GLENTORAN 0-1 LINFIELD 25.2.2017

After yet another disappointing at Windsor Park against Portadown, Linfield will have been glad to be on the road. If they could choose any ground to visit, it would be The Oval. To say that Linfield have a good record there in recent years is a bit of an understatement.

Form in recent years would suggest this good run would continue. In the past two years, Linfield have gifted Glentoran a point at Windsor Park and then won the remaining fixtures. Glentoran’s league position suggested that a fourth League meeting between the sides at Windsor Park in April won’t be happening.

As supporters entered The Oval, there was one name that the away fans were talking about, Alex Moore. Who? I hear you say. Don’t worry, I asked the same thing. He’s an 18 year old goalkeeper making his debut after (i presume) injuries to Roy Carroll and Gareth Deane rather than a pie related disciplinary issue at the club.

To add to the goalkeeper crisis, the unofficial third choice goalkeeper Mark Haughey was also injured. Coincidentally, his penalty heroics against Glenavon was a year ago this weekend.

Haughey missed the Portadown match and was replaced by Chris Casement. Casement was then demoted to the bench and replaced by Reece Glendenning, who scored a hat-trick against Portadown in a reserve game last week. I don’t that that’s what he was in the team for today, but it would be nice if he did that.

Moore played in the Steel and Sons Cup Final over Christmas, so he had some sort of big match experience going into this. It was telling that Jamie Mulgrew won possession in his defensive third in the first minute and headed back to him, just to give him an early touch of the ball.

He would get further touches of the ball in the early minutes by having to keep out a speculative shot from the byline and having to come out and catch a low cross in the six yard box. Jimmy Callacher probably would have cleared, Moore was not taking any chances and dealing with the danger himself.

Linfield were slow getting into the game, but their first moment of quality almost brought a goal when Niall Quinn got clear and his low cross evaded both Cameron Stewart and Andrew Waterworth.

Paul Smyth wasn’t really getting into the game. For some reason, Linfield attack stands rather than sides. For example, left in the first-half and then right in the second, or the other way around. All the attacking in the first-half by Linfield was down the left hand side, meaning Smyth wasn’t involved as much.

Glentoran’s tactic was to stop Linfield by stopping Jamie Mulgrew, usually by illegal methods as he extended his lead at the top of the Most Fouled Irish League Player In History Chart.

They weren’t even honest fouls, they were cynical fouls with no intention of getting the ball, just to stop the man. While the referee’s yellow card stayed in his pocket, it only encouraged Glentoran more.

It was clear that, like in the recent Irish Cup tie, Glentoran were set up to try and snatch a 1-0 lead in the first-half and then hold onto it in the second-half.

That 1-0 lead that Glentoran desired almost came a counter attack when Steven Gordon knocked the ball past Moore, only to see Reece Glendenning get back in time to clear it on the goal-line.

Stephen Lowry fired agonisingly wide from the edge of the box while Linfield should have had a penalty for a handball from a Niall Quinn cross. A football match had finally broken out, 40 minutes late.

Despite ending the first-half well, Linfield needed to play so much better to get the points in the second-half.

Linfield were much better at the start of the second-half, not that it was hard. Paul Smyth was getting more and more involved in the game. The correlation between getting Paul Smyth on the ball and Linfield looking more likely to score is a very simple one to understand.

It looked like Jimmy Callacher would be the man to give Linfield that lead when his header came back to him, perfectly set up, but he volleyed the ball over.

Paul Smyth then fired just wide as Linfield’s pressure began to increase.

Ironically, Linfield got the goal just when the pressure had died down, a header from a free-kick falling perfectly to Andrew Waterworth to just about finish from a few yards out. As long as Linfield did nothing stupid in the final half hour, it should be enough to secure the points.

Sean Ward came on as a sub for Stephen Lowry, and he had a header go wide from just inside the box as Linfield looked for the second goal that would secure the points.

Aaron Burns made a welcome return off the bench after a month out through injury, while Ross Gayno came on for Paul Smyth. It seemed that Niall Quinn would be the obvious player to go off for Gaynor to come one.

Quinn did go off. Not subbed or sent-off, but injured. The end result being that Linfield would play the final minutes with only ten men. They started to get defensive, inviting unnecessary onto themselves.

The best that Glentoran could offer were a couple of speculative shots in the same attack, one which was blocked by their own player, and the other saved by Moore.

Thankfully, Linfield held onto the ball and made sure Glentoran couldn’t hurt them, seeing out the game to win 1-0.

It was Linfield’s ninth successive win at The Oval, eight in the League and ten if you include the “home” match against Crusaders in April 2015. Thirteen unbeaten against Glentoran there and fourteen if you consider the 2012/2013 County Antrim Shield Final to be a draw. Isn’t it great to be arguing about winning/unbeaten run stats?

Considering our poor results at Windsor Park in recent months, perhaps we should play all future home games at The Oval. (Clarification. Just a joke. For the avoidance of doubt, just a joke)

The only two teams to win a League match at Windsor Park this season, Cliftonville and Coleraine played out a 0-0 draw at Solitude, meaning Linfield extend their lead over 3rd place Cliftonville to eleven points.

I would expect that even if our title challenge fails, at least Linfield won’t be having to participate in the ridiculous UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

Even if Linfield lose to twice to Cliftonville in the run-in (We won’t. I know we’ve lost twice to Cliftonville this season, but we won’t lose the next two to them. They’ve downed tools since their Irish Cup exit and are preparing for Play-Off games in May, just like last season) it will be hard to see Cliftonville overturn those remaining five points considering they have only won two (five draws and three defeats, if you care) of their last ten games. Two out of twelve if you include friendlies against Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers.

It also maintains Coleraine’s unbeaten run, albeit ending a run of eight successive wins. The only reason I want Coleraine to maintain their good run of form is that they play Crusaders at the end of March.

Just Crusaders luck to avoid playing Coleraine while they are on a winning run of form. Even bigger luck that their postponed (due to Ballymena’s involvement in the League Cup Final) taking place in the midweek before that game.

Talking of Cliftonville, they will be Linfield’s next League opponents, on Monday 13th March, a game you can see live on Sky Sports. The problem is, it’s up against Chelsea v Manchester United on BBC One at the same time.

It’s great that games are on Sky Sports but I don’t think they’ve picked a good one. Unless Glentoran are visiting on Boxing Day, any game at Windsor Park will be showcasing empty seats in the North Stand due to the camera position.

It would have been better if Sky had waited until the live FA Cup games were picked by BT and BBC before picking an Irish League game that weekend to show.

The bad news for Linfield is that Cliftonville had two players, Paul Finnegan and Jamie McGovern, sent-off. For some reason, Linfield always play badly against teams who have multiple players missing through suspension and/or injury

As I type, the teatime kick-off between Portadown and Crusaders finished 1-1. I know, i’m as shocked as you are, that a team who got a heroic result against Linfield followed-up with a result that helps Linfield.

The gap at the top of the table is now back to seven points, as you were from last Friday teatime but two games further on. When you and a rival both drop points in a title race, you’re caught between agonising over points thrown away and relieved at the situation not being worse.

Linfield get a break from League action next weekend, but it’s not a weekend off, as they travel to Seaview in the Irish Cup. It’s a game that Linfield will have no fear in due to the head to heads this season.

If we play like we do in the previous four meetings this season, we’ll be fine.

Linfield have written the book on how to play against Crusaders this season. Other clubs are more than welcome to have a read. Hopefully, there’ll be another chapter added next weekend.

Photo Album

GLENTORAN 1-2 LINFIELD 7.1.2017

There may have been sixteen ties in the Irish Cup today, but there was only one which took top billing as Glentoran and Linfield faced each other at The Oval, hoping to avoid an early exit in a season that hasn’t gone to plan for both clubs.

Linfield’s season was best summed up in the past week, by cutting the gap at the top last Saturday at Seaview, then seeing all that work undone with a defeat to Coleraine. It wasn’t quite make or break for Linfield today, but the fallout from an early Irish Cup exit was a distraction they could do without.

As well as the disappointing result on Tuesday, Linfield would go into this game without Jimmy Callacher, their matchwinner on their last visit to The Oval in October, through suspension as a result of his red card. Perhaps surprisingly, Jamie Mulgrew coming in for him was the only change from Tuesday’s team.

Linfield had a lot of possession in the early moments of the game but didn’t really do much with it. A familiar theme this season.

Linfield didn’t help themselves with misplaced and sloppy passing. One of those sloppy passes, from Aaron Burns, set up Glentoran’s first attacking moment of the game as Curtis Allen raced towards goal but Linfield’s defence was able to see off the danger.

Allen made no mistake when he was able to get a shooting position outside the box to put Glentoran 1-0 up. The goal came from more sloppy passing from Linfield, losing possession to set up a Glentoran chance, not once but twice, having already cleared an original attack, they gave Glentoran another try.

Instead of passing to each other, they were passing at each other, with predictable results.

With each passing minute, the introduction of Ross Gaynor from the bench, back after missing recent matches, was becoming a better and better idea.

It was actually a relief that Linfield were only 1-0 down at half-time, was an indication of how poor the performance was.

Linfield’s best moment in the first-half came when some nice passing played in Andrew Waterworth, whose shot beat Elliott Morris but hit the post.

I was already celebrating when the ball went past Morris. I wasn’t the only one. It’s one of those cheap laughs when opposition fans prematurely celebrate a goal. Sadly, Linfield fans were the punchline on this occasion.

Niall Quinn fired a free-kick over from a wide position as the half neared it;s end. That was as good as it got for Linfield.

Early in the second-half, Linfield made changes out wide, bringing on Ross Gaynor and Kirk Millar for Jonny Frazer and Niall Quinn. The substitution had an instant impact.

A cross from Millar forced Glentoran to concede a corner, which was cleared, and then played back to Gaynor, who got to the byline, even managing to see off a Glentoran defender trying to shepherd the ball out, to play it back to Kirk Millar to cross it in for Stephen Lowry to volley home from close range.

I had originally thought it was Aaron Burns who scored, not realising until I got home. It didn’t matter, Linfield were level.

Glentoran were sitting back and hoping to get a second on the counter or by forcing a mistake from Linfield’s defence as they chased a goal. Now they had to come up with a different gameplan.

Even if Glentoran had got a second on the counter, their recent home results (2-3 v Ballymena and 2-2 v Dungannon after being 2-0 up in both games) would have given Linfield hope, it was not an avenue they wanted to explore.

Linfield failed to build on the game swinging in their favour, all they could get was a snapshot by Andrew Waterworth straight at Morris, while Aaron Burns missed out on a goalscoring opportunity by taking a touch when he should have shot instantly.

Linfield fans thought their team was going to pay for this in the final moments as a free-kick was deflected past Roy Carroll, but just wide of the post. Glentoran are so bad these days they can’t even be jammy.

Just like on Boxing Day, it finished 1-1 after 90 minutes. Unlike on Boxing Day, there had to be a winner. Extra-time would be needed. Linfield fans went through this at this stage last year against Ballymena United. They were hoping for a similar, but less nervy outcome.

It was goal the winner. Not literally, but the way the game had gone, whoever went 2-1 down was never going to pull it back.

We had a dramatic start to extra-time, but not a goal, a delay due to a problem with the nets at the Sydenham End.

The next action at that net was a goal for Linfield when Stephen Lowry found enough space in the box to cross for Andrew Waterworth to put Linfield 2-1 up.

Within a minute, Waterworth’s game was over, as he was substituted for Sean Ward, who was unlucky not to start today in place of Chris Casement.

I can only assume Waterworth had an injury. Even though Cameron Stewart was on the bench, it wasn’t the game for a young converted defender to be leading the line. Aaron Burns and Kirk Millar took on that role with Ross Gaynor supporting.

Thankfully, Kevin Amuneke will be eligible to offer more options in attacking positions, especially with Paul Smyth still injured.

In the second-half of extra-time, you would have thought it was Linfield chasing a goal with Ross Gaynor, Aaron Burns and Stephen Lowry having chances to score. All Glentoran could offer was a Chris Lavery shot which went well wide.

Kirk Millar was played through and had a toepoke saved by Morris despite having time to run through and set himself up to shoot.

Aaron Burns as he ran on to a through ball, clear on goal with only Morris to beat, not by Elliott Morris, but by a referee’s whistle pulling the game back for a foul on a Linfield player.

All the ref had to do was to wait a few seconds. Burns might have missed, he might have scored. Elliott Morris might have got to the ball first. It would have been good to know.

As the game entered the final minutes, a section of Linfield supporters taunted their rivals by chanting “YOU’RE SEASON’s OVER, WHY DON’T YOU GO HOME?”

They were tempting fate. They didn’t need to worry, Glentoran weren’t going to make them look silly as Linfield held out for the win.

At half-time in extra-time, I had a quick look on Twitter for other scores, and an update during Ballymena United v Cliftonville game of a Ballymena player avoiding a second yellow card from a lenient referee.

Who was that referee? Raymond Crangle, who refereed Linfield v Coleraine on Tuesday. A second yellow instantly brandished or a final warning? Depends what colour of shirt you’re wearing.

The draw for the next round was done, giving Linfield an away trip to Institute. I shall be travelling to that one, one of the relatively easier North-West grounds to get to.

Linfield fans will be seeing a lot of Northern Ireland’s motorways over the next few weeks, with away trips on four of the next five Saturdays.

That means the match against Ballymena on 21st January will be only chance over the next few weeks to purchase Every Other Saturday, a book chronicling Linfield’s history from 1986 to 2016.

I held off in the hope that Santa would bring it to me, but he didn’t, and I was too peeved leaving the ground after the last two home games to call into the shop afterwards. Ie – I forgot.

Up next in the league is a trip to Glenavon in a must-win. If we can get through the first ten minutes with eleven men on the pitch, that would be a good start.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield take on Glentoran, play awful but grind out a 2-1 win.

The following Saturday, I went to see Northern Ireland take on San Marino, the first game at a fully redeveloped Windsor Park.

I then went home, and got a bit of sleep, before an early morning boat to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United.

Two days later, I was Limelight bound to see Feeder in concert.

There were then two frustrating weekends as I was then Coleraine bound the following Saturday to see Linfield held to a frustrating draw, just as they were at home to Crusaders the following Saturday.

The month ended by going to see KT Tunstall in concert at Mandela Hall.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2016 began for me at The Odyssey to see Muse in concert.

The following Saturday, I headed for Seaview to see Linfield lose to Crusaders, a match that killed off their title hopes.

Another concert soon followed, this time it was to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott at Ulster Hall.

Back to football, and a double whammy of convincing Linfield wins, over Coleraine and Glentoran.

The match against Coleraine allowed me to check out the facilities in the South Stand for the first time since it was officially opened.

Towards the end of the month, Prince died, and Belfast wasn’t slow in paying tribute, a mural appearing within a day of his death.

I then headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

Around that time, I purchased a new camera as my camera was broken beyond repair. I was still getting used to it, so that’s why some photos towards the end of the month are a bit different.

Muse live at The Odyssey

Muse live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Crusaders v Linfield

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at Ulster Hall

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Purple Rain

Purple Rain Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

GLENTORAN 1-2 LINFIELD 1.10.2016

Gary Haveron made his debut as Glentoran manager when Linfield visited The Oval today, hoping to do a bit better than Scott Young managed on his debut against the same opponents in 2010.

Strangely, I was nervous going into today’s game. Glentoran have been so bad this season they were surely due to have a good performance?

When they’ve faced Linfield top of the league or challenging for the title, I never felt as worried going into the game as today.

An early goal would have been a dream start for Linfield. They should have had it when Ross Gaynor was played in behind Glentoran’s defence but his cross went straight to Elliott Morris when attacking players were queuing up for a pass.

Over the past 14 years, everyone except referees have got used to Elliott Morris timewasting. Doing so inside the first 10 seconds was impressive, going down and making the most of a Paul Smyth challenge..

Admittedly, a naughty challenge by Smyth, you would expect a keeper to stay on his feet and look his opponent in the eye to say that he’s not going to be pushed around. Bizarre.

There wasn’t long to wait for a Linfield goal, as Kirk Millar returned a cross after his corner came back to him, and his cross was put into his own net by Marcus Kane.

Glentoran’s nervousness in defence was clear to see, conceding soft throws and corners from poorly executed clearances. It was almost as if they were inviting Linfield to score.

Chris Casement looked set to reciprocate the defensive generosity when his clearance played in Steven Gordon, but his shot was blocked by Mark Stafford. That’s the sort of thing that happens to teams that are struggling at the bottom of the league.

Aaron Burns was looking to score in his 4th successive game, and had two headed chances that he couldn’t get on target. Mark Stafford was another who couldn’t get a header on target, while Sammy Clingan had a long range shot parried out for a corner.

It might sound like Linfield were playing brilliant. They weren’t, barely creating anything in open play.

Kirk Millar stayed on his feet when he could have got a penalty if he went down, and wasn’t rewarded for his honesty as his shot dragged wide.

In a way, I was glad that Linfield were only 1-0 up. If they were 2-0 up, they could have got complacent and conceded, giving all the momentum to Glentoran.

At least at 1-0, Linfield would have known they needed to kill the game, and could focus on the job in hand.

That was the plan. What the reality was, Linfield continued to play as poor as they did, but Glentoran were playing better, and in a mood to make Linfield pay.

Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a wide angle, with a goal kick being surprisingly awarded.

A few minutes, later a wrong decision benefited Glentoran when a corner was awarded when it should have been a goal kick to Linfield. They made the most of it when Curtis Allen fired home from a yard out. It had been coming. It made his last minute equaliser at Windsor Park last season look like a long range effort.

This game had mirrored the pattern of meetings in November 2014 and October 2015 when Glentoran scored last minute equalisers after Linfield played poorly and invited them on.

The only positive for Linfield, was that there was still 35 minutes to rectify the situation.

Though, the only team that looked like winning were Glentoran.

All Linfield could do, was to try and ride out the storm. They just about did.

David Healy turned to the bench, bringing on Andrew Waterworth for Paul Smyth. The scene was set for him to get a late winner. As far as Linfield were concerned, anyone would have done.

Soon after, Kris Bright came on for Ross Gaynor, but it was Glentoran who had the next big chance when Calum Birney headed wide.

Again, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Niall Quinn for Aaron Burns. Personally, I would have brought on Stephen Fallon.

On 87 minutes, Linfield had one last push, winning a corner. From that corner, Jimmy Callacher headed home to put Linfield 2-1 up.

As poorly as Linfield had played, there was no way that Glentoran were going to come back from that. All Linfield had to do was keep their nerve in the time remaining to get the points.

That time remaining would include 5 minutes of injury time after a Glentoran player suffered a head injury.

It was Glentoran rather than Linfield who were failing to hold their nerve in the final moments when Calum Birney was sent-off for a reckless challenge on Niall Quinn.

It was stupid on so many levels, as Quinn wasn’t going towards goal, and it ate up so much time when time wasn’t on Glentoran’s side.

Linfield looked the most likely to score in injury time from breakaways. Kris Bright was played in but his low shot was straight at Elliott Morris.

If you’re going to miss at that time of the game, at least sky it so it will kill some time. Thankfully, it wasn’t costly for Linfield as the final whistle blew and they celebrated 7 successive league wins against Glentoran at The Oval, 8 successive wins at the venue if you include the ‘home’ match against Crusaders in 2015.

It was a smash and grab by Linfield. In some ways, it was probably more satisfying that winning 4 or 5-0.

Elsewhere, Crusaders beat Cliftonville 4-3. I had heard that Cliftonville were 3-0 up, then I heard it was 4-3 to Crusaders.

I’d no mobile internet due to Vodafone being a rip-off shower and double charging me for data. It was a nice throwback to the days of hearing 50 different scores of the same match.

When Cliftonville were winning and Linfield drawing, Cliftonville would have been 4 points behind Linfield with them to come to Solitude later this month, and Cliftonville playing next Saturday while Linfield are in Scotland to face Queen of the South.

Today’s result ended Cliftonville’s slight title chances, if they weren’t over already.

It’s a break for Linfield in league terms, travelling to Palmerston to take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

October will be a busy month for Linfield, playing Weekend-Midweek from next weekend onwards.

When you get a late winner at The Oval, the games can’t come soon enough.

Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – APRIL

April’s football watching began at Seaview, seeing Linfield lose to Crusaders in a game that ultimately killed off their title ambitions.

The following week, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Coleraine, the first game that Linfield fans would be using the South Stand.

The month ended with two more Linfield games, both 4-0 wins against Glentoran and Cliftonville.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON – DECEMBER

After a horrible November, the hope was that December would be a bit better. It got off to a good start, with Linfield beating Coleraine at Windsor Park.

That proved to be a false dawn as Linfield could only draw at home to Ballinamallard United the following week.

Thankfully, the month ended a bit better for Linfield, with wins on the road against Ballymena United and Glentoran.

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Ballinamallrd United

Ballymena United v Linfield

Glentoran v Linfield

GLENTORAN 0-4 LINFIELD 19.4.2016

Having secured European football on Saturday, Linfield discovered what competition they would be playing in on Tuesday, as Crusaders win at Solitude condemned them to the UEFA Cup Final.

To take the Joleon Lescott approach, it was something we’d known for a long time. It wasn’t all bad news, as Linfield recorded their biggest league win at The Oval since 1933.

Going into the game, Linfield were the last team to beat Glentoran, 3-0 on 12th March. Since then, they’d won three and drawn one of their four games since. You could almost call them a form team.

Linfield managed to go 1-0 up when there was still daylight. Like on Saturday, it only took 3 minutes, and like on Saturday, Kirk Millar was involved. This time as assister rather than scorer. He could have been the scorer if he wanted to.

After gifting Linfield a goal last month with a poor kick out, Elliott Morris was at it again, hitting a free-kick low along the ground straight to Kirk Millar. Linfield supporters screamed for him to shoot, especially as there was a lot of the goal to aim for.

He elected to run with the ball and play it in to Andrew Waterworth. He got a bit of luck when an attempted Glentoran interception fell straight to Andrew Waterworth to fire home first time to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Linfield then dominated the opening moments. Ross Gaynor broke through but dragged his shot wide from a wide angle. If Linfield could get a second goal before the sky turned dark, it could potentially be a rout.

Having survived that period of Linfield pressure only 1-0 down, Glentoran came into the game, giving Linfield some nervous moments.

In truth, what Linfield had to deal with was speculative shots and crosses, defenders having to get in the way of things.

Gareth Deane, making his second successive start, his appearance in a stronger Linfield starting eleven, you would expect at least 9 to start the Irish Cup Final if fit, the biggest suggestion that he will be between the sticks on May 7th, having recovered from the finger injury suffered in the week after his appearance in the Quarter-Final against Cliftonville.

The height of Deane’s workload was making basic saves and catching crosses. Regardless of the difficulty of the task, it still needs to be done.

Stephen Lowry had a great chance to make it 2-0 when Glentoran tried to play offside at a free-kick, only for Lowry to be played onside, but was unable to take the chance.

Linfield got the second goal their play deserved when a headed clearance fell perfectly for Andrew Waterworth, to fire home a screamer from 25 yards.

He doesn’t usually score from that range, or even from outside the box. It was one of those nights.

Mark Haughey had Linfield’s next attacking moment, but his stab at goal was saved by Morris.

Linfield’s only moment of worry came when Jimmy Callacher and Matthew Clarke had a clash of heads on the stroke of half-time.

Clarke was unable to continue, substituted at half-time for Niall Quinn, but was fit enough to take a seat in the dugout, with an icepack for company.

Callacher was able to continue while sporting a bandage on his head, a badge of honour for a central defender.

In bygone days, even a 2-0 lead against Glentoran wouldn’t be enough to secure victory. The pessimist in me would be in fear of conceding a goal even if they had a throw-in in their own half. There was never that fear on Tuesday.

The best that Glentoran could offer was a header against the post. Even if it did go in, you got the feeling Linfield would have seen the game out or went on to win it 3-1.

It was Linfield who looked the most likely to score the third goal of the game. Paul Smyth broke away and fired just wide.

Like in recent games at Solitude, even when he didn’t have the ball, opposition defences were in fear of him, of what he can do when he gets it.

Linfield made it 3-0 when Glentoran’s offside trap failed, with Mark Haughey through on goal, and having enough time to decide wether to pass to Aaron Burns or score himself. He passed to Burns, on as a substitute, who made it 3-0.

Burns made it 4-0 when he bundled the ball home from a corner.

Linfield fans wanted five, but were more than happy to accept four.

The biggest roar of the night came as the Glentoran players left the pitch to boos from their own fans gathered at the tunnel. It was a beautiful sight and sound.

All they could offer for Linfield players leaving the pitch was chants of “CRUSADERS!! CRUSADERS!!!”

Their attempts at banter was as weak, uninspiring and devoid of ideas as their team.

Photo Album

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2015

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

Games : 54

Goals Seen : 143

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

Missed/Saved Penalties : 6

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

Teams Seen : 40

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

Stadiums Visited : 23

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

Competitions : 13

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

Curiousities :

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

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

GLENTORAN 1-2 LINFIELD 26.12.2015

Boxing Day when the year ends in 5 is usually memorable. 1995 was all about a white ball and snow, while 2005 saw Linfield record their biggest win in the annual fixture.

2015 would be end to end and dramatic, and that was before a ball was kicked, as kick-off was delayed until 4pm in order for water to be cleared off the pitch to make the pitch playable and avoid a postponement as the internet became filled with rumours that it would be postponed and pass a pitch inspection at the same time.

Just after 3pm, when the action should have been starting, came confirmation that the pitch was playable and the match was on.

Supporters who had waited all year now had to wait an extra hour for the game to start, and another ninety minutes to see if it was worth the wait.

We shall see in 721 days time, but this could be the last Boxing Day encounter at The Oval as we currently know it, with the stadium being recently approved for funding for redevelopment work.

The state of The Oval in 2017 wasn’t of interest to anyone, it was the state of the Linfield team of 2015 that matter to those in the City End, with the team ending the year in not as good shape as they began it.

Though, they were ending the month in a much better state than they started it.

Inside the first five minutes, Jimmy Callacher was already covered in muck. It was a day when you had to get dirty in order to win.

Linfield had the better of the early exchanges, with a Matthew Clarke cross being cleared when the attack looked to be getting dangerous.

Niall Quinn cut in and fired a shot goalwards which was deflected over the bar. Linfield were getting a lot of joy down their left hand side in the first-half between Clarke and Quinn. Paul Smyth was even helping out and joining the party.

Linfield were having the better of the play but had to be wary of Glentoran’s attacks, as Curtis Allen had a free-kick tipped over by Ross Glendinning.

Linfield had their own free-kick which didn’t quite work, as Kirk Millar set up Niall Quinn, only to be dispossessed and then foul his opponent.

Linfield had more pressure on Glentoran’s goal, Jamie Mulgrew shooting wide, Sean Ward hitting a long range shot against the bar and Kirk Millar having his shot saved when he had a brief glimpse of goal.

Glentoran replied with Curtis Allen and Jay Magee having headers wide, before Glentoran heads were needed in their own penalty area when Andrew Waterworth’s goalbound shot was headed off the line.

As half-time approached, Linfield took the lead from a Niall Quinn free-kick.

At the other end of the pitch, the view is never great at The Oval. I wasn’t quite sure what happened. A glance at TV replays showed it went through the goalkeeper’s hands. A belated Christmas present that Linfield were more than happy to accept.

Having got a lot of joy down the left in the first-half, it was all about the right sided players in the second-half, with Kirk Millar and Paul Smyth, assisted by Andrew Waterworth, were making it happen for Linfield in an attacking sense.

Smyth had the beating if his man. He knew it, and every Linfield player knew it, getting the ball to him at every opportunity.

It was down the middle though, came the chance to make it 2-0, when Waterworth won possession clean through but couldn’t finish.

It wasn’t long before it was 2-0, when Smyth got the the byline, cut back, and saw his cross/shot deflected into the net.

The goal had been coming, not just in this game but in Smyth’s career. Hopefully, it will be the first of many for him in a blue shirt.

Just as Linfield fans were looking forward to the rare prospect of a nice nerve free final half hour of a match against Glentoran, The Glens struck back within a minute, when a cross was fired home by Jonathan Smith from close range.

Linfield needed a third goal and had chances to get it though Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn.

Curtis Allen, who got a late equaliser when the sides met in October, headed over with five minutes to go.

That was it for Glentoran. Nobody would say it out loud though. Football fans are a superstitious bunch who don’t dare tempt fate.

Linfield were able to hold onto possession, and in Glentoran’s defensive third, where they couldn’t do any damage, and got the 2-1 win, the 4th successive year they had won this fixture by that scoreline.

Linfield ended an eventful, but ultimately disappointing (which is a bit of an understatement) on a winning note.

Like at Ballymena, players and fans celebrated together at full-time.

As well as Christmas tradition and local bragging rights, this was a big result for Linfield in terms of the league table as a result of today’s other results.

Coleraine and Glenavon, just below Linfield, both won, while Crusaders and Cliftonville drew. Linfield are now one point behind Cliftonville and nine behind Crusaders, though both teams have a game in hand.

Linfield host Crusaders on New Year’s Day, knowing that a win could reduce the gap at the top of the league to six points. There might even be talk of a title challenge.

There’s never any middle ground when it comes to Linfield, everything is either brilliant or falling apart. It would be nice to have some positive ridiculousness on Friday compared to the ridiculousness that followed in November.

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