Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Forget Linfield's holiday romance, it's time for domestic bliss

Danger man: Jimmy Callacher is up to his goalscoring antics once again for the Blues
Danger man: Jimmy Callacher is up to his goalscoring antics once again for the Blues

By Billy Weir

Fans of popular comic strip Andy Capp will well remember the weekly scene where our hero's frustrated wife Flo would stand on the doorstep, tapping her foot and waiting for her errant hubby to return home.

He was usually the worse for wear, a tad dishevelled and always ready with a convenient excuse for the period of domestic discord that was imminent.

No such problems on that score for Linfield, whose tardy return to domestic action was nothing to do with David Healy heading out on the lash with Andy and Chalkie, but rather the Blues' European adventures going on a bit longer than we had all imagined.

That though, in the words of Henry Kelly, has meant the Blues have been playing catch-up in their efforts for going for silverware, in this case the defence of their Gibson Cup crown.

Crusaders have set off like a scalded shark in a speedboat, six games, 20 goals and just the two points and goals conceded. At the start of play on Saturday, they were 10 points ahead of the champions.

Of course, it is still ridiculously early, Linfield's Europa League roller-coaster ride meaning that planned games with Ballymena United, Larne and Warrenpoint Town were put on the backburner and will now be slotted in whenever the powers-that-be deem it most suitable/unsuitable (delete as applicable).

So while a 1-0 win over Cliftonville on the face of it may not look like the most jaw-dropping result of the season, come next spring it could have just become one of those games that decided things.

People, like Flo, were probably expecting a hangover from the Blues, but not a bit of it, and it was like we'd never been away as last season's Player of the Year Jimmy Callacher was at what he does best, somehow rising unnoticed in the penalty box to head home a set-piece.

Maybe it is a cunning plan, not so much Andy Capp as Peaky Blinders, as defenders across the land seem oblivious to the hardly diminutive defender dashing in to dash their hopes.

"I said to the players and the staff during the week that what we needed was that today," said Healy afterwards.

"We have a lot of catching up to do, we have games in hand to fit in, games in hand to win and a lot of points we need to make up, so coming here and winning is very pleasing because Cliftonville really pushed us."

Healy was deservedly named Manager of the Month for August but, in the week where we all basked in the 13th anniversary of his hat-trick heroics against Spain, there was no time to rest on European laurels.

"Yes, the European venture we've just had was great. But you only get to enjoy those type of matches by winning league titles and working hard over the 38 weeks of the season," Healy said when collecting his award.

"We know if we don't work hard domestically, we will not get the experience of those European nights."

Indeed, and this is the very reason why Andy and Flo spend their summers in Hartlepool.

Meanwhile, across town, the battle of the new money was in full swing and it turned out to be a cracker at The Oval as Glentoran edged out Larne by the odd goal in three.

Once again the Glens were in arrears, purely in footballing terms this time around, for the fourth time in their six Danske Bank Premiership games this season.

Against Coleraine they battled back to share the spoils, while Robbie McDaid's double turned the game around against Ballymena, and it was a similar tale on Saturday.

Larne, who have again faltered against one of the sides they will feel they need to overcome to make the top six, took a deserved lead with a helping hand, or lack of them, from Glens keeper Marijan Antolovic, who allowed Jeff Hughes' shot to squirm through his grasp.

In recent times this would have signalled it was time for the Glens to roll up in a wee ball and hope everything went away, but this crop seems to be a little different.

Skipper Marcus Kane, who plundered the winner after the exciting talent that is Paul O'Neill had levelled, explained the new Glens. Either that or he has a part-time job in Ikea.

"It would be fair to say that when we conceded last season we folded like a kitchen table, but we've lost that soft centre. That win has put down a marker for the rest of the season," he said. "We know we are a good team, we can play. And we have passion, commitment in abundance these days, whether a goal down or not.

"We also have a squad capable of matching any other in the league."

Proof of that will be shown this Saturday at Windsor Park for the first Big Two clash of the season.

Paul Millar is no stranger to such occasions, having played for both sides of the divide, and the Glens assistant boss has been impressed by the new belief and resolve shown by his side.

"We showed great character and guts to come back from a goal down, it would be fair to say that wouldn't have happened a few years ago," he said on Saturday.

"At the minute we're doing well but I've been in football for 35 years, so I know it's not all back slaps and high fives. But we don't fear any team."

Saturday then is the perfect time to show if the new Glentoran can contend with the old Linfield, who have to forget about holiday romances and concentrate on domestic bliss.

Burns’ fright takes boss on a trip to the past 

There was almost a tearful glint in the eye of David Jeffrey as we took a stroll down memory lane on Saturday to reminisce about one of his favourite things — flattening people.

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Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey

For the second week in a row, Ballymena were reduced to 10 men when Andrew Burns, in a tribute to the stock car days at the Showgrounds, came across the pitch like a rampaging Talbot Sunbeam and mowed down poor Conall Young.

It didn’t look good. In his defence, he did seem to get the ball with his leading leg, but his other caught the Warrenpoint man high and that can mean only one thing these days — a red card.

It wasn’t always thus, as Jeffrey remembered.

“Back in my day it’s a wonder tackle. Mark Surgenor did a great piece last week saying (Jonathan Addis’ red card against Carrick Rangers) was never a sending off and I still stand by that.

“Andrew’s was probably a little more robust, but when I played that’s a great tackle. I made that tackle week in, week out and got a reputation for making those types of very strong and robust challenges.

“You can’t do that in this day and age.”

So, remember, do as Mr Jeffrey says, not as he did!

Stephen makes his point and now he’d like some 

I didn't know whether to shake his hand or give him a hug when Warrenpoint Town manager Stephen McDonnell came in to face the press on Saturday.

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Stephen McDonnell

I had witnessed a 4-0 defeat, Town’s fifth on the trot in the league in which they have now conceded 21 goals and scored just one.

I have to say though that, despite the scoreline, they were excellent in large parts, played some lovely stuff but, try as they could, they failed to get the better of Ross Glendinning.

They also shot themselves in the foot, although the way they are firing at the minute their tootsies would be safe and sound, by thinking once Andrew Burns was sent off it would be plain sailing.

It wasn’t. They conceded three goals and had no answer to the 10 men of Ballymena.

But put all the coaching badges to one side, forget the manuals, McDonnell, who I hope is given time to get things right, summed it up perfectly.

“Can we stop conceding and can we start putting the ball in the onion bag?” he pondered.

Well, a 1-0 win over Dollingstown in the Mid-Ulster Cup on Tuesday night is a start. Next up, a crucial clash with Carrick Rangers on Saturday.

Final Word

Much-travelled striker, fellow Man United sufferer and  all-round nice chap Darren Henderson and other half Noelle introduced little Kady Rose to the world last weekend. Congratulations, and I hope all three of you are doing well.

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Darren Henderson, left, in action for Ballymena United.

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