Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Linfield players must prove they can climb title-chasing mountain once again

Billy also reveals who the world's nicest man is and takes a look at the Irish League answer to Tom and Jerry

By Billy Weir

In last week's column I bemoaned Linfield's silence after what is now, fittingly giving that the haunting time is upon us, being referred to as the 'ghost goal' at Coleraine.

Many Bluemen thought I had crossed the line by criticising their club's silence on the matter and, as I am a precious little flower who withers at such nasty words, I am now going to say something controversial and unusual - well said, David Healy.

Firstly, in Monday night's programme for the game with Crusaders (and we will come to that in a moment), the club said the following about the decision to award the Jamie McGonigle ghoul, sorry, goal.

"Wrong decisions in professional football can have costly consequences and it is imperative that those involved in running the local game make every effort to improve standards and increase confidence in those officiating at our games."

Well said. A bit late, but well said. I couldn't agree more, and I said more or less the same thing myself last week, but waiting nine days to say it meant it lost any real impact and, like so many other controversial incidents, will soon be forgotten.

Not so Monday night's match, a wonderful game for the neutral and yet another cracker served up on Sky, which can only do our game the power of good, but it was a shocking result for Linfield.

And I know I called for help for officials at games, whether it be extra linesmen or technology, but Steve Lomas had an even better suggestion - X-ray vision.

"I know that corner where the assistant referee was and he would have had to have been six yards past the flag to see the ball go over the line," said the former Coleraine player of McGonigle's effort.

By my reckoning that would mean the official would be behind the stand but if NIFL have sorted out X-ray vision then who am I to argue?

But it doesn't matter what vision you possess, anyone can see the Blues aren't right at the moment.

It wasn't just the 5-2 scoreline, given that the Blues have only conceded five goals at home in a league match four times since World War II, it was the manner of the goals, and with only 11 games gone they have now lost four times and trail Coleraine by 10 points.

Last season they lost just three games in total and if you were going to bet on any team clawing their way back into what looks like a lost cause you would pick the Blues, but having done it once, do they have it in them to do it again?

It was a question Healy asked himself after Monday's game.

"We were well beaten in the end. The only consolation is we've got 27 league games left. We are miles behind at the minute - we have a mountain to climb," he said.

"I'm now asking my players publicly, have they got the hunger, desire and passion to regain the league title? I told the players I'll take responsibility, but somewhere along the line I'm going to need a little bit back from the players. They get everything off me, they get everything off the staff, they get everything off the club and the board. So now I'm asking them publicly, do they really want to be successful at the football club?"

Well said, David. Players, it is now over to you to show the class, drive and determination that swept you to the Gibson Cup last season, and there is no doubting the quality the Blues possess, but the league is even more competitive this time around and they may find this one mountain too many to climb.

As for the Crues, well, Monday night couldn't have gone much better. Three vital points to get themselves back in the hunt and Gavin Whyte finally showing why everybody was raving about him a couple of seasons back as he tortured the home defence.

Stephen Baxter kept faith with the winger, and if you think that's a less than subtle way to get to their other TV appearance on Monday night you are spot on.

BBC NI cameras followed the Crues around last season for the True North: Keeping The Faith documentary and it was absolutely brilliant, I couldn't fault it and it was a fascinating look behind the scenes at life at Seaview.

We learned many things. Howard Beverland is the world's nicest man, Stephen Baxter lives and breathes Crusaders and, to keep the Halloween theme going, goalkeeper Sean O'Neill is a rocket.

The show didn't have a happy ending - well, in a football sense - but if they keep performing as they do when Sky come to town they could well be the team to chase down the runaway leaders this time. Just watch out for linesmen with X-ray vision.

Billy tackles ... Jason McCartney

It would be fair to say it was something of a mixed weekend on the football front for Ballymena United’s Leroy Millar.

A 4-0 defeat at Glenavon didn’t get things off to a brilliant start, but on the plus side he is the latest player to prevail in the battle of the predictions.

Cullybackey’s finest won courtesy of two perfect predictions of Glentoran’s 2-0 win at Dungannon and Ards’ 2-1 success over Warrenpoint on Friday evening. I deserve a little credit for backing Ballinamallard to beat Carrick, but it simply wasn’t enough.

In honour of that win, it’s off to Fermanagh, via Sligo, for this week’s challenger, the Ducks’ flying wing-back Jason McCartney, with the usual rules: three points for a spot-on prediction and one for the right outcome.

Linfield v Ards

Saturday (3.00pm)

I wouldn’t like to be Ards this week to be honest because I think Linfield will come out with all guns blazing to make a statement. Ards have been doing well but I think, like the teams at the bottom of our league, when they get a couple of wins in a row it’s hard to keep that consistency and that’s why we’re down there. They’ve got their couple of wins, but up against Linfield they could be brought back down to earth.

McCartney prediction: 4-0

Weir prediction: 3-1

Coleraine v Glentoran

Saturday (3.00pm)

Coleraine are flying, they’re a very good side but Glentoran always seem to do well against them. Glentoran are always capable of turning out a result. They haven’t been doing great lately but when they come up against a team doing well they always seem to rise to it.

McCartney prediction: 1-1

Weir prediction: 2-1

Carrick Rangers v Glenavon

Saturday (3.00pm)

I like the way Glenavon play, it’s all attacking, they go at teams. Carrick, on the other hand, are a very big team this year, they love to get into a battle with you, but I think Glenavon have so much pace and will score a couple of goals. However, I can see Carrick scoring because Glenavon leave themselves open a bit at the back.

McCartney prediction: 1-2

Weir prediction: 2-3

Dungannon Swifts v Cliftonville

Saturday (3.00pm)

Cliftonville were doing well before they played Coleraine, and Dungannon can be a bit hit and miss, some weeks they are playing brilliantly and the following week they lose against teams they are expected to beat. Ever since I’ve been in this league, Cliftonville have been a bit like that, they’ll always score but can concede too. They have so much going forward, great movement and their full-backs bomb on, but when you play them you always think, ‘If we keep a good shape and work hard we will get a chance.’ I think it’ll be a good goalscoring game.

McCartney prediction: 2-2

Weir prediction: 1-3

Ballymena Utd v Warrenpoint Town

Saturday (3.00pm)

Ballymena I’m sure are very disappointed by their start, and I’m sure they would have been aiming higher because of last year. Warrenpoint are very direct, Darren Murray is very, very good up front and will score goals if you give him chances, but I just think Ballymena will have too much about them, especially at home.

McCartney prediction: 2-1

Weir prediction: 3-1

Season’s standings: Players 5 Weir 3

Out on the wing

Beware of bogeymen

I know a few teams have bogey sides who they just can’t seem to get the better of, but Glenavon’s treatment of Ballymena United is approaching that of Tom with Jerry.

A 4-0 hammering was dished out on Saturday, all four coming in the first half, but this continues a run stretching back for as long as I care to remember as the Mourneview men are the Sky Blues’ bogeymen.

In the past 12 league encounters, Glenavon have won 10 and drawn two, scoring a ridiculous 45 goals, United’s only solace winning the Europa League play-off last season.

Any wonder that David Jeffrey was spotted coming out of the dressing room with a mop and bucket, it must be that new sweeper he is after.

“I have just finished sweeping and cleaning the dressing room. The great All Blacks rugby team used to do this after a disappointment. The ethos was if you aren’t good enough to clean up the dressing room, then you aren’t good enough for the All Blacks,” he explained.

If they played Glenavon every week there will be more brooms than at a witches’ convention.

Mallards break duck

At long last Ballinamallard United have something to quack about after winning their first league game of the season.

It comes after the club showed class by giving unequivocal backing to beleaguered boss Gavin Dykes, who admitted that he was thinking about calling it a day.

The win over Carrick Rangers was well deserved but things aren’t about to get any easier. Their next three games? Crusaders (away), Coleraine (away) and Linfield (home). It’s enough to put anyone in a flap.

And talking of Carrick, good luck to their skipper Mark Surgenor who was stretchered off in Tuesday night’s Co Antrim Shield win over Dundela. Get well soon, Surgy.

Belfast Telegraph

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