LINFIELD 5-1 ARDS 18.3.2017

Having scored ten goals in their two previous home games against Ards this season, Linfield were hoping to add to that when the North Down side visited Windsor Park this afternoon.

It didn’t matter how many Linfield scored, as long as it was at least one more than Ards, it’s that time of year. The two magic numbers today were three and four. Three points to cut Crusaders lead at the top.

Despite the previous head to heads this season, today wasn’t going to be straightforward. Gareth Tommons had a half-chance in the opening minutes that Linfield were just about able to clear.

Within the first five minutes, Linfield got the early goal they craved when Cameron Stewart headed home from a corner, his first at Windsor Park, ending a drought in front of goal going back to the County Antrim Shield Final.

In the two big home wins this season (4-0 and 6-1) Linfield got a flurry of early goals and had the game won inside the first twenty minutes.

Ards were not prepared to let history repeat itself. Stephen Lowry was forced into an interception after a neat passing move threatened to bring an equaliser.

Andrew Waterworth looked set to score but his header was excellently saved by Ards goalkeeper.

Soon after, Ards got an equaliser when a low cross was finished by Guillaume Keke to make it 1-1. It wasn’t against the run of play.

During the move that led to the goal, Cameron Stewart went down injured and had to be replaced. Kirk Millar came on from the bench for him. Surprisingly for me, when Aaron Burns seemed the logical choice.

The change meant a slight reshuffle for Linfield, with Millar going to his right hand side position and Paul Smyth moving to a central role.

The change brought rewards for Linfield with Smyth thriving in is new central, with his cross after breaking in behind Ards defence eventually falling to Kirk Millar to fire home from close range.

Credit must go to Niall Quinn who shielded the ball away from an Ards defender to give Millar the opportunity to score.

Having lost the lead once, it was not going to happen again, as Linfield sought to increase their lead.

Andrew Waterworth got in behind Ards defence but was let down by a poor first touch while Paul Smyth had a shot go just wide.

As the half neared it’s end, four minutes injury time meant that there was time for Linfield to push for a third.

That came when Paul Smyth crossed for what looked like Matthew Clarke to score, only for Andrew Waterworth to control the ball and finish himself, his 100th goal for the club.

Having taken a goal from one left sided player, Waterworth still had time in the first-half to set up Niall Quinn, but his powerful shot was well saved.

Despite a comfortable lead at half-time, the title momentum swinging 3-3 draw at home to Ards in 2014 was still a recent memory for Linfield fans that they felt another goal for their side was needed, a game that Linfield led 3-1.

Linfield set out at the start of the second-half to get that fourth goal, but couldn’t quite get it. Kirk Millar with a volley and Mark Haughey heading over were the best chances.

Naturally, there was frustration amongst the crowd, especially when Linfield began to have a wobbly spell, Ards getting encouragement to try and get a second goal.

It only lasted for a short time, and Stephen Lowry fired home from close range after a header was saved. It was a third successive game in which he had scored in, securing the points for Linfield.

This lead gave Linfield a chance to give minutes to Aaron Burns and Josh Carson from the bench. Burns had a header over the bar as Linfield searched for a fifth.

That search got a little bit easier when Johnny Taylor achieved the unique feat of being sent-off at Windsor PArk for two different clubs.

Eventually, Linfield got their fifth when a shot fell perfectly for Aaron Burns to fire home.

It maintains Linfield’s impressive record against Ards, an unbeaten run going back twenty years and includes Linfield wins by 5-1, 4-0, 5-0, 4-0, 7-0, 7-2, 5-0, 4-0 and 6-1 margins. I’m sure there’s more that i’ve missed.

Those two second-half goals weren’t vital in the context of the game, but they could be by the end of the season. It means that Linfield’s Goal Difference is 50 to Crusaders 43.

For the title to be decided on Goal Difference, Crusaders would need to draw two games and lose win while Linfield win three in that run.

If Linfield win their last six games, Crusaders win four, draw two and lose one, both teams would be level on points.

Even if those six games were won by one goal, Linfield’s goal difference would be 56. Crusaders would have 42, and would need need to claw back fourteen goals over those four wins. At least.

For every point Crusaders drop, the Goal Difference advantage that Linfield have will put more and more pressure on Crusaders.

Up next for Linfield is a trip to Ballinamallard. Everytime i’ve been there, Linfield have won. The two competitive meetings I haven’t been to, they haven’t won.

I’ll be there even if I have to be stretchered there. I’m going to sacrifice myself for us to get three points if I have to. It’s that time of year.

Other results of interest went Linfield’s way today. Coleraine winning and jumping into 3rd, potentially gaining an automatic UEFA Cup place. They play Crusaders next Saturday. Let’s hope their winning run continues, but ends on April 22nd.

Carrick beat Portadown to put pressure on Ballinamallard ahead on Monday night’s game.

Also next week, Northern Ireland face Norway in a World Cup Qualifier. Next week’s fixture list offers a chance for groundhopping for Norwegian visitors. Glentoran v Carrick on Friday (in the away end), game on Saturday, and then the international match on Sunday.

There are matches on Saturday in Belfast, but i’m sure if you got in touch with a LSC, they’d be more than willing to take some Norwegian visitors.

And how did Crusaders do today? They weren’t playing, as their match at home to Ballinamallard has been moved to Monday for Sky.

I might watch it and cheer on Ballinamallard, but then again, Travel Man is on Channel 4 at 8.30pm, then a choice at 9pm between a documentary about King’s Cross (Yes, I like documentaries about train stations. You probably watch Nolan, so you can’t judge me) and the new series of Family Guy on ITV2.

Hopefully by the time the final whistle blows at Seaview on Monday night, it will be Linfield fans who will be feeling giggidy about their team’s title chances.

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LINFIELD 2-0 CLIFTONVILLE 13.3.2017

In their last league matchday, Linfield reduced Crusaders lead at the top to seven points. They kicked-off against Cliftonville, a side they have lost twice to this season in the league, looking to keep that lead at seven points following Crusaders expected win over Carrick Rangers on Saturday.

The reason why Linfield were playing two days later than Crusaders was that this match was moved for live broadcast on Sky Sports, though with the counter attraction of Chelsea v Manchester United on the BBC, there were probably more people in the ground watching it than watching it on TV.

It’s great that the Irish League is getting this exposure, and we know it’s to fill gaps on FA Cup and International weekends, but Sky should have held off until the FA Cup TV games were confirmed before scheduling this.

It never stood a chance against Chelsea v United, it might have done better when slotted against Brighton v Derby on the Friday.

No doubt there were quite a lot of people in both stands keeping an eye on events at Stamford Bridge. I overheard someone behind me saying that United would take a replay, obviously unaware that FA Cup Quarter-Finals are played to a finish from this season onwards, when Ander Herrera was sent-off.

Even if supporters had an eye on Chelsea v United, Linfield players had to focus on the task in front of them, getting three points to keep the pressure on Crusaders, against a Cliftonville team in a rotten run of form. They were there for the taking, Linfield had to go out and take them.

February and March have been defining months for Cliftonville in recent years, winning runs setting up title successes in 2013 and 2014, while poor runs of form have caused damage to them in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

From the outside, it appears their players have given up following their Irish Cup exit and are fulfilling fixtures ahead of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, just like last season. The worrying thing for them is, they exited the Irish Cup two rounds earlier this season.

However, Cliftonville’s concerns are not my concerns.

For most of the season, Linfield have been in a sandwich – trying to keep up with Crusaders in front while trying to keep clear of Cliftonville behind them. An eleven point lead at kick-off meant that Linfield had stopped worrying about Cliftonville overtaking them a long time ago,

I arrived at Windsor Park, as I do for most weeknight matches, in a totally shitty mood, after navigating the street from hell known as Elgantine Avenue.

This is a street where the residents have just enough brain power to order a taxi, but not enough to be ready when the taxi comes, meaning that taxis are just parked in the middle of the street, and you have to go around them to get past.When you get to the end of the street, there are the never ending red lights.

The residents and taxi drivers can collectively just fuck right off. Fuck the fucking lot of them.

I arrived at Windsor Park to see signing in the South Stand depicting Linfield glory days past and more recent, such as the County Antrim Shield win last month, the expectant crowd hoping that more glorious images will be added over the coming months,

Cliftonville began the match like a team on a rotten run of form, being defensively nervous and giving away cheap possession when under no or little pressure.

Gradually, Linfield took control of the game, the first chance coming when a low Jamie Mulgrew shot was saved by Jason Mooney, while Mark Haughey got in front of Mooney from a cross but couldn’t direct his header in.

Some Linfield fans, dependent on their view, thought it had gone in and began celebrating. Cliftonville fans ironically cheered the premature celebrations. It was the only cheer they had all night.

Recent meetings between the two sides suggested that the first goal would be vital. You have to go back to September 2012 for the last time a team came from behind (Cliftonville at Windsor Park) to win, while Linfield’s last come from behind win was January 2011. You have to go back to April 2005 for the last time Linfield came from 1-0 down to beat Cliftonville.

For clarification, those stats refer to League matches, Linfield came from 1-0 down to beat Cliftonville in a County Antrim Shield match in October 2015.

Linfield got the breakthrough midway through the first-half when a penalty was awarded for a handball by Chris Ramsey. Stephen Lowry stepped up to make it four penalties out of four in the past month and a bit to put Linfield 1-0 up.

That lead almost disappeared soon afterwards when Mark Haughey got caught in possession in his own penalty area to concede a penalty.

Jay Donnelly put the ball wide from the resulting spot kick.

Linfield were in the mood to make Cliftonville pay for their generousity. Cameron Stewart almost made it 2-0 but his shot hit the post.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield made it 2-0 when Jason Mooney dropped a cross and, after a bit of a scramble, Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range.

Now, i’ve seen Cliftonville fans online complaining about Mooney’s performances, but it really needs to be seen in the flesh how bad he is. He was actually much worse than they said he was.

At one corner, he caught the ball unchallenged, then held it and dropped it. It’s a pity no Linfield players were alert enough to take advantage. They really should have been, considering how bad he was playing.

He even manage to drop kick the ball out for a throw-in on the halfway line. Linfield fans were running low on sympathy for him.

This performance from October is truly astounding. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact it gifted Crusaders three points.

Cliftonville started the second-half having a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. Despite that, Linfield were giving them too much encouragement and needed to quickly improve.

It soon became clear that Cliftonville never looked like scoring no matter how much of the ball they had. Linfield’s full-backs were their most worked defensive players, and that was juts shepherding the ball out for a throw or a goal kick.

Despite recent memories of blowing two goal leads to draw against Cliftonville, Linfield fans were relaxed at 2-0 up. Despite that, they would have preferred their team to make it 3-0.

Mark Stafford thought he did it, but his header hit the post, before a spectacular effort went wide later of.

Mark Haughey had a goal disallowed. There was a bit of confusion as to why. It was either offside against Andrew Waterworth who crossed it, or the ball went out of play before he crossed it. I haven’t seen a TV replay of it yet.

Paul Smyth was running the show for Linfield, and it was no surprise when he was announced as the Man Of The Match.

Up next is a home match against Ards. If we win that, the gap is cut to four, and an opportunity to put pressure on Crusaders before they play on Sky next Monday against Ballinamallard.

If we win all our games, we only need Crusaders to slip up twice. It’s not that inconceivable.

Meanwhile, I got myself a ticket for the Irish Cup Semi-Final against Dungannon on April 1st. Having Ticketmaster is handy, but it should never be the only option. It’s good that the club are able to sell tickets as well to compliment this.

I decided to be a hero and get mine at Monday lunchtime as I work in the City Centre, leaving Windsor Park tickets for those who find it more convenient to get from there, instead of getting one at this match.

Staying at Windsor Park, a new Education and Heritage Centre was opened last week. It’s a Museum. Let’s just call it what it is. I’m hoping to get a chance to visit this soon, though it won’t be immediately soon.

Roy Carroll has been called-up to the Northern Ireland squad for the match against Norway. Hopefully, a deal can be done to allow him to play against Ballinamallard the day before. We only win at Ballinamallard when i’m there, and i’m not sure if I could get to a midweek match.

And finally, the post split fixtures have been confirmed. For Linfield, it is :

H Crusaders (8th April)
A Ballymena United (15th April)
H Glenavon (18th April)
A Coleraine (22nd April)
A Cliftonville (29th April)

Going to be some fun trying to get a ticket if the title race goes to the last day. On the plus side, if Cliftonville’s slide continues, there may be plenty of spaces in the home end that day.

Despite a seven point deficit to make up, things are looking up for Linfield fans. And it just gets better, up next is a Saturday 3pm match at home.

Remember when Linfield played home matches at 3pm on a Saturday? Don’t blame you if you don’t, it’s only our second of 2017.

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LINFIELD 1-1 PORTADOWN 17.2.2017

In the past two years, Linfield’s title challenge has been derailed by defeats to Portadown on a Friday night in February. They avoided a third successive defeat, but it was still a hat-trick of bad results as Linfield commemorated Random Acts Of Kindness Day by gifting Portadown a point, and potentially a third successive title for Crusaders.

The one positive was, that Portadown’s impending relegation means there won’t be any agony against Portadown in February 2018. That, plus INXS were played on the tannoy before the match.

Amongst the crowd at Windsor Park were some Glasgow Warriors fans sat near me making a weekend of their team’s match against Ulster. This, after a group of Dundee Stars fans attended the last Windsor Park game against Ballymena on the same day their team faced Belfast Giants.

It appears that Windsor Park is the go to venue for Scottish sports fans having a weekend in Belfast to see their team.

Even though both teams started slowly, Linfield had the ball in the net in the early minutes when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick but it was disallowed for offside. An early goal was desired for Linfield as they encountered opponents set up to frustrate.

Callacher was having to deal with problems at the other end from Marcio Soares, having a few nervous moments and stray passes.

It was another stray pass, this time from Stephen Lowry, who gifted Portadown their best chance of the night when Marcio Soares was played through and fired straight at Roy Carroll. He really should have scored.

Linfield’s search for the opening goal continued with both Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn having shots saved in the same attack.

Towards the end of the half, Waterworth flicked the ball past his man and got to the ball before the goalkeeper, only to see his effort go wide of the post.

Despite their possession, Linfield weren’t doing much with it. Despite the ball being in Portadown’s half, it didn’t look like going into Portadown’s net. It was poor.

David Healy set about doing something about it, bringing on Paul Smyth for Kirk Millar at half-time. Smyth was surprisingly still on the bench after his cameo and goal at Carrick the previous week. The match would take a recurring theme. Linfield trying to get Paul Smyth on the ball and Portadown players trying to cynically foul him.

It wasn’t quite Claudio Caniggia v Cameroon, but it was close. Portadown players did manage to try to recreate the “third time lucky” foul that Cameroon did on Caniggia. Niall Henderson ending up getting a yellow card.

As at any time over the past fifteen months, Linfield are a better attacking force when Smyth is on the pitch and the ball.

As well as cynical fouling, Portadown players were indulging in timewasting. Again, another referee who gestures to tell players to hurry up but doesn’t add the time on. Another mug.

It might sound like a petty thing to raise, but Linfield don’t really help themselves when opponents try to stop the game. With two empty stands and a slope at the end of the pitch, it’s very easy for opposition goalkeepers to timewaste at Windsor Park. Our ballboys should be making sure a new ball is on the pitch as soon as the matchball leaves the field. There was one incident where the ball went into the Railway Stand and the ballboy behind the goal didn’t have a ball and had to go and get the ball that went out. We should be getting our matchday organisation and infrastructure in place to make sure the game doesn’t stop when we are chasing a goal.

No away team comes to Windsor Park to play football. We shouldn’t be facilitating them.

David Healy again turned to his bench, bringing on Ross Gaynor for Niall Quinn as Linfield chased the breakthrough. Gaynor was soon having a shot blocked, as was Stephen Lowry, and then Mark Stafford had a header cleared off the line as frustration began to grow.

Linfield had to be wary of keeping Portadown out at the other end. Marcio Soares got in behind the defence from a goalkeeper’s kick but couldn’t get enough space to set himself up for a clear shot at goal.

Earlier in the game, a Portadown goal might have kickstarted Linfield into life. By this stage, it was too late. Linfield simply had to get the first goal if they were to have any ambition of winning this game.

David Healy then (metaphorically) sacrificed a defender by bringing on Josh Carson for Chris Casement. Casement was a surprise choice at right-back ahead of Sean Ward to cover for the injured Mark Haughey.

Then, came disaster for Linfield, when Portadown went 1-0 up when Sean Mackle dispossessed Jimmy Callacher and did just enough to set up Adam Foley to lob Roy Carroll.

That’s two goals in three games that Callacher could have done better in. I can’t help but wonder if he really is fully fit after going off at Institute a fortnight ago.

As Linfield kicked-off to restart the game, a crossfield pass to Paul Smyth went out of play for a throw. It summed up the night.

Andrew Waterworth had a volley go just wide before Robert Garrett had a great chance to secure the win for Portadown but his shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

To sum up the mood, not even a board to indicate four minutes injury time could raise a roar. One minute into that four, Josh Carson forced home a rebound from close range to make it 1-1. Portadown’s goalkeeper was injured in the incident and required lengthy treatment.

The stoppage killed any momentum Linfield might have had, just when they needed it most. When the game restarted, the correct amount of injury time wasn’t played. It didn’t matter, they didn’t look like getting a second.

This was a game Linfield should have been winning, having beaten Portadown 4-1 and 5-0 this season. They haven’t improved since that 5-0 game in November. If anything, they’ve got worse, if it was possible. You can bet that their defending won’t be as heroic when they play Crusaders next weekend.

Despite our possession and chances, Portadown were never hanging on. Linfield should have had enough over one hundred minutes to beat Portadown.

To compound the misery, Linfield Swifts then showed the First Team how it’s done by beating their Portadown counterparts 9-1.

Crusaders win at Dungannon means they are nine points clear. With Linfield playing Crusaders in April, we need two teams to beat Crusaders. It’s hard to see. Despite writing the book on how to beat Crusaders this season, nobody else in the league seems interested in reading it. Too many teams in this league simply do no believe they can beat Crusaders.

Sadly, it looks like Linfield will be gifting the title to a bunch of hoofers and thugs for the third successive season.

However, there’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves. We must dust ourselves down and continue to get the points on the board just in case, starting at The Oval next weekend.

The future is bright at Windsor Park and we’re on the right track, it’s just taking us a bit longer than expected to get where we want to be, but we’ll get there in the end.

Naturally, with each bad result, there will be analysis of Linfield’s home form. The truth is, it’s no worse than in any of the past four seasons, and it has cost us in each of those four seasons. A statistical analysis can be found here.

Getting settled in the redeveloped Windsor Park was always going to be trial and error. It’s a lot more error than hoped at the moment.

It must be worth the club having a consultation from fans as to what they want from their matchday experience. One suggestion i’d have is to trial having Linfield fans in the Railway Stand. It’s very easy to organise logistically, and has already happened, in a County Antrim Shield tie against Cliftonville in October 2015.

I remember joking that the Coleraine game took place on the wrong day of the week. Linfield have won on every Saturday they’ve played since November 19th. The good news is, the game against Glentoran next weekend will be on a Saturday.

That triggered a little thought in my head, so I decided to dig a little further. Linfield have won only two of their last seven home games on a weekday (excluding Bank Holidays) including all three this season. I’m not sure if that stat serves any relevance.

Meanwhile, this week, saw Northern Ireland announce a friendly against New Zealand at Windsor Park in June. Undecided at the moment, but i’ll probably end up going for the curiousity factor. And yes, i’m aware that they don’t do a haka pre-match. I was hoping for a random friendly at a random EFL ground, like the game against Qatar in Crewe in 2015.

Up next, a trilogy of Belfast derbies. Thankfully, the next two are away from home.

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INSTITUTE 0-2 LINFIELD 4.2.2017

It was the Irish Cup for Linfield today, and a trip to Drumahoe to face Institute, with a place in the Quarter-Finals up for grabs.

Having successfully negotiated lunch at Applegreen without children holding up the queue, I found roadworks to be a much bigger obstacle, causing me to miss the opening ten or so minutes.

As I walked down the hill towards the ground, I could see an Institute player on the ground and the referee blowing his whistle. I feared a penalty. The referee said it was a dive. TV replays proved it to be a correct decision.

Linfield then began to dominate the first-half, Stephen Lowry having a shot saved from the penalty spot, Cameron Stewart having an attempt at goal just wide before setting up Andrew Waterworth, whose shot was saved when he really should have scored.

It wasn’t all one way traffic, as Chris Casment was forced into a block to deny Institute on one of their rare attacks.

Not even a succession of corners late in the half could bring a Linfield goal, as they had to make do with a half-time score of 0-0.

There wasn’t long to wait for a goal in the second-half, as a quick free-kick from Lowry found Niall Quinn in acres of space, his cross was deflected goalwards, Institute’s keeper palming it away, but only to Cameron Stewart who made sure from close range.

It was Stewart’s second goal for Linfield, coming from a combined distance of one yard out. It doesn’t matter how and how far they go in, as long as they go in.

Linfield were finding it out the hard way as they failed to get a second goal that would kill the tie, Institute knowing that while there was one goal in it, the tie was still very much alive.

A header from a free-kick appeared to level the scores for Stute, until their players started to surround the referee, the crowd only realising that the goal was disallowed.

I was at the other end of the pitch and couldn’t see why it was disallowed. TV replays showed it to be for a push. Soft, but the correct decision.

Aaron Harkin took his protests too far and got a second yellow card.

Chris Casement had a free-kick well saved as Linfield looked to take advantage of their extra man. There wasn’t long to wait as Andrew Waterworth was played through and made it 2-0.

It was job done. A lot later than hoped, but job done, despite Institute having some attempts at goal in the final minutes.

The only concern was Jimmy Callacher going off injured ahead of the County Antrim Shield Final on Tuesday.

Talking of Cup Finals, there is one which might be taking place at Windsor Park in 2019. It appears to have snuck under the radar of the Northern Ireland Media, but Windsor Park has submitted a bid to host the European Super Cup Final.

This has come as no surprise as it was previously reported that a bid would be made as soon as the redevelopment was complete.

That would be fantastic. I went to the European Super Cup Final in Cardiff, and really hope this event comes to Belfast.

It’s a game UEFA want to bring to “smaller” stadiums. Capacity isn’t an issue. Windsor Park is only sightly smaller than Eden Arena which hosted the final in 2013.

The competition comes in the form of Tirana, Toulouse, Budapest, Haifa, Astana, Gdansk, Warsaw, Glasgow and Istanbul.

The first six cities have never hosted a European final, so they have that as a USP, though Tolouse hosted Euro 2016 and Budapest will host Euro 2020 games. That may count against them.

One of the Polish bids will have to be withdrawn, while Glasgow, Istanbul and Astana may withdraw to apply for the UEFA Cup Final or the Women’s European Cup Final.

Suddenly, the shortlist could be very short.

Hampden Park is also in the running for that year’s UEFA Cup Final. Sounds like a good excuse for a trip to Glasgow.

If Hampden Park hosts the 2019 European Super Cup, I could console myself by basing my trip to the Edinburgh Festival around being in Glasgow in this day.

Bids have to be submitted by 6th June and the winning bids will be known in September 2017.

Forget about 2019, it’s 2017 that matters, and up next is the County Antrim Shield Final against Crusaders. The past three meetings this season have shown that Linfield have nothing to be afraid of (well, apart from Raymond Crangle influencing the game from 4th Official) and if they play like they have in those three games, they’ll get their rewards.

There won’t be long to wait for the next meeting against Crusaders, with the sides being drawn together in the Irish Cup Quarter-Finals. Linfield fans have good memories of Irish Cup Quarter-Finals in North Belfast, and a packed crowd willing their team on just as they did at Solitude last year gives us more than a chance.

Hopefully, by then, there’ll be nine more points on the board from wins against Carrick, Ards and Glentoran, as well as the County Antrim Shield.

If there is, the final months of the season could be very interesting indeed.

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LINFIELD 2-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 21.1.2017

After two Saturdays on the road, Linfield returned to Windsor Park hoping to rectify poor home form which has contributed to them kicking off seven points behind Crusaders. Today was the first Saturday game at Windsor Park since December 17th 2016, five weeks ago, when Ballymena united, incidentally, were the visitors to Windsor Park.

Linfield’s dramatic win that day saw them be five points behind Crusaders. Poor home results since then against Glentoran and Coleraine have seen the gap increase to seven points.

Linfield got off to a slow start, with Joe McKinney having the first shot on goal for Ballymena when his shot was saved by Roy Carroll.

Eventually, Linfield got more into the game and the pressure began to build. Aaron Burns had a head just wide from close range and he couldn’t get an opportunity to adjust his body.

That pressure was soon rewarded when Alan Blayney could only palm out a Ross Gaynor free-kick, and Stephen Lowry was first to the loose ball, creating enough space to drill the ball across, landing at Mark Stafford who guided the ball into the net via a Ballymena defender. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as his goal against Ballymena last month, but it was just as important.

Aaron Burns got a header goalwards from the next set piece, but a better execution didn’t bring a better result, as he was denied by a Ballymena defencer heading away.

The next time the ball was cleared off the line came at the other end of the pitch when Conor McCloskey was denied, before Johnny McMurray had a volley saved by Carroll, reminding Linfield that this game was far from won.

Sandwiched inbetween, Andrew Waterworth was able to pull away from Ballymena’s defence, but his low drive was saved by Alan Blayney.

Linfield went in search of a second goal that would clinch the game at the start of the second-half that would more than likely clinch the game.

Aaron Burns was played through but was on his right foot. The delay in setting himself onto this left foot allowed Jim Ervin to get a block in and deflect the ball over.

Burns was soon to get the feeling that today was not to be his day when he got in behind Ballymena’s defence, lobbed the ball over Blayney, only to see the ball hit the bar.

Linfield fans were soon feeling similar. That’s the sort of chance you rue when you drop two points.

As Linfield chased the clinching goal, David Healy turned to his bench, with Kirk Millar coming on for Stephen Fallon, while Cameron Stewart came on for Ross Gaynor.

That goal became even more essential as Linfield were soon reminded of the perils of a one goal lead when Conor McCloskey fired just wide from a good position.

Cameron Stewart’s first involvement in the game came when he got a yellow card for kicking the ball away at a free-kick. No complaints about that. However, a Ballymena player did the same thing in the first-half and wasn’t booked.

That’s the sort of consistency we all love from Irish League referees.

Finally, Linfield got the goal they needed, when Andrew Waterworth got in behind Ballymena’s defence, took his time, and then took some more time, before eventually putting the ball in the net.

Ballymena might have been able to score one, they were never going to score two. The game was won for Linfield.

The atmosphere soon reflected that around Windsor Park, as Linfield fans began to feel more relaxed.

Stewart created space for himself in the box, and decided to set up Matthew Clarke rather than going for goal himself, the shot going just wide.

It was now time for Kevin Amuneke to make his Linfield debut. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get many chances due to the level of attacking not being as intense when you lead 2-0 with less then ten minutes to go. He did get into some good positions when the ball was out wide, the delivery not quite going to him

Ballymena tried to make the final moments nervous for Linfield, with Roy Carroll once agains denying Johnny McMurray, as Linfield got a long awaited clean sheet, their first since the match against Ards on December 10th.

Sandwiched inbetween Crusaders and Cliftonville, there was always going to be a result going Linfield’s way at Seaview when the sides met.

A 1-0 win for Crusaders meant that Linfield pulled six points clear of Cliftonville but still remain seven points behind Crusaders.

However, fixtures over the coming weeks before the split (yes, it’s the time of year when we can actually start talking about the split) offer Linfield a chance to gather some winning momentum.

That’s not arrogance, Dungannon-Carrick-Portadown-Glentoran-Cliftonville-Ards-Ballinamallard is a run of games Linfield should be getting maxiumum points from going into the split.

Crusaders meanwhile, have games against Glenavon and Ballymena coming up, as well as a trip to Coleraine in March. Just a pity that game against Coleraine wasn’t sooner, given the run of form they are on.

That match against Ballymena is the week before the League Cup Final. Half assed saving themselves or highly motivated with cup final places up for grabs? Hopefully the latter.

Meanwhile, tickets for the County Antrim Shield Final went on sale, Linfield’s last home match before that game. Not sure why it needs to be ticketed when Linfield have never been ticketed at Ballymena for a League game.

Carrick Rangers have announced that Linfield’s visit there in February will be all ticket. Logically, that would suggest it will be all ticket for Linfield fans.

If it is, there are no home games for Linfield between now and then. You’d think they would have known about this and made tickets available for Linfield fans earlier, especially as Linfield’s visit there in August 2015 (at eleven days notice) was ticketed. I wasn’t at the game in September 2016 so I don’t know if that was ticketed.

Talk about making it difficult for people to attend.

Oh, and I finally got round to purchasing Every Other Saturday. Looking forward to getting stuck into this.

Up next, a trip to Dungannon, and hopefully the start of the charge.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 0-1 COLERAINE 3.1.2017

The last thing you want after New Year’s Eve celebrations is to have a hangover three days later, and that is what Linfield were hoping to avoid when they hosted Coleraine on Tuesday night.

There was only the one change from Saturday’s starting XI, an enforced one as Chris Casement came in for the suspended Jamie Mulgrew. It didn’t work when David Jeffrey was manager, and it didn’t work again last night. If he is to play, it has to be in defence, his natural position.

Thankfully, Sean Ward was on the bench again after injury, which will be handy when the extra games of Mulgrew’s ban come into effect.

Both previous meetings between the two sides were 1-1 draws. While Linfield were drawing those games, Crusaders were winning theirs on the same matchdays. Those four points were all that seperated the sides at kick-off.

Linfield were hoping to arrest a slide of disappointing home results, only winning two of their last five games at Windsor Park.

There were not a lot of chances in the early minutes of the game – Coleraine having a flurry of corners dealt with by Linfield, while all Linfield could offer was a speculative long-range shot from Niall Quinn.

The game took a dramatic turn on 34 minutes when Jimmy Callacher was sent-off for a second yellow card after coming together with a Coleraine attacker on the halfway line. It was soft.

Unsurprisingly, referee Raymond Crangle couldn’t get his red card quick enough.

Call me a cynic, but if a Coleraine player on a yellow card committed that foul, he would have only got a talking to and a final warning.

We got to see that theory in action, when Stephen Douglas clipped Andrew Waterworth’s heels as he ran forward. No yellow card. He did get booked later on, but that would have been his second if Crangle applied the rules properly. Then, after getting a yellow card, Douglas continued to remonstrate with officials. A Linfield player would have been booked for that.

It seems that some players can get sent-off for two offences, while some can only get a yellow card for three offences.

That’s Crangleism in action for you.

This was not a new situation for Linfield. Worryingly, it’s become a regular one over the past two seasons, but we’ve managed to emerge from matches against Cliftonville, Glenavon (x2), Crusaders (x2) and Ballymena unbeaten with ten, and in one case nine, men on the pitch.

The difference from Saturday was, Linfield had something to hold on to. On Tuesday, they had to balance getting into the lead, with holding on to it.

Linfield’s best chance in the first-half was an Andrew Waterworth shot which was easily saved by Chris Johns.

At half-time, Kirk Millar came on for Jonny Frazer. I’m a big fan of Millar, but he is a frustrating player. It didn’t happen for him on Tuesday, and that’s me being polite, wating too many crossing opportunities in the final third, and losing possession too easily in the final third.

With a man less, Linfield needed to make the most of every opportunity that came their way. Set pieces were poor all night. Not one of them troubled Coleraine.

On 74 minutes, Coleraine took the lead when a cross was headed home by Jordon Allen.

Despite a brief flurry after the goal, Coleraine never looked troubled. Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s subs were attacking, with both Cameron Stewart and Kris Bright coming on. I couldn’t tell you what formation Linfield were playing, but it was attacking.

Despite that, there never seemed to be enough bodies forward or options to pass to when Linfield went forward.

As the minutes ran down, Coleraine unsurprisingly started to timewaste, the classic trick of kicking away the ball they were given and demanding the ball that went out be given to them. Unsurprisingly, Raymond Crangle allowed this, and Coleraine players were only encouraged to make a mug out of him, safe in the knowledge the time wouldn’t be added on.

You don’t seriously expect the attention seeking tit to get the basic things right?

Crusaders win over Ards means the gap is now back to seven points, undoing all of Saturday’s good work. By a quirk of mathematics, Linfield could have got four points (draw on Saturday, win on Tuesday) from the last two games and still been seven points behind.

In a strange way, this is starting to feel a lot like David Jeffrey’s early years. If last season mirrored 1997/1998 (give themselves too much, and a late surge was all in vain), then this is mirroring 1998/1999 (winning the head to head against the leaders, but allowing the gap to increase whenever we get within touching distance of the top)

Hopefully, next season will be a lot like 1999/2000.

This season, however, is far from a right off. There’s far too much to play for. Remember, Cliftonville won the league from a relatively similar position in 2014.

The only positive from last night was that Cliftonville could only draw at home to Carrick, meaning they are three points behind Linfield.

The league is on the backseat for this weekend and all focus is on the Irish Cup. Probably a relief after last night. A big performance is needed. If it is delivered, we’ll be fine.

As mentioned, Linfield’s home form in recent weeks has been dodgy. Thankfully, four out of the next five scheduled matches are away from home. Hopefully, there’ll be an Irish Cup tie on 4th February as well in that run.

Naturally, there’ll be questions as to wether Linfield have problems adjusting to playing at the newly redeveloped Windsor Park. What nonsense, nobody was complaining when Linfield won their final home games of last season 3-0 and 4-0, the first time Linfield fans were in the South Stand.

I’ve done a bit of research into this, and home form has been a problem for Linfield over the past four years, before and during the redevelopment. The suggestion that this is a recent problem is pure laziness.

In 2013/2014, David Jeffrey’s last season as manager and the last before redevelopment, Linfield dropped 19 points (5 draws, 3 defeats) at home. 6 of those points were dropped from winning positions. Linfield finished 2nd by 6 points.

Though Cliftonville had better goal difference, there is no way Linfield would have lost at home to Glentoran on matchday 37 with a 3 point lead instead of a 3 point deficit and in inferior goal difference.

In 2014/2015, Linfield lost 21 points (3 draws, 5 defeats) including 12 from winning positions. Linfield finished 2nd by 10 points. The maths is very simple there.

Those statistics include the two “home” matches played at a neutral venue due to subsidence in The Kop.

In 2015/2016, Linfield dropped 12 points at home (3 draws, 2 defeats), 6 from winning positions. Even though Crusaders winning margin was 8 points, there’s no way Linfield lose at Seaview in April if they have a 1 point lead instead of a 5 point deficit.

Three titles lost through bad home form, and they could have afforded 2 home defeats in each of those seasons.

Curiously, Cliftonville’s last title winning team in 2013/2014 had 4 home defeats that season, so perhaps home records leading to title wins is a bit of a myth.

One area I don’t want Linfield 2017 to emulate Cliftonville 2014 is in the Irish Cup, where they exited at the first hurdle after being beaten finalists the year before.

Meanwhile, Linfield’s appeal was successful regarding the choice of venue for the County Antrim Shield Final, meaning it will be played at a neutral venue, decided next week. I bet they rearrange the final for the midweek i’m in Manchester at the end of the month.

I find all the outrage over this rather amusing.

Five years without a major trophy and we can still boil people’s piss.

Good to see Linfield showing who’s boss off the pitch. Time to start doing it on the pitch.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 1-1 GLENTORAN 26.12.2016

Five was very much the number on people’s minds at Windsor Park today. Linfield were looking to get two wins this week to reduce Crusaders five point lead at the top of the Irish League, and get a win over Glentoran in the traditional Boxing Day fixture for five years in a row.

The festive period had already got off to a good start for Linfield. The first team had a dramatic late win last weekend, while a very young Linfield Swifts team won the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas Eve, against a team from East Belfast.

One of the goalscoring heroes from Christmas Eve, was rewarded with a place on the bench for this game.

It was a slow start from Linfield, all of the play was in their half, as Glentoran dominated possession.

Eventually, Linfield began to take control of the ball, almost scoring when an attempted Glentoran clearance hit the top of the crossbar.

Aaron Burns and Marj Haughey then went close from a corner.

Soon after, Kirk Millar broke away. A tee up to Stephen Lowry seemed the obvious opportunity but he flashed it across goal, Elliott Morris parrying the ball to Aaron Burns, who fired over via a Glentoran defender. He really should have scored.

It didn’t matter, as Mark Haughey headed home from the resulting corner to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Aaron Burns then created space for himself but fired wide via a deflection. It looked like being a matter of time before Linfield made it 2-0.

It looked like happening when Andrew Waterworth created space for himself, but he shot wide, or when Aaron Burns fired a shot goalwards, which was saved.

Glentoran had moments in Linfield’s half, but nothing to worry Roy Carroll.

Linfield had a deserved half-time lead, but couldn’t get a two goal lead that surely would have secured the points.

A slow start to the second-half by Linfield allowed Glentoran back into the game. They might not have had a chance, but if Linfield weren’t going to kill them off, all it needed was for one chance to come their way.

Just before the hour, a headed clearance fell perfectly for Aaron Harmon to head into the net.

Linfield couldn’t say they weren’t warned. The only positive was that they still have half an hour to do something about it.

There was a brief flurry from Linfield after the goal, but not enough to suggest a 2nd goal was inevitable. David Healy turned to his subs bench, bringing on Josh Carson for Kirk Millar, who suffered an injury in a challenge.

Even if he wasn’t injured, Millar would have been a prime candidate to be substituted, having endured a frustrating afternoon.

Cameron Stewart came on from the bench, hoping to get a second vital goal in just over 48 hours.

Chris Casement fired a free-kick wide as Linfield searched for a winner. They weren’t getting the bounced. They weren’t making their own luck like against Ballymena United the previous week.

On 86 minutes, Stephen McAlorum was sent-off for a late tackle. It was the second Boxing Day game in which he had been sent-off in. At least he lasted 80 minutes longer today than he did in 2012.

Linfield couldn’t make the most of the one man advantage. For all of the ball being in Glentoran’s defensive third, they never looked like putting it in the back of the net. There would be no repeat of last Saturday’s dramatic late heroics.

It was two points dropped. Failing to kill the game off when on top and then giving away a soft goal.

With Crusaders winning 4-0 at Solitude, it means Linfield trail the leaders by seven points.

Not all hope is lost. Linfield travel to Seaview knowing that a win will reduce the lead to four points, meaning they will be one point better off than at kick-off today. Small progress, but it is to be welcomed.

There is no reason why Linfield can’t beat Crusaders. Both meetings this season have finished 0-0, with Linfield being the better team on both occasions. There is nothing to fear. A vast improvement in performance is needed though.

It’s bad enough the other ten clubs in the league having defeatist attitudes against Crusaders, that should never be the Linfield way.

Meanwhile, i’m still digesting the League Of Ireland fixture announcement. I’m looking at Friday 14th July 2017 as a game to go to.

Being off work on Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th, it seems a bit pointless to come in that day.

I might book it off and try and find a reasonably priced hotel and spend Friday and Saturday in Dublin. The fixtures scheduled that day are Bray v Cork, St Pat’s v Derry and Shelbourne v Wexford Youths.

The first two games could be postponed due to European commitments, meaning I go to Shelbourne v Wexford Youths by defeault. Still, it would mean one last trip to Tolka Park before it gets consigned to history.

July can wait, it’s all about Saturday now. Time for Linfield to step up.

Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR …..)

December began for me with a trip to The Limelight, a venue I would be spending a bit of time at this month, to see Primal Scream in concert.

Two Days later, I was headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield get a routine win over Carrick Rangers.

I then headed out into Belfast to get some photos of a mural of Jack Nicholson

That night, I headed back to The Limelight to see Ocean Colour Scene in concert.

The following weekend, I was Bangor bound to see Linfield take on Ards, and then back to The Limelight (I know, becoming a regular) to see Cast in concert.

The morning after that, I was out on my bike to get some Street Art photos, in Great Victoria Street and a mural of Prince in Botanic.

On the middle Saturday in December, I headed to Windsor Park to see Linfield record a late win over Ballymena United.

The weekend before Christmas saw me being busy, taking in Ulster v Connacht for my annual Rugby match, and then the following morning heading to Seaview to see Linfield Swifts win the Steel and Sons Cup.

There’s still a bit of the month left. Two big Linfield matches, against Glentoran and Crusaders. I’m also hoping to get a chance to head to Lisburn to get some Street Art photos.

And then, that will be me for 2016. Don’t worry, there’ll be Camera Adverntures in 2017.

Primal Scream live at The Limelight

Primal Scream live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Jack

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight

Ocean Colour Scene live at The Limelight Photo Album

Ards v Linfield

Cast live at The Limelight

Cast live at The Limelight Photo Album

Great Victoria Street Art

Great Victoria Street Art Photo Album

Prince Mural

Prince Mural Photo Album

Linfield v Ballymena United

Ulster v Connacht

Ulster v Connacht Photo Album

Dundela v Linfield Swifts

Dundela v Linfield Swifts Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – NOVEMBER

November 2016 began with an eventful trip to Lurgan to see Linfield recover from being both two goals and two men down against Glenavon to secure an unlikely draw.

It was followed by a busy week. I was out on the road again to see Linfield take on Ballymena, before heading to The Odyssey to see Bastille in concert.

Two days later, I was at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Azerbaijan, before heading back on the road to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts.

I then headed to near the Royal Mail’s office to photograph a new mural of various popculture icons such as David Bowie, Christopher Walken, Kes and Adam Ant.

The following midweek, I was back at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Croatia in a friendly, before heading back to Windsor Park the following Saturday to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

November ended with a weekend in Manchester, going to see United take on Feyenoord and West Ham, see Bury take on Millwall via Broadhurst Park, as well as capturing Street Art in Manchester and Salford Quays, and some stickers left by Feyenoord fans around the city.

Those trips to Old Trafford were my first since Jose Mourinho became United manager.

Glenavon v Linfield

Ballymena United v Linfield

Bastille live at The Odyssey

Bastille live at The Odyssey Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan Photo Album

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Down By The Royal Mail II

Down By The Royal Mail II Photo Album

Northern Ireland v Croatia

Northern Ireland v Croatia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester Street Art

Manchester Street Art Photo Album

Manchester United v Feyenoord

Manchester United v Feyenoord Photo Album

Salford Quays Street Art

Salford Quays Street Art Photo Album

Feyenoord Stickers

Feyenoord Stickers Photo Album

Bury v Millwall

Bury v Millwall Photo Album

Broadhurst Park

Manchester United v West Ham United

Manchester United v West Ham United Photo Album

2016 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began with a trip to The Oval, to see Linfield take on Glentoran, play awful but grind out a 2-1 win.

The following Saturday, I went to see Northern Ireland take on San Marino, the first game at a fully redeveloped Windsor Park.

I then went home, and got a bit of sleep, before an early morning boat to Dumfries to see Linfield take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The following Saturday, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Ballinamallard United.

Two days later, I was Limelight bound to see Feeder in concert.

There were then two frustrating weekends as I was then Coleraine bound the following Saturday to see Linfield held to a frustrating draw, just as they were at home to Crusaders the following Saturday.

The month ended by going to see KT Tunstall in concert at Mandela Hall.

Glentoran v Linfield

Northern Ireland v San Marino

Northern Ireland v San Marino Photo Album

Queen of the South v Linfield

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Feeder live at The Limelight

Feeder live at The Limelight Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall

KT Tunstall live at Mandela Hall Photo Album