LINFIELD 3-2 QARABAG 22.8.2019

On Thursday lunchtime, looking at the gloomy weather, I joked to myself if they have rain in Azerbiajan. Would this unsettle Qarabag? It wasn’t rain that Qarabag had to worry about, it was another force of nature – Shayne Lavery.

Linfield were 180 minutes away from a place in the group stages of the UEFA Cup, the first Irish League team to be in this situation (although not the first team from Northern Ireland, as Derry City were in this scenario in 2006, during the original group stage format. Before I get any angry letters from Foyleside)

They couldn’t have got a worse draw. Qarabag might not jump off the page in the grand scheme of European Football, but they know how to get to the group stages of European competition, most notably the UEFA Cup.

When you want to reach the groups stages of the UEFA Cup, the last team you want to face is a team who knows how to reach the group stages of the UEFA Cup.

Qarabag were no strangers to Northern Ireland, having squeezed through 3-2 against Portadown in 2010. That might not have caused much fear among Linfield’s support, their more recent history – draws against Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid (twice) in the last five years was a barometer of the task in hand.

It took just over a minute for Linfield to realise they had stepped up a level as some cheaply lost possession resulted in a quick attack for Qarabag, a shot going just wide of the post.

Though, if it did go in, with just over a minute on the clock played, it still would have been a better start than the previous match against Coleraine five days earlier.

However, Linfield weren’t spending the opening minutes defending, they had some attacks of their own, though not ones that caused panic for Qarabag.

Despite the even start, Qarabag took the lead when a clearance was returned back into the Linfield penalty area, and Faycal Rherras stretched out a leg, the ball looping in to silence Windsor Park.

Didn’t even like the UEFA Cup, prefer the County Antrim Shield to be honest.

Don’t have to worry about being conflicted if Linfield draw United, wondering if i’ll do two trips to London in nine months if we draw Arsenal, thinking of a Birmingham/Oxford double header if we draw Wolves. Then there’s Espanyol, oh well, no weekend in Barcelona.

Linfield responded with a series of attacks, the crowd cheering and roaring them on, there was no feeling sorry for themselves.

Qarabag were in the mood to finish this tie on the night, hitting the post after a quick attack, while Rohan Ferguson was forced into save after another attack.

Linfield hung in there, it was all they could do.

In previous matches, we had seen Bastien Hery showcase his skills. Tonight, we saw a different side of him, frequently pickpocketing the ball when Qarabag players held onto the ball for too long.

As half-time loomed, Linfield got an equaliser when Mark Stafford headed home from a free-kick. Linfield were no longer looking to stay in the tie, they were very much in the tie.

It completed a rather eventful birthday week for Stafford, with two goals and a baby with his birthday sandwiched inbetween.

Earlier this month, Kirk Millar had his birthday sandwiched inbetween his birthday. Have to say, i’m a big fan of Linfield players going on goal runs when they have their birthday.

Linfield responded to their own goal in the same way they responded to Qarabag’s, with a series of attacks roared on by their support.

As injury time approached, Bastien Hery found himself wide, surrounded by Qarabag players with nowhere to go. He worked his magic and won a corner.

A chance for Linfield to make the most of their momentum, which they did, Shayne Lavery heading home to put them 2-1 in front.

You’ve got Dundalk coach Ruaidhri Higgins to thank for this, having pointed out that Qarabag were weak at set pieces when interviewed by the BBC in the build-up to this match.

For both goals, especially the second, questions have to be asked of Qarabag’s keeper, not that Linfield fans cared as they were grateful.

Just ten minutes earlier, I would have taken Linfield only being 1-0 down at half-time, which makes the turnaround even more spectacular.

In the second-half, Shayne Lavery, Andrew Mitchell and Matthew Clarke had attempts at goal as Linfield looked to get a 3-1 advantage, while also keeping their opponents at bay

Neither side looked like getting that goal, but a 2-1 win would do for Linfield.

However, on 74 minutes, things got even better for Linfield when Shayne Lavery chased down a clearance, and outmuscled a Qarabag defender, and raced towards goal, cutting onto his left foot, the question now, was did he have the finish?

What a stupid question, of course he did, and Linfield were 3-1 up.

Every time a Qarabag defender got the ball, Lavery was snapping at their heels. Quite a lot of times, the Qarabag defenders were able to win cheap free-kicks. Lavery only needed to get it right once.

If Hery was pickpocketed the ball from Qarabag players, Lavery was just taking the ball off them without asking them.

Linfield fans would gladly have taken any advantage to Azerbaijan, now they had a two goal margin.

Within minutes, it looked like Qarabag were going to make it 3-2 when the ball fell perfectly to Mahir Emreli after a tackle, Windsor Park held it’s breath, and then celebrated as if it was a goal when the ball hit the post and landed into Rohan Ferguson’s arms.

The luck was with Qarabag, and it went straight back to Linfield.

It looked like Linfield were going to hold out for a 3-1 win, until Qarabag got a penalty in injury time for a tired tackle by Matthew Clarke. It was a clear penalty. Even the Southstanders didn’t protest, and they moan about everything.

Magaye Gueye stepped up, and Panenkaed it into the net, making it 3-2. It would have been almost too perfect if he had missed it.

The atmosphere at Windsor Park, fell muted, the knew the importance of that second away goal for Qarabag.

The muted atmosphere didn’t last long, as Linfield fans celebrated a famous win at the final whistle.

Linfield got what they wanted, the tie is alive going to Azerbaijan. It’s more than alive for Linfield. They don’t have to win over there, they don’t even have to score over there, though it would be nice.

To lose a second away goal was disappointing, but it still would have been a tough second leg if it was 3-1. We got a win. 1-0 or 4-3, it doesn’t matter, we have the advantage.

Now, time for positivity. Linfield have scored 11 goals in 5 UEFA Cup games. They’re not grinding out 1-0 wins. Well, apart from that one time.

In their two previous rounds, Linfield have scored twice away from home. That should give the players belief that they can score out there.

Even if we go 1-0 down, Qarabag will have the advantage, but the tie won’t be over.

Qarabag won’t be playing the second leg at their usual ground. Every little thing you can think of as advantage, you have to run with it.

A spin-off about this, is the co-efficient points generated from this run. Hopefully, we shall see the rewards in the coming years if we win the League and get seeded in the European Cup.

It’s something I’ve always wondered, that from the 2nd Round to the Group Stage, teams drop into the UEFA Cup, but not the 1st Round.

Finally, teams that go out of the European Cup in the 1st Round get a second chance of European football. This is the first time Linfield have been in this format (introduced in 2018) and they have made the most of it.

We can’t neglect domestic duties though. I can understand why the Warrenpoint game was postponed, instead of being played on the Sunday or Monday sandwiched inbetween both legs. We won’t get this luxury if we get to the groups.

If we do, i’ll discuss the ramifications in terms of fixture scheduling.

If Linfield were to get to the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup, it means there won’t be a spare midweek to play the League Cup tie against Ballinamallard United until October.

We’ll have to start getting points on the board as we currently sit 10th. No need to panic though.

Saturday’s results were kind to us, with Crusaders, Larne, Ballymena United and Glenavon dropping points. It’s important that nobody starts to pull away while we are inactive. We’ll be further inactive the following weekend due to the Larne game being postponed due to international call-ups.

That means Glentoran v Institute will now be a Sky Sports live game. Always good to have the little teams get a moment in the spotlight.

If we win our games in hand, we are only one point off the top.

Meanwhile, Dungannon Swifts are currently watching a Leicester City 2015-2016 Season Review DVD.

Oh, and I booked my accommodation for Bray for the Last 16 game to be scheduled in Dublin at Euro 2020. All I need is a ticket now.

The second leg will be at 5pm on Thursday. It’s live on the BBC website.

If it wasn’t for Mikhail Gorbachev, Linfield would have eight European trophies by now. Probably.

We’ve suffered European exits against teams from former Soviet countries – Dinamo Tblisi (who were later thrown out, so we got a reprieve), Lokomotiv Tblisi, Torpedo Kutaisi, and BATE Borisov, with only a victory against Ventspils in 2005 to counter it.

We’re due another one, right?

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LINFIELD 3-2 FK SUTJESKA 13.8.2019

I’d braced myself for a 3-2 defeat after extra time. It was going to be another Skoda Xanthi.

For the first time since 2005, Linfield were playing a European tie in August. It didn’t start well.

Standing in departures at Edinburgh Airport getting ready to board, a goalflash alert beeped to say that Sutjeska had just gone 1-0 after ten minutes. Arriving in Belfast and getting on the bus into the City Centre, I finally had wifi again, and expected to be 3-0 or 4-0 down, but instead we were 2-1 up. It’s not often you have a smile on your face when you return from a holiday.

When you have a winning formula, you might as well stick to it, which is what David Healy did, naming the same starting eleven as the first leg, which meant a place on the subs bench for Jimmy Callacher.

Despite a lead and two away goals, the tie was far from over. It was evident in the opening two minutes with Linfield being unable to get the ball.

Eventually, they did get the ball, and made good use of it. They got rewarded when Mark Stafford headed home from a corner.

Due to the larger crowd, more of The Kop was open than normal, meaning I was sat in the middle of the goal and had a perfect view of it. Stafford made a run which meant that all he had to do was get a clean header on the ball, which he did. The perfect start.

The perfect start didn’t last for long though, as Sutjeska equalised with a header from Bojan Bozovic. The perfect was wiped out.

The early goal rush continued, and it was Linfield who were back in front when Shayne Lavery got in behind Sutjeska’s defence. Sutjeska’s keeper went out to clear the danger, and only succeeded in giving the ball to Lavery.

Usually in a situation, the striker is swarmed by defenders, or makes a mess of the shot, or a defender gets back and blocks it. These situations rarely result in a goal, but this one did, putting Linfield 2-1 up.

What it also meant, was that it was good news if you wanted to go to bed at a sensible time when you got home, as we wouldn’t be going to extra-time.

A neat passing move saw Kirk Millar shoot narrowly wide, as he tried to make his birthday celebrations last for a full week.

If Linfield could get a third goal, there would be no way back for Sutjeska.

As the half ended, Linfield received a boost when Aleksandar Sofranac got two quick yellow cards. Linfield smelt that this tie could be won before half-time. Sutjeska were playing to get to half-time at 1-2, and then try to regroup and clear their heads. They were able to do just that.

As the hour approached, Sutjeska were on top and looking for an equaliser. Rohan Ferguson was forced to make a top class save from close range to deny them. Linfield just couldn’t get the ball away. Eventually, Sutkeska were rewarded when Bojan Bozovic headed home to make it 2-2.

Windsor Park was now nervous. Linfield had the advantage, but Sutjeska were only one goal away from winning on away goals.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Joel Cooper for Kirk Millar.

Cooper waltzed into Sutjeska’s penalty area, and his perfect low cross was met by Matthew Clarke to fire into the empty net to make it 3-2.

Windsor Park erupted, they knew that the goal meant. With the game on a knife edge, this goal put Linfield just out of reach for Sutjeska.

Only a pub team would concede two late goals at home in Europe to lose 4-3. Oh, hello there Celtic.

The crowd wasn’t relaxed despite the advantage, but not as tense as they would have been ifi t was 2-2.

Shayne Lavery got a standing ovation as he was replaced by Andrew Waterworth, who helped Linfield see out the game and win 3-2.

There wasn’t much time for Linfield to celebrate, as they would face Qarabag in the Play-Off Round eight days later, with a League match against Coleraine sandwiched inbetween.

I’ll repeat that, Linfield are two games away from a place in the group stages of the UEFA Cup.

I’m not even sure if Windsor Park has VAR facilities. Will the Referee have to run up to The Edinburgh Club to watch TV replays on BT?

Elsewhere in the UEFA Cup, Dundalk went out, meaning my hopes for a Dundalk v United group match at Lansdowne Road has bitten the dust.

This match meant that Linfield’s trip in the League to Ballymena was postponed.

The other League games that were played saw not surprising wins for Crusaders and Larne to give them six points out of six, and drop points for Glenavon, Coleraine and Glentoran meaning those three trail Linfield having played a game more. It’s important to keep getting League points alongside European adventures.

As well as the Ballymena match being postponed, the match against Qarabag means the League Cup tie against Ballinamallard will have to be postponed.

There are also doubts as to wether the Warrenpoint game, scheduled for two days after the Qarabag first leg, will be moved.

There’s still nine months of the season left, so there’s no need to panic regarding fixture scheduling, but we should start to be proactive.

As disappointing as it was when it was announced, you can start to see why the club withdrew from the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers Cup. If we were in it, we’d be away to Fortmarine United.

That’s somewhere near Aberdeen in case you’re wondering.

It’s not Aberdeen we’re heading to, it’s Gdansk in May 2020.

Via Azerbaijan first. Hopefully, Qarabag have the same experience as Azerbaijan’s national team had when they last played at Windsor Park.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-0 HB TORSHAVN 1.8.2019

Usually, when Linfield exit the European Cup in July, that’s it, European Football is over for another season. But not now.

A rule change in 2018 means that teams who go out of the European Cup in the 1st Round now drop into the UEFA Cup, joining at the 2nd Round stage, which is where Linfield were paired with HB Torshavn.

Facing opposition from the Faroe Islands isn’t a new experience for Linfield, however, it was for David Healy, as Linfield’s previous meetings with Faroese sides from 2012 to 2015 came under the management of David Jeffrey and Warren Feeney.

Those four ties brought four wins for Linfield. To give them even more optimism, in the three games they played at Windsor Park, they didn’t concede a goal, a statistic that would send them through following a 2-2 draw in the Faroe Islands in the first leg.

I didn’t see any of the first leg action, but the text commentary suggested that Linfield were thankful to Rohan Ferguson, making his debut after signing on loan from Motherwell as cover for Gareth Deane, for making a series of saves.

Despite that, the draw was frustrating, having got off to a perfect start with a goal after a minute, as I left work with a spring in my step after checking the score before I left. Seriously, who schedules football matches for 4.45pm on a Tuesday afternoon?

Even more so, going 2-1 up with a few minutes to go.

Early Linfield pressure didn’t result in the goal the home fans craved. The best moment came when Andrew Waterworth got in behind HB’s defence, only to see his low shot saved by the HB keeper.

HB then began to have some possession of their own, giving moments of concern for Linfield, the most concerning being a shot which beat Rohan Ferguson but flashed just wide of the post. From where I was sat, at the opposite end, I thought it was in.

On 20 minutes, Linfield got the opportunity to get themselves in front when Joel Cooper was fouled for a penalty.

In the minutes prior, Linfield and especially Cooper, had started to get a lot of joy down the left, and a neat passing move played him in, getting ready to cross before he was fouled.

Having scored a penalty in the first leg, it would be Andrew Waterworth to take this spot kick.

Windsor Park fell silent as he stepped up to take the kick, it was like being at a Rugby match. Waterworth stepped up, and fired home.

Just about, he hit it as closed to the post without hitting the post. I initially thought that’s where the ball was going to end up.

It would be only goal Linfield would register in the first-half. The best, and most agonising moment, came when a low cross from Joel Cooper just evaded Andrew Waterworth.

Jordan Stewart had a goalbound shot blocked by a HB defender, as Linfield searched for that elusive second goal. They needed it.

The inability to get it almost came back to haunt Linfield when a poor backpass from Chris Casement, who wasn’t even looking, fell to a HB forward whose first time shot went wide.

I don’t think he realised how much time he had. He could have controlled it and/or gone round the keeper. It was a lucky escape for Linfield.

Linfield were able to hold out for a 1-0 win.

There wouldn’t be much time to rest, with a quick turnaround, and a trip to Montenegro just five days later, a game that would result in a 2-1 win for Linfield away to Sutjeska.

It’s stating the obvious to say it is a great position for Linfield. Those two away goals are so vital, it means Sutjeska need to score twice at Windsor Park to have a chance of going through.

The scheduling of these two legs on a Tuesday works out well for Linfield in terms of a lack of disruption of Saturday games due to Thursday night games.

Linfield aren’t totally unaffected though, with the away match against Ballymena on August 13th being postponed.

There’s still nine months to slot that game in, so no panic. Obviously, it’s something that would need to be monitored if we progress further in Europe.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start dreaming of Gdansk, let’s take it one game at a time.

That’s not the second leg against Sutjeska, that’s the start of our title defence against Institute.

It’ll be important to get as many points on the board early on, especially with us already having a match postponed.

Photo Album

Linfield v NSI Runavik 2015

Linfield v B36 Torshavn 2014

Linfield v IF Fuglafjordur 2013

Linfield v B36 Torshavn 2012

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : WHEN SATURDAY COMES – SEPTEMBER 2011

A trio of English players – Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) and Phil Jones (Manchester United) are the cover stars of When Saturday Comes, incredulously questioning each other’s recent big money transfers.

The South-West of England gets profiled, most specifically Devon, with the fortunes of Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle, Truro City and Torquay being the subject of a full page article.

The future location of Liverpool is the subject of a feature, as the club debates wether to stay at Anfield or move to a new stadium.

Steve McLaren gets profiled as he aims to rebuild his reputation, having just been appointed the new manager of Nottingham Forest. He only stayed in the job until October.

There is a look at the role of Social Media in modern football, after a Norwich City supporter had become the first supporter to be banned from a football ground, after posting racist tweets about a Norwich player.

AFC Wimbledon are the subject of this month’s Photo Feature, having been promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history, just nine years after being formed.

With there being no men’s tournament this year, it was the Women’s World Cup that occupied supporter’s attention during 2011, with a review of this tournament being featured.

With it being the summer, there is a look back at a bygone age when footballers kept themselves fit during the summer by playing cricket.

There is a look at Carlos Tevez career in England as he looks set to leave Manchester City. He didn’t leave City that summer, but did have a six month exile during the 2011-2012 season, before eventually leaving for Italy in 2013.

There are three pages dedicated to the Match Of The Month, this month was the UEFA Cup tie between Crusaders and Fulham, written by BBC Northern Ireland journalist Robbie Meredith.

There is a review of the recent Copa America, focusing on the performances of Argentina and Brazil.

Staying in South America, there is a fond look back on Argetnine attacker Walter Rojas short spell in Scotland, 20 years after signing for Dundee United.

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC 0-2 IFK NORRKOPING 11.7.2019

My summer of Scandinavia continued with a trip to Richmond Park while I was in Dublin, to see St Patrick’s Athletic take on Norrkoping in the UEFA Cup.

All I know about Norrkoping is that it was a host venue at Euro 92, hosting games between Scotland, Germany and CIS. If you can’t remember what CIS was, it was the Soviet Union version of Beady Eye.

It was a stroke of luck I was at this game. I knew I would be in Dublin on a European night, but there would be only one Dublin team in the UEFA Cup. Then Waterford weren’t able to enter and got replaced by St Patrick’s Athletic, meaning there were two options.

Then both them and Shamrock Rovers were drawn to be away on 11th July. Flip sake. But things were saved due to UEFA not being keen on two games in the same city on the same night (although Belfast staged two games on Thursday) and the legs of this tie were switched, so off to Richmond I went.

That would have been bad news for Pat’s fans, as I am a bit of a jinx for them. My previous two visits to Richmond Park had brought two 0-0 draws, while they failed to beat Linfield at Windsor Park when I saw them in 2008 and 2010.

And then there was a 5-1 mauling at Dalymount Park in 2016.

I’m willing to listen to offers if Bohs, Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers fans are wishing to crowdfund for me to go to all their matches. Obviously i’ll need travel, ticket and loss of earnings from working half-day every Friday to be paid for.

This wasn’t my first UEFA Cup game in Dublin. My previous one was a bit more grand, the 2011 Final at Lansdowne Road.

It wasn’t even first time i’d seen a team from Republic of Ireland take on a team from Sweden, having been at the match between the respective national sides at Euro 2016.

The top five things I love about Richmond Park:

1. It has a programme shop.
2. It has a programme shop.
3. It has a programme shop.
4. It has a programme shop.
5. It has a programme shop.

I had a look around. There are a few Linfield bargains to be had, and not all the programmes are matches against St Pat’s.

Both teams started off nervously, both sets of players making basic mistakes.

It was summed up by Mikey Drennan leaving a through ball he could have got, Norrkopping’s defence and keeper leaving it for each other, inviting Drennan to chase it, resulting in a tackle which conceded a cheap throw.

Despite enduring a frustrating half, Drennan caused enough concern in the Swedish defence for one of them to get a yellow card for a cynical foul as he advanced goalwards.

The standout name on the away teamsheet was Jordan Larsson, at the centre of everything Norrkopping did in an attacking sense. The ball stuck to him every time he got it. On his left foot at least, he really needs to go to the Right Foot Shop to get one.

I’m sure his dad will be happy to offer him advice, former Manchester United loan signing Henrik Larsson.

Despite Larsson troubling them, St Pat’s held their own in the first-half. A quick free-kcik resulted in a shot that went just wide across the goalkeeper.

They also had a couple of penalty appeals turned down. I didn’t think they were penalties, but my view was a minority where I was. They were the sort of ones you will appeal for, but not for me.

Early in the second-half, Norrkoping went 1-0 up with a low strike from Simon Thern. The irony was, with all the focus being on the son of an ex Celtic player, it was the son of an ex Rangers player, Jonas, who opened the scoring.

Larsson was determined to make it an Old Firm juniors double, but would be denied and frustrated. The closest he would come was from a shot which hit the post.

With just minutes remaining, Norrkoping got a second when a header was deflected in off a Pat’s defender.

I was behind the goal, and you could agonisingly see the ball change direction, and nobody could do anything about it.

Norkopping wanted more and a series of saves by Brendan Clarke stopped the scoreline from being worse.

Not totally out, but up against it, I think St Patrick’s Athletic fans would have preferred the 0-0 scoreline I usually bring them when I visit Richmond Park.

Photo Album

St Patrick’s Athletic v Drogheda United 2013

St Patrick’s Athletic v Sporting Fingal 2010

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 28.2.1987

Dundee United take on Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Cup, and this is reflected on the cover of Match, with both sides represented.

There is a double page profile of the game, as well as a list of all the Quarter-Final games in the three competitions across Europe.

Alan McDonald answers questions from readers about plastic pitches, as his club QPR plays on one.

Another big debate is Play-Offs, introduced in 1987, with Match interviewing players and managers from clubs who could be affected on what they think of the idea.

Colin West gets a full page to tell Match he intends on staying at Rangers, while there is a full page profile of Manchester United player Nicky Wood, while Norwich City and Nottingham Forest get club profiles.

In Scotland, Graeme Souness isn’t coming out of international retirement. Also not playing for Scotland is Australian born Craig Johnston, who turned down the opportunity to play for Scotland.

Staying in Scotland, there is a full page profile of new Celtic signing Anton Rogan, who says he enjoys living in Glasgow more than living in Belfast.

As the season enters it’s final stages, Match gives it’s predictions for how the season will end, revised from their prediction in August.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : NOVEMBER

November got off to a dramatic start, as I headed to Mourneview Park to see nine man Linfield come from 2-0 down to get a late draw against Glenavon.

I was back on the road a few days later to Ballymena to see Linfield record a 4-1 in win.

Up next was a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland record a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan, before continuing Linfield’s road trip with a 4-0 over Dungannon Swifts before a midweek date at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s last game of 2016, a 3-0 friendly defeat against Croatia.

I was back at Windsor Park for Linfield’s only home game of the month, a 2-1 defeat to Cliftonville.

The following weekend, I went to see my first and second games at Old Trafford with Jose Mourinho as United manager, doing a double header of games against Feyenoord and West Ham United, with a trip to Bury (via Broadhurst Park) sandwiched inbetween.

As a bonus, I even got pictures of stickers left around Manchester by Feyenoord fans.

Glenavon v Linfield

Ballymena United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Croatia

Northern Ireland v Croatia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Feyenoord

Manchester United v Feyenoord Photo Album

Feyenoord Stickers

Bury v Millwall

Bury v Millwall Photo Album

Broadhurst Park

Manchester United v West Ham United

Manchester United v West Ham United Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JUNE

The previous two seasons for me began in Bray. Not this time, it was the Stade De France to begin 2016-2017 with the opening match of Euro 2016 between France and Romania.

It was one of three Euro 2016 matches I attended, taking in Northern Ireland v Poland and Republic of Ireland v Sweden during my time in France.

Back home, it was the earliest start ever to a Linfield season, June 30th, and a UEFA Cup tie against Cork City, where I attended the home leg at Windsor Park.

France v Romania

France v Romania Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Poland

Northern Ireland v Poland Photo Album

Republic of Ireland v Sweden

Republic of Ireland v Sweden Photo Album

Linfield v Cork City

2016 IN PICTURES – JUNE

June 2016 was a month that was dominated by Euro 2016.

The early days of the month were spent chronicling a mural in East Belfast to commemorate Northern Ireland’s qualification, getting pictures of the final piece upon my return from France.

Oh yes, I was in France. Wasn’t that fussed about France as a country, but loved the three matches (France v Romania, Northern Ireland v Poland, Republic of Ireland v Sweden) I was at.

I also got some Street Art photos in Paris, and London, as I flew back from Gatwick due to there being no Paris-Belfast flights on a Tuesday.

Not a lot else happened in the rest of the month. That was, until, the final, when I attended two Belsonic concerts.

Belsonic? Yes, this year, it moved to June (though there were later concerts in August) and I went to see Elli Goulding and Stereophonics.

And it was at a new venue, Titanic Belfast.

There was even some domestic club football this month, as the last day of the month saw Linfield lose 1-0 at home to Cork City in the UEFA Cup.

Pride, Passion Belief

Pride, Passion, Belief Photo Album

Paris Street Art

Paris Street Art Photo Album

France v Romania

France v Romania Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Poland

Northern Ireland v Poland Photo Album

Republic of Ireland v Sweden

Republic of Ireland v Sweden Photo Album

London Street Art

London Street Art Photo Album

Ellie Goulding live at Titanic Belfast

Ellie Goulding live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Stereophonics live at Titanic Belfast

Stereophonics live at Titanic Belfast Photo Album

Linfield v Cork City

MANCHESTER UNITED 4-0 FEYENOORD 24.11.2016

Recently, I headed to Old Trafford for the first time this season, my first glimpse of Mourinho’s United in the flesh, for the UEFA Cup tie against Feyenoord.

This was a game that United needed to win just to stay in the competition. Although a draw still would have had United’s destiny in their own hands in the final game, defeat would have eliminated them from the competition, following Fenerbache’s win over Zorya at teatime. with a game to spare.

Their recent record against Dutch clubs wasn’t great, losing three and drawing one of their last four games against Dutch clubs. One of those defeats came in their open group game, away to Feyenoord in September.

It is the away form that left United in this situation, even a draw in either Rotterdam or Istanbul would have made life so much easier going into this game.

This Jeckyll and Hyde form in Europe isn’t a Mourinho problem, Moyes and Van Gaal also endured it.

United haven’t lost at home in Europe in 14 matches, dating back to 2013, but have only won 1 of their last 10 away matches, dating back to 2013.

This match meant I had seen United take on Holland’s “Big Three” at Old Trafford. I had seen Feyenoord before, at the end of the last century in 1999 taking on Liverpool in a Pre-Season Friendly.

My excuse is that I was there to watch Linfield v Glentoran which had taken place before, and then just decided to stay, like when you are a fan of the support act at a concert but just decide to stay for the headliner anyway.

United went straight on the attack, issuing a statement of intent, Paul Pogba heading over in United’s first attack.

It was very much attack v defence, most of United’s play coming through some Scottish lad making his debut called Henry McItarian.

You got the feeling that if United could get one early on, they could power through and win the game with something to spare. The problem was, just getting the one.

I had great view of it, in the front rows of the Stretford End. The downside was, I almost got hit by a wayward Paul Pogba shot.

Feyenoord looked like getting a goal on the counter against the run of play, but Sergio Romero was forced into a double save, the second with his legs.

The goal United fans craved wasn’t long in coming when Wayne Rooney burst down the left wing and played it to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who waited, and waited, before playing Rooney in, to dink it over the keeper.

It briefly looked offside (it all happened very quickly) from where I was, but TV replays showed that it wasn’t.

More United pressure followed and continued into the second-half, with Henryk Mkhitarian hitting the side netting, before Juan Mata eventually made it count by finishing from close range to make it 2-0, his last involvement in the game before being subbed for Marcus Rashford.

United then made it 3-0 with a Brad Jones own goal, even though Ibrahimovic will try to claim it.

At that point, United fans taunted their rivals with “You’re just a shit fucking Ajax”.

If you come to Old Trafford and sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, you’d better be good, Feyenoord were not good.

Jesse Lingard made it 4-0 in injury time, as United head to Zorya for their final game knowing that a draw will be enough to go through.

Hopefully, United can win that game and top the group (need Fenerbache to slip up in Rotterdam though) while Dundalk win their last game to finish second. You know what i;m thinking?

Thursday 6pm game, book a day off work and be in bed at a reasonable time.

First of all, just get the result in Ukraine.

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