The first weekend of March 2022 saw me visit Carrick to see Linfield win a rearranged game, then the following morning, head up Cavehill.
Then the rest of the month was Linfield matches, against Ballymena United, Crusaders, Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town.
With the match against Warrenpoint Town being a lunchtime kick-off and the weather being nice, I decided to head to Warrenpoint Beach for some photos. I also headed to Carlingford, but I didn’t get any photos there though.
The month ended with my first Northern Ireland match in over two years, the friendly at home to Hungary.
It was hoped that December’s football watching would begin at Lansdowne Road, but I had to make do with Coleraine Showgrounds. It doesn’t really matter where you watch your football as long as you’re watching Linfield win.
Although, Linfield did undo that with a draw at home to Warrenpoint Town the following Saturday.
And then, they made up for it by beating Larne away for the first time since 2008, and then beat Ballymena United to go top for the first time all season.
Before undoing that by drawing at home to Glentoran on Boxing Day.
It would be tempting to say it was Devine Intervention, but it might fall under something else beginning with D. Not Deserved, far from it, more like Daylight Robbery, but we’ll take it. You have to take every point you can get at this time of year.
Warrenpoint is usually a decent away day, usually helped by the fact that Linfield have won every time they’ve played there in front of a crowd (Yes, i’m discounting games behind closed doors to manipulate stats when it suits) but the fact the the recent sunny spell would be continuing into this game.
By my recollection, I think this is the first time that Linfield have played there on a sunny afternoon. It does help that you only need to jog your memory eight years.
This game was chosen for live TV coverage, but moved to 5.30pm and then to 12.30pm. I was slightly disappointed purely because I was hoping to get some sunset photos while the game was going on. However, 12.30pm gave me the opportunity to explore South Down and County Louth. You can check that out in the following blog.
Regardless of the kick-off time, this was a big game for Linfield, especially in the context of the weekend’s fixtures with Cliftonville’s match being postponed and Glentoran not playing until Monday night. An opportunity to pull (deceptively) clear and put pressure on rivals.
There was a pleasant surprise on entering the ground that there were programmes on sale. Flicking through it, I noticed that Warrenpoint were twelve points adrift at the bottom. I hadn’t really been keeping an eye on the bottom of the table so that passed me by. I’d just assumed the bottom four were all bunched together.
Due to that, this could be Linfield’s last League visit to Warrenpoint for a while. As well as a programme, there was also a Beer Tent which was utilised by some of the crowd. They really were spoiling us.
Chris McKee was away on International Duty, meaning a call-up for Ethan Devine. Christy Manzinga was still banned, the third and final match of his ban for a red card at Ballymena according to the Commentator on Sky (Yes, I watched a bit of the match back) which was a pleasant surprised as i’d expected him to be banned for at least four games.
Another pleasant surprise was Eetu Vertainen playing as i’d expected him to be featuring for Finland Under 21s.
The opening minutes of the game were uneventful, no clear opportunities for either side.
Linfield’s best opportunity almost came via two Warrenpoint defenders with a clearance hitting another defender, giving Stephen Fallon a sniff of an opportunity, only to be beaten to the ball by Conor Mitchell.
Mitchell, wearing a mask due to a facial injury, was being serenaded by the away fans behind his goal to the tune from the classic Batman TV series. Disappointingly, he wasn’t being forced to do any heroics. Kerpow, Biff, Zoink indeed.
The game took a turn on 14 minutes when Warrenpoint took the lead with a header from Stephen Ball after a cross from a quickly taken throw. It was such a bad goal to concede.
Stood at the opposite end, I saw the ball hit the post and roll across. My hopes of it rolling along the line were proved to be ambitious when I saw Warrenpoint fans behind the goal celebrating.
The shock of the goal was too much for Warrenpoint’s players, who were needing treatment for Cramp at various intervals throughout the half.
Linfield’s response didn’t quite materialise. You were thankful that it was only 1-0.
Ball almost got a second before the half hour, reacting after Chris Johns spilt a free-kick, but recovered to make himself big and divert the ball over.
This was a 2014-esque struggle.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield were dealt a blow when Eetu Vertainen had to go off with injury, being replaced by Jordan Stewart.
Stewart had a near instant impact, scoring with a low finish being the first to react after a free-kick was headed across the box.
The goal came in first-half stoppage time didn’t really change Linfield’s half-time team talk, they still had to do so much better. To be doing it from 1-1 rather than 0-1 was most welcome though.
Early in the second-half, it looked like Linfield were going to go in front when Ethan Devine headed goalwards from close ranger only to see his effort blocked on the line and then his follow-up be blasted over the bar. Surely it wasn’t going to be one of those days?
More frustration came when Jamie Mulgrew had an effort cleared off the line, and the ball spinning just past the post.
Chasing a winner, Jake Hastie came on for Ahmed Salam, making a welcome return after injury.
Those misses were almost even more costly when an error allowed Alan O’Sullivan to get through on goal.
The only option was to knock the ball over the keeper, which he did. He did everything right, but for some reason the ball bounced over the bar in a way that defied science.
It was at that moment, you knew Linfield were going to win the match.
There wasn’t any evidence on what you had seen on the pitch to suggest it, but you just knew.
Thoughts turned back to Ballinamallard away on the exact same weekend in March 2017.
So many similarities. A trip on the road, lovely sunny weather, 1-0 down, pulled it back to 1-1, struggling to make it 2-1.
It didn’t end there, with a matter of minutes to go, a defensive mistake put an opposition player with the only option to knock the ball over the keeper to score.
The only difference was that Ballinamallard hit the top of the bar while Warrenpoint went over.
As the minutes ticked by, it didn’t look like history repeating as Warrenpoint were holding on for a 1-1 draw unlike Ballinamallard.
Two points dropped that Linfield couldn’t afford to drop.
Not only would it give Cliftonville an opportunity to go top, it would allow Glentoran a chance to cut the gap and make it a three team race again.
In injury time, Linfield got the lead when Ethan Devine headed home from a Jake Hastie corner with 92 minutes on the clock.
An early goal by Devine’s standards. It was also four assists in his last three appearances for Hastie.
Despite that, with just under two minutes remaining, the game was not yet won.
Warrenpoint still had one last attack. A shot inside the penalty area that was volleyed over the bar. And relax, that was it. The only time that Linfield fans could relax all day.
A cliched win without playing well and when up against it, to the sound of smashed TVs in North and Eat Belfast.
Despite the elation, Linfield will have to play far better than that in their final five games.
Nobody would have noticed much if Linfield stormed to a routine win.
To win it in the way they did must have felt like a kick in the balls for Cliftonville and Glentoran.
Neither of those two were playing on this day, although Glentoran did win against Carrick Rangers, also on Sky, two days later.
It is Cliftonville who are Linfield’s biggest worry in terms of the table. They’ll have to wait another week to play their game in hand.
They will be the first opponents after the split, followed by Glentoran, Crusaders, Larne and Coleraine.
Three of games will be at home, where Linfield are unbeaten in the League this season.
Coleraine on the last day is a 5.30pm kick-off, meaning i’ll have to dash to Echo and the Bunnymen later that night.
Hopefully after getting lots of trophy lifting photos.
Flybe announced a comeback this week. Relaunching with the same routes they had before so no instant dreaming of football trips.
One of those might be to Euro 2028, where England launched a co-host bid with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland.
Really looking forward to endless moaning about Windsor Park not having a capacity of 300,000 in order to host Austria v Slovenia.
Rival bids have come from Russia and Turkey. Some brass neck there from Russia.
This was not a scoreline many people saw coming at 3pm, certainly not at 3.13pm when Christy Manzinga put them 1-0 up, as Linfield ended up being both relieved and frustrated when other scores were being digested at 5pm.
The Top 6 faced the Bottom 6 on this matchday, and the weekend got off to a surprise start when Ballymena United beat Larne 2-1 on Friday night, presenting Linfield with an opportunity to pull further clear of them ahead of the trip to Larne six days after this game.
As the Linfield starting eleven was announced, it was a bit of a challenge trying to work out the formation, as the team picked itself due to a combination of injuries and suspensions.
The early minutes of the game saw Linfield having a lot of the ball trying to break Warrenpoint down. It looked like this was going to be the theme of the afternoon.
Inside the first five minutes, it looked like Linfield might be getting a much needed opener when Christy Manzinga got in behind Warrenpoint’s defence, albeit from a wide position, hitting a low shot that Conor Mitchell could only parry, but thankfully for him, there were no attacking players anywhere near who could take advantage of it.
Jordan Stewart then hit the top of the crossbar, before Christy Manzinga got in behind Warrenpoint’s defence to fire home. As soon as he was through on goal, you were already celebrating as there was only going to be one outcome, and we were not disappointed.
Even at this early stage, it was looking like a matter of how many Linfield would win this by.
When the sides met in October, Linfield got an early goal and kicked on, going 3-0 up quite quickly and killing the game.
However, it was Warrenpoint who kicked on, spending more time in Linfield’s half than they had previously. One of those attacks resulted in a free-kick being won on the edge of the box which was smashed home by Jonathan Leddy.
This was not supposed to happen. From being in charge of the game, Linfield now had to go out an win it again.
The response was the same as at the start of the game, lots of possession with Warrenpoint happy to lay down the challenge to Linfield to break them down.
There was almost an instant response when the ball fell to Kyle McClean, having just scored his second goal for Linfield nearly three years after his first. However, there would be no third goal for him, with Conor Mitchell making an excellent save from his fierce shot.
For the rest of the half, Linfield were restricted to long range shots as the sides went in at half-time level.
If it was 1-0 to Linfield at half-time, you would be satisfied with a job well done, now go out and finish the job.
That goal for Warrenpoint changed the game so much, it was now about trying to win the game rather than finish off their opponents, but there was still 45 minutes to do that.
It would be Chris Johns who would be the busier keeper in the early minutes of the second-half, making two outstanding saved to keep Linfield level.
A header from Jimmy Callacher was the closest Linfield came to going back in front, hitting the post and lying around the six yard box, with no Linfield player able to follow it up.
Linfield had a lot of possession and a lot of set pieces, but as excited as the crowd got when the ball was being placed in the quadrant for a corner, they never really looked like scoring.
Just as against Carrick, it was looking like a moment of stupidity from the defending team, or a moment of brilliance from the attacking team to break the deadlock.
And just as against Carrick, neither of those scenarios looked like happening.
In fact, it was Chris Johns who was the busier keeper, having to readjust his body to stop a goalbound effort which took a massive deflection.
Throughout the season, i’ve commented on how fantastic Johns has been. Usually, it has been through commanding his box as set pieces and nullifying attacks instantly. Today, he was being given an opportunity to showcase his shotstopping skills.
It was a tale of two Clarkes for Linfield as they went searching for a late winner.
With a lack of experienced attacking options on the bench, Linfield brought on Andrew Clarke from the bench, hoping he would have his own Federico Macheda Moment. Joining him from the bench was Niall Quinn, hoping to set up that winner, or maybe get one himself.
Matthew Clarke had a shot from a wide angle go over before, in injury time, the ball fell to Andrew Clarke, the day before his birthday.
If the scenario was a perfect set-up. the actual chance wasn’t, unable to get room for a clean connection, he scuffed the ball wide.
With 92 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock, that was Linfield’s last chance to win the game gone with only three minutes of injury time awarded, a ridiculous amount considering how much timewasting was done by Warrenpoint.
The usual trick, wanting to restart the game with the ball that went out, not the ball they’ve been given by a Ballboy, aided by a Referee making as little effort to enforce the rules as a Shop or Pub enforcing Covid Regulations.
As the final whistle blew, Linfield fans were left to digest a set of results that not many people would have seen coming.
It was a point gained on Coleraine and Larne, but they missed the opportunity to jump above Cliftonville outright with a game in hand. Even though Cliftonville didn’t take advantage of Linfield’s slip, it was still frustrating not to send out a message of intent to a Cliftonville side who have gone four away games without a win, and would have been feeling doubts after their impressive start.
The big winners, were Glentoran and Crusaders.
Glentoran are now level on points with Linfield. Even though they are on a winning run, it is worth pointing out that on this run, they haven’t beaten a side higher than 6th in that run.
Linfield found out the hard, as they have twice already this season, that Bottom Half teams still have to be beaten.
Somehow, Crusaders are still in the title race despite suffering six defeats. If they win their game in hand, they will be four points off the top.
Even more amazingly, they’ve won the same amount of games as Linfield.
The answer is simple, draws can kill you. A win and a defeat is better than two draws. Basic maths.
After saying that draws can kill you, if Linfield win their game in hand it would put them one point clear of Cliftonville, because they would have six draws and one defeat compared with Cliftonville’s five draws and two defeats.
A sense of perspective is perhaps needed after this result. It came after a four game winning run where Linfield gained seven points over Cliftonville. The frustrating thing is, it feels like it undid the win over Coleraine.
If the results were switched and Linfield got four points from a draw at Coleraine and a win over Warrenpoint Town, you would have taken that.
There won’t be an opportunity to take any frustration over this result out on Warrenpoint Town until March, when they meet again in Matchday 33, a handy progress point in the season, the last game before the split.
There’s still another Matchday before they play that game in hand.
That comes on Friday night, away to Larne on BBC Two. After a bit of a kerfuffle, I sorted myself out for tickets. Larne’s website only worked when I changed my Dad’s ticket order to full price rather than concession despite being eligible for a concession. That’s probably why they have so much money.
We are due a win there? Right? Of course, if we do get something there, we’ll have to earn it, but what an opportunity this is if they can get the win, to pull clear of Larne and sit on top of the table as Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders and Glentoran are tucking into their Corn Flakes* (*Other cereals are available) on Saturday morning.
A draw wouldn’t be a disaster, but too many draws can kill you.
This match being moved to a Friday night means that i’ll have a free Saturday, which i’m planning to spend visiting Harland and Wolff Welders new ground for the first time. It’s been a long long wait.
Finally, the morning of this match saw Linfield release their 3rd kit, worn only once in the Euro Conference. It is such a good kit, I wish we would wear it more often. It’s a quality kit.
The only chance to wear it domestically would be if we drew Armagh City away in the Irish Cup, but Armagh City are out of the Irish Cup.
Two days after celebrating his sixth anniversary as Linfield manager, David Healy returned to where it all began, as Linfield travelled to Warrenpoint Town.
The scoreline was the same as it was on Matchday 1, but the manner of the result was a lot more convincing than it was that day in October 2015.
There was a bit of pre-match drama, with Jordan Stewart coming in to replace Cameron Palmer. who was originally named in the starting eleven.
Palmer wasn’t the only midfielder missing for Linfield, with Jamie Mulgrew missing due to a visit to the Maternity Ward.
Inside the first minute, Jordan Stewart almost made it an inspired decision to bring him in, getting in behind Warrenpoint’s defence but being unable to take advantage of it.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield were having the ball in Warrenpoint’s half, but not all of it, Warrenpoint were having their own attacks which were easily snuffed out by Linfield.
Thankfully, there wasn’t long to wait for a Linfield goal, coming after a run from Christy Manzinga, who was brought down by a Warrenpoint player who couldn’t keep up with him.
There was a brief moment where I was trying to work out who would take it. Andrew Waterworth and Shayne Lavery are now gone, Jordan Stewart did take them until he missed one against Crusaders.
I couldn’t think of a penalty that Linfield had got this season, until I remembered that they got one in Europe that was taken by Chris Shields, who stepped up again to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Two out of two from the spot for him. Might as well enjoy that stat while it lasts.
Linfield should have been warned from their visit to Milltown last season where they led 1-0 before losing 2-1.
At least they were still defending a perfect record at Milltown in front of a paying crowd.
Kirk Millar had a shot fired over before a stray pass played him through, giving him a chance to make it 2-0.
Even though he isn’t a striker, there was never going to be a doubt about the outcome, slotting him to put Linfield 2-0 up.
Soon afterwards, Christy Manzinga gave us his obligatory goal to make it 3-0. He has scored in every League game he has played in, apart from one, the one that he as sent-off in.
Last Saturday’s match against Carrick Rangers was the 40th time that Linfield had scored four or more in a League game under David Healy. This looked like it was set to be Number 41, especially as Warrenpoint Town shared an unwanted record with Dungannon Swifts as the side who have suffered most under David Healy, with Linfield scoring four or more on seven occasions against them.
Mike Newberry had a shot blocked on the line as Linfield searched for that fourth goal, but three was enough for a commanding half-time lead.
Milltown wasn’t the only ground that Linfield were winning at, they were also winning at Solitude, sort of, as the 1-1 scoreline between Cliftonville and Larne meant that were going top of the League for the first time this season.
There was nothing Linfield could do about the game at Solitude, they could only help themselves, and they were doing that very well.
Steven Ball looked like he had pulled one back for Warrenpoint early in the second-half, but he hit the side netting.
From where I was, it looked like it was in, but the lack of celebration from Warrenpoint players, one even angrily asking why he wasn’t passed to, it soon became apparent that it was not a goal.
Linfield replied with a header from Mike Newberry that went wide. That was all they offered in the second-half, as the game became a non event, the second successive Saturday where Linfield had the job done in the first-half. We even find something to moan about when we win convincingly.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield took the opportunity to make some substitutions with October being a busy month, with just the seven games instead of eight. More on that later.
Although, they do have the luxury of a six day break after the County Antrim Shield match against Dundela.
As the players left the pitch, Christy Manzinga found himself to be a man in demand, fielding and obliging to various requests from fans for selfies as he head to the Dressing Room.
Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Larne, meaning that Linfield have jumped up to 2nd, just two points behind Cliftonville and a further two ahead of Larne, who they play next.
A win wouldn’t put Larne out of the title race, but it would be nice to put a bit of distance away from them, no longer part of a sandwich at the top of the table, breathing down Cliftonville’s necks rather than worrying about Larne breathing down their necks.
We are due a win at Inver Park? Right?
Just a reminder that it’s live on Sky Sports if you’re unable to go.
Glentoran and Coleraine drew meaning that Linfield were able to pull clear of both clubs, but not far enough away to discount them from the title race yet.
Elsewhere, it was confirmed that Linfield would be competing in the Unite The Union Cup, facing Coleraine with the prize of a Final against a League Of Ireland side at Lansdowne Road.
Just as in 2019, the scheduling is a bit of a pain in the arse, even if it is a low commitment with a maximum of two games. Plus it means a League trip to Coleraine is postponed. Thankfully, the backlog of League fixtures is manageable at the moment.
If we do end up going to Lansdowne Road, i’d be tempted to try and sneak in another trip to Bray.
Linfield should have been playing Glenavon on the Friday night after playing Coleraine on the Tuesday. Thankfully, that trip to Lurgan has been put back to the Friday.
What it does mean is that my planned trip to Blanchflower Park for November 27th won’t be happening. I think the next possible opportunity will be December 18th. I’ll be hoping for an Irish Cup trip there in January at this rate.
If we do get that draw, hopefully, it goes better than the last time I saw Linfield face Championship opponents in the Irish Cup.
The first game was played yesterday and the ground looks impressive. The honour of the first goal went to Patrick Burns, who had a better day than his older brother Bobby.
Finally, Linfield’s NIFL Cup match against Institute was postponed due to Institute playing an ineligible player in the previous round, being replaced by PSNI. You’re all expecting me to joke that the Peelers planted an ineligible player on them.
It creates a scheduling issue with Linfield not having a free midweek until the date of the Quarter-Finals, three days before Northern Ireland v Lithuania.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it got slotted in to wc November 1st to keep Windsor Park free from usage ahead of those internationals as Linfeld would be away to Ballymena if they get through.
There is a precedent for rescheduling NIFL Cup games, as the Semi-Finals in 2018-2019 were put back a week due to a backlog caused by postponements in previous rounds.
Let’s hope after Tuesday night’s game against Dundela, we’ll be looking to slot in another game somewhere.
Bloody hell, what a year. As you can imagine, not a lot of football matches were attended.
Still, fingers crossed that i’ll get to some games in 2021, nothing in the calendar yet.
As a bonus, hopefully i’ll get to go to a ground that isn’t Windsor Park, as much as I enjoy visiting it.
Matches : 19
Goals : 68
Red Cards : 5
Missed Penalties : 0
Hat-Tricks : 1
Andrew Waterworth (Linfield v Carrick Rangers)
Teams Seen : 17
Accrington Stanley, Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville, Crusaders, Dundela, Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon, Glentoran, Institute, Larne, Linfield, Manchester United, Queen’s University (1st time), Salford City (1st time), Warrenpoint Town
Stadiums Visited : 10
Ballymena Showgrounds, Inver Park, Milltown, Moor Lane (1st time), Old Trafford, Solitude, Taylor’s Avenue, The Dub (1st time), Wilgar Park, Windsor Park
Competitions : 5
County Antrim Shield, FA Premier League, Football League Trophy (1st time), Irish Cup, Irish League