.

Soon after, Shayne Lavery came on for Jordan Stewart. I presume he had a slight injury as it was too early to be making a change with the game won, especially as it was only 2-0.

Lavery had a frustrating afternoon, getting into positions but being denied by a combination of post and Carrick’s keeper.

He almost got an assist when he crossed for Kirk Millar, but his header went just wide, as he looked for a hat-trick.

Millar had an effort go over as well. Whenever he got the ball in an attacking position, fans were urging him on to get the matchball.

There would be no third goal, but two was enough, another three points on the board.

Linfield’s gap at the top remained at four points, but this was a week where you could definitively argue that this season’s title race was whittled down to two teams.

Tuesday’s North Belfast Derby was effectively a title eliminator, where Cliftonville and Crusaders looked to reduce the gap to eight points.

A draw was perfect for Linfield, as it meant they are both ten points behind Linfield. Wins for them both meant they remain ten points behind.

The points difference is bigger than the number of games remaining. Even if either of them wins their last seven games to finish above Linfield, they’ll have to get seven more points than Coleraine as well.

Glentoran kicked off eight points behind Linfield, but the teams have to play each other twice.

That meant they had to win all their remaining games and hope Linfield drop a further three points.

Defeat at home to Cliftonville means the gap is eleven. That is too much to make up at this time of year.

I’m saying it. I’m writing them off. Neither Glentoran, Cliftonville or Crusaders will be 2020 Irish League Champions. It will be either Linfield or Coleraine.

Assuming that Linfield and Coleraine are the Top 2, 3rd place will be a UEFA Cup place if Coleraine win the Irish Cup, and Larne are in the mix for that now, giving those three something else to worry about.

Linfield and Coleraine both won 2-0, which means the goal difference remains at seven in Linfield’s favour. That seems like a lot, but that can be wiped out quite quickly.

It isn’t the big decisive advantage lurking in the background as it was in 2017.

Up next for Linfield is a home match against Larne.

A Larne side who have won their last six League matches.

However, Linfield have won their last five League matches and are unbeaten at Windsor Park in the League since August.

Larne will play Coleraine the week after. I have a suspicion that Linfield and Coleraine will replicate each others results against Larne just as Linfield and Glentoran did in January.

A big game for Linfield to get the win, keep the momentum going and keep the doubters at bay.

Especially as it’s hard to put a case forward for Dungannon Swifts getting a result away to Coleraine.

This week saw the Irish Cup Semi-Final draw, and my oh my, what a kerfuffle.

Surely when this season’s calendar was being created, somebody could have spotted that Irish Cup Semi-Finals over an international weekend could have been problematic if Windsor Park was unavailable.

Especially as they amended the dates of the Semi-Finals in 2015 because it was going to fall on an International Weekend. And 2015 has the exact same (from 1st March onwards) calendar as 2020.

And then to top it off, Cliftonville v Glentoran will be on a date when both clubs will have their Managers away on a Coaching Course.

Did nobody think to ask both clubs before confirming a date?

Talking of draws, this week saw the draw for the UEFA Nonsense League.

There would be no short trip to Scotland or Wales, instead we got Norway, Austria and Romania, all teams faced in the last five years.

Northern Ireland have the potential to finish anywhere between 1st and 4th. And there’ll be two sons of 90s players playing at Windsor Park in the shape of Erling Haaland and Ianis Hagi. Ianis Hagi will hope to avoid being sent-off at Windsor Park like his dad.

I had a look and Toni Polster and Andreas Herzog don’t have a son in the Austria squad.

I’m not booked for any of the away games. Austria would be the most tempting, especially as a double header with Slovakia (There is only one hour between Vienna and Bratislava)

Slovakia are at home to Scotland on the same day that Austria face Northern Ireland.

Talking of travelling, Flybe have gone under, which is a bit of a shitter, as I would use them when I fly to United matches.

As well as a lot of places which will now be cut off for Belfast (We don’t even have a lot of options to begin with), Flybe do a lot of Easyjet routes, so expect Easyjet prices to go up now that they have no competition.

Loganair haven’t wasted time and picked up the Aberdeen and Inverness routes, going direct.

Very tempted by that, for both cities, but Aberdeen has been interesting me after seeing it on Frankie Boyle’s Tour Of Scotland and Susan Calman’s Secret Scotland, and it has some decent Street Art.

However, my next football trip will be a short train journey across Belfast to The Oval in just under two weeks time.

Hopefully by then, Linfield will have a further three points in the bag.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

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

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

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

My next adventure came the following Friday with Culture Night.

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

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

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Ulster Sports Club Street Art

Ulster Sports Club Street Art Photo Album

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory Photo Album

Culture Night

Culture Night Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Yorkgate Street Art

Yorkgate Street Art Photo Album

CARRICK RANGERS 0-3 LINFIELD 23.9.2019

This was not a night for football. This was a night for putting your feet up in front of the TV. Ironic, for a match that was broadcast live on TV.

When this game was announced for live broadcast, Linfield were hoping that this game being on a Monday night would give them extra recovery time from their opening UEFA Cup group match (I promise, that will be my last mention of the UEFA Cup until I go to see United v Partizan Belgrade in November) but instead, they were recovering from a League Cup tie at Ballinamallard.

They needed it too. A long trip and extra-time. I think Sky did Linfield a favour by pushing this game back to Monday night.

Not that I was thinking that when I was getting drenched. As soon as I saw how lovely the weather was, I knew it was going to chuck it down when this match started.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw two injury enforced changes from their last League match, with Jamie Mulgrew being replaced by Stephen Fallon and Chris Casement was replaced by Ryan McGivern, forcing Linfield to line-up in a 3-5-2 formation.

A bit surprising, as Andrew Mitchell, on the bench could have slotted in at right-back, or Trai Hume, another substitute, could have started, meaning there would be no need for a tactical reshuffle.

Linfield struggled at times in the first-half due to the inclement weather. We got a taste of that in the opening ten seconds when Jimmy Callacher misjudged a header back to Rohan Ferguson at the cost of a soft corner.

If it was more central, it would have been 1-0 to Carrick.

The danger wasn’t cleared yet, and from the resulting corner, Rohan Ferguson missed it, and was relieved to see Daniel Kelly head over.

Within a minute, Linfield were rueing a missed header of their own when Mark Stafford headed wide from a few yards out. He really should have scored. From where I was stood, it looked like he did.

Stafford has a good goalscoring record against Carrick, but only at Windsor Park. He was still looking for his first goal at Taylor’s Avenue.

Carrick were encouraged by their start, especially so when Daniel Kelly had a header tipped over by Rohan Ferguson, in a game that mirrored some of my previous visits to Taylor’s Avenue.

In 2015, Carrick were giving as good as they were getting, while the weather mirrored my visit in 2018.

Linfield’s best attacking moments usually came when Joel Cooper or Shayne Lavery got on the ball. Despite that, Linfield couldn’t create any clear chances.

It was Carrick who had the best opportunity to score when a poor backpass played in Stewart Nixon, who rolled the ball into the side netting from a wide angle.

From where I was stood, it looked like he had scored. He probably should have scored.

To be honest, Linfield fans were happy to take 0-0 at half-time.

It looked like that was going to be the half-time score, until the very last seconds when Niall Quinn managed to create space and fire home low with his right foot.

Undeserved, but Linfield were happy to take it.

It mirrored Linfield’s game there in 2017, where they had to wait until injury time in the first-half to take the lead.

Although, that was the only time Linfield had managed a first-half goal at Taylor’s Avenue since Carrick were promoted in 2015.

You always felt the first goal would be key in this game. If Linfield could get it, it would deflate Carrick’s enthusiasm. At least, that was the hope.

Linfield were out to make Carrick pay for their missed opportunities in the early stages of the second-half, with both Quinn and Lavery both hitting the crossbar, while Ryan McGivern had a shot saved.

If Linfield needed a reminded that they needed a second to be sure of the points, it came when Reece Neale flashed a shot just wide.

Neale’s luck didn’t improve when he flicked a Kirk Millar free-kick into his own net to put Linfield 2-0 up.

That goal Linfield in a strong position, a header from Mark Stafford, a customary goal against Carrick made it 3-0 on 75 minutes and secured the points.

This lead gave David Healy an opportunity to rest some players and give gametime to players who haven’t had much of it this season – Andrew Mitchell, Ross Larkin and Daniel Reynolds.

The only other moment of note in the rest of the game was some magic by Joel Cooper to work himself into a shooting position when it didn’t look possible, only to hit the sidenetting from a wide position.

A two goal defeat would have dropped Linfield from 8th to 9th, but this win moved them up to 5th. They would have been 4th if it wasn’t for Glentoran’s late winner against Warrenpoint on Saturday. If they win their games in hand, they will go top, which is where they want to be.

Elsewhere on Monday night, Dundalk won the League Of Ireland, meaning they will play Linfield in the Unite The Union Cup, two more games which will have to be arranged.

Linfield have already started getting dates arranged for their three outstanding League matches, with Warrenpoint Town visiting Windsor Park on Tuesday 22nd October. A handy double for me, as i’ll be heading to OMD the following night.

Last week, Easyjet released their Summer 2020 flights. I’d hoped to jump in and nab a brgain weekend in London for The 12th, to be there for the Euro 2020 Final.

£150 just to get on a plane. That’s before my luggage and hotel.

Looks like i’ll have to have a Plan B for that weekend. Feel free to hit me up with ideas.

Talking of European football, the 2021 European Super Cup Final will be at Windsor Park. Really want to go to this having been to the 2014 Final in Cardiff.

No pressure on Ole and David.

Meanwhile, UEFA have announced a third club competition called the Europa Conference League. Good idea, but an awful name.

I’ll wait to see what the qualifying criteria and format of the competition is before making a full analysis.

Up next for Linfield is a home match against Glenavon.

It’s not a fixture that has been kind to Linfield recently. No wins or goals in the last three meetings. No wins in the last four at home, and failed to score in their last three at home.

The last time Linfield beat Glenavon at home was the day the 2017 General Election was announced.

Photo Album

2018 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2018 was supposed to start for me heading to Coleraine, but the weather saw Linfield’s match on New Year’s Day postponed.

I had to wait a week for a photo adventure, heading to a very wet Carrick to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win.

A week and a bit later, it was my first visit of the year to Windsor Park, to see Linfield take on Glenavon.

The following weekend, I headed to London. Unsurprisingly, I was out with my camera, capturing a lot of Street Art, going to see Turin Brakes do an instore concert at Fopp, and seeing Millwall take on Rochdale in the FA Cup.

Upon my return from London, it was to Coleraine, to end the month with a rearranged game that should have kicked off the month.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

London Street Art

London Street Art Photo Album 1

London Street Art Photo Album 2

Turin Brakes live at Fopp Covent Garden

Turin Brakes live at Fopp Covent Garden Photo Album

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January 2018’s football watching was supposed to start at Coleraine on the first day of the month, but the weather saw to that, so I had to wait a week to visit Taylor’s Avenue for my first game of the month, to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win over Carrick Rangers.

There was another postponement in the middle of the month, at Warrenpoint, which meant I had to wait a whole week for my next match. It wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield lost 3-2 to Glenavon.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to London for a short weekend away. Naturally, I hoped to take in a game while I was there, and the game I chose was Millwall v Rochdale.

My final game of the month was a trip to Coleraine, which should have kicked off the month, to see Linfield score two late goals to secure a dramatic draw.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

/

CARRICK RANGERS 0-1 LINFIELD 9.1.2018

I headed to Carrick on Tuesday night for what was belatedly my first football match of 2018, following the postponement of the New Year’s Day game against Coleraine, and giving the Irish Cup tie at home to Glebe Rangers a miss.

On a belated theme, this was a match that should have taken place exactly a month earlier, having been postponed on it’s original date.

Back then, Linfield had come off the back of wins against the top two and we’re looking to set themselves up for a title charge. Eight points dropped in the month since then has forced them to reassess their ambitions. The three points on offer at Carrick were now to leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th.

There were a couple of shocks for Linfield fans as they entered the ground.

The first was that Achille Campion, Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth were all in the starting line-up together, when most would have expected two from three. Byrne would be deployed in a wide position throughout the game.

The second, was to see their team line up in all blue. I get that a change of socks could be required, but there was no shorts clash. I wouldn’t mind a season in all blue, we do look rather good in it.

Linfield fans were hoping that would be the end of the shocks. We simply couldn’t afford to have another one on the pitch.

Saturday was a rather good day for Linfield. As well as progressing in the Irish Cup and getting a home tie to Championship opponents in the next round, their two opponents this week, Carrick and Warrenpoint, both had to play extra-time with ten men.

Carrick’s match on Saturday was against Glenavon, who Linfield face the week after next, though if Glenavon players are still knackered two weeks later, they should really have a word with themselves.

The new boys, Byrne and Campion were involved in a lot of Linfield’s attacking play in the first-half. Campion was conceding a lot of free-kicks for minimal physical contact where there was no need to make it. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to learn quickly that this is a Defender’s League.

Andrew Waterworth was playing in a deeper role at times, which he did well, but it was taking him away from the areas of the pitch where he was needed most.

As well as battling a side facing relegation, Linfield were facing the elements as well, playing against the wind and struggling to do so.

What few attacks Linfield were having were falling short.

Denver Gage had Carrick’s two best moments in the first-half, heading over from an inswinging corner and firing a low shot straight at Roy Carroll after a free-kick found him free a few yards out. Even allowing for the fact he’s a Defender, he should have scored. You could say that Linfield got a long overdue lucky break.

Kurtis Byrne was Linfield’s man to be denied in the first-half, having a low shot tipped round the post by Harry Doherty. I was behind the goal and thought it was going in.

Later in the half, Doherty was beaten by Byrne only for a Carrick Defender to block it on the line.

It was 0-0 at half-time. Even though the weather was against them, it was poor from Linfield, they weren’t getting the basics right.

Part of me was hoping for a floodlight failure, match abandoned, and we’ll try again on a later date, and we can all be home in time to watch Inside Number 9.

Linfield were having more attacks in the second-half now that the weather was in their favour. Carrick’s big leveller had gone, and Linfield knew it. There was no clear chances, but lots of pressure on the Carrick goal.

The problem was, there didn’t appear to be any urgency or drive from Linfield, nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck. There were too many Hollywood Passes on a night when the wind either made them too short or too long. They had to just keep it simple.

They weren’t helped by the fact that Carrick were given licence to timewaste at will at goal kicks and throws. Roy Carroll would get booked in injury time for taking too long at a goal kick, the second time this season that it has happened. I can barely remember an opposition goalkeeper getting booked against Linfield this season.

If these rules are to be enforced, I’ve no problem with that, as long as it’s enforced consistently. If they are, it will be of no detriment to Linfield. If anything, it will be to our benefit, as most weeks we will be facing opponents who have had their Goalkeeper sent-off for two yellow cards.

Carroll almost gifted Carrick the lead when he passed a clearance to a Carrick Striker, but was able to recover the situation. Carrick fans were celebrating when a cross went over Carroll and hit the back of the netting, promting those at the opposite end to mistakingly believe it had hit the back of the net. Scundered for ye.

More Linfield pressure followed, with Josh Robinson heading against the side netting, to no cheers from fans at the opposite end of the ground.

It was clear that Linfield were crying out for subs to be introduced, especially with players such as Ryan Strain and Stephen Fallon ready to be introduce. They didn’t come, and neither did the Linfield goal.

Bad finishing or bad luck, the ball was staying out of the Carrick net. It was looking set to be a frustrating and costly 0-0 draw.

Eventually, Ryan Strain was introduced for Kirk Millar. Surprising to me, as Fallon would have been the obvious replacement if taking Millar off. It was a change that would work.

Strain was able to create space on the left, and cross to an unmarked Kurtis Byrne, who volleyed home from close range. It was a moment of quality not in keeping with the overall game. It didn’t matter, Linfield had the lead with 10 minutes to go.

They weren’t just going to sit on it, they went for a second but couldn’t get it. They didn’t need it, Carrick never looked like they were going to respond.

It was a win that saw Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville into 4th, with a trip to Warrenpoint coming up on Saturday, in the first game at the newly renamed Q Radio Arena. Yep, The Q Radio Arena.

Coleraine and Crusaders have winnable fixtures but Glenavon face Cliftonville, meaning that if we win, we’ll get closer to Glenavon or pull further away from Cliftonville. Small steps.

While we were making use of not having a game on New Year’s Day, we were all acting like proud parents (with a dash of envy) as Paul Smyth scored the winner for QPR against Cardiff, being interviewed by Colin Murray on Channel 5’s highlights programme that night, and then being the cover star of the following Saturday’s QPR matchday programme.

Anybody who has watched Linfield the last three years isn’t one bit shocked. We’ll be seeing him at Windsor Park again soon, but it will be in a green shirt. Thankfully, not for Glentoran on St Patrick’s Day.

That programme he was a cover star for was an FA Cup defeat. I’m in London on the FA Cup 4th Round weekend.

There’s not a lot of choice matches wise : Millwall v Rochdale or Leyton Orient v Aldershot in the National League.

I’ve been to Leyton Orient before, four years ago when they were chasing promotion to The Championship. Now, they are trying to avoid relegation to National League South. I’m probably banned for jinxing them.

The draw for the Irish Cup sees Linfield at home to Newry. It would have been more appealing as a spectator if we were away. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010.

Can’t say I miss the traffic in Newry City Centre. Hopefully, a Linfield win at Warrenpoint will make that experience more bearable on Saturday teatime.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February 2017 began for me in Manchester, heading over to see United take on Hull City, while also getting some Street Art photos.

Back in Northern Ireland, I was on the road to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute in the Irish Cup.

The next day, I was out on my bike for my biannual (usually February and August) visit to Belfast Peace Wall to get some photos of the Wall Art on the walls.

The following Saturday, another road trip, to Carrickfergus to see Linfield at Taylor’s Avenue

The following weekend, it was back to Windsor Park for Linfield, and a disappointing draw against Portadown.

The morning after, I was out on my bike to get photos of a Jamie Dornan mural in Belfast City Centre.

Later that day, it was another cup final, the NIFL Cup Final between Ballymena and Carrick.

The following weekend, I was Oval bound to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Be My Valentine

Be My Valentine Photo Album

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me at Old Trafford on the first day of the month, to see Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by Hull City.

Three days later came the first in a trilogy of road trips, first to Drumahoe to see Linfield take on Institute, then to Ballymena to see Linfield win the County Antrim Shield, and then to Carrick to see Linfield take on Carrick Rangers.

That was then followed by a visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Portadown.

The following day, I was Seaview bound to see Ballymena United take on Carrick Rangers in the NIFL Cup Final.

The football watching for the month ended with a trip to The Oval to see Linfield get a 1-0 win against Glentoran.

Manchester United v Hull City

Manchester United v Hull City Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

County Antrim Shield Final

County Antrim Shield Final Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

NIFL Cup Final

NIFL Cup Final Photo Album

Glentoran v Linfield

CARRICK RANGERS 0-2 LINFIELD 11.2.2017

After winning the County Antrim Shield on Tuesday, it was back to the League for Linfield as they travelled to Taylor’s Avenue to take on Carrick Rangers as they aim to keep up the pressure on Crusaders in the title race.

It wasn’t just Carrick that Linfield were up against, it was also the elements, as a constant wind caused problems for Linfield when they attacked into it, causing passes to be either overhit or underhit. Linfield’s players weren’t quite mastering conditions. Niall Quinn was denied an opportunity to set himself up for a shot when the ball held up in the air just as he was setting himself up.

The early minutes was all Linfield pressure. At the same time, it felt like it was a matter of time before Linfield scored, and it felt like a goal would never come, as both Jimmy Callacher and Niall Quinn had close range efforts saved. Quinn’s effort came after a Cameron Stewart shot was saved.

Carrick also had a couple of breaks which caused Linfield’s defence and keeper to have to be on alert.

Already a difficult afternoon because of the weather, it was important for Linfield not to concede during Carrick’s rare attacks. It was already a difficult afternoon, giving Carrick something to hold on to would have made it even more difficult.

Brian Neeson’s save filled afternoon was about to come to a premature end due to injury. With no goalkeeper on the bench, Mark Surgenor went into goals.

Linfield fans knew better than most that an outfield player having to go into goals doesn’t always result in a heavy defeat. Linfield still had to create the chances to score past him.

Those chances didn’t come as Carrick’s defence held firm, as the first-half looked set to end goalless, a first-half which mirrored my only previous visit to Carrick, in August 2015, where Linfield won 3-0 but took a long time to get the breakthrough.

As first-half injury time approached, Linfield got their best opportunity when a penalty was awarded after a Niall Quinn shot was blocked by a Carrick defender’s hand.

Penalties against Carrick have proved problematic in the past two seasons with Aaron Burns (October 2015), Andrew Waterworth (December 2015) and Ross Gaynor (September 2016) all having penalties saved by Brian Neeson.

Neeson wasn’t on the pitch to try and get a quadruple. This penalty incident was to be dominated by men who weren’t on the pitch. As on Tuesday night, with Ross Gaynor and Aaron Burns not on the pitch, it was left to Stephen Lowry to take the kick for Linfield.

Quite how it will be decided who takes the penalty if Linfield are awarded one when all three are on the pitch is anyone’s guess.

Like on Tuesday, Lowry sent the keeper the wrong way, but going to the keeper’s left this time.

It wouldn’t have been a disaster for Linfield to go in 0-0 at half-time, but going in 1-0 was a lot better. It could even have been 2-0, but Cameron Stewart’s headed chance went just wide.

The second-half got off to a slow start. Stephen Lowry had a long range shot go over, while a volley from the edge of the box went just wide.

Mark Stafford had a flick which hit the post while Niall Quinn also hit the post. Even when Mark Surgenor flapped at a cross from Matthew Clarke, he managed to get away with it.

If you were doing text commentary of this match, you could have just cut and pasted the phrase “Linfield should be 2-0 up, ……”

As each minute passed with the score at 1-0, you began to get that horrible feeling that Linfield would be made to pay for their missed chances. Even though Carrick didn’t look like scoring, when there’s only one goal in it, you always have a chance.

You could just see it, a cross that would normally have gone over gets held up in the wind and falls straight to a Carrick player to score.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Paul Smyth as he continues his recovery from injury.

Linfield fans horrible premonition almost came through when Roy Carroll had to save a long range shot after a Carrick break.

Linfield tried for the second goal that would make the final minutes more relaxing. Andrew Waterworth thought he was going to get it as he lined up a shot, only for a Carrick defender to get in and block.

Eventually, Linfield got the second goal. Appropriately, it came after two glorious missed chances, Mark Stafford having a header saved and then Cameron Stewart hitting the woodwork from that rebound before Paul Smyth eventually finished.

That was the game won, and some supporters headed for the exits just as injury time started, content that Linfield had the job done.

Without playing fantastic, Linfield were deserved winners. The elements could have been a leveller. Linfield made sure that it wasn’t.

A curious fact was that this was Linfield’s ninth successive away win. Ten if you change the stat to “Games away from Windsor Park” to include neutral matches. The good news is, there are two successive away games coming up after next weekend. The even better news for those who want to save on petrol, is that they are both in Belfast.

Next Friday is a home match against Portadown. Even though Linfield have lost Friday night games to Portadown in the last two years, a third is unthinkable. It’s a game we should be winning and winning comfortably. Wed need to finish a bit better than we did today though.

Between now and the split, Linfield will only face one team in the top half of the table. This represents an excellent opportunity to get points and momentum ahead of the split.

Unfortunately, the gap at the top remains seven points. That might seem like a lot but Crusaders can still be overtaken. They’re more disappointed when we win than we are when they do.

Cliftonville lost today, meaning that Linfield now have a nine point lead from 3rd place, now freeing them to concentrate on overtaking Crusaders, and not have to worry about dropping into 3rd.

While at Taylor’s Avenue, I got a ticket for next weekend’s League Cup Final, meaning I have football matches on Friday and Saturday. It could have been some fun if I had decided to head over for Man United’s UEFA Cup tie against St Etienne on Thursday as well.

Carrick will have a break from League duty next weekend as both clubs try to amass as many points between now and the end of the season for differing reasons. Carrick for the right to be hosting Linfield in the League next season, and Linfield to be able to travel to various grounds as champions.

Photo Album

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.