LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 14.9.2019

Linfield warmed up for their opening UEFA Cup group match with a ………… ah, if only.

It’s now a case of back to reality and domestic action, and it’s been a satisfactory first week back, with three points away to Cliftonville, and a County Antrim Shield win over East Belfast.

That win over East Belfast especially pleasing, as some players who aren’t regular starters got game time, and some players got debuts.

Matthew Shevlin got a first start and goal, and Andrew Waterworth got a goal as well, and kept his place in the starting eleven, with nobody have to make way for Shayne Lavery, as an injury to Daniel Kearns enabled him to go back into the eleven.

Injuries to Kearns and Jordan Stewart meant that Linfield were a bit light when it came to attacking midfield options from the bench. Those injuries presented an opportunity for Daniel Reynolds, another goalscorer from the midweek Shield match.

It was Linfield who had the better of the opening minutes, with Shayne Lavery flicking wide from a Joel Cooper cross.

Lavery was then played in but looked too wide to score. His cross/shot flashed across the Glentoran six yard box, Kirk Millar unable to keep up with his run and get on the end of it.

There was no doubt that Linfield were up for this game, but they couldn’t get an early goal.

Although, early goals have never been a good thing for Linfield in this fixture in recent year, it still would have been welcomed.

Having ridden out that spell of Linfield pressure, Glentoran were able to spend some time in Linfield’s half, in front of the biggest exodus from East Belfast to South Belfast outside of Boxing Day for a while.

There weren’t any moments of worry for Linfield. I say that, but any time Glentoran have the ball in Linfield’s half, even if they are well away from goal, I naturally become nervous. It’s just the way I am.

After a strong start, the afternoon didn’t really happen for Joel Cooper, not getting much joy when taking on his opposing full-back.

Linfield’s next big chance gave when Bastien Hery headed over from close range. I don’t think he realised that Glentoran keeper Marijan Antolovic was hopelessly out of position.

Antolovic doesn’t need any vaccinations, because he never caught anything, keeping Linfield attacks alive longer than they should have been.

His lack of willingness to catch crosses or hold on to shots always gave Linfield hope that they could force an error out of him.

Glentoran’s shots on goal in the first-half were long range shots from Robbie McDaid and Joe Crowe which looked a lot closer than they were as I was sat at the opposite end.

By this point, Crowe was on a yellow card, having picked up a card for a cynical foul on Shayne Lavery as he raced towards goal.

Linfield’s only other attacking moments of note in the first-half was a long range shot from Andrew Waterworth which went over, as the ball set up, he was fancying a repeat of his goal at The Oval in 2016, and a cross which just evaded Mark Stafford who would have scored if he could get on the end of it.

0-0 at half-time but no need to panic. If Linfield could keep creating chances, surely one would go in. And if they can’t create chances, there was always the possibility that Glentoran’s keeper might gift them one.

As half-time scores filtered through, they were all going Linfield’s way, with Crusaders and Coleraine both drawing their matches. It didn’t matter if other results were going for or against Linfield, they still had to help themselves.

However, if Coleraine and/or Crusaders did fail to win, and Linfield took advantage, they would be finishing the day no higher than 9th, as the full-time whistle was blowing in the 2pm kick-off at The Brandywell, where Larne had just beaten Institute 4-1.

The second-half was very nervous, with neither team creating a clear cut opportunity.

With each passing minute, it was clear how important the first goal was going to be, if there was one. This match was not going to finish 1-1. It would either be 0-0, or somebody would sneak it 1-0.

Despite this, David Healy was reluctant to use any of the options on the bench.

One of those options was Matthew Shevlin, who had a decent cameo off the bench at Solitude the previous week, another was to bring on Matthew Clarke and push Niall Quinn forward.

However, it was Stephen Fallon who came on for Andrew Waterworth, just minutes after Robbie McDaid hit the bar for Glentoran.

On 86 minutes, it was Linfield who got the breakthrough when Bastien Hery instigated a move which saw Mark Stafford play the ball to Kirk Millar in space, not a lot, but enough to set himself up to get a shot at goal, which went in via a deflection.

The celebrations amongst the home fans showed how important a goal it was. Not just in the match, but in the title race, with Linfield having to come back from a ten point deficit and not being able to afford any dropped points.

It was such a big goal, David Healy joined in the celebrations, running faster than he had ever run as a player.

Having spent 86 minutes trying to get in front, it was important now for Linfield to stay in front in what time remained. They did that, Glentoran never having any opportunity to get an equaliser.

Even though Linfield didn’t move up the table or get any closer to the top, it was still a big win, as the draw between Ballymena United and Coleraine, and defeats for Dungannon Swifts and Glentoran mean that Linfield could jump up to 4th if results go their way on the next matchday.

They’ll have to wait two days for any such opportunity, with the trip to Carrick Rangers being selected for live coverage on Sky Sports.

Talking of results going their way, it could have been so much better if Glenavon hadn’t missed a last minute penalty to equalise against Crusaders. We can’t really complain about Glenavon being useless, we’ve benefitted from it plenty of times in the past. Let’s hope they stay useless for the next two weeks.

I dare say, Crusaders are probably more disappointed about Linfield’s late win than Linfield are about Crusaders late escape.

You could pick holes in Crusaders start by pointing out that four of their opening six games have come against the bottom four.

Before Carrick, is a NIFL Cup trip to Ballinamallard for Linfield as a busy period of fixtures get underway.

That run of games might not include any UEFA Cup Group Stage matches, but there’s still enough to keep minds occupied and focused.

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NORTHERN IRELAND 0-2 GERMANY 9.9.2019

You could say that Northern Ireland’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 has been a bit like a video game.

Estonia and Belarus, Level 1, negotiated with maximum points. Now for Level 2, Germany and Holland. It’ll be a bit tougher, but we’ll have four lives to use. If we can get a high enough score, we will progress to Level 3 – Euro 2020.

When you look through the instruction manual, Germany and Holland both have weaknesses – They both came into this campaign on the back of two major failures.

For Holland, it was failing to reach the last two major tournaments, not even reaching the Play-Offs.

Germany’s recent failure is a bit more relative. 2018 was ein annus horribulus for them, with relegation in the UEFA Nations League coming on the back of elimination at the Group Stage at the World Cup in Russia.

A lot of countries can only dream of being that rubbish.

If 2018 was ein annus horribilus for Germany, the early games of 2019 were ein annus bouncenbachken, with three wins out of three going into the September games, including an 8-0 win over Estonia.

That winning run came to an end on the Friday before that with a 4-2 home defeat by Holland, a result that generated as many groans in Belfast as it did in Berlin.

The theory being, with Germany already winning in Holland, it would be better for them to win this game. At worst, it would essentially set up a two legged Play-Off between Northern Ireland and Holland for the other qualifying place.

Northern Ireland prepared for this game with a dull friendly win over Luxembourg. It wasn’t ideal to have a match before this game, but UEFA rules stated they had to play a friendly when they weren’t in group action.

You’ve heard the phrase “Fixture fulfilment” in relation to end of season League matches, Northern Ireland’s match against Luxembourg literally was that. I gave it a miss, though I did enter competitions for a free ticket though.

I can’t help it, I like free things, but I don’t want to join the DUP in order to get them.

Within ten seconds of the kick-off, Germany already had Northern Ireland stretched, a long punt from kick-off causing some concern for Northern Ireland’s defence.

They managed to see it out, managing a better start than they managed the last time Germany visited Windsor Park, and found themselves 1-0 up just over a minute into the game.

In fact, it was Northern Ireland who had the first chance of the game with six minutes on the clock, when a stray German pass played Conor Washington through on goal.

A poor first touch allowed Manuel Neuer to get out and make himself big and block the shot. He should have scored. On an evening when clear opportunities could be rare, you have to take them.

If Northern Ireland had went 1-0 up early on, who knows how the rest of the evening would go.

It was clear early on that Germany’s players were unsettled by the atmosphere, and the fact that Northern Ireland players were first to every loose ball.

It looked the sort of night that could have been perfect for Paul Smyth to come on as an impact sub late on if the game was in the balance, but frustratingly, he was missing through injury.

Germany’s first attacking moment of note saw Craig Cathcart slice over his own crossbar after Jonny Evans lost possession. For a brief moment, there was a worry it was going in. Northern Ireland were able to easily clear the German corner.

Who got to the ball first? Craig Cathcart.

Germany’s next moment of frustration saw a long range shot blocked by George Saville full on right in the face. Ouch.

Right at the end of the half, it looked like Northern Ireland were going to have the lead when Neuer parried a cross to Washington, who couldn’t get his feet into position to put it into the empty net, before a combination of defender and keeper cleared the danger for Germany.

Immediately on the counter, Timo Werner was denied by a point blank save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Even though Northern Ireland were holding their own, and could justify their claim to be at least level at half-time, Peacock-Farrell was still having work to do.

Not as much work as Michael McGovern had to do when the sides met at Euro 2016 though.

Unfortunately, it all unravelled within two minutes at the start of the second-half, when Marcel Hastenberg spectacularly fired home to put Germany 1-0 up, undoing all of Northern Ireland’s good work in the first-half.

The goal deflated Northern Ireland, both on the pitch and in the stands.

Michael O’Neill responded by bringing on Gavin Whyte for Niall McGinn. It almost brought it’s reward when he got past a couple of defenders to cross for fellow Crusaders old boy Stuart Dallas, who fired agonisingly wide.

He probably should have passed it to Gary McCutcheon or Timmy Adamson instead.

Michael O’Neill made two further subs as his side looked for an equaliser, bringing on Josh Magennis and Shayne Lavery.

It’s not often that Northern Ireland can bring on one of the top 20 goalscorers in that season’s UEFA Cup from the bench.

The biggest thing that gave Northern Ireland fans hope as the game entered the final minutes was that they had scored late in their previous four games to either clinch or win the game.

Unfortunately, the late goal came for Germany, when Serge Gnabry squeezed home from a tight angle.

Within seconds, the game was over officially, having been over theoretically.

Northern Ireland pushed Germany all the way to the very end, but it’s points they need, not plaudits.

By getting points on the board early on, it meant Northern Ireland set down a challenge to Holland.

Holland responded with a win in Estonia, with Estonia unable to repeat their 2-2 draw against Holland in a World Cup Qualifier in 2013.

Now we are pinning our hopes on Belarus repeating their 1-0 home win over Holland in a European Championship Qualifier in 1995.

Of course, we can help ourselves in the double header against Holland in October and November.

Normally, finishing 3rd would be good enough for a Play-Off, but that is not guaranteed due to the UEFA Nations League.

I have a horrible feeling we are going to be royally screwed over by this nonsense. Yet, there are idiots in our support who told us it would help us qualify.

In order to avoid this, we need lots of countries in Pot 1 and Pot 2 to qualify automatically. That is happening in most groups, thankfully.

This might not be the only time I see Germany play in Euro 2020. I’ve booked a few days in Bray to base myself for the Last 16 match at Lansdowne Road. That will be the winner of the group based in England and Scotland v the runner-up of the group in Germany and Hungary.

The night before that is the Green Day/Weezer/Fall Out Boy concert at the RDS, so could be a double header if you’re that way inclined. Might charge a Green Day fan to sleep on my hotel room floor.

When i’m there, I plan on walking up Bray Head on the Tuesday before going to the football. All I need is a ticket for the football.

I’ve booked a few days break in November for Vilnius in Lithuania. I was looking for a (early) Monday to (late) Wednesday getaway or a (early) Wednesday to (late) Friday trip. There were no routes from Belfast that offered these times.

I narrowed it down to Vilnius or Waterford, but for £160, Vilnius was too good to turn down. Don’t worry Waterford, i’ll still have you in my mind to visit you again.

I was hoping to go in October and take in the Euro 2020 Qualifier between Lithuania and Serbia. Unfortunately, the dates of the flights didn’t suit.

I don’t think there’ll be any football on while i’m there, but you don’t need football to enjoy somewhere though it does help.

The options from Belfast are now reduced with Ryanair and Aer Lingus pulling some flights. What’s the point in shiny blue passports if there is nowhere to go?

Funnily enough, I was looking at Malaga as a short visit/football trip.

It is worth pointing out that Brexit won’t restrict our travel opportunities, mainly because there’s fuck all options out there anyway from Belfast.

At least the bridge from Northern Ireland to Balamory will be handy for the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers Cup if Linfield decide to play in it again.

Linfield could have been playing Raith Rovers, could have had a short stay in Edinburgh for that and walked up Arthur’s Seat.

And finally, Linfield’s away match against Institute has been moved to a 1pm kick-off. Not too unhappy with that, means there’ll be less of a rush to get back for Northern Ireland v Holland that night.

Before then, is the away game against Holland in Rotterdam, where due to it’s close proximity to Amsterdam, Northern Ireland will have a decent sized support.

The match could be in Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. When we go to Rotterdam, we’ll need to bring three points home.

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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 2-4 COLERAINE 17.8.2019

When you’re playing The Limelight days before you headline Glastonbury, the rules are the same, you have to perform no matter where you are playing.

This was more drunken karaoke down the pub than Queen at Live Aid.

The first 13 seconds were awful. The remaining 89 minutes and 47 seconds weren’t much better.

Coleraine kicked off and were straight on the attack, a long ball seeing Ben Doherty get clear of Jimmy Callacher and run towards goal. I was sat at the opposite end and could see that he was setting himself up to shoot on his left foot.

However, the three defenders around him couldn’t see it, backing off and giving him to shoot and put Coleraine 1-0 up.

At least there was still plenty of time to put it right.

Amazingly, it wasn’t the earliest goal I’ve seen Linfield concede, with Gary McCutcheon scoring in 12 seconds in 2013.

The response from Linfield? There wasn’t really one. A lot of build-up play but no final ball.

Coleraine were well organised, so Linfield needed to do something special to break them down. It just wasn’t happening for them.

Midway through the first-half, things got worse when Coleraine went 2-0 up from a corner.

I was at the other end and thought it went straight in. It was much worse than that.

There were no Coleraine players attacking the ball, Ryan McGiven headed the ball into his own net from a few yards out, beating Daniel Kearns to the ball just as he was about to clear it.

Surely McGivern would have seen Kearns and let him clear it? Running to head the ball away when facing your own goal always has a risk, he should have let Kearns take control of the situation.

As with the first goal, there was still time to put it right, but they didn’t look like doing so.

They did have history to look back on for recent inspiration, with Linfield coming from behind to draw and win against Coleraine in recent years, as well as Coleraine throwing away 1-0 and 2-0 leads to draw against Cliftonville and Glentoran in the opening week of the season.

All that Linfield could offer in response was a speculative long range shot from Jamie Mulgrew.

Towards the end of the half, Linfield had their best moments of the game, all being relative. A lot of possession and situations but very few chances. The only moment of concern for Coleraine was a shot from Joel Cooper which deflected into the side netting.

Even if Linfield had pulled it back to 2-1 during those final minutes, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t have changed the half-time team talk.

The response at the start of the second-half wasn’t quick in coming, and David Healy wasn’t prepared to wait for it, bringing on Kirk Millar for Jordan Stewart just three minutes into the half, after Stewart lost an aerial tussle he was favourite to win.

Just before the hour, Matthew Clarke made way for Shayne Lavery, with Linfield now going to three at the back.

Within a few minutes, the ball hit the back of the net, and it was Coleraine who got it when Stephen O’Donnell headed home from a free-kick.

Again, it was poor defending from Linfield, as Ryan McGivern switched off to give O’Donnell a free header when he was favourite to clear it.

Having already blown 1-0 and 2-0 leads this season, there was no way that Coleraine were going to blow a 3-0 lead.

The irony is, if McGivern attacked the ball as he did for Coleraine’s 2nd, he would have cleared it. And of course, if he left the ball for Coleraine’s 2nd as he did for their 3rd, Daniel Kearns would have cleared it.

Linfield responded with a Kirk Millar effort that was saved, before a teed up Joel Cooper free-kick went low into the back of the net to make it 3-1.

The goal wasn’t celebrated as a consolation strike, it was celebrated as the start of a comeback, there was time left to come back.

The crowd were further geed up by the introduction of Bastien Hery before the game restarted.

Then, a header from Shayne Lavery made it 3-2 and an unlikely comeback looked on.

Within minutes, those hopes were dashed when Ryan McGivern got a second yellow card as Eoin Bradley headed towards goal. All he needed was to have missed a penalty to get a full set.

The resulting reshuffle saw Kirk Millar have to go into a full-back position to cover the defence, and blunted Linfield as an attacking force.

Even though there was only one goal in it, the red card and reshuffle killed all of Linfield’s momentum.

There was time for one more goal in this game. Kirk Millar, usually reliable for an assist set up a goal in injury time. Unfortunately, it was for Coleraine, as his stray backpass was seized upon by Emmett McGuckin who rounded Rohan Ferguson and toepoked the ball into the open net before Ferguson could chase after him.

McGuckin was only brought on minutes earlier as a substitute to see the game out.

It summed up Linfield’s day as Windsor Park began to empty as soon as the ball hit the back of the net. Those that stayed saw Joel Cooper have a header saved.

Curiously, the last time August 17th fell on a Saturday, Linfield lost 4-2 at home, this time to Cliftonville. You will be glad to hear that August 17th won’t be a Saturday until 2024. Feel free to start making alternative plans for that day.

What went wrong for Linfield? Everything.

The fightback was too little, too late. You can’t turn up 60 minutes into the game. You can’t even relax for the first 14 seconds, you have to be on it straight from kick-off.

You could argue that the changes to the started line-up disrupted Linfield’s momentum. It wasn’t Swifts players being brought it, it was players such as Cooper, Kearns, Callacher and Waterworth, who were all regular starters when the team picked itself at the start of last season.

We can’t really use Tuesday night’s exertions as an excuse, as there were ten top flight teams in action on Tuesday night, one of those being Coleraine.

As disappointing as this performance and result was, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective and not to panic. If we win our game in hand, we’ll only be three points off the top.

With no game next weekend, and the following weekend’s game pushed back to the Monday night, we could be in the relegation zone by the time we next play a League match.

That would be a hilarious juxtaposition if we were in the groups stages by the time we play at Larne.

It would not be hilarious if we were still in the relegation zone by the end of September though, just for clarity.

Coleraine manager Oran Kearney stated when being interviewed on the BBC after the game that the game was postponed, even though his side got the three points.

I’ll have to disagree with him on that. I can understand postponing the Warrenpoint game, as disappointing as it is, as it is such an exceptional situation.

In terms of fixture scheduling, things are manageable and there is no need to panic, but we can’t let things build up.

If we get through to the group stages, playing League matches on the Sunday after will have to be looked at seriously, as we can’t let the outstanding games pile up.

Whilst we may have games in hand, other clubs will have points in the bag, which is far more preferable.

Next week’s fixture list sees two matches between teams with top six ambtions – Crusaders v Larne and Ballymena United v Glentoran which will hopefully see points droppage that we can take advantage of when we return to League action.

I’m hoping that this performance was purely to lure any Azeri spies into a false sense of security ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Qarabag have recent European pedigree. They know how to reach the groups stages of competitions, mostly the UEFA Cup, though they haven’t got past the group stage or looked like doing so.

A win against Anderlecht and draws with Saint Etienne (twice), Inter Milan, Monaco and Atletico Madrid (twice) in recent years commands respect, but not fear.

The second leg will be played at Azerbaijan’s national stadium, Tofiq Brhramov Stadium.

It’s a stadium that has evaded David Healy in his career. He was suspended when Northern Ireland played there in 2004. By the time they returned in 2017, he was retired from playing.

Hopefully, by the time he eventually gets there on Thursday week, it will be worth the wait.

Photo Album

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 3-1 INSTITUTE 10.8.2019

By a quirk of fate, Institute visited Windsor Park on 10th August, just as they did last year.

In 2018, it was Matchday 2, with Linfield looking to build on an impressive win at Mourneview Park, and banish the memories of a humiliating season which saw no trophies and no European football.

In 2019, it was Matchday 1, and the opening game of a title defence which Linfield fans will be hoping will be a lot better than 2017-2018. How apt, that on International Duran Duran Day, they get an opportunity to see if their team are Hungry Like The Wolf.

Presently, Linfield’s ambitions are both local and international, with this game being sandwiched inbetween a UEFA Cup tie against Sutjeska. The first leg saw Linfield get an impressive 2-1 win away from home.

The result was even more impressive as Jimmy Callacher, Andrew Waterworth and Joel Cooper were all absent.

Callacher was back to start this game, while Waterworth had to make do with a place on the bench.

Linfield had some early pressure in this game, but the decent build-up play fell down with the final pass.

It was Institute who had the first chance of the game when Bastien Hery lost possession (I guess he’s human after all) to Joe McCready who was fouled by Rohan Ferguson as he tried to go round him.

There was never any danger of it being a red card, but you always have that slight doubt. Thankfully, it was only a yellow card.

Joe McCready stepped up to finish to put Institute 1-0 up inside the opening 10 minutes. This was not what we had in mind for the opening day of the season.

Linfield’s first attempt at remedying the scoreline came from a Chris Casement free-kick.

There wasn’t long to wait for an equaliser, as a neat passing move resulted in a Shayne Lavery cross being missed by Daniel Kearns, but it fell perfectly for Kirk Millar to blast home from close range for his third goal this week, equalling his total for last season already.

It’s been a good week for him, all he needed was to have his birthday sandwiched in amongst all these goals. Oh wait ……

Not much else happened for a while, apart from Institute players losing their discipline in a dispute over kicking the ball out of play for an injury, an incident which resulted in three of them getting booked.

Just when Linfield needed some inspiration, they got it from Jordan Stewart, whose long range shot looked to be going just over, and then dipped in to give Linfield a 2-1 lead, taking everybody by surprise, even though he’s capable of doing such a thing.

Linfield came out for the second-half determined to kill the game off, with Kirk Millar hitting the bar from a shot.

There wasn’t long to wait for a third goal for Linfield, that came when Ryan McGivern headed home from a corner to make it 3-1.

It wasn’t quite three points in the bag, but it left Linfield in a very strong position.

If it went to 4-1, that would have been it

Linfield had enough opportunities to make it 4-1. Daniel Kearns hit the post while Jordan Stewart missed an open net after earlier scoring from 30+ yards out, while Andrew Waterworth headed over as well.

Linfield were almost made to pay for not making it 4-1 when Institute had a period of pressure with around ten minutes to go, hitting the post, and almost making it a nervous finale for Linfield.

Linfield got the three points, a fifth successive season that they have started with a win. I can remember when Linfield used to usually drop points on the opening day.

Larne’s 6-0 win over Warrenpoint made them the first leaders of the new season, while a late goal for Crusaders to give them a 3-0 win over Carrick Rangers saw them overtake Linfield into 3rd, the only three teams to win on Matchday 1.

There’s not much time for clubs to contemplate their opening day results, with the return of the now traditional midweek Matchday 2, after a season absence.

Not for Linfield though, as they’ll be involved in UEFA Cup action, meaning the scheduled trip to Ballymena has been postponed.

It’s a situation that will have to be monitored if we progress further in Europe as we can’t afford to have a backlog of fixtures. That makes it even more important to pick up as many points early on if we are going to be a couple of games behind other teams.

It’s not just League matches that will be affected. If Linfield get past Sutjeska, the League Cup tie at Ballinamallard will have to be postponed. That’s two matches that will need new dates and we won’t even be out of August.

Suddenly, you can see the thinking behind not entering the Scottish Challenge Cup, as disappointing as it is.

The fixture list is quite kind to us in terms of other Top 6 teams/teams with Top 6 ambitions playing each other early on. We will have Cliftonville v Glenavon, Glentoran v Coleraine, Cliftonville v Crusaders and Larne v Ballymena United in the next seven days, so hopefully nobody will pull away while Linfield are inactive in League terms.

After this match, I headed to HMV in Belfast City Centre to see Feeder. It was advertised as a signing session but I turned up in the hope that they might do a few acoustic songs. Turns out it was only a signing session, which was disappointing as they were playing live at other instore appearances in England.

Up next for Linfield is Sutjeska in the UEFA Cup on Tuesday night in the second of three successive home matches. Hopefully, the second of four successive home matches.

To quote Buck Rogers by Feeder, I think we’re going to make it.

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

LINFIELD 0-2 ROSENBORG 10.7.2019

It is said that living a bit Scandinavian is good for you. Not for Linfield.

This century, FC Haka, Viking Stavanger, HJK Helsinki, Halmstad, Elfsborg, Randers, Rosenborg and AIK have ended their European hopes.

It’s either a team from Scaninavia or a former Soviet state.

But not since 2014.

Since then, Linfield’s European hopes have been ended by teams from Slovakia, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and East Belfast.

After a year’s absence, Linfield were back in Europe, and face familiar, but difficult opponents in Rosenborg, having met in 1986 and 2010 in the European Cup.

They had hoped to meet in 2017, with Rosenborg being who Linfield would have faced if they had got past Celtic.

This match came in a midweek where there was a surprising amount of football in Belfast. Any Rosenborg fans arriving in Belfast a day early had a choice of three games in East Belfast with Glentoran (Harland and Wolff Welders), East Belfast (Ards) and Dundela (Glenavon) all hosting pre-season friendlies.

Fans of Haugesund (Cliftonville) and B36 Torshavn (Crusaders) could have taken in another game if they arrived the day before their respective UEFA Cup ties. I didn’t see any at Windsor Park myself though.

Linfield had one survivor from the previous meeting in 2010, which unsurprisingly was Jamie Mulgrew, though there were a few players from the team that night who are still playing in the Irish League.

Linfield’s starting eleven for this match included Bastien Hery making his debut the day after signing for the club from Waterford, with Michael O’Connor heading the other way on loan.

Hery looked comfortable on the ball and could pick out a pass. He also looked comfortable running with the ball. I know what you’re thinking, he’s going to get fouled about 20,000 times next season.

It also means that we have a player similar to Jamie Mulgrew, meaning that Mulgrew can be taken out for a few games (he’s recently turned 33) when needed in order to save him for bigger games.

In order to prepare for this match, Linfield headed to Spain to train, and came home to rain.

This was a match which drew a big crowd, the queue of people standing in the rain prior to kick-off made me glad I got my ticket on the Saturday before.

It had been so long since my last visit to Windsor Park, I thought I was going to have to look up directions to find it.

Linfield were on the attack straight from kick-off and held their own in the opening minutes, with Niall Quinn heading just wide.

Jordan Stewart was playing tricks on Rosenborg’s defence and getting into good positions, while Matthew Clarke’s low cross was intercepted by Rosenborg’s keeper.

It wasn’t all Linfield though, Rosenborg hitting the post through Tore Reginiussen, the aftermath causing some panic in Linfield’s defence.

Rosenborg took the lead when Mike Jensen snuck in on the right hand side unmarked to finish from close range.

It wasn’t quite against the run of play, but Linfield were holding their own. It wasn’t the end of the world though. This time last year, Glenavon came from 1-0 down in the UEFA Cup to beat Norwegian side Molde, managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Whatever happened to him?

The goal did deflate Linfield for a while though, as the game meandered for a bit.

Bastien Hery had Linfield’s first shot on goal in the second-half, an easy save for Rosenborg’s keeper.

Shane Lavery came on for Kirk Millar, to make his debut for Linfield. Surprisingly for Millar, as most would have expected it to be a like for like change for Andrew Waterworth.

I only know the basics about him, but the general consensus was that this signing was a bit of a coup for Linfield.

His brief cameo appearance looked promising. Good positioning, comfortable on the ball and not afraid to shoot.

Unfortunately, Rosenborg made it 2-0 on the counter attack within a minute of him coming on, wrapping up the game, and more than likely the tie.

So, match 1 of 2019-2020 didn’t get the result I wanted, but it won’t be a European exit for Linfield. If they don’t turn around the deficit, they will face a UEFA Cup tie against HB Torshavn, who trail HJK Helsinki 3-0 from the first-leg.

From next season, the Irish League will lose a UEFA Cup place. The only good that will come out of it will be the end of the ridiculous UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

If they are kept, you could have a situation where a team could finish 2nd, one point behind the Champions. If they don’t reach the Irish Cup Final, they will then go into a Play-Off including teams that sat in mid table all season. Nothing more than a reward of mediocrity.

There have been other ins and outs at Windsor Park this summer. Roy Carroll is one of those. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he rejoined on a short-term basis when (or if) he recovers from injury.

That means that Alex Moore has now been promoted to 2nd choice Goalkeeper, so it is unlikely he will go out on loan again.

Cameron Stewart and Jonathan Smith have left. Not really surprising in either case, it would be hard to see where they would get games.

Ross Larkin has come in from Portadown, I don’t really know much about him. Mark Haughey is on the way back from injury, which is almost like a new signing.

As things stand, the squad is good to go. It feels like you’ve done your Christmas shopping by November 7th.

Using last season’s team, you have Gareth Deane in nets with Alex Moore as back-up.

Josh Robinson is still injured so that will need to be monitored.

Using last season’s back four of Casement-Robinson-Callacher-Quinn, we will have back-up of Haughey, McGuinness, Stafford and Clarke.

Assuming Hery and Mulgrew will be in midfield, we’ll have Fallon, Mitchell and Larkin as back-up.

Further up the field, we’ll have Stewart, Kearns, Cooper and Millar going for three positions.

Up front, there is Waterworth and Lavery battling for the striking position, with Forde and Reynolds options that are available for the bench.

Tempting fate, but we are good to go.

The fixtures for the new season are out, and i’m not too unhappy. You don’t too easy a start like in 2015 and 2017, so it’s good to have two big games against Ballymena United and Coleraine in the opening week.

We didn’t get Warrenpoint Town away on the day John Power is doing a concert in Warrenpoint. Flip sake.

Not ideal, is a trip to Institute on the day Northern Ireland are at home to Holland. That’ll be a quick rush back, even with an expected 1pm kick-off.

Looking a bit further ahead, I’ve applied for tickets to three games at Euro 2020. A Monday group match in Dublin, a Last 16 match in Dublin (involving the winner of England’s group) and the Final. Wish me luck.

I’ve got my first United match of 2019-2020 booked, a midweek match in January against Burnley, just as I did in 2018-2019. I hope to go to a UEFA Cup group match as well.

I’m heading over to Edinburgh in a few weeks time for the Edinburgh Festival. My football choices are Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee, Hibernian v St Mirren and Livingston v Motherwell.

Dunfermline’s match has been moved to Friday night for TV, which is tempting me, leaving me free to spend Saturday at the Festival.

My only previous visit to Dunfermline was for a match against Dundee in 2015.

Unfortunately, that might be my only football match in Scotland this season, with Linfield not entering the Scottish Challenge Cup, which is disappointing. The competition is staggered through the season and could easily be accommodate in the fixture list.

I bet Glenavon get Stranraer away, just to make it worse.

The draw for the NIFL Cup has already taken place and Linfield are away to Ballinamallard. Not ideal for travelling, but with it being the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday, if you want to sneak in a short trip to Fermanagh, the opportunity is there.

In terms of future football trips, it has been announced that the San Siro is due to be demolished in 2023, so I had better get myself into action if I ever want to visit it.

Harland and Wolff Welders are due to move to a new ground in 2020. I don’t know when in 2020, but if it is during the forthcoming season, i’ll try to sneak in a visit.

Maybe it’s because of this draw, and getting into the music of Sigrid (Hope she announces her own headline show in Belfast to compensate for pulling a sickie at Belsonic), but i’m having a real Scandinavian vibe at the moment.

It could possibly be because i’m in the middle of a house move and it’ll be filled with Ikea, Flying Tiger and Sostrene Grene.

One final thing, the new Linfield kit is a belter.

2019-2020 is now up and running.

Photo Album

Linfield v Rosenborg 2010

PHOTO OF THE SEASON : 2018-2019

2018-2019 is now over and consigned to history. I hope you’ve enjoyed my month by month look back. I thought i’ll end with a look through some of my favourites. Feel free to vote for yours.

NEWFORGE

Taken during a Pre-Season Friendly, I like arty farty shots in the style of Stuart Roy Clarke, so I unashamedly try to copy him.

MOURNEVIEW

I like this shot because of the way everybody is lined up, and how everybody has their eyes fixed on Kirk Millar, being the man in possession

COLERAINE

This shot came about by fluke, I was hoping to capture a Linfield goal, but again, it’s the fans who make the picture for me, all heads in the one direction.

DUNGANNON

Got some good photos this day due to generous Winter Sun. Dungannon is always good for photos. I like the framing, getting the terraces in alongside the pitch.

JORDAN

Jordan Stewart makes it 4-0 against Crusaders in December. I like being able to capture the celebrations on the pitch and in the stand. Even a Steward joined in.

CLANDEBOYE

That spot at Clandeboye Park is handy for getting photos, as long as something interesting happens at that end during the game. Thankfully, Linfield scored while I was at this end. Not just in terms of phototaking, but the match, as it was looking like a frustrating afternoon against opponents who had already proved tricky earlier in the season.

SNOW TRAFFORD

Having got snow photos of Windsor Park in 2010, I couldn’t believe my luck when Manchester was hit with snow the day after United’s match against Burnley. Staying close to the ground, I was straight out with my camera to get photos.

McCLEAN

An explosion of emotion. 2-0 down and looking to be pegged back in the title race, to 2-2 and being frustrated, then a last minute winner, I managed to capture the reactions, of fans and players both going wild in unison.

RAIN

A weather based photo that just works. Bleurgh, an awful night for weather and football.

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April 2019 meant the run-in was approaching, and my first football match of the month saw Linfield get a crucial 1-0 win against Ballymena United to virtually secure the Irish League title.

The following week, Linfield got the job done with a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders.

A week later, Linfield lifted the title, on a day they lost 4-0 at home to Glenavon.

My last Linfield match of the season was a lot better, a 5-1 win over Cliftonville on Easter Tuesday.

That wouldn’t be my last match of the season, as I headed to Old Trafford in mid May to see Manchester United lose at home to Cardiff City. Not the way I wanted the season to end.

Tomorrow, you’ll get your chance to vote for your favourite.

So, that’s 2018-2019 over. Here’s to more football photos in 2019-2020.

Ballymena United v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Win Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Celebrations Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Cardiff City

Manchester United v Cardiff City Photo Album