What a weekend of Danske Bank Premiership action. Who saw this coming? Lowly Warrenpoint Town beating the league leaders, and the only unbeaten team, Coleraine. Christmas really has come early in Co. Down. This is what makes the league enjoyable – it is so unpredictable. Cliftonville go top after defeating Ballymena United at home, and Linfield remain right behind the leaders with games in hand after a good solid win away to Institute.
I start my round-up this week with the result that surprised everyone, and I am sure a few bookmakers too. Before Saturday’s fixtures, Coleraine were the only team undefeated in the league. Sitting top and looking strong for a good away win, they travelled to the league’s bottom team Warrenpoint Town, and somehow came away on the wrong side of a 3-1 defeat. The Bannsiders had gone on a six-game winning streak and were playing some great football under Oran Kearney. To say this result was a surprise was an understatement.
The day got off to the worst possible start for the Bannsiders. Veteran defender Steven Douglas upended Lorcan Forde in the box. The referee didn’t think twice and pointed to the penalty spot. The Point’s striker Alan O’Sullivan stepped up and converted the penalty. The Bannsiders, to their credit, got back on level terms straight away. A Lyndon Kane ball over the top was controlled and beautifully finished by Jamie Glackin.
The Point came back fighting and it was that man O’Sullivan who was on target again. This time he latched onto a through ball from Dermott McVey to finish past Chris Johns who, to his credit, got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out. The third and final goal didn’t come until injury time at the end of the game. On-loan Linfield man Brandon Doyle finished off the match and the Bannsiders.
Cliftonville were not going to let the chance to go top of the tree pass them as they entertained Ballymena United and won 1-0. The Reds are in super form. I mentioned a few weeks ago that “it is hard to stop a team in this league if they get the momentum going”. Last time the Reds were defeated in the league was on the 28th September against, ironically, Ballymena United. For the Sky Blues that was the last time they won. They are in a really bad run of form: five defeats and two draws before this one. David Jeffery has no more hair to pull out, but he must be having nightmares about what has gone wrong.
The only goal of this game came from Rory Donnelly. Donnelly picked up a ball on the edge of the box, and with instant control, turned and fired the ball low and hard into the corner of the net. The Reds are playing some great football and look like they have a spring in their step. Can they stay there? The league is so unpredictable, let us see if they keep hold of it next week.
The team they all need to be looking over their shoulders for are Linfield. They keep tallying up the points and still have games in hand on everyone above them. On Saturday they travelled to the Brandywell to play Institute and came away with a strong 3-0 win. This win puts them in 4th place, but they have only played thirteen games. Institute stay in 11th place after steadying what looked like a sinking ship with three draws on the bounce.
This was the tale of three penalties for the Blues. First up, Joel Cooper was upended in the box by Stute defender Ryan Morrow. The resulting penalty from Cooper was saved by Stute keeper Rory Brown. Just before the break, referee Raymond Craingle showed a straight red card to Stute’s Ryan Morrow for an off-the-ball incident and then pointed to the spot. This time Andrew Waterworth stepped up and dinked the ball over Brown into the net.
Number two for the Blues came through Bastion Hery. He jinked his way past a couple of defenders before unleashing a wonderful shot into the Stute net.
The game was sealed in the second half and once again it was Cooper that went down in the box. Waterworth again stepped up to the spot, and this time used power to fire the ball low into the net. This Linfield team is going to be the team to beat this season. This week they announced the signing of Kyle McClean who spent part of last season on loan at the Blues from St. Johnstone.
Last but not least of the Saturday action, Dungannon Swifts entertained Larne and lost 1-0. For me, as one of the most underachieving teams in the league, Larne should be doing a lot better than the league position they are in. Yes, it is only their first season in the big league, but they have been together longer than this year. They are full-time, and spend a lot of time – more than most teams in the league, on the training ground. The quality of players that Tiernan Lynch has at his disposal is frightening. But I questioned him against the Crues on Monday. Another manager/coach that likes to tinker with the team, tactics, and selection.
The Swifts have been in bad form of late and this was to continue with this game. Five defeats in a row and, with the two teams below them starting to show some sort of form, things need to change. The only goal on Saturday came through Martin Donnelly. A mistake by the Swifts’ defender Caomhan McGuinness let in Donnelly who finished. Larne were reduced to 10 men when Tomas Cosgrove was given a straight red for a headbutt – he really cannot have much to complain about.
On Friday night Carrick Rangers welcomed Crusaders to Loughshore Arena, ‘Taylors Avenue’ and will feel a little unlucky not to have come away with at least a point in this 3-1 defeat. The Crues changed their shape for this one and seemed to have gone with a front four. But it was Carrick that got the game’s first goal. Ex-Crusader’s youngster, Lloyd Anderson played in one-time Crusaders transfer target Guillaume Keke, who somehow thought Ards was the better option and fired home. Stephen Baxter made changes at half-time with Paul Heatley and David Cushley coming off. The tactics were clearly not working and it was one of the substitutes, Ross Clarke, that fired the Crues level with an unstoppable shot past Aaron Hogg in the Carrick net.
The Crues huffed and puffed and it took until injury time before they sealed the win. Jordan Owens was given too much time on the edge of the box to take a touch and fire home. Then there was a wonderful individual effort from Jamie McGonigle who ran through and chipped the ball over Hogg from the edge of the box. Hard to watch from the Crues and there are more tactical wrongs, but three points are three points.