With the League cup final between Coleraine and Crusaders on Saturday, all the other league games were scheduled to take place on Friday evening. This was probably a great call due to storm Dennis about to pound the country. Linfield maintained their charge for the title, seeing off Ballymena United while second-placed Glentoran could only manage a draw at home to Carrick Rangers.
Ballymena United 1-4 Linfield
The Blues go marching on, and my tip for the league title just put themselves five points clear of Glentoran in second place. The Blues by far are the strongest team within the league. They have had their off-days, but you cannot question the quality that David Healy has at his disposal. The Blues fans have had their say, but you should never judge – or have a go at – a team or manager without letting them sort the problems out.
The two clubs have already played each other twice this season with the Blues running out 2-1 winners on both occasions. The Sky Blues started this game on the front foot and took the lead through Joe McCready who curled the ball with the outside of his foot past the impressive Rohan Ferguson in the Blues’ goal.
Their lead didn’t last long and the champions were back on level terms through defender Mark Haughey, powering home a header from a corner. My man of the match Joel Cooper then weaved his way into the box, only to see his shot cannon off a defender to the feet of Jordon Stewart who applied the finish to make it 2-1.
Into the second half and the Blues went 3-1 ahead. Last season the Blues were so dangerous on set-plays and for the second time this evening, they profited from one as the Blues’ two centre-halves combined to score. Mark Haughey headed the ball to the back post from a corner, where Jimmy Callacher was on hand to poke home.
The Blues finished the game off in fine fashion. Joel Cooper made a tantalising run and shoot, which cannoned off the crossbar to the feet of Andrew Waterworth who finished to give the Blues all three points and victory.
Glentoran 0-0 Carrick Rangers
The Glens have been busy throughout January, bringing players in to bolster their already strong squad. Strikers Rory Donnelly and Andrew Mitchell have signed from Cliftonville and Glenavon respectively. They also acquired the signature of Lithuanian international Deivydas Matalevicius who boasts 36 caps. Also moving to the Oval were Seanan Clucas from Dungannon Swifts, and Coalon Marron from Glenavon.
So it’s been a big statement of intent from Mick McDermott, but the fans and the twitter trolls are not happy and are giving McDermott grief. Irish League fans have such a short memory as it was this East Belfast native that brought in the investor to help a club which was once on its knees. How he sold an Irish league club to a multi-millionaire entrepreneur is beyond belief – he must be one hell of a salesman. They are still in second place, and well in the title race and the Irish Cup. So Europe and the money that the investor will be looking for to collect his dividends are all still there.
The Glens had opportunities to win this game. Robbie McDaid had a few good chances and Rory Donnelly almost opened his account, but it was young Harry Doherty in the Carrick net who was in just sublime form. I have a lot of time for Doherty and as a Crues player, he was a model pro. Maybe just a little young and naive, but the lad from Donegal is a talent and will be in the future. Carrick could have stolen all three points at the end when Daniel Reynolds broke free and hit his shot against the Glens post.
Warrenpoint Town 2-2 Institute
The battle at the bottom and after this encounter it’s no change. Institute are still propping up the league in twelfth position while Point are in eleventh as only three points separate the two clubs. Point took the lead just before the 20-minute mark with Alan O’Sullivan applying the finish. Just before half-time, Stute were level. Point could not deal with a Stute cross and Abu Obahakhan was on hand to slot the ball home.
With less than 10 minutes left on the clock, Danny Wallace thought he had won the game by giving Point a 2-1 lead. But lady luck was not on the side of Point as Gavin Smith diverted the ball into his own net to tie the game and send both clubs home with a point apiece.
Dungannon Swifts 0-2 Larne
Friday night’s game makes it four wins in a row for Larne, and they are now moving in the right direction. They have more or less secured a top-six finish and will make the league split in the top half but more importantly, they are only seven points behind second-place Glentoran. They have European football and the windfall that comes with it now clearly in their sights.
The first goal for Larne came through Martin Donnelly just on half-time. Then came what can only be described as a howler from the Swifts’ keeper Conor Byrne. Fuad Sule’s shot went straight through the legs of the keeper and into the net -the keeper will not want to see that one again.