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

2019 IN PICTURES – AUGUST

August 2019 began with a bit of a bang, it was hard to keep up.

On the 1st of the month, I went to see Linfield take on HB Torshavn in the UEFA Cup.

A few hours later, I headed to Edinburgh for a break, taking in two football matches, some Street Art and a walk up Arthur’s Seat

Upon my return from Edinburgh, it felt like I was having a permanent residency at Windsor Park for the rest of the month, taking in Linfield’s matches against Institute, Sutjeska, Coleraine and Qarabag.

Linfield v HB Torshavn

Edinburgh Street Art

Edinburgh Street Art Photo Album

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee

Dunfermline Athletic v Dundee Photo Album

Hibernian v St Mirren

Hibernian v St Mirren Photo Album

Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat Photo Album

Linfield v Institute

Linfield v Sutjeska

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Qarabag

2019 IN PICTURES – JULY

July 2019 took a while to get going. It took ten days to have a photo adventure, then I couldn’t stop.

July 10th marked the start of the 2019-2020 football season, seeing Linfield take on Rosenborg in the European Cup.

The following day, I headed to Dublin for a short break, getting loads of Street Art photos, and seeing two football matches – St Patrick’s Athletic v IFK Norrkoping and Bray Wanderers v Limerick.

While I was in Bray, I made a start on Bray Head. I’ll be back in 2020 to finish it.

The following weekend, I headed to Wilgar Park to see Linfield continue their pre-season preparation against Dundela.

Linfield v Rosenborg

Dublin Street Art

Dublin Street Art Photo Album

St Patrick’s Athletic v IFK Norrkoping

St Patrick’s Athletic v IFK Norrkoping Photo Album

Bray Head

Bray Head Photo Album

Bray Wanderers v Limerick

Bray Wanderers v Limerick Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield

2019 IN PICTURES – APRIL

April 2019 began for me with a trip to Ballymena to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 1-0 to all but secure the Irish League title.

The next day, I made the most of a football free Saturday by heading to East Belfast to get some photos of some newly painted Street Art.

The following Saturday, I was back on the football trail, seeing Linfield secure the point they needed, against Crusaders, to become Champions.

The week after, came the trophy presentation, following a forgettable 4-0 defeat against Glenavon.

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

April ended with a trip to Lisburn to Island Arts Centre for an art event where murals were painted live.

Ballymena United v Linfield

East Belfast Street Art

East Belfast Street Art Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield Title Celebrations

Linfield v Glenavon

Linfield Title Presentations

Linfield v Cliftonville

Lisburn Street Art

Lisburn Street Art Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-0 CLIFTONVILLE 7.12.2019

It doesn’t quite make up for the fact i’ll be spending my birthday in Ballymena, but it’s a start.

Two trophies already gone, Linfield weren’t in the mood to let a third slip away. Defeat today wouldn’t have been a fatal blow in the title race, but it would be a setback Linfield could do without.

Kicking off in 4th, just two points off the top, every time Linfield have got close to the top, a defeat to a rival has seen them fall further away. With matches against the Top 5 before 2019 is over, this habit of losing big games was something that needed to be kicked. A new year’s resolution before the new year has started.

A win could see Linfield jump up to top spot, but that would need two results to go in their favour. That would be nice, but they needed to help themselves. If they did, they would be 3rd at least.

Today’s fixture list would guarantee a result going in Linfield’s favour as 2nd place Coleraine faced 5th place Glentoran. A draw would be perfect, but you could live with a winner, as you would pull closer to Coleraine, or further away from Glentoran.

That, would be on the condition of Linfield winning.

They would be playing a Cliftonville who have hit a slump in form in their last two games, a draw with Larne and a defeat to Glentoran. You could argue that it was not unexpected, as their winning run coincided with a run of games against Bottom 6 teams.

They were there for the taking, although the only teams that Glenavon and Coleraine have beaten recently have been Linfield. We don’t do well against teams who are on bad runs of form recently.

That was not the case against Cliftonville last season, with wins in November and December coming against a Cliftonville side who were on the back of successive defeats. Linfield were ruthless on those days. They had to be just as ruthless in this match.

There was an extra pressure on Linfield as I was going to this over the Ulster match. I usually do one of Ulster’s group matches, but they’ve all been arranged for the same time as Linfield matches. It was never going to be a contest, but I was hoping they would make it worth not considering the Rugby, unlike when I was at the Glenavon match a few weeks back.

Linfield’s starting eleven saw a return to four at the back, hallelujah, and a return to the starting eleven for Bastien Hery.

In the early minutes of the game, Linfield had a lot of the ball but couldn’t make much of it. Cliftonville looked like they were going to have the first chance of the game when Joe Gormley looked like he was getting in behind Linfield’s defence, only to be denied by a hooked clearance from Matthew Clarke, with Jimmy Callacher’s header back to Rohan Ferguson mopping up any danger.

It was a first-half dominated by overzealous refereeing, not playing advantages when a team was on the attack, or awarding free-kicks for the most minimal of physical contact.

Shayne Lavery’s presence in their defensive third was enough to cause concern for Cliftonville, especially at set pieces. On one such occasion, his presence in the six yard box caused Richard Brush to drop a cross, but was first to react to his own error, managing to grab the ball immediately.

It was Cliftonville who had the first clear opportunity on goal when Jimmy Callacher lost possession to Rory Donnelly, who ran through on goal. Thankfully, Josh Robinson was on the scene to put pressure on him, forcing him into a rushed shot which was saved by Rohan Ferguson.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield began to show themselves as an attacking force, being camped in Cliftonville’s half. A neat passing move saw a Kirk Millar cross just evade Joel Cooper as he set himself up for a bicycle kick.

By this point, Cooper and Millar had switched wings. Cooper was getting a lot of joy cutting inside and running with the ball, causing panic in Cliftonville’s defence.

Despite that, Linfield couldn’t get a goal before half-time.

As the teams left the pitch, fans were digesting scores from elsewhere, as Crusaders were drawing 0-0 with Ballymena United and Coleraine were 2-0 down to Glentoran. It was set up to be a great day for Glentoran. Linfield and Cliftonville knew that if the scores stayed as they were, a win would see them go top of the League.

The second-half began with more Linfield pressure, again being camped in Cliftonville’s half. The best moment came when Richard Brush missed a free-kick, but Jimmy Callacher headed onto the top of the bar.

On 56 minutes, Liam Bagnall got sent-off for a second yellow for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew as Linfield attacked, with no advantage played as the ball broke to a Linfield player and a promising attack was about to start.

Linfield fans had sensed the game was now swinging in their favour. Cliftonville had been struggling to get out of their half and a Linfield goal looked inevitable. Now they had to push on and show no mercy.

The pressure continued, and eventually a goal, when a cross was missed by Brush, and fell perfectly for Chris Casement, the ball hitting him and going in, a replica of Josh Robinson’s goal against Larne the previous week.

Brush had a few hairy moments, no pun intended, from crosses during the game, especially in crowded penalty areas, and Linfield made one of them count.

Just like when Conor Devlin struggled with the presence of Mark Stafford last week, Linfield saw a weakness and ruthlessly exploited it. They had also made their extra man count.

Linfield needed a second goal, just to be sure. Matthew Clarke had a low shot blocked and Bastien Hery hit the post as Linfield went in search of it.

They were given a reminder that they needed a second goal when Rory Donnelly pulled clear but hit the top of the crossbar.

Andrew Waterworth came on for Shayne Lavery, on a yellow card and starting to be targeted by Cliftonville players desperate for the numbers to be evened up.

A repeat of his hat-trick last season would have been nice, but Waterworth has a habit in recent years of scoring against Cliftonville when they visit Windsor Park in Winter, having scored against them in November 2015, November 2016, December 2017 and November 2018.

With no Jordan Stewart available, Waterworth would be the only attacking option available from the bench for Linfield. If he was available, bringing him on for Millar or Cooper would have been an option.

Kirk Millar would be leaving the pitch early, but not through choice, as he was sent-off for a late tackle. After scoring in two of Cliftonville’s last three visits to Windsor Park, maybe he was due a downturn in fortunes in this fixture.

What it means is, as punishment, he will be spending the next two Saturdays and Boxing Day in the stands. Could be worse, he could be out shopping on those days. Now that would be a punishment.

Of more immediate concern, was the loss of Linfield’s one man advantage, and a gap down the right that Cliftonville could exploit.

That was immediately rectified with the introduction of Trai Hume for Stephen Fallon.

Despite a narrow lead and a reduced playing personnel, there was no real need for Linfield fans to be nervous, as their side were able to hold out. Cliftonville were struggling to get the ball out of their defensive third.

When they were able to, it was Jimmy Callacher who cleared the danger, with two headed clearances to keep the ball away from Linfield’s defensive third, to keep Cliftonville from getting any ideas that they could score.

It was probably appropriate that he had the last kick of the game, booting the ball back where it came from. Having given Rory Donnelly a Christmas gift in the first-half, Linfield’s defence were now taking the role of Scrooge. Like an Inn in Bethlehem in Christmas Eve, Cliftonville weren’t getting in.

It’s a stat that I never noticed until it was mentioned by Nicola McCarthy in the introduction to the NIFL Highlights, that Linfield have won six home League matches in a row, keeping five clean sheets. Make that seven home League wins in a row and six clean sheets. You know how much I love clean sheet stats.

Elsewhere, the scores in the two other games of interest to Linfield took a dramatic turn, with Coleraine coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Glentoran, a reversal of the game at The Oval in August.

As is tradition at Windsor Park, scores from other games were announced at full-time. Usually done in alphabetical order, announcing the score of Dungannon Swifts and no mention of Crusaders suggested something was up.

The final score announced was “Crusaders 0”, it could only be good news, and “Ballymena 1” was the icing on the cake.

This combination of results meant that Linfield were top of the League, on goal difference from Coleraine and a point clear of Crusaders and Cliftonville. Linfield have two games in hand though.

Those two games have yet to be rearranged, but there is no rush. December is already busy enough, there’s no need to make it busier. It’s a bit of a risk if we have games postponed during December/January due to weather that will necessitate further games needing arranged in the new year, but it is a risk worth taking.

This was the fourth successive weekend that leadership of the table has changed hands. Hopefully, Linfield will break that run next weekend and stay top.

Being out of action at the start of the season and playing catch up meant that the road to the top of the table was going to be long for Linfield. To get there before Christmas is probably ahead of schedule.

A traffic jam at the top is always welcome when you’re chasing, but there comes a point when you have to charge ahead, like Crusaders did in 2015.

With games coming up against Crusaders, Glentoran and Coleraine before the new year, Linfield can pull clear.

It was their form in December and January (well, after the defeat to Ballymena United on 1st December) that won the League for Linfield last season, a run of big games as well, including Cliftonville, Glentoran and Crusaders home and away.

Before this match, tickets for Boxing Day tickets went on sale. Well, some of them.

The first batch did, to Members only. Season Ticket holders will get their opportunity next Saturday, before they go on General Sale on 21st December.

I’ve no issue with the order of sales, and the club have to give people time to purchase, hence the week long window.

I’ve said it before, if a match is all ticket, there should be a rule that tickets should be on sale four weeks in advance.

It is inconveniencing a lot of people that they won’t know until five days before the match if they have a ticket.

If the tickets were put on sale last week (as they would have been under a Four Week Rule), Members could have purchased at the Larne and Coleraine matches, Season Ticket holders at this match, then General Sale from 14th December, which allows people purchasing under General Sale twelve days to get a ticket.

Boxing Day is still a long way off, it’s all about Warrenpoint.

Going off course with some TV recommendations for you, and RTE have two decent looking documentaries on Monday 9th December. Unfortunately, they’re on at the same time.

At 9.35pm on RTE1, there is a look back at a combined Bohs/St Patrick’s Athletic team playing in Libya, called In League with Gaddafi. While on RTE2 at 10.10pm is Wonder Walls, nothing to do with Oasis, but a look at Irish Street Art, where i’ll keep an eye out for places in Dublin and Waterford that I recognise.

I’ll record both and watch them at some point during the week.

As said earlier, up next for Linfield is a trip to Warrenpoint next Saturday. Hopefully, the most awkward part of the day is negotiating through traffic in Newry City Centre on the way home.

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