From myself, and I am sure everyone on the team at OTT, may we wish David Healy and his team a huge congratulations on winning the league title. It has been a long season and it takes commitment and desire to win the league. This season Linfield had it all and fully deserve to have the Gibson Cup back in the trophy room. It will take a good team to prise it away from them next season no matter what investment certain clubs will have at their disposal.
The Blues claimed their 53rd title with a 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders. The title was mathematically secured as Ballymena only managed a draw at Cliftonville. It is at the bottom where things are getting interesting. Newry City registered a 4-2 win away to local rivals Warrenpoint Town. That moves them three points clear of Ards, who only managed a 1-1 draw at home to Glentoran. With three games remaining, are Newry going to pull off the unthinkable?
Before I round up the league let me try and pore over this split and see how teams can qualify for Europe. So, the first and second place teams get automatic qualification. The Irish Cup winners too. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth teams have to go into a playoff. Great incentive for the team that finished third! Especially with the prospect that if Crusaders do win the Irish Cup then the team in seventh place will enter the playoff. At present, the third-placed team is on 65 points and the seventh-placed team on 42. How can this even be? Who sat down and worked this out? If you finish in the position, you qualify. Keep the play-off stuff for Rugby! Might as well sack the end off season split, and have one big knock-out between the teams below the top two.
Forget the score, forget the game, the end state is that Linfield are the Champions. The 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders was enough to take them over the line. Jamie Mulgrew will now have the privilege of lifting the Gibson cup and picking up his seventh winners medal. What an achievement for the Linfield captain! Some teams would be happy with one title! He showed his class again in the middle of the park. Not for the first time this season the Crues’ midfield were no match for him.
For me, this week the Blues have pulled off the biggest signing before the transfer window opens. Andrew Waterworth! His 17 league goals this season have been just what the doctor ordered. He will always get you goals and even with the dip in form at the start of the season he came back strongly and finished the season on a high.
For the Crues they still have the chance to claim an automatic European spot. Four points behind Ballymena, they can still do it. But do they have the desire to do it I wonder? Just like this season have they really wanted it? Who is to blame for the calamity at the back? 44 goals against. Think Brian Strain should get the physio gloves off and help out on a coaching side with the defence. The Crues need new blood. There is only so much you can do when it comes to keep playing a player because he has been a good servant to the club. The Crues used to produce a good flow of young players. What has happened? Things change, teams get better and you have to move with the times. Big summer ahead for Stephen Baxter. A clear out and quality needed.
The game could have been won by the Blues if only Jordan Stewart hadn’t seen his penalty saved by Gerard Doherty. The game as a whole was not the greatest but it is the end result that matters.
Ballymena United’s chances of winning the title went yesterday as they could only manage a 1-1 draw away to Cliftonville. No matter what happens, be it second or third, David Jeffrey must be happy with his team this season. Let’s not forget the first part of the season when they had to play all their games away from home. I think second is there for the taking as the Crues have their eyes set on the Irish Cup. The next big challenge for Jeffrey is holding onto his crop of talent.
The Reds were straight out of the traps. With two minutes on the clock, they were 1-0 up. Chris Curran did the hard work down the right. He then delivered the ball to Ryan Curran in the box, who took an opportunistic strike at the ball which in turn went in. It wasn’t long before the Sky Blues were level. A little bit of pinball inside the Reds box, which they should have cleared, saw Jonny McMurray strike the ball home.
A draw keeps the Sky Blues in that automatic European qualification spot and the financial windfall that comes with it. For the Reds, it’s all about the European playoff, and building for next season.
The bottom of the table is where it is all at. On Saturday evening Newry City travelled down the road to take on Warrenpoint Town in the Mourne Derby. This game did not disappoint with City running out 4-2 winners. City have now moved three points clear of Ards who now sit bottom. Will they survive? Why not! They have given themselves a fighting chance. Three games remaining, home against the Glens and the Swifts and an away trip to Stute, you wouldn’t bet against them pulling off the unthinkable.
Karl Moody got the scoring started for City in this encounter. He latched on to a ball in the ‘Point box to fire home and make it 1-0 to City. City had come out like a team that was fighting for their lives, and they are! The second followed shortly after. There was no art of defending here. What the ‘Point defence was doing is only a question they can answer. A free-kick into the ‘Point box looked like an easy clearance for their defence, but the clearance went straight to City’s Daragh Noonan who fired home.
From another free-kick City made it three this time with John Boyle getting his head on the end of the ball and directing home. It was four just before half-time. This time another corner that was not dealt with properly ended up being fired into the back of the net by Boyle for his second and City’s fourth.
Into the second half and ‘Point were reduced to 10 men. Seanna Foster getting a straight red for an elbow to the face. ‘Point followed with a goal back through a set-piece of their own. Joshua Lynch getting on the end of a free-kick to make it 4-1. ‘Point then made it 4-2 with Danny Wallace firing in an unstoppable shot. The game was over as a contest when ‘Point were reduced to nine men due to Hernany Marques getting his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
Ards needed to keep up the chase on City but could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Glentoran. Any other time of the season that would have been a good result, but with three games remaining and them now three points behind City, they really could have done with all of the points.
Next three games are away to both Stute and ‘Point, along with a home fixture to the Swifts. It is going to be a tough finish. The Glens still have a chance of getting into a European knock-out spot, even if they finish seventh.
It wasn’t until the second half that we got a goal. Elliot Morris couldn’t hold a Josh Kelly shot and Michael McLellan was on hand to fire home to make it 1-0 Ards. With 10 minutes to go the Glens got the equaliser. Curtis Allen directing a header across the net only to see Calum Byers put the ball into his own net to make it 1-1. Ards were reduced to 10 men near the end when Jonny Taylor saw red.
If results had gone the right way Glenavon could have moved up to second. Today Coleraine were the visitors to Lurgan and the game finished in a 1-1 draw. The draw keeps the Lurgan Blues in fourth, one point behind the Crues with three games to play.
The Bannsiders should have opened the scoring. Jamie McGonigle saw his penalty saved by the Lurgan Blues keeper Jonny Tuffey. It was the Lurgan Blues that did take the lead. For the second weekend running Sammy Clingan stepped up and dispatched a volley home. 1-0 to the home side.
The Lurgan Blues held onto the lead and what looked like they would take third spot right up until the dying minutes, when up stepped the former Lurgan Blues player Ben Doherty with a well placed shot to claim a share of the spoils.
So, Institute in eighth travelled to take on Dungannon Swifts in ninth. The Swifts claimed all three points with a 2-1 win and moved within two points of Stute. Should make for an interesting end of the season for the both of them.
The deadlock in this encounter was not broken until the second half. Daniel Hughes was on hand to finish off a Jarlath O’Rourke corner to make it 1-0 the Swifts. Stute came right back and within three minutes to grab an equaliser. Ronan Wilson lobbing the ball over the Swifts’ keeper Alex Moore. The Swifts got their winner through their top marksman Paul McElroy. He stepped up, and from the spot converted to give all three points to the home team.