What a first half of the season we have just witnessed. If we get the same in the second half, it will be a “take your pick” of who will actually take control and push on to the title. The top of the table has become a little congested: from Linfield, who sit in 1stplace, there are only five points to 5thplace, where Glentoran are sitting in a very strong position and are still in contention while playing some really good football. This season could not be any tighter as we push into the Boxing Day derby games, and onwards into the New Year.
Linfield maintained top spot with a lacklustre draw at home to Crusaders. The Crues had a handful of wasted opportunities which could have put them level at the top of the table with the Blues. Cliftonville moved into second place after defeating Coleraine at home, and bottom-placed Warrenpoint Town continue to struggle as they lost 2-0 at home to Larne.
Linfield 1-1 Crusaders
Crusaders will not get a better chance this season to beat the champions at home. David Healy’s men in fairness should have been at least three goals down before half-time. But the Crues just couldn’t convert the chances they were given and lived to regret them by the end of the game. A lot has been said about how the pitch at the National Stadium is not allowing the Blues to play football – so, who actually owns the maintenance of it? I am not sure and this could well be a debate for another day, but someone must take the blame for the ridiculous state of the surface. In all fairness, it is an embarrassment for the playing surface of a National Stadium to be in that sort of order.
The Crues took the lead in the game when Declan Caddell got his head onto a cross to make it 1-0. The Crues should have at least had another two before half-time. 1-0 for the Crues is not good enough at any stage of the game. They are a team that will struggle to keep a clean sheet, a trait they have carried over from last season and the Blues should have had an equaliser sooner. But Bastion Hery missed a penalty which was well saved by the Crues goalkeeper, Ger Doherty, though a few minutes later Doherty got his angles all wrong when Joel Cooper hit a wonderful shot into the net. Two points definitely dropped by the Crues.
Cliftonville 1-0 Coleraine
To say these two went at it ‘hammer and tongs’ is an understatement. The 1-0 scoreline does not give this game the justification it deserves. The win puts the Reds in second place and, with the Boxing Day fixture away to their North Belfast rivals Crusaders, this win is a boost they really wanted. They will travel down to the Shore Road venue on Boxing Day full of confidence to overturn their neighbours and get a result.
The all-important goal in the game came late on as Conor McMenamin powered home an Aaron Donnelly cross. For me, the man of the match must have been the Reds’ keeper Richard Brush. On the surface he must have some sore parts of the body after the saves he was producing Saturday so the Reds most definitely have their stopper to thank for the win.
Carrick Rangers 0-1 Glentoran
This was an emotional day all round. The first home game for Carrick after the sudden passing of defender Jerry Thompson. A poignant minute’s silence was held by all before the game. A great loss to everyone around the league, a young talent gone far too soon.
The Glens maintained their great form of late by winning this one by a solitary goal. Hvroje Plum’s shot was parried by Carrick keeper Aaron Hogg into the path of Navid Nasseri, who didn’t hesitate and thundered a shot into the net. The Glens must be full of confidence going into the big-two derby on Boxing Day. The Blues will need to be at their best against this dangerous team.
Warrenpoint Town 0-2 Larne
Warrenpoint Town are still rooted to the bottom of the table after this home defeat to Larne. On a plus, that is if you could call anything they are doing this season a plus, they are only 4 points behind the team in 11th (Institute). As for Larne, they will need to up their game a little more if they are wanting to hear the Champions League anthem ring out around Inver Park come July. Or is that the season after, or the one after that?
The game was won late on for the Inver men. Two Davy McDaid goals were enough to secure all three points. One in the 85thminute and the other in stoppage time at the end of the game.
Ballymena United 2-1 Glenavon
These two locked horns on Friday evening in what could have been judged to be a very even game on paper, but it was the Sky Blues who got the win. Cathair Friel got the first of his, and the Sky Blues’, goals to make it 1-0. Jordan Jenkins got the Lurgan Blues back on level terms. But it was Friel who pounced in injury time at the end of the game to secure all three points for the Sky Blues.
Dungannon Swifts 2-2 Institute
This was the case of 11thplace Institute against 10thplace Dungannon Swifts. A gap of five points which, after this 2-2 draw, hasn’t changed. Stute sit in the relegation playoff place at least until the weekend after Christmas.
It was the visitors that got the first of the game, with Cormac Burke curling a delightful effort into the Swifts net to make it 1-0. It didn’t take the Swifts long to equalise with Douglas Wilson curling a free-kick in from around 20 yards out. At the break, Stute went in ahead as Evan Tweed’s simple tap in after the ball came back off the Swifts crossbar. In the second half, the Swifts were reduced to 10 men after Wilson got his marching orders. But the 10 men dug in and got the equaliser through a great Michael Carvill finish.