LINFIELD 0-0 DUNGANNON SWIFTS 10.2.2018

You ever have a feeling when you watch a football match and you know early on that it is going to finish 0-0? This was one of those games.

Before the match, there was a presentation made to Jamie Mulgrew in recognition of him making his 500th appearance for Linfield, against Warrenpoint Town on Tuesday, making him just the 513 appearances behind Noel Bailie.

Match number 501 would end prematurely, and wouldn’t be one that would be stored in the memory bank.

In the opening minutes of the game, Dungannon were unable to get out of their own half. Unfortunately for Linfield, Dungannon weren’t really pinned into their own penalty area.

The best that Linfield could offer during this period was a speculative long range shot from Mark Stafford, which had to be palmed around the post by Dungannon keeper Stuart Addis.

It was blatantly obvious that this was a game that Linfield needed an early goal, or this was going to be a long afternoon. They didn’t get it, and it turned out to be a long afternoon.

They didn’t help themselves by getting offside at nearly every attack, Jordan Stewart being a serial offender.

There were goals in this game for Linfield as Dungannon’s defence looked shaky when they had possession. The problem was, Linfield weren’t getting the bodies forward. This was typified by a Louis Rooney cross that was asking to be finished, but nobody was on the end of it.

A Dungannon break saw Jarlath O’Rourke hit the bar after being teed up. Throughout the attack, Dungannon players always looked as though they were one step ahead of Linfield’s players.

A few minutes later, Jimmy Callacher lost possession to Daniel Hughes, who was too wide to shoot directly, so tried a chip which was saved by Gareth Deane, before Jamie Mulgrew cleared the danger.

It wasn’t the first time that Callacher lost possession when on the ball. In fact, Linfield’s defence looked every bit as shaky as Dungannon’s when they were in possession of the ball.

Niall Quinn had a free-kick saved in Linfield’s only attack of note of the half.

It was a half that saw Jordan Stewart leave the pitch later than the other 21 players, as he received treatment for an injury following the tackle. The fact he took his top off as he headed down the tunnel was a massive clue that he wouldn’t be making an appearance in the second-half. That, and the fact that Kurtis Byrne spent the interval getting warmed up.

That was the change that happened at half-time.

Byrne had a low shot turned around for a corner. Linfield had numerous corners in the second-half. Every single one of them was headed clear by David Armstrong. Unchallenged.

It looked like Louis Rooney got in behind Dungannon’s defence and had to options, to shoot or cross, either would have brought a goal. He did neither dragging the ball across goal out for a goal kick.

Rooney was then replaced, making way for Achille Campion, who got past a defender and shot straight at the keeper when a pass to Kurtis Byrne looked the best option.

A ball in behind Dungannon’s defence looked to have set up Andrew Waterworth, but he fired at Addis from close range, when a glancing header over the keeper would have brought a goal.

It was then time for a third substitution, Stephen Fallon. It wasn’t the obvious decision of Kirk Millar making way, but the hobbling Jamie Mulgrew.

Fallon almost accidentally set up a winner when his tackle was almost instinctively headed home by Mark Stafford, but it went just wide. You just knew it was going to be one of those days.

It almost got worse for Linfield when debutant Joe Crowe had to make a block when it looked like Dungannon were going to score. The move came about after possession was cheaply given away by two different defenders in the final third.

And that was that, the first time this season that Linfield failed to score in the League this season. They never looked like scoring. There was no urgency or drive, summed up by a bout of sideways passing three minutes into four minutes of injury time.

The truth was, Dungannon’s chances, not as many as Linfield, were better chances. Linfield had to do more to stop Dungannon scoring than Dungannon had to do to stop Linfield scoring.

With Glenavon drawing, this was a missed opportunity to catch up ground on them, especially as they will be inactive next weekend.

The only positive was that Linfield kept their first clean sheet in four League matches.

Elsewhere, Ballymena beat Cliftonville in the long awaited League Cup Semi-Final, meaning that Linfield will definitely have a match next weekend. I can’t contain my excitement after today’s display.

So, Linfield fans will have to take time out during the working week if they want to go to Solitude.

This could have all been avoided if the NIFL had arranged the Cliftonville v Ballymena Semi-Final for either week commencing 8th January or week commencing 29th January, giving the club more time to arrange selling tickets.

It’s a lot of effort to go to just to watch a 0-0 draw. Sorry, i’m just being cynical and negative about this game, but it does have 0-0 written all over it.

It’s a game we need to win, not just for our League position. It’s not about laying down a marker for the Irish Cup tie on March 3rd. We can’t just turn it off and on and save ourselves for the Irish Cup. We need to start building momentum in all games.

We’ve barely turned it on all season, whatever “it” is.

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LINFIELD 2-3 GLENAVON 20.1.2018

With Coleraine and Crusaders going head to head, Linfield and Glenavon faced each other at Windsor Park knowing that a win could give them the opportunity to keep their faltering title challenges just about alive.

It was Linfield who made the perfect start to the game. Kurtis Byrne looked like he was going to get in behind Glenavon’s defence but was denied by an interception. It would only be a temporary reprieved for Glenavon as the resulting corner was punched away by Jonathan Tuffey, only as far as Byrne, who returned the ball into the box, and it went straight back into the back of the net.

It looked like a speculative effort rather than a shot, but it didn’t matter, Linfield were 1-0 up. It also meant goals in successive games for Byrne. It was the third game I had seen Byrne play in, and the third time I had seen him score. In the two previous games, the team he was playing for went on and won. So, time to put the feet up then.

Well, not quite. Glenavon responded, and were level after six minutes whenever Simon Kelly headed home from a corner. Linfield players were appealing for a foul on Roy Carroll. They can ask questions about a foul all they want, but questions have to asked of them as to why Carroll wasn’t protected by them, and why he was allowed to head the ball unchallenged.

All the good work of the opening minute was undone, and we were back to square one.

Roy Carroll was injured in that incident. What is it with Linfield Goalkeepers and Glenavon?

Mark Haughey must have been stood there thinking to himself “Oh for fuck sake, not again”.

You’ve guessed it, no sub keeper on the bench again. Why do we leave ourselves vulnerable like this? Especially when Roy Carroll has had various injury scares during matches this season. We’re allowed to have five substitutes, we should be utilising all of those to make sure all areas of the pitch are covered.

Thankfully, Carroll was able to continue, and was protected by his defence, although Josh Robinson gave him a dodgy backpass when passing to Mark Haughey was the glaringly obvious option.

If Carroll was being (mostly) protected, Jonathan Tuffey was untroubled at the other end due to a combination of poor passing and poor set pieces, the most bizarre of which was one to Jimmy Callacher in the Left Midfield position which went out for a throw.

Linfield finished the first-half strongly but couldn’t get back in front.

Elsewhere, Crusaders were 2-0 up away to Coleraine. Due to the amount of injury time at the end of the first-half, Linfield v Glenavon would be kicking off a bit later than the other games.

By the time the teams re-entered the pitch for the second-half, Coleraine would have already pulled their game back to 2-1. Linfield were hoping to get an early second-half goal as well. However, that is what Glenavon would do.

A cross came in from the right which was bundled home by Andrew Mitchell, the Glenavon one rather than the Linfield one, who was on the bench.

I was at the other end and was wondering what on earth happened. It got worse when you saw the TV replays, as Josh Robinson set him up by standing on the ball.

Have we conceded a decent goal all season? Every goal we’ve conceded this season has been farcical. If we bring out a Season Review DVD, it should be presented by Danny Baker.

One that goal went in, there was a grim inevitability about where the three points would be going.

There was no direct response from Linfield, or even a delayed response. Once it went to 2-1, there was never a period in the game when Glenavon had their backs to the wall. There was never a moment when you thought that a Linfield goal was only seconds away.

Andrew Waterworth came off the bench for Ryan Strain. Strain was hobbling at the time, but it was a substitution that needed to be made, injury or no injury.

In fact, it was Glenavon who were more likely to score the next goal, Stephen Murray being denied by Roy Carroll when put through on goal.

Glenavon’s likliness to score was aided by more shoddy defending from Linfield. They’re simply not doing the basics right. You can’t blame disruption or unfamiliarity when you consider it was three of last season’s back four, the only change being a player who has won two Irish League medals in the previous three seasons, and spent last season playing professionally in England.

They weren’t even clearing the ball properly, inviting more attacks onto them when they should be starting the attacks for Linfield.

Jordan Stewart and Stephen Fallon were introduced from the bench for Kurtis Byrne and Robert Garrett. Achille Campion rather than Kurtis Byrne looked the more obvious player to leave the pitch as Byrne had the more goal threat of the two.

With ten minute to go, Glenavon made it 3-1 with yet another farcical goal from a Linfield point of view, as Josh Robinson fell over having been beaten on the touchline, giving Stephen Murray the space to cross for Marc Griffin to score.

You don’t want to single players out, but that’s two goals where Josh Robinson’s contribution was questionable. It wasn’t just the Glenavon goals where his contribution was questionable. His passes usually went astray. He wasn’t the only one in a blue shirt.

The three points were now heading to Lurgan, and nobody could say they didn’t deserve it.

In fact, Glenavon were still the most likely team to score at 3-1 just as it was at 2-1, with Roy Carroll having to save from a Bobby Burns volley.

Glenavon were showing the type of attacking urgency and creativity that Linfield were so badly lacking.

Those who stayed until the end had to endure five minutes of stoppage time, we not quite bad enough yet for officials to take pity of us and only play one or two minutes.

As the clock hit ninety-five minutes, Andrew Waterworth made it 3-2 to muted celebrations in the stands and on the pitch. Nobody believed that it was going to be the start of a comeback, even allowing for Glenavon’s reputation for silliness in recent seasons.

This result was made even worse by the score from Coleraine, where Coleraine and Crusaders drew 3-3. If Linfield had won, they would have been level on points with Glenavon. More importantly, we would have known that winning our games in hand would have put us only nine points off the top, the margin we came back from in February last year. It could have given us that glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.

Even worse, we’re now 5th behind Cliftonville, who are awful, backed up by a record of eight points in twelve matches against Top Six opponents. That’s embarrassing. Our record, if you care, is a slightly better but still awful twelve points from eleven matches. Even more embarrassing, is the fact we have lost the same amount of matches as Glentoran. That is not the company we want to be keeping in the table.

Glenavon fans and players know that if they win their games in hand, they are only six points off the top and have to play the top two twice, and have a decent goal difference that can be overturned in their favour in the run-in. They’re fancying this. They’re not out of the title race.

If we’ve given up on the title prior to this game, that is unforgivable.

It’s pretty damming that Coleraine have won only one of their last four matches, and still extended their lead over us in that time.

You can cut and paste from any game over the past two months. Even worse when you see a recurring theme of throwing away leads. Eleven points thrown away from winning positions in the last five weeks. We’d be looking to win our games in hand to go joint top with those points.

The last two home League matches, early leads not built on. Last season, we had goal flurrys and killed off opponents before they had a chance to get their bearings.

Add in the Ballymena game in November, there’s nine points thrown away from being 1-0 up inside the first ten minutes.

It’s clear we are missing Jamie Mulgrew and Paul Smyth, but there is no point having them on the pitch when defenders are not marking opponents, standing on the ball or falling over.

There are also problems at the other end of the field as well due to a lack of creativity. It’s a strange thing to say about a team that has scored in every League match this season. The problem is, we are having to score a lot of goals in order to win matches. That shouldn’t be the case.

We may be missing Mulgrew and Smyth, but we made signings in the summer designed to have a squad to cater for injuries and suspensions. Players aren’t coming in and stepping up when they come into the team.

Mark Haughey, Sean Ward and Ross Gaynor stepped up and had to change position during that infamous game at Mourneview Park in November 2016. Cameron Stewart stepped up when Aaron Burns and Paul Smyth were injured. Chris Casement stepped up when Mark Stafford was injured during the run-in. Alex Moore and Gareth Deane stepped up when Roy Carroll was unavailable.

There are very few examples this season of a player coming into the team and making the place their own.

Up next, are trips to Ballymena and Coleraine, weather permitting.

That Coleraine match is on Tuesday week. Never mind the bad results on the pitch, this has been a crap season for away trips with ten (Ards, Crusaders, Warrenpoint, Ballymena, Glenavon, Carrick Coleraine, Warrenpoint, Cliftonville and Ballinamallard) taking place on a weeknight. We’ll come to the last three of those later on.

This week, saw the second postponement of the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals. This has a knock-on effect for Linfield as we are scheduled to be away to Cliftonville on the weekend the Final is scheduled for.

If Cliftonville do win their Semi-Final, that match will need to be rescheduled for a later date.

Glenavon are scheduled to be away to Crusaders that weekend, but they will be inactive in League terms regardless of the Dungannon v Crusaders result as Crusaders are scheduled to be away to Inverness in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Yep, you read that right.

The NIFL Cup Final is scheduled on the same weekend as the Scottish Cup Challenge Semi-Finals. There were two clubs who could have been affected by this, and we’re 90 minutes away from a shitstorm.

Crusaders fans who have booked travel and accommodation will have every right to be fuming if their game against Inverness is postponed.

If it was postponed because of the weather, that would be unfortunate, it’s an occupational hazard of being a football fan. Matches being postponed due to scheduling incompetence is another matter.

I’ve been highlighting this a lot this season. There’s a potential shitstorm brewing. Watch this space.

The other Semi-Final between Ballymena and Cliftonville is scheduled for 6th February, meaning that Linfield’s trip to Solitude will only be confirmed ten days before the match. You’d like to think provisional plans are being put in place for ticketing for a 16th February game.

If it is Cliftonville who reach the Final, hopefully, we can make the most of a free weekend by bringing forward our rearranged home match against Glenavon.

Last week, Linfield should have been away to Warrenpoint, a match that was postponed at 1.30pm for a 3pm kick-off. I’ve no issue with the match being postponed, but it was the way it was postponed.

Nobody wants to see matches postponed, and you don’t want to postpone a match too early, but is clear from the tone of the Tweets on Warrenpoint’s Twitter page that the match was unlikely to go ahead.

Sitting in Applegreen refreshing Twitter in order to find out if a match is on isn’t acceptable, and I wasn’t the only one there doing that. On the plus side, my lunch was nice.

We all have our different matchday arrangements and I was lucky that I could turn around at Lisburn. Others would have been further ahead. Having a postponement so late simply isn’t good enough.

The away trip to Ballinamallard in March has been brought forward to the Friday night. Even though there is two and a half months notice, this isn’t good enough, and for different reasons.

The reason for this is because Northern Ireland have arranged a home friendly against South Korea on Saturday 24th March at 2pm. I’ve no issue with this friendly, i’m actually looking forward to it. My issue with, is that domestic football has been shunted to accommodate it.

It is shabby, rude and disrespectful to the clubs. The worst part was, the rearrangements weren’t part of the announcement of the game, but made a few hours later.

I get why this game is a 2pm kick-off, for South Korean TV, but were clubs given an option when to play their match.

Some clubs might have preferred to play a Saturday evening game to allow fans the opportunity to go to two matches in one day. Some clubs might have preferred to play on Sunday afternoon.

We’re always getting told about how clubs have to be innovative with matchday arrangements, but here we are going with the same old Friday night.

Or even better, could Northern Ireland not have played on the Sunday afternoon instead?

Talking of Northern Ireland, this Wednesday will see the draw for the UEFA Nations League, and Northern Ireland will play one of Austria, Wales, Russia or Slovakia and then one of Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland.

Anyone but Republic of Ireland please. Wales away on a Monday or Tuesday in October would be great.

Meanwhile, North Korea and South Korea are sending a joint team to the Winter Olympics. Just watch the “WE NEED ONE TEAM!!!” brigade suddenly becoming experts in Winter Sports. Keep dreaming, it ain’t happening.

On Monday night previously, Linfield had a behind closed door 6-3 friendly win over Sligo Rovers at The Dub. I wouldn’t have minded going as it is a ground i’ve never seen a match at. Even when we get a convincing win, we manage to concede 3 goals.

On Saturday morning, I did a tour of Windsor Park, which was nice, getting to see behind the scenes. It was announced this week that Windsor Park will bid to host the European Super Cup Final in 2020.

It would be amazing if this happened.

There is one slight problem. Part of the criteria is for stadiums to be smoke free. It will be a right laugh when Bid Inspectors visit Windsor Park and see a dedicated and signposted smoking area.

When the stadium was being designed, someone looked at the plans and thought “You know what, we’re not really catering for smokers here”. Seriously, fucking hell.

If we miss out again, we know who we can blame. If it doesn’t win, I hope Nice wins. Give me an excuse to go back. Loved the city when I visited for Euro 2016. Will be roasting in early August though.

The bad news for Kurtis Byrne is that I won’t be going to the Linfield match next weekend as i’m in London for a short break. I’ll be hoping to take in a game on the Saturday when i’m there. The choices are : Millwall v Rochdale, Brentford v Norwich City, Bormley v Halifax and Leyton Orient v Aldershot Town.

I’m leaning towards the Millwall match as it is only £15.

I’ll end with some good news. When I went to see United take on Bournemouth, my flight home was delayed by three hours. The compensation I got meant that the trip was essentially a freebie.

It would be nice if Linfield could stop giving out freebies.

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LINFIELD 1-2 CRUSADERS 30.12.2017

After defeat at The Oval on Boxing Day, David Healy said that Linfield were out of the title race. Wether he actually believed that though, is another matter.

They might have kicked off fifteen points behind morning leaders Coleraine, but with two games in hand, that gap could be reduced to nine points, the gap that Linfield clawed back from February onwards last season. Obviously, points in the bag are better to have than games in hand.

However, defeat at home to Crusaders would surely have put them out of the title race, and they would have to believe it.

It seems to be a tradition in recent years that Linfield and Crusaders meet after Boxing Day, this being the fourth successive season that the two sides have met on New Year’s Day or the last Saturday in December.

Linfield fans will have had fond memories of the last time they faced Crusaders after a Boxing Day defeat at The Oval, a 5-0 win at Windsor Park on 29th December 2007. A repeat scoreline would have been wishful thinking.

As I arrived at Windsor Park, Disappear by INXS was on the stereo. I’m not sure if that song was in relation to Linfield’s title fans, as they looked to Baby Don’t Cry over a team that has continued to Mystify this season.

They were hoping that Ryan Strain being brought into the team would be a New Sensation.

Results against Crusaders this season have been disappointing so far. That would be an understatement. Two games where we surrendered to them by playing 4-5-1, and then a third decided by a horrendous refereeing decision to send off Mark Stafford for being fouled when the game was in the balance.

Those games have seen Linfield gift goals to the opposition.

Linfield made a positive start to this game and were straight on the attack, winning a free-kick which was headed home by Josh Robinson just as sixty seconds appeared on the clock. It was the perfect start, and the first time this season that Linfield had led against Crusaders.

Linfield continued the positive start, Stephen Fallon having a shot saved after Sean O’Neill rushed out to deny Ryan Strain. There were groans that he didn’t get height on it, he really needed to in order to scored. The problem was, getting the right amount of height, so he gambled and hit it low. It didn’t pay off.

Strain and Fallon were getting a lot of joy against Crusaders defence, as was Matthew Clarke. The start was similar to the County Antrim Shield Final. Except, that Linfield couldn’t get a second goal when they were on top.

Crusaders then had chances. Jordan Owens hit the bar from a header after a soft free-kick given for a foul on Paul Heatley. For a player renowned for going down at the slightest touch, Linfield players were giving him too many excuses to go down, and the officials were buying it.

In the opening minutes, it appeared that someone had given Arnold Hunter a rulebook for Christmas as he was actually awarding free-kicks and punishing Crusaders tactical fouling.

He might have had a rulebook, but it appeared he didn’t get a yellow card for Christmas.

That was until midway through the half when his yellow card appeared frequently but his rule book seemed to disappear.

Well, not for Howard Beverland, who seemed to be able to foul without consequence throughout the first-half.

A big second-half performance was needed from Linfield, but they couldn’t get the early goal like last week against Cliftonville.

Just before the hour, Crusaders equalised when Billy Joe Burns fired home from long range. As good as the goal will look on TV, questions have to be asked of Linfield’s defending.

It came from a clearance from Matthew Clarke clearing it inside across the pitch rather than the way he was playing.

It’s literally schoolboy stuff, the first thing you learn when learning to play football.

Yes, Matthew Clarke was under pressure, but he had options. He could have won a cheap foul or gone safety first and just conceded a throw.

By clearing the ball across the pitch, he put his own team under pressure that they didn’t need to be under. Even so, questions have to be asked why Billy Joe Burns was allowed so much freedom to run with the ball, especially when it was so glaringly obvious what he was going to do.

Even more worrying, was the body language of the Linfield players after the goal. They looked like they didn’t believe they could go 2-1 in front, they looked like a beaten team when the score was 1-1.

David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Robert Garrett and Ross Clarke for Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon. I’m not sure if Jordan Stewart is injured, but if he’s not, he should be in the matchday squad.

He had an awful game on his last appearance against Warrenpoint, and no player should be an automatic selection, but surely he should be on the bench. Boxing Day and today were crying out for him when the score was 1-1.

Crusaders then hit the bar twice, albeit the top of it. They were getting too close for Linfield’s liking.

On 80 minutes, came a goal that summed up Linfield’s season, as a long ball was allowed to bounce, Robert Garrett and Josh Robinson tackled each other, before Garrett stands on the ball when trying to win it back, while Robinson backs off Gavin Whyte, allowing him to shoot into the bottom corner via a deflection.

If you are Alan Hansen, this is porn for you.

We’re not even losing to good goals. We’re losing to the absolute worst in Pub League goals.

You don’t to single players out but that’s the second goal this week we’ve conceded that you look at Robert Garrett and think “Hmmmmm”. He’s not the worst offender this season or in recent weeks. Josh Robinson’s contribution in this goal is also questionable.

Worst thing was, it was game over. You just looked at the players and they believed it was game over. It was like the worst games between 2008 and 2010, when Linfield went three years without winning a League game from behind. It was like the worst games in David Jeffrey’s final years, when we used to bend over for Cliftonville for fun. Not our fun, might I add.

Cameron Stewart came on for Ryan Strain. It was a substitution that had seemed obvious for about ten minutes before. It should have been proactive rather than reactive.

Colin Coates did have to head over on his own goal line when it looked like Andrew Waterworth was going to head home. It was the only thing that Linfield could offer rather than being the start of the siege.

There was nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck for Linfield, nobody looking like they were going to make something happen, to offer something different.

Crusaders were able to see out the final ten minutes, aided by Sean O’Neill timewasting at goal kicks, the referee being too stupid to do anything about it. Naturally, the time wasn’t added on at the end of the game.

Linfield players looked too defeated to protest. I’m not sure how many times i have to mention it, but the players should be making an issue of it, putting teams under pressure when taking their own throws and goal kicks, getting players on yellow card tightropes, to have it in the referee’s head that the appropriate amount of injury time needs to be added when Linfield need a goal.

We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams, because opposition teams aren’t slow in raising it if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

Yes, Linfield are missing Paul Smyth, but there’s no point in having Paul Smyth when you concede the goals we concede. Basic stuff. Do they even practice defending at training?

Jay Donnelly not being tracked, Jamie McGonigle being allowed a free run in the last minute, Curtis Allen allowed to roam the penalty area unmarked, take your pick from the Crusaders match in October, take your pick from the Warrenpoint game a few weeks back.

Teams don’t have to do a lot in order to score against us.

It seems to be a perfect storm, as the goals aren’t going in at the other end, which seems to be a strange thing to say about the only team in the League to have scored in every game this season.

We’re not killing teams off when we’re in front, and not seeing the game out when we need to.

We have options up front, but nobody seems to be making the most of the opportunity when they get a game or a run of games.

Brandon Adams has been scoring for fun in the Reserves but has been anonymous when he’s made a first team appearance. Louis Rooney needs a goal but hasn’t looked like getting one.

We’ve conceded last minute winners to Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran. They were all games we never looked like losing. Even those three points could give us a glimmer of hope.

We’ve thrown away leads against Cliftonville, Ballymena, Glentoran and Crusaders. We led at half-time in three of those games (the other was a late first-half goal) and never looked like losing when we went in at half-time in any of those games.

We wouldn’t be top with those twelve points, but we’d be in a far better position.

Where has all the self-belief gone? Where has the concentration in the final minutes of games gone? All the bad habits from David Jeffrey’s final years have returned. Why are we not turning up in big games?

For the second successive matchday, Coleraine have dropped points and we haven’t taken advantage. Now we’re eying up Glenavon instead, hoping to finish 3rd to possibly secure European Football.

We can’t let heads go down and for the season just to drift. If Cliftonville in 2014 were our reference point last season, Cliftonville in 2015 have to be our reference point for how not to do things, they let the season drift once the title had gone, finishing 5th and have never recovered.

Up next, is a trip to Coleraine on Monday afternoon (Or, New Year’s Day, if you prefer), starting 2018 at the venue of my favourite football match in 2017 (The one in April, not October, in case you hadn’t worked it out)

Before the match, I purchased the addendum to Every Other Saturday, to include last season’s three trophies.

I’d held off purchasing it in case Santa got it for me. He didn’t.

I’m hoping the players got a copy and read it on the long journey to Coleraine. They could do with the inspiration, and a reminder that they are a far better team than results and league position suggests.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …)

Here we are, the final photo round-up of 2017, looking back at my adventures in December. Well, December so far.

December began with a trip to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

That was followed by a trip to Ulster Hall to see The Divine Comedy in concert.

I was hoping to follow that with a trip to Carrick to see Linfield play Carrick Rangers, but that was postponed due to snow.

I decided to make the most of a football free Saturday, by going out and getting pictures of the snow in Belfast.

There was one final concert for 2017, as I headed to The Limelight to see The Charlatans.

The following day, I flew to Manchester, to see United take on Bournemouth primarily, but I also managed to squeeze in some Street Art photos from Manchester and Salford Quays.

Upon my return, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield play Warrenpoint Town and draw 3-3.

The following Saturday, it was another visit to Windsor Park to see Linfield beat Cliftonville 2-0.

There’s still eight days left in December, i’ll be at The Oval on Boxing Day, and then back to Windsor Park next Saturday for more photo adventures.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series looking back at 2017 In Pictures. I’m already looking forward to see what 2018 will bring in terms of photo adventures.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall

The Divine Comedy live at Ulster Hall Photo Album

Belfast Snow December 2017

Snow – Friday 8th December Photo Album

Snow – Saturday 9th December Photo Album

Snow – Sunday 10th December Photo Album

The Charlatans live at The Limelight

The Charlatans live at The Limelight Photo Album

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

LINFIELD 2-0 CLIFTONVILLE 23.12.2017

Regardless of Coleraine and Crusaders results on Friday night, this was always going to be a must-win game for Linfield and Cliftonville. Both had hoped that they would be aiming to capitalise on dropped points by one or both. The reality that they woke up to on Saturday morning was that they were needing to win just to keep in touch after Crusaders beat Ballymena and Coleraine beat Warrenpoint.

Three points seperated these teams in Cliftonville’s favour at kick-off. Despite that, the two clubs had near similar records with the same amount of goals conceded but Linfield with one goal more scored. That meant that a win by any score would see Linfield leapfrog Cliftonville in the table.

The two clubs had one unwanted similarity this season, their records against fellow Top 5 teams.

5th at kick-off, Linfield were the highest ranked team that Cliftonville had beaten this season. They might have arrived at Windsor Park on a run of seven wins in a row and eleven wins out of the last twelve, but the run was perhaps deceptive.

Impressive you might think, but that run includes games against Carrick (x2), Warrenpoint (x2), Glentoran (x2), Dungannon Swifts, Ballinamallard, Ards and Ballymena. To be honest, you would expect them to be on that sort of run with that fixture list.

There were four changes to Linfield’s starting eleven after last week’s draw with Warrenpoint, with Robert Garrett, Josh Robinson, Cameron Stewart, Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Fallon coming in for Chris Casement, Andrew Mitchell, Stephen Lowry, Jordan Stewart and Kirk Millar.

None of the players who were left out could really complain.

Cliftonville made a good start to the game, Linfield weren’t really at it. Inside the first couple of minutes, a Cliftonville corner was cleared, with the resulting play seeing Levi Ives play a through ball to Rory Donnelly, whose shot when clean through was easily saved by Roy Carroll. It was far too easy for Cliftonville.

That would turn out to be the only moment of worry for Linfield fans in the first-half. Cliftonville’s only main attacking moment of note came when Rory Donnelly was played into a good shooting position but sliced wide when the obvious thing to do was to shoot across Carroll.

Linfield couldn’t get the ball. Anytime they got a free-kick, Cliftonville wouldn’t give them the ball to restart the game. They knew what they were doing, they were trying to get a reaction from Linfield players, Robert Garrett getting needlessly involved.

Linfield players weren’t buying it, but they were worryingly browsing at the shop window.

Eventually, Linfield were able to get more of the ball and had their first attacking moment when a corner from Niall Quinn bounced over. If it hit the woodwork or the ground, Josh Robinson would have been in prime position to score into an empty net.

Another promising attack saw Niall Quinn cross for Andrew Waterworth. Waterworth couldn’t quite get into himself into a shooting position, ending up getting tackled, but the ball fell perfectly for Stephen Fallon, who fired home.

You could say that it was a lucky goal, but you make your own luck, and Fallon did that by being in the right place. Far too many times this season, the ball has fallen to an opposition player. This time, it fell to a Linfield player.

Suddenly, Cliftonville were looking shaky, struggling to cope with Cameron Stewart. The game had turned in Linfield’s favour.

Soon after, Robert Garrett got himself booked. Cliftonville players were now targeting him, trying to get a reaction from him and a second yellow card. It hard worked before for them, in February 2014.

Garrett has been sent-off four times as a Linfield player – 2008 (Glentoran), 2011 (Glenavon), 2014 (Cliftonville) and 2017 (Ballymena)

Logically, it would seem that he’s not due a red card until 2020, so he has two years, one week and two days left to kick all round him.

In all seriousness, as the half-time whistle blew, Linfield fans were expecting to see Stephen Lowry introduced from the bench in place of Robert Garrett. As the teams entered the field for the second-half, that would prove not to be the case.

It was a second-half that Linfield would start strongly, attacking Cliftonville and testing their defence. Cameron Stewart was able to get in behind them but his cross was blocked.

It came was no surprise when Linfield made it 2-0 on 56 minutes. The start of the move may have been though.

An inswinging Cliftonville free-kick was caught by Roy Carroll, who threw it to Niall Quinn, who cut inside his man, played it to Jamie Mulgrew, who played in Andrew Waterworth, who made it 2-0, off the post.

As Waterworth ran through on goal, there was only going to be one outcome. Hoever, as the strike was hit, from where I was sat, it looked like it was going agonisingly wide. Thankfully not.

Returning from injury, it was business as usual for Mulgrew. That included being fouled, making up for lost time as he looks to win the award of most fouled player for the umpteenth time in succession.

It was noticeable during the first-half that when Roy Carroll caught a cross or set piece, he was looking to release the ball straight away for a counter attack, barking at his team-mates for not being on his wavelength. His willingness to launch a counter attack was rewarded.

Not long after that, Stephen Lowry came on for Robert Garrett. David Healy had gambled on keeping Robert Garrett on until Linfield increased their lead. It was a gamble that paid off.

Stephen Fallon blasted over from a similar position that he scored from as Linfield tried to make it 3-0.

Cliftonville’s response was to take off Joe Gormley and replace him with Daniel Hughes, to ironic cheers from the home support.

A surprising substitution to some. If you’re chasing the game, you’d rather have Joe Gormley on the pitch, no matter how bad he was playing.

It didn’t matter who was on the pitch, as Cliftonville never looked like scoring, though Daniel Hughes did force Roy Carroll into a save from outside the box, that was as good as it got for Cliftonville.

Stephen Fallon was replaced by Kirk Millar for the final minutes. Nobody has really claimed right midfield this season since Paul Smyth, the vacancy is there. Fallon has given himself an excellent opportunity of making it his over the past two Saturdays.

Kirk Millar would be facing a Cliftonville side that by now had lost their discipline, falling for the type of tricks that they were trying to pull on Linfield players in the first-half.

Brian Neeson barged into Louis Rooney after a challenge. The ball was still in play and the game was still live. It should have been a penalty. Cliftonville were rattled and frustrated, and Linfield players and fans knew it.

A much needed win for Linfield, that sees them jump above Cliftonville into 4th, both those sides below Glenavon, who beat Dungannon.

This was Cliftonville’s first defeat in seven games. Ending runs but not really going on one of their own has been a Linfield trademark this season. They had previously ended Coleraine’s unbeaten start and Glenavon’s unbeaten home record.

The challenge that is next, is ending Glentoran’s one match unbeaten run, Crusaders unbeaten recent run (Sorry Cliftonville, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day) and Coleraine’s unbeaten home record (Sorry Ballymena, but you’re not winning on Boxing Day)

There is also Linfield Swifts on Christmas Day against Newington in Steel and Sons Cup Final, so hopefully they can win the trophy for the second successive year. I’m not going, but if you are, enjoy yourself.

Curiously, last year was the last time the trophy was used and a new replica will be used in the future. It would be a nice curiousity if Linfield Swifts were to be the last and first winners of each trophy.

I forgot to mention last week, that Easyjet have announced routes to Valencia and Naples from Belfast. I think they will only be seasonal and only on a couple of days a week, so that put an end of my dreaming of a football weekend.

Closer to home, this week saw the announcement of the 2018 League Of Ireland fixture list.

The date I was looking out for was Friday 13th July, as i’ll be off for the July Holidays. I might book an overnight to Dublin that day, and take in a football match while doing touristy stuff.

The matches on in Dublin I will have to choose from if I go down that day will be Bohemians v Sligo Rovers or Shelbourne v Drogheda United.

Also, a full fixture list on Monday 12th March with Wateford at home interests me as I have to use excess carry-over Annual Leave by the end of March and I do want to see Waterford Walls.

Back to Linfield, and dates for the two outstanding League matches were announced this week, with a trip to Carrick on Tuesday 9th January and a home match against Glenavon on Tuesday 27th February.

That trip to Carrick is concerning, as it is added to an already packed fixture list, making it six games in seventeen days. Expect to see a lot of changes for the Irish Cup tie against Glebe.

Tuesday 16th January is the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals, why not play that night? Can’t say anything about the competition wanting sole billing as there’s a full fixture list on the weekened of the Final. Or even just play it on the Wednesday?

Tuesday 23rd January is the County Antrim Shield Final. Can’t say anything about that competition wanting sole billing as Cliftonville played Carrick Rangers on the night of the Final in 2016.

I just think we’re not helping ourselves by agreeing to that date.

However, we can flip it around to our advantage. If we win the next three games, we’ll probably be desperate to play Carrick on January 2nd, and use it as an opportunity to get some points on the board after a productive Christmas. Hopefully.

So, I sign off by wishing you a Merry Christmas, except if you support Newington, Glentoran, Crusaders or Coleraine. May you have an awful 25th December, 26th December, 30th December or 1st January, whichever is applicable.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

In the first week of October 2017, I headed to Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier.

That was sandwiched inbetween me going out around Belfast to check out Street Art which was painted as part of Hit The North, these pieces were still works in progress when I went to photograph them in September

The following day, I went to my one Rugby match a year, as Ulster beat Wasps in the European Cup.

It was back to football the following day, seeing Linfield take on Coleraine.

There was a glut of concerts towards the end of the month, going to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, OMD and Liam Gallagher, with Linfield’s matches against Ards and Crusaders sandwiched inbetween.

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Hit The North Mop-Up

Hit The North Mop-Up Photo Album

Ulster v Wasps

Ulster v Wasps Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at The Limelight

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders

OMD live at Mandela Hall

OMD live at Mandela Hall Photo Album

Linfield v Ards

Liam Gallagher live at The Odyssey

Liam Gallagher live at The Odyssey Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – SEPTEMBER

September 2017 began with a road trip, and a long one at that, to Edinburgh, to see Linfield take on Spartans in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Two days later, it was another football match with an international feel, an actual international, as Northern Ireland took on Czech Republic at Windsor Park.

The following weekend was busy, taking in Ryan Adams at Ulster Hall and then Linfield’s match against Glentoran.

There was more football to follow, taking in Linfield’s matches against Crusaders and Ballinamallard.

The following weekend was football free but not photo free, as I was out capturing Culture Night, and Street Art painted as part of Hit The North.

The month ended with a trip to Solitude to see Linfield take on Cliftonville. The less said about which, the better.

Spartans v Linfield

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Photo Album

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Ryan Adams live at Ulster Hall

Linfield v Glentoran

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Culture Night 2017

Culture Night 2017 Photo Album

Hit The North 2017

Hit The North 2017 Photo Album

Cliftonville v Linfield

LINFIELD 3-3 WARRENPOINT TOWN 16.12.2017

The last time Linfield met Warrenpoint Town was in September. Linfield won 4-1 and went to the top of the League. The following day, they were knocked off the top by Coleraine, who have stayed their since. Linfield haven’t been close to toppling Coleraine since.

Three months on, Warrenpoint came to Windsor Park in a must-win game for Linfield, especially as two of the sides above them faced each other. With guaranteed point droppage above them, Linfield had to take advantage if they wanted to have serious ambitions of winning a second successive title.

It was Warrenpoint who had the first chance of the game from the break down the right was fired over from close range. It was a warning that Linfield didn’t heed.

Linfield were slow and sluggish, especially when going forward. Warrenpoint were finding it far too easy to defend. It would be easy to say that the postponement of last weeks’ game away to Carrick Rangers caused Linfield to lose some momentum. The truth is, they were continuing on with the poor performance against Dungannon two weeks ago.

Warrenpoint took the lead when a corner from Conor McMenamin evaded everybody and went straight in, to the shock of everybody. The scoreline may have been a shock, but Warrenpoint deserved.

Linfield’s response wasn’t immediate, but it came whenever a cross was headed home by Andrew Waterworth to make it 1-1. It was his fifth goal in six games. Belatedly, due to injury, his goalscoring run looks like it is getting going.

A few minutes later, a corner fell to Kirk Millar, whose cross was handled. Some may have been surprised by the Andrew who was to take the penalty. Andrew Waterworth tooke Linfield’s last penalty, against Coleraine in mid November, but Andrew Mitchell had scored two in August, and as he was on the pitch this time, he did the honours and put Linfield 2-1 up. It looked like normality had been restored.

Warrenpoint were not to be downhearted by going 2-1 down, and went about getting an equaliser, and had a shout for a penalty when Chris Casement and Stephen Murray came together in the box.

Warrenpoint’s players were incensed with the non award of the penalty, and seemed to lose their discipline for a few minutes. Darren Murray was booked for dissent, and was looking set to emulate his sending off at The Oval in September when he got two quick bookings for dissent, until this time, his team-mates were able to bundle him away from the scene.

It is incidents like that which show why he is playing for Warrenpoint rather than a Top 6 team. The talent is there, there’s no doubt about that. We would get a glimpse of that before the half was out.

Roy Carroll punched a free-kick only as far as Darren Murray at the edge of the box, who was able to get his feet into position to shoot goalwards, his shot being deflected and looping into the net.

Questions have to be asked of Carroll’s positioning after punching the ball away, He was way too far off his line when Murray was lining up his shot. There was no need for him to be on the penalty spot.

Mark Stafford tried to head the ball away but was restricted in what he can do as he couldn’t handle it. A goalkeeper in that position would have caught the ball or at worse tipped the ball over.

With ten seconds, literally, ten seconds of the half remaining, it was a ridiculous goal to concede. Despite not playing well, Linfield had fought back to get into a winning position. Now they would have to do it again.

Jordan Stewart fired just wide for Linfield, but it was Sean Mackle of Warrenpoint who came the closest when he returned a poor kick from Roy Carroll goalwards, which needed to be cleared off the line.

There would then be a lengthy hold up as Roy Carroll suffered a leg injury. With no goalkeeper on the bench, he was going to have to tough it out. While this break was ongoing, Linfield made a sub when Cameron Stewart coming on for Jordan Stewart.

There could be a case for Cameron Stewart coming on, but this was far too early for it. If Linfield were to make an attacking sub, it had to be Ryan Strain, considering the impact he made coming off the bench against Dungannon two weeks previously.

Chris Casement had a low shot saved, before Strain was eventually introduced, coming on for Andrew Mitchell.

Linfield didn’t help themselves with poor crossing all afternoon. Sometimes, they weren’t even getting that far, taking an extra touch they didn’t need when the crossing opportunity was there, the extra touch meant it was gone.

Stephen Fallon came on for Niall Quinn as Linfield made their final sub in search of the win.

Fallon looked like he would win the game for Linfield when he fired home from close range after Andrew Waterworth ran goalwards and crossed to him.

There were two Linfield players in the six yard box but thankfully Waterworth saw the run of Fallon.

Warrenpoint shot from kick-off, to try and see how injured Roy Carroll was. He seemed to be struggling to get across, but thankfully, the shot went well wide.

Soon after, Warrenpoint would be getting to test Carroll from twelve yards when Ryan Strain tried to win possession after his miscontrol and conceded a penalty. Martin Murray made no mistake. Any injury to Carroll didn’t affect the penalty, he didn’t get close to it.

Due to the stoppage for Carroll to receive treatement, six minutes on injury time was signalled. It wouldn’t have mattered if there were six hours, Linfield didn’t look like getting a winner.

After eleven defeats out of eleven to Linfield, Warrenpoint could argue that they were due a result. On the basis of the game, they could justifiably say they deserved a result.

However, to concede goals so late in both halves, and to throw away a winning position twice was unacceptable. This was two points thrown away. All three goals were bad goals to concede. They were gifts. It’s become a recurring them this season that Linfield are gifting points and goals to opponents.

Elsewhere, Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville all won. Linfield are in the same situation they were in after the win over Glenavon three weeks ago. They’re undone the good work they did in late November when they beat Coleraine and Glenavon back to back.

Cliftonville visit Windsor Park next Saturday, and Linfield know a win will see them overtake Cliftonville into 4th.

Curiously, Linfield’s last four games have seen two brilliant performances against the top two, while putting poor performances against bottom six teams.

If we played today as we did against Coleraine and Glenavon, we would have won comfortably.

If we play against Cliftonville, Glentoran, Crusaders and Coeleraine as we did today, we’ll be lucky to win a throw-in.

Linfield’s title ambitions aren’t over, but they’re hanging on for life. Four wins between now and New Year’s Day will breathe new life into the season ahead of the defence of the Irish Cup.

Last week’s postponement against Carrick denied me the opportunity to post my wishlist. Regular readers will know that I always want a lower league team away from home.

I got that, but the tie against Glebe Rangers has been switched to Windsor Park. Very disappointing, as looking at pictures online, the ground looks more than capable of staging the tie.

Without sounding arrogant, it’s a tie you would expect Linfield to win.

If they do, the next round offers some potentially decent away days such as Knockbreda/Institute, QUB/Dundela, Loughgall/PSNI and Newry/PSNI. Nowhere too far, as i’m going to Shed Seven that night.

In midweek, both League Cup Semi-Finals were postponed, and rescheduled for mid January. It’s an awful shame they weren’t rearranged for this midweek, even though it is the fair thing to do, it would have put a strain on teams facing Linfield in coming weeks.

It does inconvenience Linfield in a way.

If Cliftonville win their game, that will mean Linfield will have a free weekend on the weekend of the Final, just as Glenavon would, with both teams having an outstanding game against each other to arrange, we’ll have to wait a month to find out if we can do that.

And then there is the matter of getting the game against Carrick that was postponed last weekend slotted in somewhere.

Some international football news, Brussels has withdrawn from hosting Euro 2020 and has been replaced by London. It has been paired with Glasgow. Dublin, if I go to a game there, will host Group E games. The London venue will be Wembley, which will host the Semi-Finals and Final.

If London was to host group games, it might have made more sense to keep Wembley for the final games and have group games at The Emirates or Spurs new ground just to save Wembley for those final games.

I’ll wait to see what the tournament schedule is like before making arrangements to attend games.

Before that, is the draw for the UEFA Nations League, and the seedings have been confirmed as Pot 3 in League B and can draw Wales (yes please) and Republic Of Ireland (No thanks)

I’m no Mathematician, but the rankings make no sense. Holland have failed to reach the last two tournaments but are in League A. Republic Of Ireland are seeded below two teams they beat and finished above in the World Cup Qualifiers, and above the team that beat them 5-1 in the Play-Offs.

Meanwhile, the team who won their group is in League C. Hmmmm.

League of Ireland fixture announcement is on Tuesday, i’ll be keeping an eye out for a possible day trip or weekend to Dublin and take in a game amongst other touristy stuff.

Euro 2020 can wait, it’s 2018 that matters. Hopefully, Linfield can recreate last season and use a draw at home to a team at the bottom end of the table as a springboard to a winning run.

Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August began for me at Wilgar Park, seeing Linfield take on Dundela in a Friendly.

The following night, was another Pre-Season Friendly, as I was on the road to see Manchester United take on Sampdoria at Lansdowne Road.

That weekend, I was travelling some more, heading to Edinburgh for a weekend away, getting some Street Art photos and taking in Edinburgh City v Montrose.

When I returned home, I was out getting some Street Art photos, the aftermath of Hit The East Festival in Eats Belfast.

The following weekend, the Irish League season started, with Linfield taking on Carrick Rangers at Windsor Park, followed by a midweek trip to Ards and a trip to Dungannon Swifts.

As soon as the final whistle blew at Stangmore Park, I was straight back to Belfast to see Amy MacDonald perform at Custom House Square.

A few days later, I was back at Custom House Square to see Blossoms warm up for Kasabian, or so I thought, as Kasabian pulled out at the last minute.

A few days after that, I was back at Custom House Square, to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following day, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.

My photo adventures for August ended by getting snaps of murals of Jimmy Cricket, Jimmy Nesbitt, Jimmy Young and Carl Cox.

Dundela v Linfield

Manchester United v Sampdoria

Manchester United v Sampdoria Photo Album

Edinburgh Street Art

Edinburgh Street Art Photo Album

Edinburgh City v Montrose

Edinburgh City v Montrose Photo Album

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Amy MacDonald live at Custom House Square

Amy MacDonald live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Blossoms live at Custom House Square

Blossoms live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Ocean Colour Scene live at Custom House Square

Ocean Colour Scene live at Custom House Square Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

The Three Jimmys and Carl Cox

The Three Jimmys Photo Album

Carl Cox Photo Album

2017 IN PICTURES – JULY

My first photo adventure of July was to Windsor Park, for a bit of pre-season action, as Linfield took on Hearts in a friendly.

The following day, I ventured to Red Barn Gallery to get photos of some Street Art which appeared on it’s exterior.

A few days later, it was back to Windsor Park for a Friday teatime kick-off between Linfield and Celtic.

Like the previous weekend, it was all about Football and Street Art, as I headed to Belfast Peace Wall for my biannual photo blog

The month for me ended with a trip to Dublin, where I got some Street Art photos from in and around the City Centre.

Linfield v Hearts

Rosemary Street Art

Rosemary Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Celtic

Belfast Peace Wall Art

Belfst Peace Wall Art Photo Album

Dublin Street Art

Dublin Street Art Photo Album