- Andrew Waterworth bagged himself a hat-trick as Linfield secure an impressive 5-1 victory over Carrick Rangers.
- Last season’s runners-up Coleraine lost 1-0 to 10-man Ballymena United.
- Newcomers Portadown gave a footballing lesson to neighbours Glenavon with a 4-2 win.
To think it was on 3rd March 2020 that the last ball was kicked in anger in the Danske Bank Premiership. How the world has changed as a whole, and not just football. Linfield were eventually declared champions with a two-point advantage and with six games left to play. But I think we are all in agreement that the safety of everyone is the most important thing we should be worrying about.
I have sat back over the last few months and wondered to myself how clubs are going to survive. No cash coming through the gate, arguments with the management at the top, the NIFL and IFA. They have shown they are incapable of running a league or have other things to worry about, i.e. the National team, as their top priority.
Well, what about our local game? The game we all follow and enjoy. The big kick-off was called on Friday evening and the BBC showed the first of what will be many live televised games. More cash in the cash-flow at the IFA/NIFL. But we had yet another twist. On Friday evening, the decision to let a certain number of fans into games was, for some reason, stopped one hour before the Coleraine and Ballymena United game.
Fans had already taken their seats in the stands and everything was set. Once again, someone at Stormont with no care to the local game decided that fans would not be able to attend. Yes, one hour before kick-off on a Friday evening. Great way to earn your overtime in the Big White House in the East.
Step in first minister Arlene Foster. And just like the other leader from the Big White House, she took to Twitter and declared, and I quote, “that spectators of limited numbers are allowed to attend”. Really, after everything we have seen happen to local football over the last few months, and today with still no football being played below the Premiership. Worrying times ahead for local football.
Anyway, on to the fixtures. David Healy and his champions Linfield put their markdown for the start of the season. They beat Niall Currie’s Carrick Rangers 5-1. Within 14 minutes of this game, Andrew Waterworth had bagged himself a brace. Yet another season and yet more Andrew Waterworth goals. Rangers got themselves a lifeline before half-time when Caolan Loughran scored from the penalty spot. The game turned on its head in the second when Rangers were reduced to 10 men as Mark Surgenor was sent off. From the resulting free-kick, the Blues made it three through Jimmy Callacher.
The Blues didn’t look back from there. Substitute Ryan McGivern made it four before Waterworth rounded off the scoring and claimed his first hat-trick of the season. Great strong start for the Blues and they have put the marker out after this one.
Friday evening was the first live showing on the BBC and they picked the first of the weekend derby encounters as Ballymena United made the short trip to Coleraine to take on last season runners up. The Bannsiders have just came off the back of a pretty impressive European adventure, but the gap between then and the start of the league might just have been too long. The Sky Blues came out 1-0 winners with the only goal of the game coming through a Kofi Balmer header. The Sky Blues were reduced to 10 men in the first half and battled hard for the win.
I was impressed with the Sky Blues. David Jeffery has put himself together a hard-working team. Ryan Waide and Paul McElroy gave them a different direction up front. McElroy showed why he should not have been left on the bench at Seaview, week in, week out. But we could say that about a lot of strikers at Seaview: if they can’t go long for you, they’re on the bench or out wide.
Everybody has been waiting and wondering what mad Mick McDermott will do with all these players he has added to his squad, even in the middle of a pandemic and as an advocate of crying for money from the league and executive. He took his Glentoran side to Solitude to take on Cliftonville.
The Reds ran out as deserved 1-0 winners. Ryan Curran scored the only goal of the game after a mistake by substitute Dale Gorman who, in turn, was then substituted again. Wonderful professional man-management right there. Onto the next one for McDermott and he will be hoping Robbie McDaid gets fit sooner rather than later.
Newcomers Portadown gave themselves a great start to the new season when they travelled to neighbours Glenavon and came away with an impressive 4-2 win. Gary Hamilton must be pulling his hair out after this one. The Lurgan Blues should be there or thereabouts this season for the European places, but on this showing, they are still a few weeks behind the rest.
To rub salt into the wound, Stephen Murray scored twice for the Ports against his old employers to give them a two-goal cushion. Peter Campbell got a goal back for the Lurgan Blues before Lee Bonis put daylight between the teams again.
James Singleton made it 3-2 after getting his head to a Lurgan Blues corner, but before the charge of the calvary was set, the Ports restored their two-goal advantage through Aaron Burns. The Twitter trolls were silenced with that one.
What will the season bring for Crusaders fans? A win to start the league away to last season’s 11th placed team Warrenpoint Town 1-0. But fans seem to have forgotten about the failure of the last term – the five-year European plan out the window after three. A pre-season of two games on a Saturday with the starting 11 different for every game. Which will 100% show that Baxter will chop and change this team all season as he has done for the last two.
Once again, the goalkeeper situation is still there. Are the Crues in a good place? I would say this will be a long season ahead for fans on and off the field. At Milltown, Baxter reverted to the over-30 club to get the 1-0 win. Rory Hale was dropped, which seems to be normal when the team plays a bad game.
A goal from Paul Heatley secured the win. But I have to worry about what the problem is with Jamie McGonigle, sitting on the bench for the second game in a row. £60k paid for a player that does not fit into your long ball tactics. The lad is not a winger and will he go down the same road as Ronan Hale and Paul McElroy? Watch this space with this lot as the first test is around the corner for the Crues against the Reds.
How impressed have I been with Larne? Yes, they beat the Crues 4-0 in the midweek’s Co. Antrim Shield game, but the Crues were just abysmal. Tactics changed to suit God knows what. But some of the play the Inver Reds have been playing with the ball on the ground has been scintillating.
Dungannon Swifts were the visitors but it were the Inver Reds that ran out 3-0 winners. First-half goals from Martin Donnelly and David McDaid got them rolling, then summer-signing Ronan Hale came off the bench to score the third, and his second in as many days. How the Crues let this lad go is just beyond me. Great start for Larne and they look to be in very good shape for the season ahead.
Danske Bank Premiership