NORTHERN IRELAND 1-3 GERMANY 5.10.2017

Usually, when the top seed arrives in Belfast at this stage of a World Cup Qualifying campaign, it is an opportunity to see some famous names and a glamour game to look back on at the end of another miserable campaign. Except, this time, it was a bit different.

Germany arrived at Windsor Park with acht wins out of acht, and would have qualified if they made it neun out of neun. In fact, even eins point would have done.

Northern Ireland knew that a win would put them in contention for automatic qualification in the last game and at worst, secure a Play-Off spot.

Northern Ireland might have already secured 2nd in the group, but not quite a Play-Off spot reserved for one of the eight best runners-up.

I’m old enough to remember when Northern Ireland ere Germany’s bogey team, a five game unbeaten run against them in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, it’s been six successive wins for Germany.

It was a milestone match for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, his 50th in charge. All he wanted was for his 52nd and 53 to be World Cup Play-Off matches.

Germany started the game dominant in possession, and made the most of it when a poor clearance made it’s way to Sebastian Rudy to fire home from outside the box to put Germany 1-0 up after just siebenundsiebzig seconds to silen …….

Well, no, it didn’t quite silence Windsor Park. Anyone turning up two minutes late might have thought Northern Ireland were kicking off to start the match, although the scoreboard might have given them a clue.

Northern Ireland’s response was immediate, with Gareth McAuley agonisingly unable to get his head on a corner. If he did, it might have just been another legendary goal from him.

Germany responded to Northern Ireland’s response by going in search of a second goal, with Leon Goretzka having a header saved from close range by Michael McGovern while Sandro Wagner.

Wagner had better luck with his next attempt, firing home from the edge of the box to make it 2-0. You could see that the shot was coming once he got the space, the problem was, trying to get close to him.

It didn’t quite silence the Windsor Park crowd, but it was now a lot quieter.

Northern Ireland had a chance to pull a goal back before half-time when a cross found Corry Evans, but he couldn’t get a chance to set himself up for a shot, and when he did, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was able to make himself big.

From the resulting corner, Kyle Lafferty had a free header easily caught by Ter Stegen. If someone had been able to run and and get even the slightest touch, they would surely have scored.

Northern Ireland knew that if they could pull a goal back, they could have a go at a famous comeback win. The problem was, getting that goal. Opportunities to get it were rare.

Conor Washingon had a glorious one in the second-half when created space in the penalty area, and hit the bar with the whole goal to aim at.

You got the feeling that was Northern Ireland’s big moment. They already had two. They weren’t going to get any more.

On 86 minutes, Joshua Kimmich made sure of the drei points for Germany when he fired home from a tight angle to make it 3-0.

Northern Ireland had a late flurry and pulled a goal back to make it 3-1. It was the final act of the game, and only a consolation.

The initial observation, was that it wasn’t as important as his only other Windsor Park goal, but it could be, if Northern Ireland secure a Play-Off on goal difference.

Attention turned to other groups. Scotland beating Slovakia helped Northern Ireland but not so much in terms of second place ranking.

Some fans already dreaming of a Play-Off against Scotland. If it did happen, Annual Leave is tight for me in November, I would have to do an unbelievable amount of begging if the away leg was on any day but the Saturday.

Talking of Scotland, i’m not going there this weekend, as flights to get to Dundee for Linfield’s match against Dundee United are just too expensive.

I’ve done the maths, and a Congo win against Egypt will secure a Play-Off for Northern Ireland. Erm, I think I might have to redo my calculations on that one.

Friday teatime saw the unlikely sight of Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland fans coming together to cheer on the same team, Georgia, as they faced Wales.

Wales won 1-0. If they failed to win, Northern Ireland would have secured a Play-Off place.

I can’t see Republic Of Ireland winning in Cardiff and expect to see Wales in the Play-Offs. They would be the team to avoid as they would have so much form and momentum going into it.

That is why Northern Ireland must get a positive result in Norway, to sign off the group on a high and avoid going into two big games on the back of two defeats.

With regards to the Play-Offs and best runners-up, it’s an absolute farce that the final games aren’t all taking place on the same day rather than being staggered across three days.

Norway go into this game on the back of an 8-0 win over San Marino, but that was preceded by a 6-0 defeat against Germany. It’s hard to get a barometer of where they are at.

Getting ahead of schedule, i’ve had a look at the Euro 2020 Qualifiers, which will have Play-Offs in March 2020. Yes, you read that right. What a farce.

Logically, that means the draw will take place in March or April 2020, meaning fans will have less then three months to arrange travel for a tournament that will already be a logistical nightmare due to it taking place all over Europe.

There’s going to be a shitstorm over it. You read it here first.

That can wait, it’s all about Northern Ireland getting a positive result in Norway to secure a Play-Off spot.

They might not even need it if Bosnia fail to beat Belgium. Just imagine a statue of Marouane Fellaini outside Belfast City Hall.

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LINFIELD 4-0 BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 16.9.2017

Five wins from their opening five games didn’t automatically mean that Linfield would be Champions. By the same analysis, defeat at Seaview on Tuesday didn’t mean that Linfield’s title hopes were over.

Despite that, Ballinamallard’s visit to Windsor Park today was a game they had to win. Firstly, to avoid Tuesday’s result being considered the start of a slump rather than a blip, and most importantly, to keep up with the sides at the top of the League, especially with Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon all having home games they were expected to win.

Linfield fans arriving at Windsor Park today won’t be returning there for a Linfield match until 21st October due to a run of six successive away matches, including a first League meeting of the season with Coleraine.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of early Linfield pressure, it was Attack v Defence, and Linfield were doing all the attacking.

Louis Rooney dispossessed a defender and cut in, only to have his shot saved by Ballinamallard’s keeper. Chris Casement had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart curled a shot wide. It looked like a matter of time before Linfield scored.

On twelve minutes, Windsor Park got a shock. Not a Ballinamallard goal, but a player being booked in the first fifteen minutes of a game, as Neil Brennan was booked for a cynical foul on Jamie Mulgrew. Apparantly, referees are allowed to do that. Let’s hope it becomes a regular thing when teams try to cyncially foul in the opening minutes of a game.

Ballinamallard did have a chance when a free-kick from a wide angle at the edge of the box which was easily saved by Roy Carroll. That was all they offered in the first-half.

It was then Aaron Burns turn to be frustrated as he dragged his shot wide after being played through.

Burns made up for it soon after by playing in Jordan Stewart, whose shot went through the keeper’s legs to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It wasn’t as lucrative as is last goal against La Fiorita, but it felt just as important, giving Linfield the breakthrough against opposition designed to frustrate.

The pressure from Linfield continued, with Mark Haughey and Louis Rooney missing from close range immei=diately after each other, when one of them should have scored.

As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield were going to get an opportunity to get that second goal they needed when Aaron Burns was brought down, but no penalty was given. It may have only been a slight touch, but it was still a foul. It was the second week in a row Burns had been denied a clear penalty.

With the game still in the balance, Ballinamallard came out and felt confident of getting a point. In the early minutes of the second-half, Ryan Curran got clear of a defender but his shot was saved by Carroll.

Ballinamallard even started doing fancy flicks as they looked for an equaliser. Linfield knew if they got the second goal, that would be the points. While the game was in the balance, Ballinamallard always felt they would get something.

Josh Robinson was lucky to only get a yellow for a foul as a Ballinamallard player raced to goal. The fact the foul was on the halfway line worked in his favour.

Just after the hour, Jordan Stewart put an end to the tension by converting a cross to make it 2-0 and secure the points.

A few minutes later, he was played through and made it 3-0, completing his hat-trick.

With the game won, David Healy turned to his bench, giving gametime to Brandon Adams and Ryan Strain.

Neither of them could get on the scoresheet, but Mark Haughey did, heading home from close range to make it 4-0.

One pointless observation from this match was that this was the first League game that Linfield didn’t do a “Tottenham Corner”.

As mentioned earlier, Windsor Park will be a foreign country to Linfield fans over the next few weeks due to six successive away games coming up.

The first of those is a County Antrim Shield game against Ballyclare on Tuesday before a League trip to Warrenpoint on Friday.

Playing on Friday allows Linfield the opportunity to put pressure on Coleraine ahead of their match on Saturday.

A 2 goal win will put Linfield top while a 4-3 win will have both sides level with identical goals for and goal difference.

After that, a trip to Solitude. Linfield might do mid 90s Tottenham corners, but Cliftonville do mid 90s Tottenham disregard for defending.

I’d be very confident that our eight man midfield can cut off the supply to their four man attack.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine and Glenavon unsurprisingly won, while Crusaders could only draw at home to Ards.

That results lessens the damage of Tuesday’s result, only slightly, as we’ve only lost one point (across two games) this week to Crusaders instead of three.

Next weekend, Coleraine travel to The Oval, while Crusaders do so the following Monday (It’s like on Sky Sports).

Glentoran’s (relatively) good start to the season could be beneficial to Linfield, as they could help derail Linfield’s rivals. Obviously, i’m hoping for draws. Come on, you don’t seriously think i’ll want them to win?

I’m not going to Warrenpoint next Friday as i’m going to Culture Night instead. I missed it last year and I don’t want to miss it two years in a row. We’re at Warrenpoint in January, so I won’t be missing out.

I’ll have my lucky scarf in my right hand pocket as per superstition.

I’m hoping to travel to Tannadice for the match against Dundee United but it’s looking unlikely due to the prices of flights out of Glasgow on the Sunday night.

It’s a pity, as I wanted to see the DC Thomson statues in the City Centre (I always get DC Comics and DC Thompson mixed up. Now that would be a comic book crossover I could get into) as well as seeing Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh.

That game allows Linfield the opportunity to play at a ground that has hosted a European Final. However, come Wednesday, Linfield could be playing home matches at a ground which is set to host a European Final.

Windsor Park has applied to host the European Super Cup Final in August 2019. The host venue will be confirmed on Wednesday.

UEFA have published a report of the proposed venues on their website. You can find it here. Skip to page 58.

In short, the report for Windsor Park states :

The IFA proposes a smoke free stadium (Ha ha ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. Trust me, i’d love it, but recent internationals make me cynical)

No free transport from City Centre to Windsor Park for fans

More than the required amount of wheelchair spaces needed.

It meets UEFA’s requirement for supporter-toilet ratio. Yes, such a thing exists.

Food facilities for matchday staff is small.

Any VIP area for May McFetridge and Julian Simmons to hang out with Ruud Gullit and Lothar Mattheus would have to be built outside the ground.

Not enough space for TV studios.

Somebody will have to “have a word” regarding lifting restrictions on late night flights after the game.

Number of hotels for fans and teams are adequate.

Belfast is a “Straightforward city”. UEFA’s words, not mine. I’ve no idea what that means.

Anyway, forget about 2019, let’s just concentrating on racking up points prior to the visit to Coleraine on October 14th, especially being three points behind and not playing in the League on October 7th while Coleraine are in action.

We’ll need every point we can get between now and then.

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LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 9.9.2017

There was a throwback to the old days on Saturday as Linfield and Glentoran met, separated only by a point and both unbeaten, with Glentoran knowing that a win would send them above Linfield in the table for the first time since the opening day of the 2014-2015 season.

It was to be a case of the same old, as it was the player who scored the winner the last time Linfield trailed Glentoran in the table did it again on Saturday, to put Linfield four points clear of their rivals, and more importantly, maintain their winning start to the season and keep the pressure on leaders Coleraine.

Early Linfield pressure brought that winning goal when Glentoran couldn’t properly clear a corner and the ball went out the left to Jordan Stewart. Stewart was booed by the away fans every time he touched the ball. However, that booing went silent within seconds when his cross was headed home by Aaron Burns.

It looked like it was going to be a rout for Linfield. Even at this early stage.

Glentoran soon reminded them that there was still a game to be won when Robbie McDaid was played through only for his shot to be saved by Roy Carroll, who got up in time to save Curtis Allen’s rebound. Between Allen and mcDaid, it should have been a goal for Glentoran.

Soon after, Aaron Burns had a chance for Linfield but his shot was saved by Elliott Morris. He couldn’t get enough space to get a clear shot at goal. He would have been better off blindly shooting towards goal when he had the position but not the space.

Burns was involved in Linfield’s next attack of note when Marcus Kane made a great interception in the penalty ares to deny him. That is, if you were playing Basketball. The clearest handball you’ll ever see, and no penalty was given.

Inbetween, Glentoran almost equalised in bizarre fashion when a headed clearance hit Robbie McDaid and went goalwards, only for Roy Carroll to save on the line. When Roy Coyle was Glentoran manager, you can be sure that would have went into the back of the net.

Linfield made a strong start to the second-half but could get a clinching goal, and began to give Glentoran far too much encouragement, with a James Knowles free-kick causing enough concern for Roy Carroll to tip the ball out for a corner.

As Linfield sought that second goal, Louis Rooney came on from the bench in place for Jordan Stewart. It was a surprise for Rooney to start on the bench considering he had scored four goals in one start and one sub appearance and had a lot of early momentum at the start of his Linfield careers.

Linfield were given another moment of worry when a cross come shot had to be cleared off the line.

Ross Clarke was brought on for Kirk Millar, his first League appearance of the season. His main moment of note in Glentoran’s half was keepball at a corner with Aaron Burns. That sort of tactic against Glentoran has bitten us in the arse before. I was sat waiting for the 93rd minute Glentoran equaliser.

Despite all of Glentoran’s possession, Linfield were able to hold out and do just enough to win.

While 451/433 does have it’s advantages, it has one obvious limitation in the shape of stifling attacks.

It may have been a necessity due to injuries a few weeks ago, but two strikers have since been signed, one of whom has gotten off to a goalscoring start.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to get used to it until we have a bad result or an injury crisis in midfield.

In the Scottish Challenge Cup, we’ve been drawn away to Dundee United. Games against Dundee United and Celtic mean this has been a memorable season for those Linfield supporters doing the 102 Club.

I’m hoping to go to Dundee, just to see Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh. I would have preferred Stranraer for obvious reasons.

Up next, a trip to Seaview, and a big improvement needed. A 2-0 sends us top. 6-5 puts us joint top with an identical record to Coleraine. A win by any score will do.

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LINFIELD 1-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 26.8.2017

Just as they did when they kicked-off their last game at Windsor Park, Linfield kicked off against Ballymena United playing catch-up after Friday night results.

Two weeks ago against Carrick, they knew they had to win by a specific margin to go top. Against Ballymena, any win would do thanks to Glenavon’s draw against Glentoran.

In the space of a week, Five clubs at the top with perfect records was now just two, Coleraine and Linfield, with Coleraine already successfully navigated matchday four.

This season, nobody has stayed at the top of the league for long.

Crusaders went top after their first match before being replaced by Cliftonville, before Crusaders went top again three days later, only to replaced by Glenavon four days later, who only lasted six days before being replaced by Coleraine.

Even if Linfield did go top, that would only last seven days due to them not being in League action next week.

Both teams had contrasting starts to the season. Linfield had three wins out of three and three clean sheets while Ballymena had only one point from three games and eleven goals conceded.

Those stats suggested a routine home win. Reality would suggest otherwise.

The early stages of the game saw Linfield having a lot of the ball. A lot. There were some Linfield players who had touched the ball more times than Ballymena’s entire team.

Despite that, Linfield couldn’t make the most of it.

Whilst the score was 0-0, we were treated to the trademark Ballymena tactics of timewasting and cynical foulind, Jim Ervin and Kyle Owen being the worst offenders.

Everytime a Linfield attack came to an end, Ballymena’s keeper was out berating his defence. Except, it was all for show, anything to kill a bit of time. The referee fell for it on every occasion.

Paul Smyth, the centre of a lot of attention today on and off the pitch fired a low cross which evaded everybody, while a run and shot was saved by Conor Brennan in Ballymena’s goal.

There would be more emphasis put on Smyth when Jordan Stewart went off injured and was replaced by Aaron Burns.

Ballymena made a rare venture into Linfield’s defensive third when a Joe McKinney shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

Aaron Burns was unable to get a touch to divert a wide shot from Robert Garrett into the net, before shooting from a wide angle when a cross was the better option.

Linfield’s last chance of the half came when Mark Stafford fired over from a “Tottenham Corner”.

0-0 at half-time was the first time Linfield had failed to score a first-half goal in the League this season. Even more amazingly, it maintained Ballymena’s record of not conceding a first-half goal in the League this season.

As the half-time whistle blew, the tannoy blasted out Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers for those going to the concert at Custom House Square (there was someone sat near me who had an SLF badge on their coat) after the game.

We were all agreed that we wanted and Alternative Linfield in the second-half.

Ballymena had the first attack of the second-half when Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a Kyle Owens shot, before Linfield began to take control of the game.

Mark Haughey had a goalward header cleared. It looked like it was going wide to me, but the Ballymena defender couldn’t take the risk.

Ballymena will have been glad that Jimmy Callacher wasn’t playing, having scored in three of the five meetings last season, but Mark Stafford had scored in Ballymena’s last three visits to Windsor Park, and he was eager to make it four out of four.

Paul Smyth had a long range effort tipped over, before his gentle through pass set through Andrew Mitchell, who was fouled just as he set himself up to shoot. Penalty to Linfield.

Having scored at Dungannon last week, Mitchell made no mistake again to give Linfield the lead.

The only person in Windsor Park probably not celebrating was Cameron Stewart, who was getting readied to come on, only to be sent back to the dugout when the penalty was awarded and then scored.

You always had the feeling that Ballymena were so content on stopping Linfield, they would know how to react if Linfield got the lead and Ballymena had to take the intitiative and get a goal.

How Ballymena reacted was to lose their heads, with Andrew Burns being sent-off for a two footed lunge.

Despite 1-0 being a fragile lead, there was never any danger of Linfield not holding on.

That said, 4-5-1/4-3-3 doesn’t really work for Linfield, even allowing for Andrew Waterworth being injured restricting striking options.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to put up with it until there is a bad result or an injury crisis, like in November last season.

While this game was 0-0, the game was crying out for Cameron Stewart’s introduction in place of one of the three centre midfielders.

Having set up the penalty that won the game, it was perhaps apt that the final touch of the game was from Paul Smyth, holding on to the ball and securing the win for Linfield, as he looks set to sign for QPR on Monday. Good luck to him. Hopefully he’ll be back at Windsor Park soon in a Northern Ireland shirt.

To be honest, the word “Hopefully” wasn’t really needed in that sentence.

An immediate loan back would be great, as would a friendly at Loftus Road. I can dream.

With the game in the balance, he couldn’t be subbed for an ovation, he just got it at the final whistle instead.

He will be a loss but there are players who can come in and make the most of the opportunity presented to them, such as getting Ross Clarke back to full fitness and on form.

In anticipation of Smyth’s departure, Linfield have signed Louis Rooney from Plymouth. I know absolutely nothing about him, so, um ………

This week saw the confirmation that Spartans will face Linfield in the Irn-Bru Cup. The issue between them and Albion Rovers should have been resolved before the draw took place.

For future reference, perhaps the 1st Round of the competition should take place a week or two weeks earlier in order to allow supporters of the teams who have to travel to and from Scotland a chance to make arrangements.

Thankfully, Linfield are running a bus to the game for fans. Edinburgh? More like Edinblue.

Before Spartans, is the League Cup tie against Distillery, which will hopefully be used to allow the likes of Robinson, both Clarkes, Deane, C Stewart and Glendenning a chance to get some gametime ahead of a busy month.

With Coleraine facing Glenavon next Saturday, that guarantees Linfield will be knocked off the top of the table while they are Edinburgh.

Up next in the League is Glentoran on September 9th and our annual stupid home draw against them.

Might as well get it out of the way early on.

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LINFIELD 2-0 CARRICK RANGERS 12.8.2017

After Crusaders win on Friday night, Linfield were already playing catch-up as they kicked-off their opening match of the season, just as they did for 37 out of 38 matches last season.

As Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park, they would face a Linfield side with five changes from their last domestic game, last season’s Irish Cup Final due to injury (Waterworth, Callacher, Clarke) and suspension (Burns, Lowry)

A team who usually struggles on the opening day, with five players missing and facing a team with ten men behind the ball. This had the potential of being a difficult afternoon for Linfield.

While Carrick were winning a lot of headers in the air, Linfield found other routes to get at their goal with low crosses, short corners and balls on the ground. Carrick could handle it, and it looked like a goal was coming.

Niall Quinn had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart fired over, before a low Niall Quinn shot hit the back of the net to put Linfield 1-0 up.

With only 15 minutes on the clock, it was the early goal Linfield needed to avoid getting frustrated.

Andrew Mitchell fired over as Linfield looked for a second goal, while a Jamie Mulgrew cross agonisingly evaded both Paul Smyth and Jordan Stewart when just a touch would have delivered a goal.

As half-time approached, Linfield got a second goal when Kirk Millar headed home from a Niall Quinn cross. That was surely the three points secured.

The second-half was attack against defence again, as Linfield aimed for a 3rd goal that would kill off the game, even though Carrick’s lack of attacking threat so far suggested that 2-0 would be enough.

Robert Garrett and Mark Stafford both had unsuccessful attempts at goal. Stafford was later substituted for Josh Robinson, denying him the opportunity to score against Carrick for the forth successive home game against them.

Linfield looked like getting that 3rd goal when Jordan Stewart won a penalty.

With Lowry, Burns and Waterworth not playing, there was no obvious taker. Paul Smyth had missed the only one he had taken.

Jordan Stewart stepped up and missed it, Carrick’s keeper gathering the ball on the line when it looked like he might accidentally score an own goal.

It was Linfield’s seventh penalty in their last thirteen matches, four of which have been missed. That stat doesn’t include the ridiculous penalty shoot-out against Glentoran in late July.

It didn’t matter as Linfield cruised to a 2-0 win. Carrick had so few attacks, we didn’t get to hear Roy Carroll shout “GET OUT!! GET OUT!!!”

The only disappointment was that Linfield couldn’t get more goals, a four goal win would have put them top. However, Linfield fans will know from last season that being top at the end of matchday 38 is all that matters.

Up next, a trip to Ards.

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LINFIELD 0-2 CELTIC 14.7.2017

It had been a long wait, but Linfield and Celtic belatedly got to play their 2nd Round European Cup tie, a few days after the designated matchday.

In recent years, Linfield have played UEFA Cup games on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, so a European Cup tie on a Friday shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Linfield just play European football whenever we feel like it. Monday lunchtime next season?

With the match taking place on a Friday, it meant both teams went into the match still digesting the draw for the next round, which offered Linfield and Celtic the incentive of a tie against Dundalk or Rosenborg, with the home leg first.

Linfield and Celtic have both faced Dundalk and Rosenborg in the past in Europe, so whatever the result of both ties, there was going to be a reunion for the winner in the next round.

Linfield went into this game hoping to end a rotten run of results against Scottish teams, after friendly defeats against Rangers (numerous), Kilmarnock (2011), Cowedenbeath (2014), Hearts (2017) and a Scottish Challenge Cup defeat to Queen Of The South last year. The last win I can think of was a 1-0 friendly win over Hearts in 2003.

The last time I saw a Scottish team play in Europe, they lost 5-0, so I was hoping that would be an omen.

Fans arriving at Windsor Park hoping to see a shock certainly got one, but not on the pitch, as they arrived to the sight of a couple of hundred Celtic fans in The Kop, who had bought tickets for the North Stand but were granted amnesty and allocated a section of The Kop.

The game began with Celtic having a lot of possession and pressure, unsurprsingly. It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon/teatime/evening for Linfield’s players. I’m not sure what the correct terminology is for a 5pm kick-off.

It looked like being a long 90 minutes for those on Linfield’s left, as Jame Forrest was getting a lot of joy and space down Celtic’s right. Unsurprisingly, Celtic were looking to make the most of this.

Scott Brown was lucky to get away with a talking to after making a scissor tackle after he lost possession. Brown strikes me as the kid at school who picks on kids three years younger than him but runs crying to the Teacher is someone a year older tells him to cut it out. If he was as good as he thinks he is, he would have signed for a mediocre English team like Aston Villa, Southampton or West Brom five years ago.

On 17 minutes, Celtic took the lead when a Scott Sinclair header was deflected in. It was at the end I was sat and it looked like an own goal to me, though most media outlets are giving it to Sinclair, although Sky Sports have credited it as a Mark Haughey own goal.

It didn’t matter, Celtic were in front.

After the goal, we finally got to see Linfield as an attacking force, with Mark Stafford having an effort saved and a Paul Smyth run being halted by a cynical Scott Brown foul. Europe or Domestic, it seems that Paul Smyth is the target of cynical fouls.

Linfield’s hopes of getting an equaliser took a blow when Tom Rogic scored after running onto a low drilled corner. It was, if you will, the “Tottenham Mid 90s” corner goal.

Ironically, David Healy once scored a goal like that at Windsor Park, albeit in front of The Kop, set up by recently departed Linfield player Sammy Clingan.

Another irony, was that Linfield were on the end of a quick goal blitz, having done the same to Glenavon, Coleraine (x2) and Cliftonville in the last four games of last season.

Despite Celtic’s dominance, they didn’t have Linfield on the ropes at 0-0, it was frustrating to fall behind to two bad goals.

The first goal was unlucky, the second goal showed why you have to be switched on at all times at this level.

While there might be a dispute about wether he scored Celtic’s first goal, Scott Sinclair was denied twice by Roy Carroll towards the end of the first-half as he went about making sure he could be credited with a goal beyond dispute.

The first save came when he was played in behind Linfield’s defence. He really should have scored.

Leigh Griffiths had a goal disallowed in the early minutes of the second-half, as Linfield won some set pieces, hoping to make one count and get back into the game.

The was one moment at a Linfield set piece that summed up the difference at this level. A set piece was headed clear and was going back to Jamie Mulgrew. As he waited for the ball to come to him, a Celtic player sniffed the danger and got to the ball first. In the Irish League, Mulgrew strikes the ball into the back of the net when it goes to him.

The closest Linfield came to scoring was when a rogue backheader from a Celtic defender concerned Craig Gordon enough into making a diving save, while a low cross into Celtic’s box caused concern for Celtic, with tow Linfield attackers agonisingly unable to get to the ball to put it in.

You got the feeling however, that if Linfield had pulled a goal back, Celtic would at worst have held on for a 2-1 win, or got a 3rd goal to restore the two goal lead.

Once it went to 2-0, it was a case of job done for Celtic

That, and the fact that Roy Carroll was on form.

In the last quarter of the game, the referee went a bit card happy, including a long overdue yellow card for Scott Brown.

One of those yellow cards came for Leigh Griffiths for timewasting as he was evading bottles being thrown at him as he took a corner.

It was all at the corner where South Stand and Kop meet. I just fucking despair, I really do. There’s not much I can add to what has already been said. I just wish people like that would just fuck off, as they give people who are no better than us the opportunity to stick the boot in.

That includes certain media outlets acting with a sense of moral superiority that they forfeited with their antics in the aftermath of the draw.

I’m not going to go into some “Superfan” rant, we all support our team in different ways. The way they were “Supporting” the team yesterday is not the way to do it.

I won’t be defending them. Whatever punishment they get from Linfield and the law of them land, it won’t be enough. Fuck em.

You can guarantee they won’t be there when Linfield are playing their next home European match at Mourneview Park. If we’re lucky.

However, such behaviour is not a Linfield problem, or even a football problem, it’s an overall societal problem. If any politician even tries to lecture us, they’re your hooligans and much as they are ours.

I also noted that an MLA from Delivering Unity Promptly bought a ticket for the Linfield end and tried to enter the ground via the Boucher Road. A perfect metaphor for Northern Ireland politicians trying to get involved in football.

There are a few things that should be noted and not overlooked. It was a small percentage of the crowd. They were booed by their own when the incidents happened. The reaction on Social Media from Linfield fans, has been total condemnation. Nobody is supporting them, and rightly so.

A word, on Eventsec. I went to the game straight from work. I took a backpack to work (to hold scarf, ticket and some food) and wasn’t even searched going in. So clearly, it wouldn’t have taken a lot of effort to smuggle a bottle in.

Unfortunately, i’m not going to the second leg in Glasgow on Wednesday. Hopefully, the Scottish Challenge Cup draw will give us a kind away game to make up for that.

If you are going, enjoy yourself. My advice would be to check out the Street Art and visit Missing, a record store beside Central Station.

If you’re heading over on Tuesday and are groundhopping minded, all I can say is Merry Christmas, as there is a full fixture list in the Scottish League Cup Group Stages.

There’s no game in Glasgow, but Albion Rovers, Dumbarton, Kilmarnock, Morton and St Mirren are all under an hour away from Glasgow.

I’ll be in Edinburgh in a few weeks, so at least i’ll be getting some taste of Scottish football, most likely Edinburgh City, who have Craig Beattie playing for them, a tenuous link to both Celtic and Linfield.

I’m over for the Fringe Festival, which has some football offerings. I’m doing my “To See List” and hope to see a stage version of The Damned United, while i’m going to have Don’t Cry For Me Kenny Dalglish on my Back-Up List.

Linfield’s inevitible exit means they won’t be postponing recently announced friendlies away to Newry (27th July) and Dundela (1st August).

Haven’t been to Newry since 2010, but undecided if i’m going to that as I head to Dublin the following morning for an overnight stay.

I was supposed to be doing a day trip to Dublin yesterday, but decided i’d be better off going to Linfield v Celtic. So, i’m going to go to Dublin in two weeks time instead.

The plan for Dublin is Street Art and catch a football match. If I was in Dublin last night, I would have went to see Shelbourne v Wexford. Wexford won 2-1 if you care.

When i’m in Dublin in two weeks, i’m hoping to catch UCD v Cabinteely.

Then i’ll be back in Dublin (briefly) the following midweek for Manchester United v Sampdoria, with Dundela v Linfield sandwiched inbetween.

It could have been Dundalk rather than Dundela. Could be worse, could have blown a 3-0 lead in the UEFA Cup against a team from Latvia.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-4 HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN 8.7.2017

2017 has been a year for Scottish visitors coming to Windsor Park, with Ice Hockey and Rugby fans having already taking in some football this year while following their respective teams in Belfast, as Linfield welcomed the first of two Scottish visitors to Windsor Park this week.

With Hearts visiting Windsor Park today, it gave Celtic scouts the opportunity to look at two upcoming opponents, with Hearts set to visit Celtic on the opening day of the season in a few weeks time.

Tartan visitors to Windsor Park won’t end on Friday, with Linfield set to be given a home tie when they enter the Scottish Challenge Cup in September.

I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, but three Northern Ireland players in the Hearts side made this match a bit more appealing, as fans at Windsor Park were treated to the sight of Kyle Lafferty in club action, a rare sight over the past three years.

For Hearts, it was the second game in a short tour of Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, having lost 1-0 to St Patrick’s Athletic on Wednesday.

If you were a Hearts fan travelling over for the two games, the trip presented some great groundhopping opportunities.

You could have flown into Dublin on Wednesday, gone to your side’s match against St PAtrick’s Athletic, and then stayed in Dublin, taking in Shamrock Rovers v Stjarnan on Thursday, and then gone to either Cabinteely or UCD’s home match on Friday, before travelling up to Belfast for this one.

I did hear one Hearts fan on my way in saying he was at a Second Division game (I couldn’t work out which game he went to) but he did describe it as “Absolute fucking murder”

There wasn’t a dramatic change to Linfield’s team but there were starting opportunities for Andrew Mitchell, Jordan Stewart, Robert Garrett and Kirk Millar, as Linfield prepared for the game against Celtic in a 4-5-1 (4-3-3 when attacking) formation.

The absence of Jimmy Callacher, rested in the two games against La Fiorita due to injury concerns, suggests that he is still a doubt for the Celtic game.

Hearts made a good start to the game, with Kyle Lafferty missing a glorious opportunity after an attack started by a misplaced Robert Garrett pass, when his shot hit the sidenetting when he should have scored. The Windsor Park crowd weren’t as sympathetic as they would have been if he was wearing the green of Northern Ireland.

Jamie Walker had a shot go wide during this early spell of pressure.

It was Linfield who took the lead when a poor defensive header was seized on by Jamie Mulgrew, who fired home from the edge of the box.

On 26 minutes, Hearts equalised when a shot from outside the box from Harry Cochrane beat Roy Carroll.

As half-time approached, a header from Jamie Walker put Hearts 2-1 up, a lead they took into the break.

Linfield made a good start to the second-half, having a lot of pressure on Hearts goal, getting a lot of joy down their right and forcing Hearts defenders into blocks and clearances.

Linfield almost equalised by accident when a Paul Smyth cross almost went straight in, with Hearts keeper being forced into an acrobatic save at the expense of a corner.

Against the run of play, Esmael Goncalves was able to hold off his man and get enough space to make it 3-1 and secure the win for Hearts.

By this stage, Linfield had utilised their bench, giving much needed game time to players who didn’t play against La Fiorita.

Most pleasing was the appearance of Paul Smyth, who went off injured in San Marino.

A free-kick hit the wall but fell perfectly for Cole Stockton to finish from close range to give Hearts a flattering 4-1 lead.

Regular readers will know I go to Edinburgh every August and try to take in as many games as possible.

I won’t be at Tynecastle with Hearts playing their opening games away from home due to a new Main Stand being built.

The old Main Stand was the only stand at Tynecastle I haven’t been in. Hopefully, when I do go to Tynecastle again, i’ll take in a match in the new stand.

The matches while i’m there are Hibs v Partick and Edinburgh City v Montrose.

I was hoping Sky or BT would help me out and enable me to see two matches, but i’ve got a choice to make. At the moment, i’m leaning towards Edinburgh City as it will give me a new ground to visit.

The rearrangement of the Linfield v Celtic match meant I had to cancel my day trip to Dublin. Thankfully, my hotel has accommodated me changing to 28th July.

I’ll be doing the usual Street Art and Football combo, and the match i’m planning to go to is UCD v Cabinteely, meaning that the only Dublin ground I haven’t been to is Cabinteely’s.

And now, to Celtic.

Linfield were competitive today and held their own, despite the score.

Being competitive against Hearts and being competitive against Celtic are two totally different things.

It will be a challenge, and we’ll have to rise it.

However, Linfield had to rise to a challenge just to be in this season’s European Cup.

Photo Album

Hearts v Aberdeen 2011

Hearts v Tottenham Hotspur 2011

Hibs v Hearts 2012

Hearts v Hibs 2014

Hearts v Partick Thistle 2015

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MAY

There wasn’t a lot of football for me in the last month of the season.

May began for me with the Irish Cup Final between Linfield and Coleraine, which Linfield won 3-0.

My final match of the season, was a trip to Old Trafford to see a much changed Manchester United side beat Crystal Palace 2-0.

And that, was the end of 2016-2017 season for me.

2017-2018 is not too far away.

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL

April’s football watching began in Lurgan on the first day of the month, heading to Mourneview Park to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in a Irish Cup Semi-Final.

The following week, was another 1-0 win for Linfield, this time at Windsor Park in a key title decider against Crusaders.

Easter arrived in the middle of the month, and a double header of wins for Linfield, against Ballymena United and Glenavon.

The following Saturday, I headed Coleraine to see Linfield win 5-1 and go top of the League for the first time all season, with just one game to go.

That game was at Solitude, which Linfield won, and I captured the post match celebrations, as well as the celebrations later that day at Windsor Park.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : MARCH

March’s football watching began for me at Seaview, watching Linfield put Crusaders out of the Irish Cup.

There was a bit of a wait until my next match of the month as Linfield’s home match against Cliftonville was put back to the Monday night for live TV coverage.

I was back at Windsor Park the following Saturday, as Ards were the visitors.

The month ended with two games in the one weekend – Linfield’s long trip to Ballinamallard, and Norway’s even longer trip to Northern Ireland for a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album