2017 IN PICTURES – JUNE

June 2017 began for me chasing after murals, starting with one of Northern Ireland legends outside Filthy McNasty in Botanic.

From there, it was across South Belfast to get a photo on Lower Ormeau Road of a mural by Emic.

There was more Street Art photos as I followed the progress of a mural of music legends in Hill Street.

In the middle of the month, I headed to Ormeau Park for Belsonic, to see The 1975 in concert.

That weekend, I headed to Manchester in the 1950s. Sort of. The Oval was dressed up to look like Maine Road for a film, so I went and got some photos of it.

The month ended with some football, heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on La Fiorita in the European Cup.

Filthy McMural

Filthy McMural Photo Album

Emic Mural

Emic Mural Photo Album

Hill Street Wall Of Fame

Hill Street Wall Of Fame Photo Album

The 1975 live at Ormeau Park

The 1975 live at Ormeau Park Photo Album

Maine Oval

Mine Oval Photo Album

Linfield v La Fiorita

Advertisements

2017 IN PICTURES – MAY

May 2017 began with Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and a trip to Custom House Square to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

That was followed that weekend, by the Irish Cup Final, where Linfield beat Coleraine 3-0.

I then filled a football free Saturday afternoon by cycling to Lisburn and getting some Street Art photos.

Well, just the one football free Saturday, as the following weekend, I took in one more football match, travelling to Manchester to see United take on Crystal Palace.

While I was in Manchester, I took the opportunity to get some Street Art photos.

The month ended with a trip to The Limelight to see George Ezra in concert

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square

The Divine Comedy live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Coleraine Photo Album

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017

Lisburn Street Art – May 2017 Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Photo Album

George Ezra live at The Limelight

George Ezra live at The Limelight Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April began for me with a trip to Lurgan for the Irish Cup Semi-Final, to see Linfield secure a late 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

The following weekend was another 1-0 win for Linfield and just as important, a League win against Crusaders that blew the title race wide open.

April saw the launch of a new mural in Belfast City Centre, in the Cathedral Quarter, which I went and got photos of.

On Easter Saturday, I headed to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena 2-0.

On Easter Monday, I cycled to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos from the City Centre.

The following night, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield secure vital win over Glenavon.

On the following Saturday, the football continued, heading Coleraine to see Linfield beat Coleraine and finally get to the top of the Irish League.

Towards the end of the month, a mural of The Two Ronnies appeared in Belfast City Centre, so I headed out to get photos of this.

The penultimate day of the month saw me head to Solitude where Linfield needed to avoid defeat in order to win the Irish League. It didn’t look good at half-time, but a Andrew Waterworth hat-trick in the second-half saw the trophy head to Windsor Park.

Immediately after the game, there was a celebratory event at Windsor Park so that supporters unable to get into Solitude could join in the celebrations. Naturally, I was there getting photographs.

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Pure Here, So It Is

Pure Here, So It Is Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

Coleraine v Linfield

And It’s Goodnight From Me

And It’s Goodnight From Me Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville v Linfield Photo Album

Windsor Park Title Celebrations

Windsor Park Title Celebrations Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – MARCH

March 2017 began for me with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield beat Crusaders in an Irish Cup tie. That was followed a few days later by my first concert of 2017, seeing Blossoms at The Limelight.

It was then back to football for a Monday night match between Linfield and Cliftonville, and then returning to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Ards.

I was then out on the trail of Street Art, getting photos of a mural of a Dancer in Belfast City Centre.

The following weekend, I headed to Fermanagh to see Linfield get a late win against Ballinamallard.

I then headed out again in search of Street art, getting photographs of a new mural of East Belfast legends.

The month ended with a trip to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Norway in a World Cup Qualifier.

Crusaders v Linfield

Blossoms live at The Limelight

Blossoms live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Linfield v Ards

The Dancer

The Dancer Photo Album

Ballinamallard United v Linfield

East Belfast Wall Of Legends

East Belfast Wall Of Legends Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Norway

Northern Ireland v Norway Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 2.12.2017

December will be a busy month. Thankfully, there won’t be a lot of travelling, with four Saturday games at Windsor Park this month. The first of those, saw Dungannon Swifts visit Windsor Park as Linfield aimed to win three League games in a row for the first time since the opening weeks of the season.

It is because of that statistic that every game is now must win, especially today, with the four teams above Linfield all having games you would expect them to win.

Unfortunately, i’ve only got 89 minutes of football to review, as I missed the opening minute. My reason? I was getting myself a Boxing Day ticket. It was Members and Season Ticket holders only today, and i’ll be having to get a few more next week.

It’s one of those milestone events in the year that indicates that Christmas is getting very close. There was a disappointing lack of “SANTA IS A BLUEMAN” hats at this game though.

I might have missed 1 minute, but Cameron Stewart would miss the whole 90. Injured, I presume. Disappointing for him, having scored the winner at Mourneview Park last weekend.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s first chance, when he was played in from a counter-attack, his first time shot going just wide.

A few minutes later, he controlled a Kirk Millar cross to swivel and shoot, his shot saved by Stuart Addis. Carrying on from his performance at Mourneview Park last weekend, he was in the mood, and wanted goals.

It wasn’t all one way traffic though, a Dungannon break seeing Roy Carroll make a save from a Ryan Harpur header.

A low cross fell perfectly to Jordan Stewart but he shot wide. If he hit the target, he would have scored.

Kirk Millar and Chris Casement were combining well down the right for Linfield, but they couldn’t assist a goal between them as Dungannon held out.

Andrew Waterworth was the next to miss when he headed over from a cross. He got too much power on it. A gentle touch would have put the ball in the net.

Despite their pressure, it was 0-0 at the break. Despite their missed chances, Linfield needed to step it up to get the three points.

The way the match seemed to be going the same way. It seemed to be similar to the Irish Cup Semi-Final against Dungannon last season, where they had to be patient to get the winner. The worst case scenario, was that it would be a repeat of the League match against Portadown in February. It had that vibe.

In short, Linfield needed a goal, and they needed it as soon as possible, and they needed to get it before Dungannon.

A scuffed effort from Andrew Waterworth was the best they could offer in the opening minutes, as Roy Carroll had to rush out to deny Dungannon taking the lead to smother the ball just as a shot was about to be unleashed.

David Healy turned to his bench. He had three attacking options to choose from – Ryan Strain, Louis Rooney and Ross Clarke. Surprisingly, he plumped for the teenager Ryan Strain ahead of Louis Rooney.

Just as surprisingly, it was Jordan Stewart who would be replaced. I thought it would have been Niall Quinn.

Stewart was playing well, but it was obvious he was needed out wide rather than through the middle. It was clear that Linfield needed another option through the middle.

Strain almost had an instant impact, when he fired goalwards from a low cross. Agonisingly, it went just wide. It is the sort of chance you see missed in the final minutes of a 0-0 draw. For Linfield, there was still time to win this.

Strain was at it again, controlling the ball from the sky like Dimitar Berbatov, before unleashing a shot that forced Addis into a save. Strain then had a long range shot go just over.

As well as his team-mates, Strain’s personal battle with Stuart Addis lifted the crowd, but still the goal eluded Linfield.

Do you remember my lucky scarf from last season? Well, it looks like I have an unlucky coat.

At the Coleraine match, I got a Linfield raincoat from the Club Shot for a fiver. It was a Nike one, so they were looking rid of it. With a bit of rain at lunchtime, it looked like a good opportunity to wear it.

For some reason, I took it off in the second-half. It was desperate times, maybe my coat was bringing bad luck? Within minutes, Linfield scored.

I think I might get rid of it. It’s yours for £6 if you want it.

Linfield took the lead when Andrew Waterworth headed home. That’s four in five League games for him now.

With Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville all winning, Linfield had to do likewise just to keep up with them.

Despite that, Linfield needed a second. Ryan Strain was determined to get it, but he kept getting denied by Addis.

Roy Carroll was keen to emulate Addis saves by diving at his feet to deny Peter McMahon. When he was beaten by a long range shot, he was relieved to watch as the ball went narrowly over. This game was far from won for Linfield. Windsor Park was nervous.

Andrew Mitchell came on for Kirk Millar. The obvious sub if Millar was to be withdrawn was Ross Clarke . We don’t play well when we try to defend a lead.

Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out and get the win. They had to, as the four teams above them all won.

Next week, Cliftonville face Glenavon while Linfield travel to Carrick. Crusaders and Coleraine face Bottom six opponents. There will be points dropped above us. We simply have to taken advantage. Even though the furthest we can jump will be up to 4th with a win, it’s a jump we must make. Small steps and all that.

I’m not sure of the exact rules, but I think today was the deadline if we wanted to bring the match against Crusaders forward ahead of the Coleraine away game. As there is no news yet, it looks like we’ll be playing Saturday-Monday over Christmas/New Year.

We still have to arrange a date for our home match against Glenavon. I’ve noticed that we are due to play Cliftonville away and Glenavon are at home to Crusaders on the weekend of the NIFL Cup Final. If it’s a Crusaders v Cliftonville Final, expect Linfield and Glenavon to make the most of their free weekend and face each other at Windsor Park. Expect some movement in that regard the week after next one way or the other.

Elsewhere, Paul Smyth was an unused sub for QPR today. Good to see him make progress so quick. Hopefully, a start and a hat-trick against Leeds next weekend.

From Linfield’s past to Linfield’s future, and the signing of Kurtis Byrne from St Patrick’s Athletic was announced this week, effective when the January window opens.

I don’t really know much about him, but his Wikiepedia stats suggest he has scored a respectable return in struggling sides the last two seasons. It actually dawned on me that I have seen him play in the flesh. He scored and his team won 5-1. That’s the benchmark that has been set and i’ll be expecting it every week.

Talking of League Of Ireland, the 2018 fixtures will be released on 19th December. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, to fit a game around my annual short break to Dublin. I’m eyeing up Friday 13th July 2018 when i’ll already be off work.

Crewe play Blackburn in the FA Cup tomorrow, so i’m hoping for a draw as i’ll be in Manchester the week of the Replays. Failing that, Rochdale to draw away to Slough on Monday would be nice.

Due to spending most of the pre-match queuing to get a Boxing Day ticket, I didn’t get a chance to get the updated version of Every Other Saturday. I may wait until the Crusaders match on 30th December before purchasing, just in case Santa gets it for me.

If I get it, I could read it at half-time at the Steel and Sons Cup Final if I go. Still undecided on that one, or maybe at The Oval the following day. Not even joking, I saw someone in reading a novel at the League match in February this year, the match was that bad.

And finally, Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia. That’s a tough group. Our opening match against Brazil is nice symmetry as they were our last opponents at Mexico 86.

Sorry. Sorry. I’m still in denial about that one.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

2017 began for me with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield lose 1-0 to Coleraine. Not the best start to the year.

Things got a bit better the following Saturday when I headed to The Oval to see Linfield beat Glentoran in the Irish Cup after extra-time.

It wasn’t all football in January, as I headed out to get photos of a George Michael mural which appeared in Botanic.

Back to football, and I was on the road to Lurgan to see Linfield beat Glenavon 2-1. The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

The next day, it was back to murals, as I headed out to get photos of a mural of Princess Leia that appeared in East Belfast, and then across Belfast to get pictures of a mural of Jon Snow. The guy from Game Of Thrones, not Channel 4 News.

The following weekend, it was back to football and back on the road, as I headed to Stangmore Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts

I then headed to Manchester for a few days, to see United take on Hull City. While there, I got some Street Art photos of Salford Quays.

I headed over on 31st Janaury. You’ll have to wait for February’s round-up for the match and Street Art in Manchester.

Linfield v Coleraine

Glentoran v Linfield

George Michael Mural

George Michael Mural Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Princess Leia Mural

Princess Leia Mural Photo Album

Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-1 COLERAINE 18.11.2017

The last time Coleraine visited Windsor Park was for the Irish Cup Final in May. Saturday wasn’t a cup final, thought it might have felt like it. There wouldn’t be a trophy presented today, but defeat would surely have seen the League trophy slip away from Linfield’s hands.

Linfield were Back In Blue after a Highway To Hell which brought two away defeats which left them Thunderstruck.

Last week’s defeat at Ballymena was a missed opportunity for Linfield with Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders all inactive in the League. Coleraine kicked-off eleven points clear of Linfield. Victory would put them fourteen clear of Linfield. Even at this relatively early stage, that would be too much.

Victory for Linfield cuts the gap to eight points. Tough, but doable.

October and November have been rotten months for Linfield in the last few years. 2017 was no different, as Linfield have suffered seven defeats in the last ten games.

It’s been a perfect storm. Bad finishing, bad defending, bad luck, bad decision making (by officials and Linfield players). Sometimes, it’s been all four in the same game.

Coleraine made a good start in the opening minutes, having a lot of the ball in Linfield’s half, even though they didn’t really do a lot with it.

Linfield then had their own moments on top, making more of the ball when they had it. Chris Casement had a free-kick tipped over while Mark Stafford heading wide.

Jordan Stewart was Linfield’s main threat, getting into good positions but failing with the final ball.

Cameron Stewart was troubling Coleraine’s defence by just being a general nuisance.

Andrew Waterworth broke into Coleraine’s penalty area and was fouled. Penalty to Linfield. Finally, a break. Well, so we thought, we’d probably miss.

Thankfully not, as Andrew Waterworth slotted the ball home to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Coleraine were now nervous in defence. Linfield were almsot getting in behind them. A poor pass or a lucky leg stuck out saving Coleraine. It was going to be a matter of time before Linfield got it right. They had to. They simply had to take advantage while they were playing well.

A quick free-kick saw Niall Quinn get in behind Coleraine’s defence, and cross for Mark Stafford to run in and head home from close range. It was similar to Ivan Perisic’s goal for Croatia against Greece in the World Cup Play-Offs recently. For Linfield fans, it was just as vital.

On Wednesday night, it didn’t look like Stafford would be playing in this match. We’ll get to that later.

Linfield needed a third goal while they were on top. They couldn’t get it. They had to make do with just the two goals.

In the final minute of the first-half, Coleraine had their only real chance of the first-half when Jamie McGonigle was played through on goal.

Just like when he ran through on goal in the last minute of the meeting between the sides last month, Roy Carroll saved his effort. This time, it went out for a corner. It was definitely over the line. No dispute this time. No cost to Linfield this time.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second-half would be massive. If Coleraine could get a goal, they would fancy their chances of getting something from this game.

Coleraine had a lot of the ball and a lot of pressure, but Linfield held firm. However, if the pressure continued, it would only be a matter of time before Coleraine scored.

Linfield’s rare forays into Coleraine’s half saw them lose possession quickly. They couldn’t even win a corner.

Linfield couldn’t get to the hour with a clean sheet. Just before that milestone, a well worked move saw Darren McCAuley fire home for Coleraine. It was game on.

You felt like it was now going to be a case of Goal The Winner. 3-1 would secure the game for Linfield. 2-2, and it would be hard to see Coleraine not winning.

David Healy responed by bringing on Kirk Millar and Aaron Burns.

Millar played well, holding on to the ball when he had it, and always making himself an option when another Linfield player had it.

Niall Quinn got into a good position but just headed wide from a cross. The final minutes were unsurprisingly nervous. Coleraine had a header just wide. It looked like a goal from where I was sat at the other end.

When you’re on a run as bad as Linfield, you always expect the worst. Adam Mullan had a header saved by Roy Carroll. It just hit him. The luck was now all with Linfield.

Deep into injury time, a Coleraine corner was headed goalward. I was at the other end, and couldn’t see what happened, with so many players in the crowded penalty area.

I knew there two things I couldn’t see. The netting moving, and Coleraine players celebrating. I knew it was ok. The final whistle blew immediately and Linfield had the win.

Linfield players got the blocks when it mattered. In recent weeks, it was opposition players who were doing that. Linfield scored when they were in top. In recent weeks, it was the opposition scoring when they were on top.

It is only one win, but every success begins with one win.

It was also a first win of the season against a top half team of note. Sorry, Glentoran.

It is worth pointing out, that this time last year, Linfield had won only one of eight matches against Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville. They remedied that in spectacular style in the second-half of the season.

It makes the defeat against Ballymena even worse, as the gap would only be five points and things would be very interesting indeed. No point crying about it, the Ballymena game is gone. The title, is not.

Next up, is a trip to Mourneview Park on Friday night. Friday night isn’t ideal, especially when there is a Record Fair in Lurgan that could have made next Saturday a double trip, but we might as well make the most of it and get the three points to cut the gap on Glenavon and put pressure on Coleraine and Crusaders, who play each other.

There will be points dropped above us next weekend, we simply have to take advantage.

Without sounding arrogant, there are a run of games against bottom half teams in December, which represents an opportunity to get a winning run of form ahead of Cliftonville, Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine in succession over Christmas/New Year.

If we can kick on from this, it would make the early months of 2018 very interesting indeed.

Since I last wrote, Northern Ireland have been eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Switzerland.

Two days later, Republic of Ireland went out after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Denmark.

Predictably, Wednesday’s media was covering “Calls” for a combined football team.

“Calls”. Anybody can call for anything, that doesn’t make it newsworthy. Look at who is calling for it. Politicians and Journalists. That tells you all you need it to know. There are no calls, no demands, just people using their influence or “Fame” to pursue an agenda through the media.

Why were there no calls at 7.49pm on Tuesday night?

Let’s address this “Issue”.

The famed Ireland Rugby team gets mentioned in this type of nonsense. “Why don’t we have one team like in Rugby?” they cry.

Surely if this was going to be happen, would people not want them to be successful and decent, unlike the Rugby team.

But yes, if we’re using the Rugby model, why not have a Britain and Ireland football team? You know, like the Lions?

What’s that? I’m using sport to push a political agenda and deny people the chance to see their national team compete in international competition? Sorry about that.

When you see Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia and Ukraine fail to Qualify, wouldn’t it be amazing if all the former Soviet states formed a combined team with Russia?

What’s that? Trying to have countries that no longer exist compete in international football is just silly. Sorry about that.

I guess your idea is brilliant and mine are stupid. Fair enough.

The big mistake people who support this idea make, is that they think Northern Ireland fans have to justify their team’s existence. We don’t. We have never had to, and we will never have to.

It is up to those who want this to happen to convince us that it should happen.

Nobody has made a suggestion that is even remotely acceptable to us. Not even close.

First question, what would this team be called? It sounds simple, but what would it be called. You can’t call it “Ireland” as that is the brand name the FAI use for their representative team, and that would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland fans.

Who would be their sponsors? Neither Vauxhall or 3 would accept anything less than prominent position on training gear.

Who would be their kit supplier? Both teams have different contracts that would have to be cancelled and a new one negotiated?

Who is the manager? Who is the coaching, support and admin staff? You can’t have two sets. Somebody will miss out.

Where will they be in the FIFA Rankings? As a new team, they would have to start on 0 and be in Pot 6 for qualifying competitions. Being in Pot 6 will make qualifying for tournaments very difficult.

Where would they play their home matches? Northern Ireland fans would not accept feeding off scraps of home games against teams seeded five and six.

So, we have a team in Pot 6 with no staff and sponsors. This doesn’t sound very appealing.

I wish there was some sort of recent political event where people demanded something without taking into account the consequences.

To quote the great political thinker Joe Quimby, are they getting louder or stupider?

Tuesday’s result was not a shock. Republic of Ireland rarely win big games at home. Germany and Bosnia were exceptions.

In the past 16 years, Russia x 2, Switzerland x 2, France x 2, Israel, Germany x 2, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Monetnegro, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria x 2, Scotland, Poland, Wales, Serbia and Denmark have come home from competitive games in Dublin unbeaten.

Northern Ireland have had some awful results, but we haven’t conceded five in a competitive match at Windsor Park since 1979. Republic of Ireland have done it twice in the last five years.

Perhaps they should look at their own failings rather than trying to use us to deflect attention away from them.

I’m quite confident that I speak on behalf of Northern Ireland fans by politely declining the offer.

We can address it again when journalists report on “Calls” for this when Republic of Ireland get eliminated from Euro 2020.

This week, saw France confirmed as hosts of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Very tempted to do a football/rugby trip. Nice is a host city. A return visit sounds very tempting. It’s still six years away so there is no rush.

And now, Mark Stafford’s red card on Wednesday. A red card for being fouled. I’m surprised a goal for Coleraine wasn’t awarded when he scored today.

It cost us the game. We had most of the possession in the second-half. Most of the possession, against ten men, attacking our own fans. I’m fancying our chances here.

That’s two games in the past month that we have been cost due to refereeing incompetence.

The referee bottled it in the face of an angry mob of Crusaders players. We need to start standing up for ourselves on the pitch. We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams.

It’s not just Linfield who have suffered in the face of incompetent refereeing. Just ask Warrenpoint Town fans about the last day of the 2015-2016 season.

So, up next for Linfield is a trip to Mourneview Park. Linfield at Mourneview Park in November is usually interesting.

2014 saw four red cards. 2015 saw a five goal thriller. 2016 saw a two goal comeback with nine men, one of whom was a defender in nets.

I’ll happily take a boring 1-0 win in 2017.

Photo Album

NORTHERN IRELAND 0-1 SWITZERLAND 9.11.2017

It was the night Belfast had been waiting for since the 1980s. It was the hottest ticket in town. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a ticket to see Bananarama at The Odyssey, so I had to make do with Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off First Leg against Switzerland, as Michael O’Neill’s side aimed to avoid 2018 being a Cruel Summer.

When the draw was being done, everyone wanted to avoid Italy. Those that believe in omens will have wanted Italy, due to the fact that the only time they failed to qualify for the World Cup, it was Northern Ireland who eliminated them. Realistically, when the draw was done back in the summer of 2015, the Runner-Up of the group containing Spain and Italy was the one to avoid.

That didn’t mean that any of the three other teams would be easy. Switzerland can call on players from Juventus, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Benfica. They are clearly a decent team.

There were nine groups in Europe, Switzerland’s tally of 27 points out of 30 would have been good enough to win five of them.

Their group was realistically a shoot-out between them and Portugal, with 2-0 wins for the home team, Portugal beating Switzerland in the final group game, and Portugal going through on goal difference.

Switzerland had fallen into the Play-Offs, while Northern Ireland had been aiming and preparing for them as soon as the draw was done in the Summer of 2015, even though they could have been in the race for automatic qualification if they had beaten Germany.

Northern Ireland were hoping this would give them an advantage.

The teams walked out, with Northern Ireland fans showing Love In The First Degree for their side. They were led out by Steven Davis, winning his 100th cap.

Davis won his 1st cap in a Friendly at home to Canada in 2005. Northern Ireland lost 1-0. Canada played 70 minutes with ten men. That was where we were at. It wasn’t even Northern Ireland’s worst result this century, and that’s Really Saying Something.

When he left the pitch that night, I doubt he would have imagined he would win 99 more caps, and lead his side out in a World Cup Play-Off.

Both sides have a bit of previous in World Cup Qualifying, being in the same group for the 1966 tournament. Both games were home wins, 1-0 for Northern Ireland and 2-1 for Switzerland. That combination of results would be enough for Northern Ireland to qualify for Russia.

I was there the last time Switzerland visited Windsor Park, a 1-0 win for Northern Ireland in a Friendly in 1998 with a goal from Darren Patterson.

That night, it was two wins out of two under new manager Lawrie McMenemy. We all thought we were on our way to better things. It was Aaron Hughes first two games for Northern Ireland. The teenager from Newcastle United must have thought international football was easy.

Hughes has seen a lot in almost 20 years as an international footballer, but he would be seeing this from the sidelines, as he was ruled out through injury.

The last time Northern Ireland faced Switzerland was in a friendly in 2004 which finished 0-0. It was a forgettable game, except for Chris Brunt, who made his international debut that night. When he left the pitch that night ……

It was another player on the left hand side for Northern Ireland, Stuart Dallas, who was involved in the first main talking point of the game, when he was fouled by Fabian Schar. It was dangerous, reckless and nowhere near the ball. The referee only awarded a yellow card. It should have been a red card.

On 24 minutes, it’s a red card. On 34 minutes, it’s a red card. 4 minutes in, the referee bottled it, afraid of putting himself under pressure and in the spotlight, so he went for the easy decision, and the wrong one. He bottled it.

For the first time in a long time, Northern Ireland looked nervous.

Switzerland, by contrast, were comfortable on the ball. Xherdan Shaqiri was the focal point of Switzerland’s attacks, getting the ball Wherever Whenever he wanted.

Granit Xhaka had Switzerland’s first attempt on goal, firing just over from the edge of the box.

There were similarities with the Linfield v Celtic match in July, with the away team having all of the possession.

Unlike Linfield, Northern Ireland were able to hold out for the first 20 minutes. If they didn’t, it looked like being a longer evening than it already was.

Switzerland’s first chance came when Haris Seferovic got a foot on a cross from Shaqiri.

I was behind the goal and thought it was going in. It was going in, but Michael McGovern got a hand on it. He always gets a hand on it. We were all thankful that he did.

Despite all their possession, it took a lump upfield and a stretched leg to have an attempt on goal. A case of It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It, and it almost brought results.

Northern Ireland finished the half strongly, having pressure on Switzerland’s goal. If they were going to make the most of a set piece, they would have to be clever about it, due to the referee being fussy about any physical contact in aerial tussles.

Having survived the first-half, Northern Ireland couldn’t relax in the second, with Shaqiri narrowly curling a shot wide less than 30 seconds into the half.

A dangerous cross saw Seferovic unable to get a leg on it as he did in the first-half. If he did, he would have scored.

The pressure continued, it looked like it was only a matter of time before Switzerland scored.

It came just before the hour, in controversial fashion, when a shot hit Corry Evans on the shoulder with his back to goal. A penalty was awarded.

I didn’t get a clear view at the game. Firstly, because I was at the other end, and secondly, because some manchild in front of me were waving flags that were left on seats prior to kick-off. Seriously, why do we give these people toys to play with? It’s not Eurovision for crying out loud.

And don’t even start me on people who spend the match passing beach balls around.

Just like fans of Martina Hingis, we were all desperate to see a Swiss Miss. We were to be disappointed as Ricardo Rodriguez put Switzerland 1-0 up.

Switzerland had been given a massive Help.

Northern Ireland had a late flurry when Josh Magennis headed wide from a free-kick. He should have been hitting the target from there. If he did, he would have scored.

Chris Brunt had a free-kick from outside the box just go wide.

There was then a penalty box scramble where a Northern Ireland player couldn’t get a clear shooting position. They couldn’t even get enough space to even speculatively toepoke it towards goal.

Switzerland held out for the 1-0 win. Disappointing. Northern Ireland are up against it but not out of it.

99.99999% of winning scorelines will be good enough in Basle. The only one that won’t sent them through is 1-0, but it won’t put them out.

We’ll have to get a performance like those done by Billy Bingham’s sides in the 1980s.

There was an advert around that time for IDB, the forerunner for Invest NI.

The words of that advert are apt, over 30 years on.

So come on Northern Ireland, come on. There’s a whole lot of work to be done. You can make it in the end, with a little help from your friends. So come on Northern Ireland, come on.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-0 ARDS 28.10.2017

It has been 20 years since Ards beat Linfield. It felt like 20 years since Linfield beat anyone, with a sole League Cup win over Ballinamallard being sanwiched inbetween three successive League defeats and a Scottish Challenge Cup exit.

As well as being 20 years unbeaten against Ards, Linfield had amassed some high scoring wins such as 4-0 (multiple times), 5-1 (multiple times), 5-0 (multiple times), 7-0, 5-2 and 7-2. Just a scrappy 1-0 would have done today.

Crusaders expected win over Ballinamallard made this even more of a must-win game for Linfield, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon having games they were expected to win, which they did.

Linfield made four changes to line-up from Monday night. I even made a line-up change myself, binning my lucky scarf after three successive defeats. There’s no room for sentiment in football.

Linfield lined up with a 4-4-2, but with Andrew Mitchell playing in right midfield, another case of trying to shoehorn three centre midfielders into two positions, especially with Ross Clarke and Stephen Fallon on the bench.

In the opening minute, there was already more fluidity in Linfield’s attacks, with Matthew Clarke and Jordan Stewart linking up down the left. Clarke’s crosses caused panic in Ards defence but Linfield were unable to take advantage.

Still in the early minutes, a misplaced pass played in David McAllister, who saw his shot saved by Roy Carroll when it looked certain he would give Ards the lead.

I’m not even sure if it could described as a shock lead, as having won their last two games, Ards were the form team prior to kick off.

Louis Rooney thought he was going to head Linfield in front, only to see the ball deflect away from him.

It was becoming frustrating for Linfield. If they could get an early goal, they could really build on it. With each passing minute, Linfield were facing the paradox of it being a long afternoon while time was also running out.

Andrew Waterworth was next to be frustrated as he was played in behind Ards defence with only the keeper to beat. It wasn’t a clear opportunity to score, with the keeper rushing out, he had to get a foot on it and send it goalwards. He did just that, but the keeper was quickly out to smother it and deny him.

A few more weeks and a few more games behind him, it might have been 1-0 to Linfield.

Mark Haughey then shot wide from inside the box as the first goal continued to elude Linfield.

It almost came for Ards when a misplaced pass fell to Guillaume Keke, but he was denied by Carroll.

Having come out to deny Waterworth, it was Chris Casement who was fruastrated by Ards keeper Aaron Kerr coming out to make himself big.

Eventually the goal came. There was nothing sophisticated about it, a cross in, bodies in the penalty area, with Jordan Stewart getting enough space and time to set himself up to blast home.

You could see the relief all around Windsor Park.

As the second-half kicked off, Linfield needed a second goal, especially when Keke headed well wide from a free-kick in the early minutes.

That came on 52 minutes when Josh Robinson headed home to make it 2-0. Even though Linfield had gifted Ards two first-half opportunities, that was the three points realistically secured.

David Healy certainly thought so, despite the events at Solitude a few weeks back, bringing on Cameron Stewart and Aaron Burns for Andrew Waterworth and Louis Rooney.

With Rooney and Waterworth both making their way back after injury, it was an opportunity to rest them both, especially with a County Antrim Shield meeting on Monday night.

At least Linfield will be facing the same opponents and won’t be disadvantaged in terms of turnaround time. I’d expect a lot of changes to the starting line-up for this game.

I won’t be at that game as I usually give midweek cup games a miss, plus i’ll be at Liam Gallagher. Have I mentioned that i’m going to Liam Gallagher? I’m going to Liam Gallagher on Monday.

He’s coming back to Belsonic next June on a Saturday night. That is not going to end well. And the World Cup is on.

Healy was justified in bringing on some subs, as the game meandered to a comfortable Linfield win, with Healy bringing on Stephen Fallon as his final sub.

With ten minutes remaining, there was a moment of worry for Linfield when Roy Carroll was forced into a double save. In doing so, he was well off his line when the ball fell to Gareth Tommons outside the box, who fired just wide.

Thankfully, as it would have made the final ten minutes nervous, especially as Linfield had taken their foot off the gas and didn’t look like they were able to pick it up again.

That was it, 2-0 and a return to winning ways. The big fat 0 next to Ards name is a positive. Quite how it was achieved, I don’t know. If we continue to give opponents clear opportunities like that, we won’t be so lucky in the future.

Hopefully, Jordan Stewart will now be able to get a run of games, and that includes the big games, not being sacrificed for more defensive players.

It would be nice if he could be joined by a more attacking minded player on the right. Andrew Mitchell is a decent footballer, but he’s not a right winger.

The next run of games gives us an opportunity to build some momentum ahead of a big run of games in late November. If we continue winning through November, at worst, we’ll be seven points behind Coleraine and closer or possibly above Glenavon and/or Crusaders.

The next two League games against Ballinamallard and Ballymena are essential, especially when there will be guaranteed progress if they win those two.

Next Saturday, Coleraine travel to Glenavon, while the following Saturday, Crusaders are inactive due to playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Six more points, and Linfield’s League position will be looking a lot better by the time Coleraine visit Windsor Park on November 18th.

Small progress today but back to winning ways. I’d forgotten what it felt like.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-5 CRUSADERS 23.10.2017

After conceding last minute winners on the previous three Saturdays, Linfield will have been glad to have seen their match against Crusaders moved to the Monday night for broadcast on Sky Sports.

After six successive away games, they would have been doubly glad this game was at Windsor Park.

Having drawn two and lost one of their last three home games, Crusaders wouldn’t have been too disappointed this match was at Windsor Park.

It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see these two sides separated by a point at this stage of the season. It may have been a surprise that both were in the chasing pack looking to keep in touch with Coleraine at the top, with Linfield kicking off ten points behind Coleraine and Crusaders eleven points behind.

Forget about Coleraine, both sides were simply looking to keep in touch with 2nd place Glenavon, five points ahead of Linfield and six points ahead of Crusaders at kick-off.

Despite the absence of Jamie Mulgrew through injury, Linfield lined-up with three centre midfielders, despite it not working against Crusaders the previous month.

Linfield started off slow and sluggish and Crusaders were more up for it. Crusaders had an early chance when Gavin Whyte burst through and crossed for Jordan Owens, whose shot was blocked, and Paul Heatley fired over. Linfield’s defence was all over the place.

Linfield were so slow and sluggish, Crusaders didn’t even have to do any tactical fouls in the opening 15 minutes.

Linfield then began to show more as an attacking force, with both Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth having shots saved after runs towards goal.

It was Crusaders who took the lead when a low cross saw Paul Heatley fire home.

Just after the half hour, it was 2-0 when a low cross from Mark McChrystal was headed into his own net by Mark Stafford. There wasn’t a Crusaders player anywhere near the six yard box.

Within a few minutes, Linfield’s best attack saw Kirk Millar get in behind Crusaders defence and his low cross forced Billy Joe Burns into a last ditch clearance just as Matthew Clarke looked set to put it into the net.

The respite was brief for Crusaders as Mark Stafford headed home from the resulting corner.

It was the second successive match against Crusaders that Stafford had scored a prequaliser. This time, Linfield had more time to do something about it.

It was no coincidence that the first time Linfield really attacked Crusaders, they got a goal. It also meant that Linfield had the momentum going into half-time.

Or so we thought.

Linfield had a free-kick in Crusaders half, an opportunity to apply pressure, which was easily cleared after a poor delivery. Crusaders countered which resulted in them hitting the bar, with Gavin Whyte having enough time to control the shot and set himself up to score to make it 3-1.

The attack should have been halted on the halfway line when Robert Garrett had an opportunity to do a tactical foul. Take one for the team, and we go in 1-2 down and can regroup.

Also, there were enough defenders in the box to react when the ball hit the bar, to get there first, to get in the road, to do anything to keep the ball out of the net.

Crusaders were set up to counter attack, and it was working a treat.

That wasn’t the end of the action in the first-half, as Stephen Lowry had an opportunity to head home from inside the box. He should have been hitting the target at least.

Crusaders appeared to stop playing the start of the second-half, similar to Glenavon when they had a half-time two goal lead in November 2016.

Aaron Burns chased a lost cause and was able to win possession and play the ball across goal. Nobody reacted quick enough, or thought he would win the ball. If they did, they would have had a certain goal. The attack ended with Stephen Lowry having a low shot blocked.

Burns then pulled a goal back for Linfield to make it 3-2. Linfield now had the momentum. They now looked the most likely team to win.

Looking an equaliser, Jordan Stewart came on from the bench. Like at Seaview last month, this was a game he should have been starting.

He came on for Kirk Millar. It should have been both on the pitch instead of one for one.

Crusaders knew that Linfield had them where they wanted them. We were then treated to timewasting at every free-kick, throw-in and goal kick.

As per usual, the officials were too thick or inept to do something about it.

While the Ballboys were quick in returning the ball to restart the game, Crusaders players were either kicking the ball away, or walking away from the scene to retrieve the ball that had just gone out.

A couple of yellow cards could have sorted this, but the referee did nothing. They knew they could make a mug out of him, and they made the most of the invitation to do so..

Linfield need to get smarter about this and start chipping away at officials to get it in their minds that it needs to be addressed. Let’s face it, opposition players aren’t slow in letting referees know if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

With the momentum lost, Linfield needed inspiration from somewhere, to get that golden chance. It didn’t look like coming. The closest they came was when an Andrew Mitchell cross evaded everyone and went just wide.

On 78s minutes, saw the introduction of Louis Rooney from the bench. You could be justified in asking why he wasn’t brought on earlier, especially when Linfield had so much momentum in their favour just after pulling it back to 3-2.

With less than ten minutes to go, a quick throw-in set Paul Heatley free and his cross was diverted into his own net by Jimmy Callacher to make it 4-2.

It got worse a few minutes later when they made a hash of the most basic of clearances, the ball falling to Philip Lowry to make it 5-2. It was getting silly now.

If you think Linfield fans were annoyed, Dundalk fans were just as annoyed as local media erroniously proclaimed this the first time that Linfield had conceded five at Windsor Park since 1994.

There is something not clicking at Linfield. It just seems to be a perfect storm, with players struggling for fitness and form at the same time.

Is it clutching at straws to blame Eventsec? I mean, our results have taken a downturn since they started sponsoring the back of our shirts. I’m sure it’s purely coincidental.

As much as Andrew Waterworth is trying to get back to fitness, goalscoring isn’t a problem. We’ve scored in every League game this season. We scored two in defeats to Cliftonville and Crusaders. We shouldn’t be needing six goals to win at home.

Interestingly, this match was the first time that last season’s first choice back four played together this season. That shouldn’t really be an excuse. All five goals were shocking and embarrassing to concede. Four of them were simply being second to the ball.

It was bad in the ground. I didn’t realise how bad until I watched it back on TV, and yes, I am aware it’s not Halloween until next week.

The defensive shambles was made even worse when you saw how defensively Linfield lined-up in midfield with three centre midfielders.

We might have options in that position, but we don’t have to play them all. Pick two, and get on with it. Let other teams adapt their line-up for us rather than picking our team to stifle others.

Crusaders could live with us when we attacked them in the County Antrim Shield Final. Glenavon, Coleraine and Cliftonville couldn’t handle us in the title run-in when we attacked them.

It’s easy to say that Linfield miss Paul Smyth. They do, obviously. It must be pointed out that he missed two months during last season, and we won eight out of the ten matches he missed.

When he returned from injury, he was phased back in, only making a sub appearance in the County Antrim Shield Final. Don’t forget, he missed the game at Solitude when Linfield secured the title.

We can play without him, we have players (Ross Clarke, Jordan Stewart) who can take on his role. We need to get them into the game and not stockpiling centre midfielders.

When you turn up defensively in big games, you don’t stand up, you fall back. We need to start standing up in big games.

Thankfully, we have a generous fixture list coming up. You’d like to think that games against Ards, Ballinamallard and Ballymena would result in nine points, and a confidence boost ahead of a big run of games in November.

We play Ards twice in three days, with a County Antrim Shield match on the following Monday. I’ll be missing that as i’ll be at Liam Gallagher. Have I mentioned that i’m going to Liam Gallagher? Yeah, i’m going to Liam Gallagher next week.

Bad runs of form aren’t new in recent years for Linfield. Thankfully, they’ve recovered well from them.

Three successive defeats in October 2014 were followed by eight wins and a draw from the next nine games.

Four successive defeats in November 2015 were followed by seven wins a draw from the next eight League matches.

Football came change very quickly.

November sees a run of games against Crusaders (League Cup), Coleraine and Glenavon. That match against Glenavon has been brought forward to the Friday night.

That’s away games against Warrenpoint, Ballymena and Glenavon all moved to Friday nights this season. If we’re going to start playing away matches on Friday nights in pain in the arse locations, we might as well join the League Of Ireland.

Windsor Park’s first game in November will be Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off against Switzerland. We avoided Italy, that was key. There were no byes after that.

There are two ways of looking at it.

Switzerland were the 2nd place team with the best record and thus the toughest opponent.

Or, they were in a poor group and aren’t as good as their stats suggest.

I’ll let you decide what way you want to look at it.

Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of the draw included a story about a so-called outrage about the introduction video for Northern Ireland featuring the team’s name in Irish.

Nonsense clickbait. Who exactly was outraged? When you watch that video, people are usually screaming at the screen for them to hurry up and do the bloody draw, never mind paying attention to captions.

If we qualify, they can out our name in Klingon for all I care.

Meanwhile, i’ve booked a weekend in London for late January. Obviously, i’ll be hoping to take in a football match while i’m there, even though it’s not a football trip.

Brentford, Millwall and Leyton Orient are at home that weekend, but it is also the FA Cup 4th Round. So, watch this space.

TV games for December in the Premier League were announced, with United v City being moved to Sunday, meaning United V Bournemouth will be a Wednesday. My preferred cay, even though i’ll be there from Tuesday to Thursday. Hoping for another game in Greater Manchester to take in on the Tuesday.

Hopefully, by the time I head to Manchester, this will all be a bad memory and Linfield’s season will be back on track.

Photo Album