With the busy Christmas period just around the corner, Linfield moved to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership. A 1-0 home win against Cliftonville puts the blues top, two points clear of Coleraine with two games still in hand on the rest of the league. Coleraine could not take full advantage of Crusaders 1-0 defeat at the hands of Ballymena by drawing 2-2 at home to a rejuvenated Glentoran.
Linfield 1-0 Cliftonville
The champions have taken control and moved to the top. Two games still in hand the Blues look like strong contenders to hold onto the Gibson Cup come May. David Healy has been speaking out this week about pressure from fans, but what else can he do? Win every game? Is that the standard the fans have set for their team? One thing. They are the defending champions. Every team they play will find the fight within to push them to the limit. The Blues have only lost four times this season and yes, one of them was against a struggling Glenavon side, but that is a prime example of one team getting up to play the champions.
After going eight games undefeated Cliftonville have hit a little bit of a brick wall. Last week they lost to Glentoran. This week the other half of the Belfast big two inflicted a second defeat. There is quality in the team and they will probably get back on a run before the big boxing day derby against Crusaders, but that will depend on which Crues team turns up. The laid-back lot, or the team that wants to win the title.
The Reds’ afternoon was a lot harder than it should have been. Reds midfielder Liam Bagnell was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Why he even thought that it was right to dive into a tackle, having already been on a yellow card, just mystifies me. The goal that won the game came from the head of Chris Casement after Stephen Fallon delivered a ball into the box. For the second week running questions need asked about the Reds’ keeper decision making. But Casement was on hand to head into the empty net.
The Blue were reduced to ten men after Kirk Millar got a straight red for a horrible lunge on Aaron Donnelly. But that said the Blues held out for the win and the bragging rights of sitting top of the pile.
Coleraine 2-2 Glentoran
Coleraine missed the chance to go top as they could only manage a draw in this encounter against a strong Glentoran team. The Glens, before Saturday’s game, had got some rhythm going this season. Seven games undefeated with this draw making it eight. I have been reading stuff in the tabloids this week about the Glens winning the title. Think it’s about making the club stable again. Yes, they are on the right track, but Mick McDermott needs time to get what he wants for the Glens as a club going forward
This was the tale of some really terrible football to get the game off and running. The Glens’ first goal came from some terrible work at the back. It all started when the Bannsiders’ defender Garth McConaghie tried a back pass that did not have enough on it and put Chris Johns under pressure. He got the ball clear but what resulted next was the Glens going one up as Robbie McDaid pick up a pass from John Herron and fired home. Number two was more stupidity at the back. Another sloppy McConaghie pass put Aaron Canning under pressure. The Glens’ Paul O’Neill robbed the ball off him and eventually fired home.
Whatever Oran Kearney said to his troops at halftime worked. Three minutes in they had clawed one goal back and what a goal it was. Aaron Jarvis picking the ball up all of 30 yards out and smashing a wonder shoot past Marijan Antolovic in the Glens net. It was Jarvis again who was on target for the Bannsiders as he got on the end of a Jamie Glackin corner to score the equaliser.
Crusaders 0-1 Ballymena
Really didn’t expect this but what can you expect from the Crues? After three draws then three wins the Crues players must have thought they only had to put the boots on and turn up to win. Well, they didn’t. With the exception of Jamie McGonigle and David Cushley, who will probably get dropped next week, the Crues just didn’t turn up.
The Sky Blues had just been on a run of no wins in eight. The manager was starting to feel the pressure from the stands and, looking at this on paper, a trip to Seaview to play the Crues didn’t look good. But hats off they came and won the game and let’s not take that away from them. The only goal of the game came two minutes from time through Josh Kelly. The Crues had the chance to equalise in injury time at the end of the game with David Cushley stepping up only to see his spot-kick saved by the Sky Blues keeper Jordon Williamson.
Dungannon 3-1 Warrenpoint
If any club needed a lift and a win it had to be Dungannon Swifts. Yes, they had the leagues bottom side visiting but Point have been playing well themselves since Barry Gray returned as the manager. Whereas the Swifts have not recorded a win since they beat Carrick back in September. They have been on a run of eight games lost before Saturday’s fixture. To say they needed this win is an understatement.
It took the Swifts four minutes to score. A Michael Carvill corner was turned into the net by Callum Byers. Point got straight back on level terms with Brandon Doyle getting on the score sheet for the second week running turning in an Alan O’Sullivan cross. It took the Swifts until the second half to get themselves back in front, this time Mark Patton sliding in to score. Again, questions have to be asked about the defending. Patton rounded off the scoring late on to give the Swifts the all-important three points.
Carrick 3-0 Institute
Gotta love a little bit of Carrick Rangers. Sitting in seventh only six points behind their local rivals and the club with the empty cheque book, it is already turning out to be a very good first half of the season for the East Antrim outfit. Institute have been doing well and this was not going to be plain sailing for Rangers but the 3-0 scoreline said it all.
It took Rangers all of three minutes to get the games first goal. Daniel Kelly getting his head onto the end of a corner to score. Stute were reduced to 10 men when captain Dean Curry got his marching orders for a handball inside the box. From the resulting penalty kick, Rangers captain Mark Surgenor fired home. Michel Smith got Rangers’ third goal in injury time to secure another three points for the Amber Army.
Glenavon 1-3 Larne
Who would have ever expected Glenavon to be sitting at the wrong end of the table? Things do not look good and Gary Hamilton must be itching to get the January transfer market open. But again, as he keeps going on about, there is no money in the pot. It will be an interesting few months ahead. As for the Inver Reds, they have been flashing the cash again this week with the signing of talented Dean Jarvis from Dundalk. A lot a chat coming from South of the Border as to why he would have signed for Larne?
Goals from Albert Watson, Harry Flowers and Jonny McMurray with Glenavon’s Stephen Murray getting one back for the Lurgan Blues.