Linfield 0 Coleraine 0
Linfield boss David Jeffrey makes few managerial mistakes but the gamble of dropping six players for this Danske Bank Premiership match against Coleraine at sun-drenched Windsor Park on Saturday did not pay off — almost resulting in a second successive disaster.
Was this a knee-jerk reaction to losing 2-0 a week ago to Ballymena United which Jeffrey described as totally unacceptable? “Not at all,” said Jeffrey. “It was a response.
“Success at Windsor Park is built on the squad principle and competition for places.
“You have to consider those challenging for recognition. For instance, one of them, Niall Quinn had an excellent debut.
“The response is designed to support and help players but it also reminds them to compete for recognition. That is why opportunities were given to others.”
A commendable theory, a logical one, but the bottom line, Linfield have collected only one point from six matches and haven’t scored a goal in the same number of fixtures.
Notoriously slow starters, the time has come when players, given an opportunity to settle after the concentrated European Cup preparations, must deliver.
Ironically, that is what happened in the 76th minute when Robert Garrett, Michael Carvill and Peter Thompson, the discards sitting on the bench, came on as substitutes.
Linfield, inspired by Garrett, who epitomises the Linfield zest and determination, looked like League champions — possessing a hunger and a will to win.
At last they had succeeded in puncturing the Coleraine defensive wall as the Bannsiders operated with four at the back, five in midfield and a lone striker.
The buzz of excitement and anticipation gripped the Blues’ supporters who had been silent for most of the afternoon with Coleraine, well drilled and disciplined, running the show.
Alas, it was too little too late, although Linfield created a couple of opportunities which could have snatched a late winner. Coleraine, too, threatened but eventually it all ended in a scoreless draw.
Coleraine, frankly, deserved the points but the final ball let them down time and time again after intelligent build-ups.
Otherwise they maintained a reputation as main provincial challengers but manager Oran Kearney (pictured), making quite an impact, knows only too well reserve strength in depth is needed for a protracted challenge.
Linfield will, no doubt, get back on track but performances like that of the last fortnight won’t satisfy the fans. Nor will self-inflicted wounds such as strange team selections.
Kearney said: “We expected a Linfield backlash yet we created many more chances than normally at Windsor.
“We had a tough opening schedule. Now we must show consistency. It is not mathematically impossible to win the League. So why not aim for that? We have to reach for the stars.”