PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JULY

Following a UEFA Cup exit to Cork City, there would be no European Linfield games for me in July, relying on hastily arrange friendlies for my football fix.

I got two of them, away friendlies against Dundela, then a trip to Harland and Wolff Welders.

Dundela v Linfield

Harland and Wolff Welders v Linfield

DUNDELA 1-3 LINFIELD 19.7.2016

Out of Europe, Linfield quickly plugged the gap in their diary by arranging a series of away friendlies as they look to get ready for the start of the new league season on August 6th.

One of those friendlies, was a short trip to East Belfast to face Dundela. It was my first pre-season game. I’d hoped that would be at Larne last week, but the fact the last train for Belfast left during the game ruined that plan.

It was my first visit to Wilgar Park since 2005, and fans attending were treated to a strong team. It wasn’t a full strength team, but I had heard of ten players in the starting eleven.

The one player I hadn’t heard of was Number 16, a trialist. It turned out his name was Aaron Duke, a 20 year old striker from Lisburn last on the books of Dundee United. He was to endure a mixed evening.

Linfield went on the attack in the opening minutes, with Paul Smyth getting in behind Dundela’s defence and firing into the side netting from a wide angle.

It was no surprise to anybody that Linfield took the lead after 13 minutes. It was even less of a surprise that the goal game from Paul Smyth. It was a header from a Ross Gaynor cross.

Smyth was involved in all of Linfield’s attacking play, he was running show.

His strike partner Duke, endured a frustrating evening, but he did get a reward for his persistence.

He shot wide when he could have scored, then he headed against the top of the crossbar. It looked like it wasn’t going to be his night.

Eventually, he made it 2-0 after a cross from Kirk Millar. Fittingly, even his goal came after he had a shot saved, scoring the rebound.

Most of the game was attack v defence, with Linfield doing the attacking.

Early in the second-half, Aaron Burns went close, while Jimmy Callacher had an overhead kick saved.

The match looked like being a non event, until Ross Glendenning let a Scott Collins shot under his body.

Suddenly, the match became competitive when it should have been long put to bed.

Despite this, Linfield introduced substitutes from the bench. The most effective sub was Ross Clarke, desperate to make up for lost time after a year out through injury.

Clarke fired home a low free-kick from the edge of the box to make it 3-1 and secure the win for Linfield.

Up next, another trip to East Belfast to take on Harland and Wolff Welders. It will be my first visit there since 2012. Linfield lost 1-0 there and it set the tone for when the season finally kicked-off.

Hopefully, it will be a bit better this time around.

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