It’s not the turkey or the presents that makes Christmas, it’s the match the next day. For the first time since 2018, Linfield fans will be marking Christmas as a good one.
They arrived at The Oval (two turnstiles in operation for a large crowd again, just like in February) in expectation of that being the case, a perfect storm of Linfied being on a long unbeaten run and Glentoran losing three in a row as part of a run of one win in eight, a change in roles from when the sides met in the League in October.
Linfield were hoping results would go their way and push them up to 2nd. Glentoran were fearing that results could go against them and they could end up 6th.
It’s almost as if celebrating winning the League in October angers the Football Gods.
You know me, i’d rather play a Glentoran side who have won ten games in a row rather than one who have lost ten games in a row. The theory of “They’re due one”.
Linfield’s starting eleven showed two changes, with Daniel Finlayson and Robbie McDaid coming in for Conor Pepper and Chris McKee.
That was probably harsh on both players but the team didn’t feel weakend. That’s why you have a large squad.
There was a bit of a shock as the teams were getting ready to kick off, with a change of usual ends, with Linfield attacking the goal where their support is based in the first-half instead of the second-half.
I presume it was to do with the wind. Linfield would be playing against it when attacking it. Glentoran were obviously wanting to try and score every advantage they could get.
It would also mean Linfield wouldn’t be attacking that end in the second-half if they were chasing the game. Although Glentoran wouldn’t be attacking their own fans either. I don’t know why, but the ball always seems to bounce perfectly for them when they attack that end.
Linfield dominated possession in the opening minutes but didn’t create any clear opportunities.
That looked like changing when Cameron Palmer began a counter attack, fed Joel Cooper and got a return pass but his cross was intercepted at the cost of a throw.
Palmer was to endure more cross related frustration when an interception denied him just as he was making a run to get on the end of a Robbie McDaid cross.
There was even more frustration for Palmer as he tried his luck from range, only to see his effort easily saved by Aaron McCarey.
And then he was beaten to the ball by a Glentoran defender as he looked to get on the end of a Chris Shields.
Despite this frustration, Linfield just needed to keep doing what they were doing and eventually one of them would fall into place.
They really needed a goal to make the most of their superiority.
Joel Cooper was next to be frustrated as he created space for himself but dragged his shot well wide.
Eventually, Linfield would have an opportunity to take the lead when Eetu Vertainen burst into the box but was taken down by Patrick McClean, a clear penalty.
Despite having a lot of the ball in Glentoran’s half, Linfield hadn’t really created a clear opportunity. Thie would be their best chance of the game. They simply had to take it.
It was probably a good thing that Chris Shields missed a penalty against Ballymena United last month. Might as well get one out of the way when it didn’t matter.
This one definitely mattered, and Shields made no mistake to put Linfield 1-0 up.
With Glentoran’s confidence so fragile, and with just under ten minutes of the half remaining, there was still time for Linfield to get a second that would surely kill the game.
Just one, but you’d happily take a 1-0 lead at half-time, especially when the weather was against you.
Early in the second-half, it looked like Linfield were going to get that much needed second goal when Joel Cooper made space from himself but he was at too wide an angle to score, his effort going wide.
Out of nowhere, Glentoran got an equaliser when a header from Jay Donnelly dropped into the back of the net.
It felt like a repeat of the previous season’s encounter.
The game had suddenly changed. Linfield were now sloppy with their passing.
Glentoran almost got an instant second with a shot from Bobby Burns which had to be diverted out by Jimmy Callacher.
Despite having far too much of the ball for Linfield’s liking, Glentoran weren’t creating any clear opportunities.
They were largely hitting speculative shots from distance that were easily saved by Chris Johns.
As we all know, they benefitted from a speculative shot that got deflected when the sides met in October.
It was clear that Linfield needed some fresh injections from the bench, but they were not forthcoming.
Eetu Vertainen had a rare sight of goal but his effort went wide of the post.
Patrick McClean attempted a long range shot which went just over.
Eventually, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Andrew Clarke and Kyle McClean for Cameron Palmer and Robbie McDaid.
That was followed a few minutes later by Chris McKee coming on for Chris Shields, who was struggling with injury.
Andrew Clarke thought he was going to win it for Linfield with a few minutes remaining but his goalbound effort was blocked and deflected wide by his own team mate for a goal kick.
As the game set to meander to a draw, some Linfield fans decided to head home early to bizarre chants of “Cheerio Cheerio” from the home support.
Are you not supposed to sing that when you are winning comfortably?
Callacher’s accidental block was a temporary reprieve for Glentoran.
From the resulting goal kick, Linfield won possession and Chris McKee played in Eetu Vertainen to finish with his left foot first time.
Further proof of where Glentoran are at now. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. How sad.
He barely touched the ball in the second-half. I would have had him subbed by now. Just goes to show that I know nothing,
The goal prompted him to rip off his shirt, getting a yellow card. Worth it.
He couldn’t get his Under Armour back on, and had to play on in short sleeves.
For only a minute or two, with Ethan Devine coming on for him to see the game out.
Which is what Linfield managed to do, getting a massive three points.
Not just in terms of putting pressure on Larne, but pulling away from Glentoran.
The win temporarily moved Linfield into 2nd due to this game being an early kick-off.
As this game was finishing, other games were reaching half-time.
The one that Linfield fans were looking out for was at Seaview, where Crusaders led Cliftonville 2-0, before eventually winning 3-0.
That result that Linfield were now 2nd, two points behind Larne.
It would be three as Larne could only draw.
From where they were in October, it was always going to be a long way back for Linfield.
Even if they went on a winning run, I didn’t expect it to be February or March before they even got close to the top.
The big games keep on coming, with Coleraine, on a nice run themselves, due at Windsor Park on Monday, with Larne travelling to Solitude.
That game at Solitude will see something go in their favour.
What matters most is that they help themselves. It’s all they can do.