This was always going to be a game that Linfield had to win regardless of the result between Ballymena United and Glenavon on Friday night. However, Ballymena’s late win in front of the TV cameras meant that Linfield fans entered Windsor Park before the match with a spring in their step. They left in a different mood, one of relief.
The last time the two sides met was in early September which resulted in a 5-0 win for Linfield. That was Warrenpoint’s sixth successive defeat at the start of the season. That result kickstarted a six match unbeaten run for Warrenpoint which saw them move off the bottom of the table, but arrived at Windsor Park on the back of two successive defeats.
This was Linfield’s first match in November. Considering how awful they’ve been in October in recent years, the fact we finished October 2018 with five wins out of six is a miracle.
Even though it is a new month, Linfield weren’t over the worst of it, as November has been a difficult month in recent years.
2013 saw costly defeats away to Dungannon Swifts and Cliftonville.
I’ll give you 2014, four wins and a draw was a decent return, even though the drawn game was two dropped points.
2015. Let us never speak about November 2015 ever again.
2016 saw a costly home defeat to Cliftonville which allowed Crusaders to go seven points clear, a deficit Linfield faced until Spring.
Even though November 2017 saw successive wins over the then top two, Coleraine and Glenavon, it also saw a costly defeat at Ballymena United and a League Cup exit at Crusaders.
An injury to Daniel Kearns saw a change in line-up and formation for Linfield, with Michael O’Connor coming in as part of a front two. He wouldn’t be lining up against his brother Ciaran, who missed today’s game through suspension.
An injury to a Warrenpoint player in the opening minutes saw a lengthy stoppage as the game struggled to get any sort of rhythm.
Linfield’s first chance of the game came by accident, when a wayward shot from a cut back free-kick was diverted goalwards by Andrew Waterworth, which was saved by Aaron McCarey.
Soon after, a counter-attack saw Warrenpoint saw them win a penalty for a foul by Matthew Clarke. He did get a touch of the ball, but not enough. We’d have been screaming for a penalty if it was the other way around.
What was annoying that even though the Warrenpoint player was setting up for a shot, he was in a wide position having been pushed out there by Clarke.
Sometimes when a penalty is getting ready to be taken, you know what the outcome is going to be. You just knew that Simon Kelly was never going to miss, as he slotted home to give Warrenpoint the lead.
It was the third successive game that Linfield had fallen 1-0 down in the first-half. It’s a bad habit to get into. We can’t keep giving teams something to defend.
Things didn’t get better for Linfield as Andrew Mitchell was forced off injured, making him the third injured right-back that Linfield currently have injured. We’ll be getting Alan Dornan out of retirement at this rate.
Josh Robinson came on for him, but instead of going to right-back, Linfield changed to 3-4-3.
McCarey then denied a low Joel Cooper shot before almost emulating Jim Montgomery (One for ESPN Classic viewers) from Andrew Waterworth’s rebound.
As the half neared it’s end, Jimmy Callacher had a shot go just wide, as Linfield continued to be frustrated.
Even more frustratingly, there was a lot of great crosses going in but nobody there to finish them, or they were just agonisingly missing their target, such as when Joel Cooper narrowly missed being on the end of a cross during the second-half.
Linfield just needed to keep it simple, something they haven’t done for a few weeks. Too many crosses being flashed across the box when there were people who could have been picked out, or crosses not going in first time, giving Warrenpoint enough time to get men in the box.
Warrenpoint weren’t without their chances, as Francis McCaffrey fired wide from the edge of the beox after being given too much time to do so, in the opening minutes of the second-half.
Jordan Stewart came off the bench, surprisingly for Joel Cooper. It wasn’t Cooper’s bets game, but you’d rather have him on the pitch than sitting on the bench.
Michael O’Connor volleyed over from a corner as Linfield looked for the goal that still wouldn’t come.
It looked like being one of those days, but those on the pitch and in the stands still had to believe that it wasn’t.
Daniel Reynolds came on for Matthew Clarke, hoping for a repeat of the last time he played in a League match at Windsor Park, scoring the winner, albeit as a Cliftonville player last season.
Every time it looked like being Linfield’s moment, Warrenpoint always seemed to get a body in the way. Jordan Stewart looked like he was going to equalise, when the ball fell to him in the penalty area. Guess what, a Warrenpoint player got their body in the way.
It looked like time was up for Linfield, but they had one last attack. It was an attack that was pulled back due to Roy Carroll taking a goal kick while the ball was moving.
This was not what Linfield needed when time was not on their side. The resulting attack saw a Jamie Mulgrew shot saved, but the rebound came to him, he gave it to Kirk Millar, whose cross was headed home by Andrew Waterworth, to muted celebrations, as the crowd knew there would be no time for Linfield to go on and get a winner.
There was a delay in getting the game restarted, as Waterworth and a Warrenpoint player were both injured going for the ball and required treatement.
Warrenpoint can complain about the amount of injury time, but if their goalkeeper knew how to tie his shoelaces, that wouldn’t have been an issue.
As it was a header, it technically wasn’t the last kick of the game as it was a header, but it was the last meaningful touch as the full-time whistle blew.
One point gained or two dropped? We’ll have to wait until April to find out.
The only positive is that we have cut the gap on Glenavon at the top of the table, but we have allowed Ballymena United, Cliftonville and Coleraine to cut the gap and get ideas about rejoining the title race.
We can end those Coleraine dreams next week with a win. We simply have to get back on the winning wagon to avoid being sucked into a traffic jam in the table.
Teams around us play each other on November 17th, so we need to go into that weekend in a healthy position.
That day, Linfield are away to Institute at The Brandywell. I got my ticket today. It’ll be a new ground for me to visit, though the 1pm kick-off and the location of bus pick-up and time means I probably won’t get an opportunity to explore the City Centre.
Linfield faced Institute this week, and won 5-0, setting up a League Cup Quarter-Final away to Portadown. Talking of ground visits, it’s coming up to three years since I was last at Shamrock Park.
That game will be played on December 4th, the date set aside for the Semi-Finals.
I see a potential farce coming up if there is incliment weather in Portadown that week, and trying to fit in a date for that game, especially if Linfield advance in the County Antrim Shield.
One Cup Final that could be held at Windsor Park in the future is the 2021 European Super Cup Final with the IFA being announced as a bidder this week.
Hopefully, they’ve read the bid criteria and acted upon feedback of previous bids (hint, if smoke free stadia is a criteria, don’t be giving them signposted areas). If this one fails, we should park that bus for a while. Don’t want to be like Turkey and the Olympics.
I went in 2014 and it was a fantastic experience. It would be great to have this game in Belfast.
A stoppage for an injury after an injury time equaliser brought back memories of a frustrating evening against Portadown in February 2017.
Little did we know, Linfield would be going on a domestic run of sixteen (spread across two seasons) successive wins.
Not asking much, a repeat would be very welcome.