PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : APRIL/MAY

April’s football watching began with a trip to Mourneview Park on Easter Tuesday to see Linfield grind out a 3-2 win away to Glenavon.

That was followed on the Saturday afterwards by going to see Linfield beat Ballymena United 2-0.

Good start to the month, but that was as good as it got, as Linfield could only managed one point from their next three games against Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville, which would cause them to eventually miss out on European football.

There was only one match for me in May, a trip to Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Watford.

And that, was the 2017-2018 over for me.

Here’s to more football and photos in 2018-2019.

Glenavon v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

Crusaders v Linfield

Linfield v Coleraine

Linfield v Cliftonville

Manchester United v Watford

Manchester United v Watford Photo Album

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began for me with a midweek trip to Warrenpoint to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town.

That was followed four days later by Linfield’s 0-0 draw with Dungannon Swifts.

Two away games followed for Linfield on the following weekends, against Cliftonville and Ards, before finishing the month with a midweek home match against Glenavon.

Warrenpoint Town v Linfield

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Cliftonville v Linfield

Ards v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : JANUARY

January 2018’s football watching was supposed to start at Coleraine on the first day of the month, but the weather saw to that, so I had to wait a week to visit Taylor’s Avenue for my first game of the month, to see Linfield grind out a 1-0 win over Carrick Rangers.

There was another postponement in the middle of the month, at Warrenpoint, which meant I had to wait a whole week for my next match. It wasn’t really worth the wait as Linfield lost 3-2 to Glenavon.

Towards the end of the month, I headed to London for a short weekend away. Naturally, I hoped to take in a game while I was there, and the game I chose was Millwall v Rochdale.

My final game of the month was a trip to Coleraine, which should have kicked off the month, to see Linfield score two late goals to secure a dramatic draw.

Carrick Rangers v Linfield

Linfield v Glenavon

Millwall v Rochdale

Millwall v Rochdale Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : DECEMBER

December’s football watching began with a trip to Windsor Park, a place where I would spend four of the five Saturdays during the month, to see Linfield scrape a 1-0 win over Dungannon Swifts.

Postponements would then frustrate my football watching, as Linfield’s trip to Carrick was postponed, as was the FA Cup Replay between Crewe Alexandra and Blackburn Rovers, which I had planned on attending.

The reason for this was that I was in North-West England to see Manchester United take on AFC Bournemouth, my first visit to Old Trafford of the season.

I then headed to Windsor Park on successive Saturdays to see Linfield take on Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville.

That was then followed by a Boxing Day trip to The Oval, the less said about that, the better.

After that, it was back to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Crusaders. The less said about that, the better.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Manchester Untied v AFC Bournemouth

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth Photo Album

Linfield v Warrenpoint Town

Linfield v Cliftonville

Glentoran v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : OCTOBER

October’s football watching began with Northern Ireland taking on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier.

That was then followed by taking in Linfield’s defeats against Coleraine and Crusaders.

Thankfully, the month ended a bit better, as I went to see Linfield beat Ards

Northern Ireland v Germany

Northern Ireland v Germany Photo Album

Coleraine v Linfield

Linfield v Crusaders

Linfield v Ards

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : AUGUST

August’s football watching began at Wilgar Park to see Linfield take on Dundela in a friendly. The following day, was another Pre-Season Friendly, but in different surroundings, as Manchester United took on Sampdoria at Lansdowne Road.

That weekend, I was in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival. While there, I make an effort to attend a game, and I saw Edinburgh City v Montrose while I was there.

Upon my return, was the start of the Irish League season, and I was out for Linfield’s opening week of matches against Carrick, Ards and Dungannon.

My football watching for the month ended by seeing Linfield take on Ballymena at Windsor Park.

Dundela v Linfield

Manchester United v Sampdoria

Manchester United v Sampdoria Photo Album

Edinburgh City v Montrose

Edinburgh City v Montrose Photo Album

Linfield v Carrick Rangers

Ards v Linfield

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Ballymena United

PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON: JUNE/JULY

For me, the 2017-2018 football season began at Maine Road in the 1950s. I know what you’re thinking. Did I build a time machine?

Not quite. The Oval was being used to film scenes for a film about Bert Trautmann, and I went down to have a look at it being dressed up as Maine Road.

I then reverted back to the present day, to see Linfield take on La Fiorita in the European Cup.

The football became less competitive, as I ventured to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Hearts in a friendly.

The following Friday, it was back to the European Cup for Linfield, but more Scottish opposition in the shape of Celtic.

Maine Oval

Maine Oval Photo Album

Linfield v La Fiorita

Linfield v Hearts

Linfield v Celtic

LINFIELD 1-2 CLIFTONVILLE 28.4.2018

Last week, I entered Windsor Park to the sound of Some Kind Of Bliss, it was a song title not in keeping with Linfield’s season.

This week, the song on the tannoy as I entered the ground was You’re In A Bad Way by Saint Etienne. Sadly, apt, but the season was still retrievable.

This was one of five games on the final day with something riding on it.

Linfield were in the hunt for 3rd place, that would guarantee automatic qualification to the UEFA Cup if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.

Linfield kicked-off one point behind Glenavon, but while Glenavon faced a side going for the title, Linfield were facing a team locked in 5th and looking forward to the Irish Cup Final. That was reflected in their starting eleven.

Linfield’s starting eleven had three changes from their last match. Mark Haughey was suspended and replaced by Joe Crowe and Josh Robinson was replaced by Stephen Lowry.

Goals from Achille Campion and Kurtis Byrne against Coleraine gave David Healy a selection headache with Andrew Waterworth returning from a one match ban.

On Monday morning, young Ryan Strain was injured in a car collision. I don’t know any more about that other than what was posted on the club’s website. Naturally, best wishes to him.

It’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but he played well against Coleraine, making his absence even worse for him. His place was taken by the returning Waterowrth.

Cliftonville’s starting eleven was full of a lot of unfamiliar names. The names that stood out were those not in it – Neeson, J Donnelly, R Donnelly, Gormley, Curran.

This was a match watched from the South Stand. The experiment of allowing Linfield fans to watch from the Railway Stand lasting only one match.

Inside the opening thirty seconds of the match, Linfield had their first promising attack when Achille Campion looked set to get behind Cliftonville’s defence but he just couldn’t get clear of his defender to have a shot.

A goalmouth scramble saw a Jimmy Callacher overhead be blocked by a Cliftonville defender. Shouts for handball by Linfield fans were ambitious.

It was a good positive start by Linfield, though that was something we’d heard before this season.

Cliftonville rode out that storm. Well, it wasn’t really a storm, more of an inconvenient breeze if you want to use a weather analogy, and began to have some attacking possession of their own. No clear opportunities, but Linfield forced into clearances, mostly caused by sloppily giving possession away.

It was being sloppy in possession that would cost Linfield, not a goal, but a player, as Robert Garrett was sent-off for a late tackle on Jude Winchester after miscontrolling the ball.

It was a tackle that he had no chance of winning and didn’t need to be made. It kept up his record of being sent-off every four years against Cliftonville after red cards in 2010 and 2014.

If you’re looking free money in 2022. you know what to bet on.

If Linfield were to play in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, Garrett would miss the Semi-Final, possibly the Final as well if Linfield get there. As it was his second red card this season, his ban will probably extend into next season.

With Josh Robinson starting a ban on Monday, i’m not sure how many games Andrew Mitchell has been banned for after his red card against Crusaders. With Jamie Mulgrew also injured since mid March, if Linfield do have to face a UEFA Cup Play-Off, they’ll have a crisis in terms of who to pick in midfield.

Discipline has been a serious issue for Linfield this season. In four out of five Post-Split matches, Linfield have had at least one, in some cases two, players suspended.

It’s blatantly obvious why that is not a good thing, key players missing in key games, as well as unnecessary disruption in terms of team selection.

You could see Cliftonville players get a boost from this, and Linfield heads go down. There was no rolling up the sleeves and getting on with it, like against Glenavon in November 2016.

With 80 minutes to go with ten men, it was always going to be tough. Linfield didn’t have to look back to November 2016 for inspiration in getting a result with ten men for most of the game, as Atletico Madrid held their own away to Arsenal with ten men for 80 minutes less just two days previously.

How apt, as you could say, as you could say that Cliftonville are the Arsenal of the Irish League. They have a soft centre and you always think they will drop points against lower ranked opponents. When they’re bad, they’re bad. When they’re good, they’re good. Over the next ten minutes, Linfield were to make Cliftonville look very good.

During that period, they went 2-0 up with goals from Jude Winchester and Daniel Reynolds. An already tough task had just got tougher for Linfield.

The only response that Linfield offered was a shot from Andrew Waterworth that went just wide after a pull back from Achille Campion.

You would have thought it was Cliftonville who needed the points to secure 3rd. It was frankly embarrassing from Linfield. This wasn’t even Cliftonville’s first choice team.

It wasn’t just Linfield who were being given the runaround by Cliftonville Reserves, so too was referee Keith Kennedy, who took no action as Clifonville timewsted at will.

The most embarrassing incident came when he stopped the game to allow a Cliftonville player to go into the concourse of The Kop to retrieve a ball that went out for a throw, even though a ballboy standing right beside him offered him an alternative ball.

You wouldn’t see a game being stopped like that in park football.

In truth, Linfield were thankful to be only 2-0 down at half-time.

Cliftonville fans had a more arduous afternoon walking to the Top Tier of the North Stand than their players were having on the pitch.

On the last game of last season, Linfield trailed Cliftonville at half-time. Back then, it was never in doubt that Linfield would come back and win the game, despite how bad they had played in the first-half.

Today, nobody had that belief.

You would have expected a Linfield response in the opening minutes of the second-half. Like most of the season, expectations were not met.

In fact, it was Cliftonville who looked most likely to score, with Conor McDonald firing a long range shot wide, while Ross Lavery had a low shot saved by Roy Carroll, while Carroll had to save a header from Stephen Garrett that looked like it was going to loop in.

Linfield’s response? Erm …….

By now, Stephen Fallon and Louis Rooney had come on for Joe Crowe and Achille Campion.

Out of nowhere, Linfield got a goal back, a header by Jimmy Callacher on 74 minutes. There was only half hearted celebrations from Linfield fans.

That suggested it was just a consolation rather than the start of a fightback.

Mark Stafford had a shot blocked on the line before having a goal disallowed for a foul on Cliftonville’s goalkeeper. It was a soft decision.

Linfield never looking like making it 2-2 to make the disallowed goal an issue.

Cliftonville held out and won the game 2-1.

It was another game that emphasised how badly Linfield miss Jamie Mulgrew when he doesn’t play. There was nobody to keep spirits up after the red card. There was nobody driving the team forward when they needed a goal.

When he gets the ball, you feel like something will happen. That’s why he gets fouled so much. Teams are scared of what he can do when he gets the ball.

There is nobody on the squad who can do what he does. He’s not getting any younger. It’s an issues that will have to be addressed on a long-term and short-term basis.

The result condemned Linfield to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs alongside Ballymena United and Glentoran. The final place will be Cliftonville (If Coleraine win the Irish Cup) or Glenavon (If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup)

It really should have been Linfield hanging on the result of the Irish Cup Final. They only have themselves to blame. Six points dropped against Glentoran, Ballinamallard United and Coleraine cost Linfield, as did the surrender at Seaview two weeks ago.

And that was just the last six weeks.

If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Glentoran while Cliftonville will be at home to Ballymena United.

If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Ballymena United while Glenavon will be at home to Glentoran.

Hear me out, but i’m leaning towards a Cliftonville win in the Irish Cup Final next week.

Mainly because the dates of the games don’t suit me.

The Semi-Finals will be on Wednesday 9th May. I’ve got a ticket for Noel Gallagher at The Odyssey that night. If we’re playing Glentoran, I may be stupid enough to sell my ticket for Noel.

The Final is Saturday 12th May. I’ll be going to Manchester that day for Manchester United v Watford.

It’s my own fault for suggesting last year that the Final should be on a Saturday rather than a Friday, as it was last year.

However, it is still out of order for NIFL to arrange fixtures without consulting my social diary first.

Can’t say i’m feeling optimistic about the Play-Offs. Can’t say any of the following scenarios seem appealing:

Linfield 0-0 Ballymena United (0-1 on penalties)
Linfield 1-2 Glentoran AET
Glenavon 1 (Joel Cooper 90+3) Linfield 0

If Linfield aren’t going into the Play-Offs in great shape, it’s some consolation that neither are any of the other teams. Here’s the form

Glenavon : 1 win in 10 games
Linfield : 0 wins in 3, 6 goals conceded in 3 games
Cliftonville : 1 win in 5 games
Ballymena United : 0 wins and 1 goal in 5 games
Glentoran : 3 defeats in 4 games

The Play-Offs are a farce. It’s a reward for mediocrity. It’s equivalent to the team that finishes 17th in The Championship having an opportunity for promotion to the Premier League.

Check my archive, my view has been consistent on this, even though Linfield would be potentially benefitting from this if Cliftonville win the Irish Cup.

I had the choice of going to United v Arsenal or United v Watford. I’m beginning to think I should have given this game a miss and gone to Old Trafford instead.

If you care about results elsewhere, Crusaders won the League. A victory for hoofball and thuggery. There are too many teams in the League who are scared of Crusaders. Shamefully, Linfield are one of those teams. I thought that nonsense was put to bed in 2016-2017.

On the plus side, they have a lot of players in or approaching their 30s, so it will be fun over the next few years watching them struggle when they all hit a brick wall at the same time.

Ballinamallard got relegated. I do enjoy travelling to Ballinamallard, especially the Retro/Vintage Store in the town. Can’t say I feel too sorry for the tramp that operates the turnstiles who smokes away as you enter the ground.

Carrick Rangers will play Newry City in a Play-Off. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010, so i’m long overdue a visit.

In other Play-Offs, Cover Rangers beat Spartans 4-0 in the SPFL Play-Offs, meaning that there won’t be a new Edinburgh team in the SPFL, so i’ll just have a choice of three teams when I visit Edinburgh in August.

I’ll miss most of the Irish Cup Final as i’ll be going to see David Hepworth at CQAF. I wish I was having a vested interest in that game. Or even, better, going to that game to see Linfield play.

Photo Album

LINFIELD 2-2 COLERAINE 21.4.2018

Entering Windsor Park in the sunshine as Some Kind Of Bliss by Her Majesty Kylie Minogue blasts out on the tannoy. As song titles go, it’s not one that would sum up Linfield’s season. Wake Me Up When It’s All Over could have doubled up as a tribute to Avicii and an accurate summary of Linfield’s season. By the time the full-time whistle blew, History Repeating by Propellerheads would have been an apt choice of song.

History repeated itself in so many ways. The first was the pre-match scenario.

Matchday 37, the sun is shining, Linfield face Coleraine as they look to overtake a team one point in front, while looking for a favour from Ballymena United. Just as it was last year.

The big difference, was that Linfield were aiming for 3rd rather than 1st.

A pitiful surrender at Seaview last weekend didn’t lead to much optimism amongst Linfield’s support pre-match.

That surrender at Seaview led to three changes in the starting eleven, although two of them were enforced due to suspensions to Andrew Waterworth and Andrew Mitchell. Stephen Fallon dropped to the bench as Jimmy Callacher, Achille Campion and Ryan Strain came into the team.

Jimmy Callacher coming into the team meant that Josh Robinson was pushed into midfield. I’ve been critical at times of Robinson’s performance this season, but he did well today.

Carroll was in goal for Linfield, no surprise there, but there was another Carroll in the Linfield squad today, with young striker Adam Carroll taking his place on the bench.

The only team in the League to lose four times to Crusaders, there is one positive record this season that Linfield do have, the only team to have beaten Coleraine in the League.

It was a match for me, and quite a few other Linfield fans that would be viewed from the Railway Stand, the stand being made available to Linfield fans on a trial basis.

It is definitely worth trialing, and letting this trial continue into the early months of next season. The tail end of a season that has sucked the life and enthusiasm out of everyone is never going to be the best barometer.

There are a few things that need to be ironed out.

There is absolutely no reason why fans can’t access the Railway Stand via the South Stand. There is no need to segregate the two stands. I know it’s been a bad season, but hardly so bad that we need to be kept apart from each other.

The two stands being kept apart leads nicely into my next observation, albeit one that doesn’t affect me.

Feel free to correct me if i’m wrong, but there didn’t appear to be any facilities for anyone who wanted to get an alcoholic beverage before the match or at half-time if they so wished. All that could be remedied by making it possible for people to freely move between the two stands.

It’s the little things that can make the difference. I’ve always felt that Linfield disadvantage themselves by not having fans behind the goal at Windsor Park.

You see matches away from home where Linfield are attacking with their fans behind the goal. You always feel that Linfield will get a goal. We have two stands, we should be putting our fans in one of them.

It’ll also serve a purpose as it’ll stop goalkeepers timewasting when the ball goes behind the goal if fans can return it quickly.

Linfield were straight on the attack, they were up for it, putting Coleraine straight under pressure, with Coleraine being forced to concede corners. From those corners, Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns was struggling. There were goals in this for Linield.

On 14 minutes, Linfield got one of those when a cross from Matthew Clarke was headed home by Achille Campion to put Linfield 1-0 up with his first goal at Windsor Park.

It was deserved. Unlike so many times this season, Linfield had scored when they were on top.

At the other end of the field, Eoin Bradley was enduring a frustrating afternoon. He spent most of the afternoon trying to goad and get a reaction out of Linfield’s defenders. They weren’t playing ball.

His afternoon was summed up as he tried to keep the ball in play by backheeling it off a Linfield defender, making a mess of it and conceding a throw.

He then tried to shield the ball and invite a foul from Jimmy Callacher. The foul didn’t come, and Bradley ended up conceding a throw. His afternoon only lasted 45 minutes as he was substituted at half-time.

Bradley did have an attempt on goal, a low free-kick being saved by Roy Carroll who then smothered it before the ball could squirm in, just as it looked set to squeeze in.

Johns then produced a double save from Kurtis Byrne and Ryan Strain, though an offside flag did go up, although that was ignored as Coleraine went straight on the attack.

All their early pressure only brought one goal, Linfield got a second as the half began to meander, as a long ball forward fell to Kurtis Byrne, who fired home with his left foot for his third goal in four games.

Linfield then had an attack on the break where Robert Garrett had a long range shot saved by Johns, Kirk Millar followed up on the rebound and dinked the ball over him, but also over the bar.

Linfield were feeling unstoppable.

In the final moment of the game, Eoin Bradley’s fortunes looked to be taking an upward turn, as he had a sight of goal, only to have that sight obstructed by a block from Mark Stafford.

The first-half was a repeat of the first-half when the sides met at Windsor Park in November 2017.

The lesson from that day was that if Coleraine pulled a goal back, it could be a nervous afternoon for Linfield.

In that match in November last year, Aaron Burns came on as a substitute for Linfield. Today, he came on as a substitute for Coleraine today, coming on at half-time alongside Ian Parkhill and Jamie McGonigle.

Second-half goals have been a speciality for Coleraine in recent weeks, drawing first-half blanks against Larne, Crusaders, Cliftonville and Ballymena United, and emerging with three wins and a draw.

In the game in November, the opening minutes of the second-half saw a lot of Coleraine pressure. That was expected to be the case again, but in fact it was the other way around.

A clearance from Chris Johns fell to Kirk Millar in the right midfield position, who returned it immediately.

He couldn’t replicate his goal against Ballinamallard United on the opening day of last season, curling wide of the goal but staying in play, Coleraine struggling to clear in their right-back position.

Kurtis Byrne then narrowly chipped wide from a wide position, as Linfield went in search of a third goal they needed to secure the points.

Coleraine fans were soon cheering a goal, but not at Windsor Park, across the city at Seaview as Cliftonville went 1-0 up against Crusaders.

It was Coleraine fans loudest cheer of the day. It was their only cheer of the day.

That joy was short-lived as Crusaders equalised immediately. Coleraine still had to help themselves as there was no point in Crusaders dropping points if they were doing likewise.

A cross from the right almost caught out Roy Carroll, hitting the post, while Carroll had to tip over a header that looked like sneaking in.

It looked like being one of those days for Coleraine as Linfield looked set to hold out.

Out of nowhere, Coleraine got a lifeline when Roy Carroll conceded a penalty.

As if the situation wasn’t tense enough for Darren McCauley as he waited to take the kick, there was a delay due to an injured Linfield player receiving treatment, as well as two Linfield substitutions, Stephen Fallon and Louis Rooney coming on for Achille Campion and Ryan Strain.

McCauley finished the penalty to make it 2-1, and with fifteen minutes to go, it set it up for a tense finish.

Linfield went straight on the attack, with Chris Johns forced into turning the ball around for a corner.

Before you could say that it was good to see that Linfield were dusting themselves down and getting on with it, Coleraine were level when a simple crossfield pass played in Darren McCauley to make it 2-2.

As soon as McCauley got the ball, there was only going to be one outcome.

There was no real science to it, one pass and he was through on goal. Once again, Linfield concede another bad goal.

It was similar (albeit from a different side) to Jamie McGonigle’s ‘goal’ when the sides met in October 2017.

Just as when the sides last met in January, the away side scored two quickfire goals to turn 0-2 into 2-2.

This match was like a Greatest Hits of matches between Linfield and Coleraine this season. Everything that happened in those three games happened at some point in this game.

Unlike in January when Linfield pulled it back to 2-2, Coleraine had time on their side to go on and win the game.

Coleraine couldn’t get a winner but neither could Linfield. The closest either side came to a goal was when Jimmy Callacher had a goalbound header blocked.

It finished 2-2, not an ideal result for either side. Draws in the other two Section A games mean that nothing changed at the top. Linfield and Coleraine will be ruing dropped points, but will be thankful others didn’t putt clear of them.

Both sides will be looking for a favour from others as their destiny will be out of their hands. Linfield will be looking for a favour from Coleraine a week after trying to kill off their title bid.

And if Linfield take advantage of a favour from Coleraine, we’ll be needing another one in the Irish Cup Final.

I was genuinely surprised and thankful that Ballymena got a draw at Mourneview Park.

I was also surprised that Cliftonville got a draw at Seaview. With last week’s defeat to Glenavon theoretically (but not mathematically) ending their hopes of 3rd place, I thought Cliftonville would have been winding down the League season in preparation for the Irish Cup Final, especially to avoid suspensions.

That result keeps the race for the title going until the last day, which is good as Coleraine will have to get something against Glenavon, which would benefit Linfield if they do. Coleraine’s pre-match mood would have been a lot more despondent if they were trailing Crusaders by two points with an inferior goal difference.

That draw at Seaview will also ensure no complacency (I hope) from Linfield fans and players who may think Cliftonville’s minds may be elsewhere.

It is a result that makes Linfield’s pitiful surrender last week even worse as Coleraine, Glenavon and Cliftonville have all emerged from Seaview in recent weeks unbeaten.

Hopefully, Linfield’s players will spend the Summer reading the following sentence over and over again – Do not be afraid of Crusaders, do not be a afraid of Crusaders, do not be afr …….

It doesn’t matter if Cliftonville have one eye or two eyes on the Irish Cup Final, all that matters is Linfield’s performance and application.

Cliftonville won’t want to go into their biggest match of the season with three defeats and a draw in their previous four matches.

Linfield will go into that game with one enforced change due to Mark Haughey serving a suspension. I would expect (and hope) that Joe Crowe will come in for him.

Who knows what is going to happen next Saturday?

As tense as it will be, i’d rather be playing for 1st than playing for 3rd on the last day of the season.

One thing that looks a certainty will be a delayed kick-off. I’ll be amazed if all three games in Section A kick off at 3pm.

With the outcome of the three games linking to each other, a delayed kick-off in Lurgan or Ballymena due to crowd congestion will have a knock-on effect of the other two games having to be delayed.

On the plus side, if there is a delayed kick-off, Linfield will get to be Champions for an extra fifteen minutes.

In Section B, the bottom two, like the top two, are separated by goal difference, with Carrick Rangers edging out Ballinamallard United.

Given the choice, I can’t say Carrick would be missed. Ten men behind the ball and foul as soon as the ball goes into their half. At least Ballinamallard try to play football.

One good thing about Carrick’s win at The Oval, apart from the obvious, is that it kills off Glentoran’s momentum.

One advantage that the team in 7th will have in relation to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs is that by playing the bottom five, they have the opportunity to get some form and momentum going into the Play-Offs.

That is now two defeats in three games for Glentoran. I’d expect Ballinamallard, on a six game unbeaten run and with so much to play for, to get a win at The Oval. Wether it will be enough to stay up, is another matter.

Got to feel for Ards and Dungannon Swifts fans, or possibly envy them, as their meeting at Clandeboye Park will be the only game with nothing riding on it.

One team definitely celebrating a title is Institute, who secured promotion after winning the NIFL Championship.

As you will already know, their ground is unusable after flooding last Summer. This season, they have alternated between Wilton Park and Limavady Showgrounds, while there are also rumours that they want to use The Brandywell.

Whichever of those three grounds they use, it will be a new one for me.

As previously mentioned, ideally Linfield will be away to Institute on Saturday 11th August, as Embrace are doing a concert in Limavady that day. A nice double header.

Meanwhile in England, Sunderland got relegated to League One. Ha ha ha. Poznan related “Banter”, cringeworthy halfscarfery at the 2014 League Cup Final, voting for Brexit, viewing announcing the first result at a General Election as an achievement. There’s really not a lot redeeming about Sunderland.

Finally, a club goal by Liam Boyce that is worth celebrating.

Elsehwere in the Nort-East, Middlesbrough continue to hold on to a Play-Off spot.

The reason why I have an interest in Middlesbrough this season is that Newcastle hosts the 2019 European Rugby Cup Final. Obviously, Newcastle would be away that weekend, but logically, Middlesbrough would be at home if they are in the Premier League. That would be a very tempting double header.

Yep, i’m already planning my football trips for 2018-2019.

Hopefully, i’ll have only one more Linfield match in 2017-2018

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LINFIELD 2-0 BALLYMENA UNITED 7.4.2018

A late run of form saw Ballymena claim the last place in the Top Six ahead of Glentoran. It wasn’t just the obvious opportunity to laugh at Glentoran having a second successive season of Bottom Six football. Having paid for a Season Ticket last summer, and liking to watch my pennies, having three home games and not having to go to The Oval today was also a positive.

A week long break after that win over Ballinamallard killed Ballymena’s momentum, and they couldn’t recover it on Easter Tuesday, losing 3-0 at home to Cliftonville.

That win for Cliftonville, combined with Linfield’s win over Glenavon meant that 3rd place Glenavon and 5th place Cliftonville were separated by two points, with Linfield sandwiched in 4th, level with Glenavon.

Depending on the result of the Irish Cup Final, 3rd place could guarantee an automatic place in Europe next season. Every point is vital, Linfield had to grab three of them today, especially with Glenavon and Cliftonville travelling away to the top two.

Linfield were unchanged from Tuesday night’s game. A bit surprising, as Jimmy Callacher was available after serving a one match ban, Josh Robinson kept his place, with Callacher on the bench. Robert Garrett was serving the second game of his two match ban.

Not a lot happened in this first-half, but what did happen, Andrew Waterworth was involved.

He had Linfield’s first attempt on goal, creating space for himself before firing over, as well as having a goal disallowed for offside. Looked it, so no complaints.

Waterworth also got himself a yellow card for shoulder barging a Ballymena player who accused him of diving, four days after a Glenavon player didn’t even get a yellow card for pushing him over.

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

Trying to goad Linfield players seemed to be a tactic by Ballymena in the first-half, with several of their players trying to gang up on Kurtis Byrne after a collision with Jim Ervin. Thankfully, Linfield players didn’t take the bait.

Linfield had to make a first-half sub when Niall Quinn went off injured, replaced by Stephen Fallon.

Conor McCloskey had the only first-half shot after a run, which was easily and spectacularly saved by Roy Carroll, for the benefit of Photographers.

Linfield needed to step it up in the second-half, especially when they digested the half-time scores from elsewhere.

Glenavon were 1-0 down away to Crusaders, which meant that Linfield would jump above them, but Cliftonville were 1-0 up away to Coleraine, meaning they would now be level on points with Linfield, and have a lot of momentum going in their favour.

There was a scenario pre-match where a 0-0 draw for Linfield and a 4-1 win for Cliftonville would see Linfield and Cliftonville level on points with identical records. Linfield’s part of that “bargain” was lookign very likely to happen.

Mark Stafford was involved in the early minutes of the second-half, producing a goal saving tackle as Matthew Shevlin looked set to finished after a run. Minutes later, he headed home from a corner to put Linfield 1-0 up in a game where the first goal was vital.

There were a few corners before that which went right to the penalty spot area. Either nobody attacked or a Ballymena player got their first. All Linfield needed was for one of their players to win it, and they were going to get their reward.

It was also an unexpected consequence of Niall Quinn’s absence. The corner came in from the right hand side, with Kirk Millar taking it due to no left footed set piece takers on the pitch, an outwsinger, where it would have been an inswinger if Quinn was on the pitch.

Roy Carroll was forced into a couple of saved from long range shots, as Linfield needed a second goal.

That almost came from a shot from Kurtis Byrne from outside the box, but it was tipped onto the post.

He got it a few minutes later when Kirk Millar kept the ball in on the byline, going forward to Andrew Waterworth close to the corner flag. He waited for the moment to cross, and did so just as Byrne was running through, finishing from close range to give Linfield the points.

Byrne and Waterworth were replaced by Achille Campion and Louis Rooney, with Campion and Rooney combining to create a chance for Stephen Lowry, who couldn’t bundle the ball home from close range. It didn’t matter.

Results elswhere took a dramatic turn, with Glenavon coming from behind to get a draw at Crusaders, while Coleraine came from behind to get a late win against Cliftonville.

That means that Linfield are now 3rd. I can’t remember the last time they were that high. Most importantly, they have a five point lead over Cliftonville with nine points to play for.

Net Saturday, Cliftonville are at home to Glenavon. A draw would be perfect. Whatever the result, Linfield can pull clear of one or both of them with a win at Seaview.

Although results against Crusaders this season have been poor this season (being kind), there’s no reason why Linfield can’t go to Seaview and win.

Crusaders are in a rut, they’ve only won two of their last five games.

If we go there, get stuck in, attack them, and make sure we defend properly, we are more than capable of getting the three points. Basically, just do everything we haven’t done against them this season. Linfield are the form team of the two, relatively speaking.

So, a win, a clean sheet, and other results went our way. That’s what I would call a good day.

Linfield won’t win the League this season, but they will have a big say in who does, with Crusaders and Coleraine coming up next. Hopefully, we’ll have the biggest voice in who finishes 3rd.

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