LINFIELD 4-0 CRUSADERS 21.2.2020

Linfield and Andrew Waterworth are really enjoying February 2020. The good news is, it has an extra day this year. The bad news is, the next match isn’t until 7th March.

After three successive wins from games they were expected to win, now Linfield faced a game that they must win. Or certainly, do not lose.

Too many times this season, Linfield have failed to deliver when presented with the opportunity to pull clear of a rival. Kicking off eight points clear of Crusaders, albeit with a game more played, Linfield knew that if they won, they could have some justification is regrading the five team title race as a four team title race.

Crusaders were there for the taking, both sides recent forms was going in opposite directions. Linfield had won their last three games while Crusaders had lost their last two.

The pre-match team news saw mixed injury news for Linfield – one in and one out, luckily in the same position as Jamie Mulgrew returned for Kyle McClean.

Straight from kick-off, Linfield looked to get the ball to Joel Cooper. Not a bad tactic considering his recent form.

Linfield were already putting Crusaders under pressure, a statement, winning a corner in the first minute.

Gerard Doherty punched the corner away to Joel Cooper, whose sliced volley fell to Mark Haughey.

The temptation for Haughey would be to help the effort goalwards, but he sent the ball left to Kirk Millar.

Millar’s cross has headed in by Jimmy Callacher, who got in front of his man, to put Linfield 1-0 up with just ninety seconds on the clock.

The man who Callacher beat to the ball incidentally, was his own team-mate, Mark Haughey.

It kept up an incredible run, that this was the ninth successive League goal for Linfield against Crusaders scored by a player whose first name began with J.

It was a run that began when Josh Robinson put them 1-0 up after a minute in December 2017. Linfield would be hoping to kick on and avoid a repeat of the 2-1 defeat they suffered that day.

Cameron Dummigan got a yellow card ten minutes into the game, a surprise considering the unwritten rule that Referees aren’t allowed to issue a yellow card in the opening fifteen minutes of an Irish League game. Even more reason to get Joel Cooper on the ball.

It looked like a second goal was going to come when a cross fell to Andrew Waterworth in the penalty area. Unfortunately, the ball hit him as he tried to control it, and bounced into Gerard Doherty’s arms. A moment of frustration for Linfield.

Crusaders did have sights of Linfield’s goal. Paul Heatley had a left foot shot saved when he would have been better trying to cut in and hit it with his right foot. Rodney Brown saw a header from a free-kick tipped over by Rohan Ferguson.

A satisfactory first-half for Linfield, mostly nullifying Crusaders attack and getting a lead of their own. Now they needed to kill the game off in the second-half.

Linfield went out in the second-half determined to secure the points as early as possible.

Andrew Waterworth had a shot which forced Gerard Doherty into a spectacular save. The respite was only brief for Crusaders.

As Crusaders tried to counter attack, Jamie Mulgrew wasn’t having any of it, winning back possession and starting Linfield on another attack.

That attack saw Joel Cooper run at Crusaders defence and pull the ball back. There was a bit of a scramble, but when the ball fell to Andrew Waterworth a few yards out, there was only going to be one outcome, as Linfield went 2-0 up.

That goal gave Linfield control of the game, but it was almost wiped out straight away when Jamie McGonigle had a free header from a cross, but the ball went straight into Rohan Ferguson’s arms.

Linfield made the most of their escape, applying more pressure on Crusaders goal in search of a third goal just to be sure.

Chris Casement had an effort saved while Stephen Fallon had an effort go just over.

There wasn’t long to wait for the third, as Jimmy Callacher headed home from a corner to make it 3-0. As with the other two goals, it was a case of the Linfield player wanting it more and reacting quicker to the ball when it was in the six yard box.

Even someone as cautious as me knew that the points were in the bag. It was now a case of how many for Linfield.

The three goal lead allowed Linfield to make use of their bench.

Having missed the match against Ballymena through injury, Shayne Lavery came on. Surprisingly, not a straight swap for Andrew Waterworth, but for Jordan Stewart. Why not throw on an extra striker when you’re 3-0 up?

Lavery almost had an instant impact when he got in behind Crusaders defence, but his first time effort was saved by Gerard Doherty while under pressure from a Crusaders defender.

With two more subs to make, Daniel Kearns was introduced to give him game time, having not featured much recently.

For the same reason, it was a bit surprising that Bastien Hery didn’t get a brief cameo, as Rory Currie was Linfield’s final sub, coming on for Andrew Waterworth.

The night got worse for Crusaders when Howard Beverland got a second yellow card for a foul on Shayne Lavery on the halfway line.

When Beverland got his first yellow card, someone beside me was screaming for a second yellow. Beverland is one of those players that you just always think is on a yellow card, even if he isn’t.

I know you always want your team to fight to the end and all that, but Beverland would have been better off letting him go and hope a team mate can cover for you. Now he is suspended from his side’s biggest match of the season.

Not that it is of any concern to Linfield.

Shayne Lavery had an opportunity to make it 4-0 in injury time, but he dragged his shot wide.

Just as against Glenavon last month, Linfield had a counter attack with thirty seconds to go. Just as then, they managed to get a goal in that timeframe, with ten seconds to spare this time, as Stephen Fallon passed a low shot into the back of the net.

Just as with the first three goals, it was about Linfield players wanting it more, Fallon making that run to make something happen, even though the game was long won.

Not important in terms of the result, but it could be by the end of the season.

At kick-off, Linfield’s goal difference was only two better than Crusaders, the only team close to them in this regard. This was effectively an eight goal win, as Linfield’s advantage over Crusaders in terms of goal difference is now ten goals.

The most pleasing thing about this game was the clean sheet, a first in five matches. Wins, goals and clean sheets are good habits to get into at this time of year.

Linfield fans went to bed on Friday night safe in their knowledge their team was now nine points clear at the top, though that would change after Saturday’s games.

The lunchtime game didn’t give them the shock result they were hoping for, as Coleraine beat Institute 4-0.

The 3pm games were a lot kinder for Linfield, with Glentoran (v Glenavon) and Cliftonville (at home to a Ballymena side who had lost seven games in a row. Absolute textbook post 2014 Cliftonville) both drawing.

The five team title race isn’t as exciting as Neutrals are hoping for. Glentoran, Crusaders and Cliftonville are having to argument to say they are part of the title race.

You can’t fully assess the League table until everybody has played the same amount of games, as Coleraine, Cliftonville and Crusaders have a game in hand on Linfield.

Those games are scheduled to take place on Tuesday 3rd March. I won’t be thinking about them that night as i’ll be seeing Blossoms in concert at The Limelight.

The good news for Linfield, is that Crusaders face Cliftonville, so only one of those will win that night, if any. At eleven points behind, this is a title eliminator. Even the victor being eight points behind will be needing a spectacular run of form and a lot of help from others.

Glentoran are eight behind and up against it but not out. They face Linfield twice still, so they can cut that deficit to two. They will need to win all their remaining games just to be part of the title conversation.

Their next three games are against Crusaders, Cliftonville and Linfield. Those first two games will represent further point droppage for Linfield to take advantage of

Coleraine are the main worry for Linfield. Seven points behind but with a game in hand, and with one trophy in the bag.

If Linfield keep winning, it doesn’t matter what the others do. They will need to keep winning just to keep up, and they can’t all win if they play each other.

That game against Glentoran incidentally, has tickets on sale now. It’s good to see that tickets are on sale four weeks in advance of the match. I don’t think this is because of my constant moaning.

Supporters will have two home games, a free Saturday morning, and another Saturday morning on the day of a relatively short away trip to purchase tickets, which is very convenient. I’d better get a move on and get mine.

Here’s a pointless stat for you. A list of how many times Linfield have scored 4 or more goals in a League match under David Healy.

6 – Dungannon Swifts
5 – Warrenpoint Town
3 – Glenavon, Cliftonville, Glentoran, Ballymena United, Ballinamallard United
2 – Crusaders, Portadown, Ards
1 – Coleraine, Institute

Only three teams have avoided such a fate. Linfield face two of them, Carrick Rangers and Larne in their next two games.

Not being greedy. I’ll take a 1-0 win in those two games, and every game remaining this season.

The other club who haven’t conceded four goals in a game to Linfield under David Healy? A bit surprising, Newry City.

I’ll be heading to that game at Carrick by train, hopefully. Assuming that Northern Ireland still has a Railway Network in two weeks time.

Talking of trips, i’m looking at Warsaw maybe for later in the year. Most likely a Saturday-Tuesday on Ryanair. Hopefully, i’ll take in a game while there.

Before Linfield play again, is the UEFA Nations League draw. You should know my views on the “Competition” is that it is a farce. But while we’re in it, a trip to Scotland, midweek game please. It’s been a while since I was last in Glasgow.

So, February 2020 has been a good month for Linfield. Hopefully, March and April will be likewise.

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LINFIELD 2-1 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 4.2.2020

So far in 2020, Linfield had swung from good to bad to good to bad as regular as clockwork. The last game, at Larne, was bad, so logically this would be good.

Well the result was, if the performance wasn’t.

Having been playing catch-up since Matchday 2, Linfield’s famous games in hand were no more, all caught up.

All caught up on games, hopefully overtaking the rest on points. Linfield’s games in hand had always been part of an objective, to catch up, to overtake, to stretch their lead. The recent run of inconsistent results have rendered these games as establishing a lead rather than extending one.

Linfield had six changes from that match at Larne. A Suspension for Shayne Lavery presented an opportunity for a start for one of the strikers. Andrew Waterworth returned from injury to take advantage of that. He was one of two strikers coming into the team, with Rory Currie getting a first start.

Niall Quinn, Mark Stafford, Mark Haughey and Kyle McClean also made returns to the starting eleven.

Looking at the line-up when it was announced, I wasn’t too unhappy, the 4-4-2 that should have been on from the start of the 0-0 draw against Dungannon two and a half weeks earlier.

A benefit of Linfield’s squad is it’s versatility with players who can play in a number of positions. Only if it is utilised well.

I got a bit of a shock when the game kicked off and the 4-4-2 I expected turned out to be a 3-4-3. It didn’t work.

Three at the back left them exposed and vulnerable whenever Dungannon attacked, often being rescued by some soft free-kick awards.

At the other end of the pitch, only one player wide on each side meant that Dungannon were able to cope with Linfield’s attacking threat.

When Linfield did get in behind Dungannon, they almost scored the greatest goal in Irish League history when Stephen Fallon burst down the left and crossed for Kirk Millar, who rabonaed narrowly wide.

It looked fancy, but it was all he could do. If he hit it with his left foot, he would have scuffed it straight to the keeper and if he controlled it, Dungannon defenders would have immediately put him under pressure.

There wasn’t long to wait for a goal, but it came for Dungannon, when a neat passing move played in Daniel Hughes, who made no mistake to put Dungannon 1-0 up. This was not supposed to happen.

Windsor Park hoped for an offside flag, more in hope than expectation. Their hope was not met.

It didn’t take long for Linfield respond, less than ten seconds in fact.

An attempted pass to Kirk Millar from kick-off saw a stray header go in the direction of the penalty area. Andrew Waterworth started running towards it. The only question was if he would get there in time to score, not if he would score. He did, and Linfield were back level at 1-1 straight away.

It was an important goal, stating the obvious that. Linfield have struggled this season against teams who have had something to defend. Dungannon’s lead was wiped out straight away. However, they still had a point to hold on to.

Linfield didn’t kick on from there, lacking attacking cohesion in the rest of the half. The closest they came to going in ahead was a speculative backheader from Rory Currie after confusion in Dungannon’s defence.

Early in the second-half, it looked like Linfield were going to take the lead when Kirk Millar got in behind Dungannon’s defence but his attempted lob went over. He did the right thing, but didn’t do it very well.

There was another moment of frustration for Linfield when Rory Currie saw a shot get blocked.

Eventually, Linfield took the lead, in bizarre fashion.

A cleared corner was returned into the box by Niall Quinn and headed on by Andrew Waterworth. It looked like it was going over, and then the ball dropped down. Before you could say “Oh, that’s dropping down”, the ball dropped down in off the bar.

Two goals from Andrew Waterworth turning the game in Linfield’s favour after going 1-0 down to a goal from Daniel Hughes. Just like that day at Solitude in 2017. Any excuse to bring it up.

Linfield could have done with a third goal just to be sure like that day at Solitude. It didn’t specifically have to come from Andrew Waterworth. A third goal from anyone would have been welcomed.

Jordan Stewart came on for Rory Currie as Linfield searched for that goal. It didn’t really happen for Currie. I wouldn’t write him off just yet. He’s making the runs just not getting the goals.

Matthew Shevlin was very unlucky not to get the nod for Currie as a like for like sub, instead of Stewart.

Stewart almost got it when he created space for himself on the edge of the box and curled narrowly wide.

Earlier, Mark Stafford had a header saved and Dungannon survived the scramble.

A third goal would have secured the points, but Linfield just couldn’t get it.

They were almost made to pay for that when Dungannon broke, but thankfully, Mark Patton’s weak shot was easily saved by Rohan Ferguson.

Jordan Stewart was Linfield’s only substitute used, even though Joel Cooper was walking a disciplinary tightrope tracking back, and Linfield had other attacking options if they wanted to bring on a fresh face.

Thankfully, they weren’t made to pay for their lack of fresh faces in the final minutes, especially as Dungannon had played extra-time a few days earlier, and Linfield should have been taking advantage of that.

Job done, and back on top, which is the important thing.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville beat Carrick Rangers to mean that the Top 5 are now separated by four points.

All five of those clubs will be cursing points dropped against clubs in the bottom half.

Linfield can’t afford to drop any more points, especially against clubs in the bottom half, who make up three of their next four opponents. A great chance to get winning momentum, especially with clubs around us facing each other, such as Glentoran facing Coleraine on Saturday.

As well as that, next week is the NIFL Cup Final, where Coleraine and Crusaders will be inactive in League terms, giving Linfield an opportunity to pull clear while others have outstanding games to play.

Just because Linfield are all caught up doesn’t mean everybody else is. The postponement a few weeks back between Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United means they haven’t played their full compliment of games.

The opening day of the season is the only time this season when everybody has played the same amount of games. Pointless stat for you.

Meanwhile, the game against Glentoran in March has been brought forward to the Friday night for live coverage on the BBC. No real surprise that to be honest.

Will be a bit of a scramble for me to get the train home after the game. I’ll have to run like Andrew Waterworth when he saw a Dungannon player make a loose header.

It might be a five team title battle, but if Linfield keep winning, others will start to fall behind.

Time for a 2017 style finish to the season.

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LINFIELD 8-1 GLENAVON 25.1.2020

Better, Much much better.

After a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Dungannon Swifts the previous Saturday, Linfield responded with an 8-1 win over Glenavon.

Going into this match, Glenavon had won three of the previous four meetings with Linfield, including a 4-0 win. The aggregate score over those four games? 7-7. That is absolute Peak Glenavon.

Linfield began with the starting eleven that should have started the previous week, though they would be making one change regardless of the formation, as Andrew Mitchell being sold to Larne.

For me, that is a mistake that I fear will be very costly.

Mitchell’s place in the starting eleven was taken by Kirk Millar, as Linfield reverted to 4-2-3-1 that served them so well last season.

Inside the first ten seconds of this game, we saw an improvement from Linfield, straight on the attack deep in Glenavon’s half, and demanding that Ballboys get the ball so they can restart the game, not giving Glenavon any chance to get comfortable when defending.

It didn’t take long for Linfield to take the lead from a counter attack. I was screaming for the ball to go left, it went right, to Shayne Lavery, an attempt interception from a Glenavon defender fell perfectly for Stephen Fallon to put Linfield 1-0 up inside five minutes.

You could say there was an element of luck to the goal, but if Fallon doesn’t make the run, he doesn’t get the goal. Linfield had the start their needed.

They were in search of a second goal as soon as they got their first, and almost got it, but Ethan Boyle missed a headed opportunity.

Calum Birney was lucky not to see a red card after a wild and reckless tackle on Josh Robinson. Birney, who has had previous red cards against Linfield in the past, was lucky not to add to his tally.

Within a few minutes, it was Glenavon who were moaning at the Referee when Linfield were awarded a penalty for a foul on Stephen Fallon.

I was sat at that end, and the foul was on the line, but not inside the box.

Who was going to take it? That was the big question.

Andrew Mitchell took Linfield’s last penalty, against Cliftonville earlier in the month, but he has since been sold.

Andrew Waterworth wasn’t on the pitch. Jordan Stewart, Shayne Lavery and Joel Cooper all missed their last penalties.

It turned out to be Kirk Millar. I wasn’t exactly full of confidence that the ball would be hitting the back of the net, especially with the refereeing decision being so generous.

I don’t know why I was worried, as Kirk Millar fired it home to make it 2-0 and give Linfield a significant lead.

Within minutes, that lead got bigger as Joel Cooper cut inside and curled the ball in to make it 3-0.

Just like in the 7-0 win over Glenavon in September, Linfield had an early 3-0 lead, and there was a serious danger that this match could go the same way.

That became even more of a possibility when Robert Garrett got sent-off for something he said to the Referee. Linfield fans will have been used to seeing Garrett getting sent-off, six times across his two spells at the club. However, this time, they weren’t unhappy to see it.

Having scored a hat-trick when the sides met in September, Shayne Lavery wanted in on the act, and did when when he headed home from a corner to make it 4-0.

Soon after, it was 5-0 when a run from Joel Cooper saw his pull back to Matthew Clarke to finish from close range. Glenavon claimed the ball went out before Cooper pulled it back. To be honest, it happened too quick for me to see, and TV replays were inconclusive.

The first-half wasn’t all perfect for Linfield, as Glenavon split Linfield’s defence open for the first time, and were awarded a penalty when Ethan Boyle fouled a Glenavon player after a coming together.

The narrative, should have been that Sammy Clingan would miss it, but he made no mistake to make it 5-1 and start the comeback for Glenavon.

Jordan Stewart had an effort saved in the final minutes of the half as Linfield had to make do with just the five goals in the first-half.

Even someone as cautious as me knew the points were in the bag. It’s a great feeling watching a football match, midway through the first and knowing that the points are in the bag,

Linfield were in a privileged position. You don’t often get to choose how much you win a football match by, but Linfield could. With goal difference as tight as points, they could substantially add to their tally.

With the points in the bag, Linfield could also make the substitutions they wanted. Niall Quinn made a welcome to the match day squad after injury and could be eased in. Kyle McClean needed games as well after signing, while it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce new loan signing Rory Currie.

Shayne Lavery got in behind Glenavon’s defence, initially believing he was offside, before bursting through when he realised he wasn’t, only to see his shot saved.

There wasn’t long to wait for another goal, with Jordan Stewart scoring a penalty after a handball was awarded. For a while after that decision, Glenavon players lost their discipline in spectacular fashion.

Unfortunately, that resulted in Jamie Mulgrew leaving the game early after a late tackle from a Glenavon player, with Kyle McClean, who would have been expected to come on anyway, coming on earlier than expected.

Linfield fans were hoping that Mulgrew’s exit was only a precaution. As it turned out, it was an injury that would keep him out of the match against Larne the following Tuesday.

The Glenavon player in question got booked. Not for the foul, but for booting the ball at a team mate’s balls.

Glenavon’s lack of discipline was such, that Andrew Doyle, already on a yellow card, had to be substituted to stop him from getting a second yellow he was only minutes away from getting.

Linfield used their substantial lead to introduce two substitutes, two not unexpected substitutions, as Niall Quinn and Kyle McClean joined the action.

Joel Cooper then cut inside and fired home to make it 7-1, Linfield scoring seven for the third time this season.

With two goals to his name, it was surprising later on when Cooper burst clear only to pass to Kyle McClean who dithered and saw the opportunity to go begging.

To be fair, passing to McClean was the best option, but with a hat-trick for the taking, he was entitled to shoot.

In the game between the sides in September, the Referee took pity on Glenavon by only playing seconds of injury time. In this match, we got two minutes.

As the clock hit 91:30, Linfield went on the counter attack, just 30 seconds to score a goal.

Joel Cooper was played through, a hat-trick awaiting him, he surprisingly set up Jimmy Callacher who was running through to make it 8-1 with the final kick of the game.

A satisfactory afternoon for Linfield, with results elsewhere being a mixed bag.

Crusaders were drawing 0-0 with Ballymena United at half-time but ended up winning 2-1. In the teatime game, Larne beat Glentoran 2-1, a result that was greatfully received by Linfield fans as they tucked into their dinners.

The Monday night game saw Coleraine beat Cliftonville 1-0. A draw would have been perfect, but you could live with their being a winner.

That combination of results meant Linfield had the opportunity to go top of the League when they would play the first of their two games in hand.

Due to being busy and having a backlog of articles to write, I didn’t get this published in time before the trip to Larne.

Spoiler Alert – This match did not kickstart Linfield’s season.

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LINFIELD 0-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 18.1.2020

Eighteen days into the year, and 2020 has still to get going for Linfield.

It’s been a case of one step forward and then one step back for Linfield in 2020. Although the steps back have felt like falls or head first tumbles.

One of those tumbles was the Irish Cup defeat at Queen’s, which was followed by a win at Cliftonville nine days later.

That win at Cliftonville looked to be setting Linfield back on track, as they looked to gain momentum to launch a title charge.

Matches against Dungannon Swifts usually go one of three ways for Linfield. There is an outright thrashing, which they have dished out in their last three meetings: 5-0, 4-0 and 4-1. Then there are undeserved scrappy wins, such as last season at Dungannon. And then there are draws, which Dungannon had achieved at Windsor Park in two of the last three seasons. After six defeats in a row to Linfield, they will have felt they were due something in this fixture.

The first result would have been great, the second would have been welcome. The third, well that would have been catastrophic in a season where the title race is so tight.

Linfield’s starting eleven showed only one change from that game at Solitude, with Mark Stafford coming in for Mark Haughey, having come on as a substitute for him in North Belfast.

Partly surprising, that Linfield stuck with the three man midfield they had at Solitude.

Even though none of Stephen Fallon, Andrew Mitchell or Jamie Mulgrew merited being dropped for this game, they were part of a team selected to beat Cliftonville. Linfield needed a team to beat Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield’s first opportunity in the game came when Shayne Lavery got into space and set himself up to shoot, but was denied by a last gasp tackle just as he was about to shoot.

Lavery then headed over under pressure in the six yard box as Linfield searched for an opener.

Any time they tried to start an attack, they were usually denied by a cynical fouls, which were not punished with a yellow card, which only encouraged, emboldened and empowered them to continue with it.

Despite that, it was too pedestrian from Linfield, as Dungannon were allowed to be comfortable when setting themselves up to defend.

It wasn’t until the final minutes of the half that Linfield had a flurry of attacks, the best moment coming when a Stephen Fallon shot from outside the box was tipped over.

0-0 at half-time, but no need to panic. However, there was a need to step things up and have more urgency in their attacks. Scores elsewhere saw Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders all winning, while Cliftonville were drawing.

Linfield’s pressure early in the second-half saw Mark Stafford head over from close range when he really should have scored. In a game where Linfield had created very few clear scoring opportunities, they really had to take them when they came their way.

Linfield’s next moment of frustration came when Shayne Lavery headed against the post. It looked like being one of those days for Linfield.

In order to avoid it being one of those days, David Healy turned to his substitute’s bench, bringing on Kirk Millar for Jordan Stewart, a like for like change.

One of the three centre midfielders should have been sacrificed instead to give Linfield more of a presence and more options in the final third.

Millar almost had an instant impact with a low cross which agonisingly evaded everybody, after an earlier cross for Shayne Lavery where he just couldn’t get his header across Dungannon’s keeper, the ball landing safely in his arms.

Mark Stafford then had a volley go just wide as Linfield searched for the goal that didn’t look like coming.

In fact, it was Dungannon who should have scored when the ball fell perfectly to Daniel Hughes after a counter attack, volleying over when he had (a short amount of) time to set himself up and then shoot.

By then, Daniel Kearns had come on for Andrew Mitchell to give Linfield more presence up front. He would be joined by Matthew Shevlin, who had come on for Ethan Boyle.

It looked like Shevlin was going to score a dramatic late winner when he was played through, only to be denied as the game was pulled back for a foul, and a yellow card to be awarded to a Dungannon Swifts player. Of course.

Shayne Lavery headed over in injury time with Linfield’s last chance on a day of frustration where they had to settle for a 0-0 draw.

It was a game that Linfield deserved to win, but one that they didn’t do enough to win.

There was a lack of urgency in attack and Dungannon were able to get comfortable when defending.

On a day when it wasn’t happening for Linfield in open play, Linfield had to make the most of their set pieces. They didn’t.

It didn’t help that they only had one player taking them. Dungannon knew what to expect and could defend accordingly. I find it incredible that Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper can’t provide a left footed option at set pieces.

This match reminded me of the draw against draw against Portadown in 2017. Hopefully, Linfield will have a similar response as they did in the aftermath of that match.

Of the other four games that day, only one provided a result of benefit to Linfield, with Cliftonville losing to Carrick Rangers. Wins for Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine meant that Linfield dropped to 3rd.

Those games in hand that they have, were now only giving them an opportunity to sneak ahead at the top, rather than consolidating a lead.

The week following this match saw some transfer activity at Windsor Park. Daniel Reynolds left on loan to Carrick Rangers to get some gametime, while Rory Currie came in on loan from Hearts.

Even though I hinted that I wasn’t happy with the selection of Andrew Mitchell for this match, I wasn’t suggesting that he be sold. I have a horrible feeling that we may regret this.

After this match, I headed to a concert, then I was off to England for a few days, so I didn’t get to finish this blog until after Linfield’s next match, against Glenavon.

It was a game that Linfield needed to win and perform far better in.

Spoiler alert, it was better. Much much better.

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LINFIELD 3-0 INSTITUTE 1.1.2020

New Year’s Day, time to make some resolutions and make a new start. Well, that’s what Linfield were hoping after a disappointing run of results over Christmas.

In terms of wanting to change the habit of not winning, Institute would have been perfect opponents if Linfield had to choose.

It wasn’t the fact that that Linfield haven’t lost to Institute since 2003 (or at Windsor Park since 2002, last dropping points to them there since 2009) or the fact that Linfield have won the last nine meetings.

It was the fact that twice last season, games against Institute, in November and then in March, saw Linfield come out of a bumpy spell of results to recover their composure and start a run of wins.

Even earlier this season, victory over Institute, coming off the back of a 6-0 defeat to Dundalk, began a run of five wins out of the next six League matches.

Sandwiched in the middle of a busy run of games, it was unsurprising that there were changes to Linfield’s starting eleven.

What was surprising was the way they lined up, 3-5-2 with Matthew Clarke one of those three in defence.

With no Mark Stafford or Josh Robinson on the bench, it was a case of making the most of the players who were available.

I’d be slightly worried if we lined up like that against Cliftonville on 13th January, as when Institute attacked, Linfield’s defence looked exposed and open.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had a lot of the ball in the early stages of the game, the game mostly taking place in Institute’s half. It looked like it was a matter of time until Linfield scored.

It looked like that goal came when Andrew Waterworth finished from close range but the goal was disallowed as the cross from Daniel Kearns was just out of play.

As with most games this season, Linfield’s best moments came when Joel Cooper got on the ball. Institute couldn’t handle him. However, the final ball usually went to an Institute player, or Institute were able to get a body in the way and thwart him.

Bastien Hery then had a shot from outside the box as Linfield continued to be frustrated as they searched for the opening goal.

That came when Linfield were awarded a penalty for a foul on, who else, Joel Cooper. Having scored two penalties when the sides met in November, Andrew Waterworth got his third penalty goal of the season against Institute to put Linfield 1-0 up.

This was a game that Linfield were never going to win 1-0. You got the feeling that once they got one, the floodgates would open.

Within a few minutes, it looked like that was going to be the case when Shayne Lavery got in behind Institute’s defence, but his shot was turned over by Institute’s keeper Rory Brown, being watched by his proud mother Agnes.

The respite was brief for Institute, as the resulting corner was flicked on by Andrew Waterworth for Mark Haughey to finish from close range to make it 2-0.

It seemed that Kirk Millar was the only person taking corners, which meant we were treated to outswinging corners for the first time in a long time.

It’s always good to mix and match at set pieces, and outswingers seemed to be working for Linfield, with Shayne Lavery having gone close with an earlier effort.

The half-time whistle blew with Linfield in a commanding lead, which they needed on a day when the Top 6 faced the Bottom 6, and all of the Top 6 teams were winning.

Linfield just needed another goal just to be sure, and not give Institute any encouragement that they can get back into the game.

They had enough opportunities to get it in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Shayne Lavery got played through but dragged his shot wide, the finish of a man in a goal drought. In September or October, the ball would have been blasted into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, a pull back from Joel Cooper saw Lavery shoot goalwards, but his effort was blocked at the expense of a corner.

Mark Haughey was then denied by the post from a set piece as Linfield searched for a third clinching goal. Andrew Waterworth was then denied from a wide angle as he got in behind Institute’s defence.

Having scored in Institute’s last two visits to Windsor Park, it was no surprised that Jordan Stewart was introduced from the bench, coming on for Daniel Kearns.

Stewart was involved in Linfield’s third goal, when his saved shot fell perfectly for Shayne Lavery to finish from a few yards out, the perfect sort of goal you want when having a drought. Hopefully, the start of a run.

With the game won, Linfield now had the opportunity to make changes, with Matthew Shevlin coming on for Andrew Waterworth, and Ross Larkin coming on for Mark Haughey. Larkin had a chance to score in injury time, but his close range effort was saved by Brown, who made himself big.

An easy win for Linfield on a day when they had to win. There would be no favours elsewhere in the League, as all of the Top 5 won.

Assessing the Christmas period over a four game basis, it was disappointing for Linfield, missing an opportunity to kill off three rivals, and allowing Cliftonville and Glentoran to make up ground on them.

The League is getting parked this weekend, as Linfield enter the Irish Cup, with a trip to Queen’s University, where they’ll be hoping to graduate into the next round. Apologies.

I’m still trying to get a ticket for that one, so if you know of one going, get in touch.

After a busy run of games, I would expect some changes to be made, with Kyle McClean and
Ethan Boyle getting some minutes.

As said earlier, the Top 6 met the Bottom 6, and it was a clean sweep for the Top 6, so it’s as you were at the top.

The next Matchday, January 10th to 13th is very interesting, as Coleraine face Crusaders and Cliftonville face Linfield in televised games, while Glentoran should be beating Warrenpoint Town.

Like recent games, it’s not quite must win, but it’s do not lose. Let’s be ruthless and burst a hole in Cliftonville’s balloon. The nine day break coming up will be beneficial to us, a change to recharge and get ready for the run-in.

So, 2020s football watching has already started, and trips to Manchester and Dublin are already scheduled in.

I’m still thinking about a Tallinn/Helsinki double header in July.

Also, in 2020, Harland and Wolff Welders will move to a new ground, so i’ll hope to get a visit there when it opens.

But what I really want to see in 2020, is another League title for Linfield. Oh, and another Irish Cup.

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December’s photo adventures had to wait a full seven days, when I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville.

A few days later, I headed to Ulster Hall for my final concert of the year, to see Primal Scream.

The following Saturday, I headed to Warrenpoint to see Linfield get a 2-0 win.

That was followed by heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield draw 1-1 with Crusaders.

December so far hasn’t been that busy so far, but there’s still some photo adventures to come in the final week.

It’s unlikely that i’ll be at Seaview tomorrow for the Steel and Sons Cup Final, but i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day. As if i’d be anywhere else.

Boxing Day is the start of three busy days, as i’ll be heading to Ulster v Connacht the day after, and then Coleraine v Linfield the day after that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed by look back at my photo adventures in 2019. Of course, there’ll be more photo adventures in 2020.

In terms of concerts, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Blossoms and Badly Drawn Boy are already on the horizon.

Travelwise, Manchester and Bray are confirmed. I’m planning to walk up Bray Head. While in Bray, i’ll sneak in a trip to Dublin. I’m hoping to see a Euro 2020 game while i’m there, but i’ll definitely catch some League Of Ireland action.

May is the new date for Hit The North, so i’ll be photographing that, and any other Street Art I spot during the year.

And i’ll be crossing my fingers for some snow to photograph at some point because i’m a big kid.

Linfield v Cliftonville

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall

Primal Scream live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

LINFIELD 1-1 CRUSADERS 21.12.2019

The Saturday Before Christmas. It sounds like a novel which has been turned into an animated movie which fills up mid afternoon schedules every year, funnily enough, on the Saturday before Christmas.

For Linfield in recent years, the Saturday before Christmas has usually had a happy ending.

2014 saw a come from behind win (with a last minute penalty save added in) against Portadown which was one of the highlights of Warren Feeney’s brief spell as Manager.

2015 saw another come from behind win, against Ballymena United, which really kickstarted David Healy’s reign as Manager. A year later, came a dramatic and vital injury time win against the same opponents.

Even the wretched 2017-2018 season saw a dominant win over win over Cliftonville.

Last year, wasn’t as memorable, a 0-0 draw against Glenavon as they were trying to keep up with Ballymena United.

On 45 minutes, this was The Nightmare Before Christmas. By full-time, it wasn’t quite a Christmas miracle, but an unexpected and greatly appreciated early present of a point.

The pre-match scenario was similar to when Linfield faced Crusaders in December and January last season, with Crusaders a couple of points behind, and Linfield knowing they could pull clear of them with a win.

Linfield’s starting eleven was the same as the previous week at Warrenpoint, lining up 4-4-2.

The deviation from 4-2-3-1 was not that surprising with Kirk Millar suspended and Daniel Kearns recovering from injury, so they had to make use of the players that were available.

Bastien Hery continued to be rested, having been playing all year with the League Of Ireland playing Summer football.

Linfield enjoyed a lot of the ball in the early minutes, but a free-kick from Chris Casement was all they could offer.

On 7 minutes, Crusaders scored with their first attack when a Philip Lowry cross was headed home by Declan Caddell from six yards out.

The home fans waited for an offside flag. It didn’t come as he wasn’t. Chris Casement and Josh Robinson switched off and left him unmarked.

Caddell became the first opposition player to score a League goal at Windsor Park since August, a goal that was key if recent form in this fixture was anything to go by, as Linfield hadn’t come from behind to beat Crusaders since April 2014.

What we got after that, was a repeat of the bad old days when Linfield go a goal behind against Crusaders, being scared of them and forgetting how to play football.

When Linfield had the ball, Crusaders had everybody defending, and Linfield didn’t have the imagination to break through. They had the players to do it.

When the ball went to them, there were swarms of Crusaders players around them. Far too many times, Linfield players were second to the ball, or when they got it, easily outmuscled in possession.

Most of Linfield’s possession in the first-half saw Josh Robinson and Jimmy Callacher passing it to each other as they had nobody else to pass it to.

Sometimes, they involved Rohan Ferguson, passing it back to him. Every backpass was cheered louder than their goal by the Crusaders fans. Strange bunch.

Hesitancy in defence from Josh Robinson allowed Jamie McGonigle in behind Linfield’s defence. As Jimmy Callacher anticpated a cross, it left space for McGonigle to shoot, only to be denied twice by Ferguson.

Every time Crusaders counter-attacked, Linfield’s defence was stretched and had no support. You would have been happy to take a 0-1 scoreline at the break, and get it remedied in the second-half.

However, Linfield would turn out to be disappointed by that score as they finished the half showing more of an attacking threat than they had previously.

Joel Cooper had a shot spilled by Gerard Doherty, who was able to recover with Shayne Lavery sniffing around.

Cooper would then have Linfield’s best chance of the half when the ball fell to him six yards out but he smashed it against the bar. Even though there were a lot of Crusaders bodies in the penalty area, he really should have scored.

Like in other recent matches, the presence of Shayne Lavery in the six yard box at corners had an offputting effect on defenders and goalkeepers. Linfield couldn’t exploit that, usually not beating the first man.

With no opportunities being created in open play, Linfield simply had to make the most of set piece opportunities that came their way.

The highlight of Linfield’s corners came when they got one, everybody was waiting in the penalty area but nobody was going over to take it so the ball just sat by the corner flag.

0-1 at half-time, and probably thankful to still be in the game. There was no need to panic. When Linfield did attack Crusaders, Crusaders looked shaky, they just weren’t attacking them enough. There were goals in this for Linfield, they just needed to step it up.

The lack of urgency was summed up by two minutes of injury time being signalled, but they were seeing out the half instead of pushing for a late equaliser that would change the mood in both Dressing Rooms.

This was summed up by Gerard Doherty having to play the ball outside his penalty area, but nobody putting pressure on him.

Linfield responded at half-time by making two substitutions, with Mark Haughey coming on for Chris Casement and Daniel Kearns coming on for Andrew Waterworth.

It was Haughey’s first appearance since May 2018, and the biggest compliment you can pay is that it looked like he had never been away. I thought it might have taken a few games to ease him back in. Especially when there were four Linfield players on the pitch when he joined the action who he had never played alongside before.

Waterworth had needed treatment during the first-half, so his withdrawal may have been due to injury, but the switch allowed Linfield to revert to 4-2-3-1, which they enjoyed so much success against Crusaders last season.

There was no immediate pressure on Crusaders goal. Joel Cooper had a speculative shot from a wide angle saved by Doherty before Stephen Fallon hit the bar, the ball didn’t come down quick enough for Shayne Lavery to head in, a Crusaders player managing to clear.

With each passing minute, it became obvious that Linfield needed Bastien Hery from the bench.

He is supposed to be getting rested, but unfortunately, Linfield keep needing to get him out there.

It looked like Matthew Clarke was going to equalise when he went for a loose ball in the penalty area, but was denied by Billy Joe Burns at the expense of a corner.

Burns was involved from the resulting corner, conceding a penalty after handling.

When conceding the corner, it looked like Clarke had fouled Burns. Finally, a stroke of luck which went in Linfield’s favour.

When a penalty is awarded, you can sometimes get a sense what the outcome will be. You didn’t get the sense that a goal was incoming when Bastien Hery stepped up.

And so it proved, as Gerard Doherty saved his low effort, at the same end where he saved a penalty from Jordan Stewart last season.

Whenever a penalty is missed, the team who survives the penalty miss is usually galvanised. Unusually, it was Linfield who were galvanised by the penalty miss, the crowd urging them on in search of an equaliser.

They didn’t have long to wait, as Joel Cooper picked up the ball and fired home spectacularly from outside the penalty area to make it 1-1.

Literally just seconds earlier, across Belfast, Cliftonville had gone 1-0 up against Coleraine in the other match between teams in the Top 4.

Midway through the second-half, I had a feeling that Crusaders would tire, and Linfield could capitalise, as they had conceded decisive late goals in their last two matches against Ballymena United and Glentoran.

Linfield fans were immediately thinking of winning the game. Apart from me, I was immediately having flashbacks to the Irish Cup game in February when Linfield conceded a late winner just after scoring a late equaliser.

Both teams had late chances to win it.

Jamie McGonigle had a shot saved by Rohan Ferguson at the expense of a corner, and a corner was awarded. You weren’t too sure, considering the last time a Linfield player denied McGonigle from scoring in injury time, a goal was awarded anyway.

With just 30 seconds left in injury time, Linfield had a free kick out wide. It was set up perfectly for Josh Robinson or Jimmy Callacher to power home a dramatic winner.

Santa would not oblige, as Crusaders cleared the danger to secure a 1-1 draw.

It was a day of mixed emotions for Linfield. Frustration at not being able to pull clear of Crusaders and Coleraine, but relief that Crusaders haven’t pulled closer.

Glentoran have pulled the gap to five points, which will give them encouragement ahead of Boxing Day.

Just like this match, it is don’t lose, but let’s go and win it. No point being in a traffic jam when we can charge ahead, especially with Crusaders and Cliftonville playing each other, and Coleraine facing an in-form Ballymena United.

How very convenient that Ballymena hit form just as they are due to play Coleraine and Glentoran.

This week, it was announced that the County Antrim Shield Final on 21st January will be held at Windsor Park.

Not ideal, as it rules out that date for scheduling in the rearranged home match against Dungannon, even though that would mean two home games against the same opposition in four days. We could still schedule in a trip to Larne for that date.

Handy for me personally though as i’ll be in England that date and won’t miss a home game.

There’s no need to panic regarding the two outstanding games, there’s still plenty of time to slot them in.

Even though it disappointed me from a travelling and groundhopping point of view, the decision not to enter the Scottish Challenge Cup has been totally justified.

Without the nine points acquired against Cliftonville, Dungannon Swifts and Institute, we’d be 5th, seven points off the top with five games to schedule in. Possibly a sixth if we reached the Semi-Final.

Elsewhere, Friday saw the release of the 2020 League Of Ireland fixtures.

It works out well for me, as there’s a full fixture list on the Monday night that i’m in the Dublin Area next June. I’ll have the choice of St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork City or Bohemians v Shelbourne.

First Division fixtures are yet to be announced, so i’m hoping that Bray are at home that night.

I’m toying with the idea of a break in Tallinn over the July Holidays. They play Summer football so I can take in a game, and sneak in a day trip to Helsinki. Will definitely be giving that serious consideration.

More immediately, I probably won’t be going to the Steel and Sons Cup Final on Christmas Day. Of course, good luck to Linfield Swifts.

I can’t sign off without wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Even to Glentoran supporters, but I hope they have shitty Boxing Day.

Dare you ask what I want for Christmas? I’ll give you a clue, i’m happy to wait until April and May 2020 for it.

Would it be rude to ask Santa for a pre-season trip to Stranraer?

Photo Album

2019 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER

November 2019 began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a win over Carrick Rangers.

A few days later, I made my first trip of the season to Old Trafford, to see United beat Partizan Belgrade in the UEFA Cup.

While I was there, I got photos of Street Art in Manchester, and then visit to Rochdale in search of Street Art, after there was a festival held there in August.

The following weekend, I headed to The Brandywell to see Linfield take on Institute. While I was there, I was able to get some photos (from a fence outside) of Institute’s abandoned former stadium, Drumahoe.

Later that day, on my return from the North-West, I took in a second football match, Northern Ireland’s European Championship Qualifier against Holland.

Six days later, I was on the road again, to see Linfield lose 1-0 to Glenavon.

A few days later, I headed to Vilnius in Lithuania for a very short, very cheap and very cold break. Unsurprisingly, I was out snapping with my camera.

On the last day of the month, I got up early and walked up Cavehill, my first time doing so. Later that day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield face Larne.

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Partizan Belgrade

Manchester United v Partizan Belgrade Photo Album

Rochdale Uprising

Rochdale Uprising Photo Album

Drumahoe

Drumahoe Photo Album

Institute v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Holland

Northern Ireland v Holland Photo Album

Glenavon v Linfield

Vilnius

Vilnius Photo Album

Vilnius Street Art

Vilnius Street Art Photo Album

Cavehill

Cavehill Photo Album

Linfield v Larne

2019 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October 2019 began with a trip to Seaview to see Linfield take on Crusaders.

A busy month of concerts began a few days later with a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy.

There was even some Street Art spotted during the month, heading to Stephen Street to see a mural of The Joker and Catwoman

The next day, I was on the road to Dungannon to see Linfield beat Dungannon Swifts 4-1.

From there, it was another concert, a first visit to The Telegraph Building, to see Two Door Cinema Club.

The flipping between football and concerts continued as I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballymena United. The following midweek saw a football/concert double header, seeing Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town, before seeing OMD at Ulster Hall.

October’s photo adventures ended with a trip to see Linfield take on Coleraine, the month beginning and ending for me with a 1-0 defeat.

Crusaders v Linfield

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Joker and Catwoman Mural

Joker and Catwoman Mural Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building

Two Door Cinema Club live at The Telegraph Building Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

OMD live at Ulster Hall

OMD live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

2019 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

My first photo adventure of September 2019 was a trip to Solitude to see Linfield get a 1-0 win on their return to domestic competition after their European adventures the previous month.

That was then followed by a Windsor Park double header, taking in Northern Ireland v Germany and Linfield v Glentoran.

The day after that match saw me have an adventure, taking in some Street Art in Belfast, and Edwyn Collins doing an instore gig at Strange Victory.

My next adventure came the following Friday with Culture Night.

It was then two football matches, seeing Linfield get wins over Carrick Rangers and Glenavon.

The month ended with a trip to Yorkgate to check out a new mural.

Cliftonville v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Linfield v Glentoran

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfast Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Ulster Sports Club Street Art

Ulster Sports Club Street Art Photo Album

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory

Edwyn Collins live at Strange Victory Photo Album

Culture Night

Culture Night Photo Album

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Yorkgate Street Art

Yorkgate Street Art Photo Album