In a match moved for Biden, it was a case of Bye Then for Linfield’s title challenge. Not mathematically, but as good as.
Ten points behind with four to play, there was no margin for error for Linfield.
Starting the split five points behind Larne, the first change in points difference had to be in Linfield’s favour. It went to Larne.
This two points thrown away, and not because of the way they were lost.
Even if the title is lost, Europe could have been as good as secured with three points here if results went their way the following Saturday.
Linfield made a good start to this game, showing more of an attacking threat than they did in the opening minute than they did in the previous match against Crusaders. Although, that was quite a low bar.
Kirk Millar was found in plenty of space out wide and his first time cross was backheeled goalwards by Chris McKee like Lee Sharpe v Barcelona in 1994. although with not the save outcome, this one being saved by Glentoran’s keeper.
Linfield’s next attack came down the left, with Matthew Clarke bursting into the box to win a corner.
That corner was cleared for another corner, which resulted in a goalmouth scramble. Linfield needed to make this pressure count.
Linfield’s good start dropped off, but Glentoran didn’t really offer much in response other than speculative long range shots.
Although, speculative long range shots have provided them with reward against Linfield already this season.
Glentoran were also getting a lot of joy from pressing Linfield were trying to play it out from the back. Annoyingly, Glentoran’s defenders weren’t under the same pressure when they were trying to play it out from the back. South Standers weren’t slow in registering their protest at this.
It was becoming obvious that this is a game where the first goal would be key. With so few clear cut chances for either team, Linfield had to make the most of those that came their way.
They were almost gifted one when Kirk Millar intercepted a pass and as soon as he got the ball, Chris McKee was in position for a through ball, where he would expect to be getting a shot on goal.
The pass was overhit and went straight through to Glentoran’s keeper.
Millar made better use of a ball falling his way a few minutes later when a cross landed at him but his goalbound shot was blocked by a Glentoran defender at the expense of a corner.
That corner was only a brief respite for Glentoran as Sam Roscoe headed home from the corner to put Linfield 1-0 up.
The goal came from a period of pressure which also saw Stephen Fallon have a shot saved.
Finally, after their decent start in the opening minutes wasn’t capitalised on, Linfield had taken control of the game.
Now they needed to kick on in the second-half.
That didn’t quite happen, as neither side really created a clear goalscoring opportunity of note.
Linfield turned to their bench, making like for like substitutions with Kyle McClean and Kyle Lafferty coming on for Stephen Fallon and Chris McKee.
No issue with McKee coming off, but Eetu Vertainen was the obvious substitution ahead of Kyle Lafferty if Linfield were going to bring on a striker for the final stage of the game.
As the final minutes approached, Linfield were coasting, content to hold on, to see the game out rather than kill it off.
A dangerous tactic. It brought back memories of late equalisers conceded at home to Glentoran.
Linfield were inviting trouble. Glentoran were having too much of the ball. Even though they weren’t doing much with it, they were having far too much of it. Linfield needed to make the ball do the work and take control of the game and make sure they see out the final minutes.
Joel Cooper was forced off with an injury, replaced by Niall Quinn as injury time approached.
The goal we all feared came at the end of the first of four minutes of stoppage time when Bobby Burns stretched to finish after running on to a header.
It was such a bad goal to concede. A ball hoofed forward, failure to win a header and a failure to follow the run. It was another example of poor substitutions, in this case one not made. It was beyond obvious that Cameron Palmer should have been brought on for the final minutes to introduce some fresh legs in midfield.
Even though it extended Larne’s lead at the top by a further two points, it didn’t really make much of a difference in terms of the title race. A win against Crusaders two days after this would have done the job no matter what the score was. It just meant they had the comfort that they could afford a draw.
A draw was what Linfield could do without. As the game was about to restart, they had the look of a team that was reluctantly accepting a draw rather than a team looking to resecure the lead in the three minutes that still remained ………..
With thirty seconds remaining, Linfield got an attacking free-kick that could be played into the box. Kyle Lafferty was flagged offside as the ball went out for a goal kick. That summed everything up.
Two dropped points. The title was as good as Larne’s before this match. If you can’t win the League, at least get into Europe. Linfield remain in pole position for it, but it could have been wrapped up with two to play.
I really cannot be arsed with the European Play-Offs. Let’s hope this was the last Linfield home match (at Windsor Park or wherever) this season.