Belfast Telegraph

Comment: The good, the bad and the ugly of Linfield

By Billy Weir

For so long David Healy was King David for his never to be forgotten goalscoring heroics for Northern Ireland, but suddenly he's become Dirty Healy after a week of going all Clint Eastwood on us.

The rookie manager, who has found himself in the line of fire of late, gave us the good, the bad and the ugly of management in a tumultuous week for the Blues.

Firstly we had the sudden impact of enforcer Raymond Hetherington's aberration of sending off Crusaders' David Cushley then having a change of heart and issuing a red card to Mark Stafford instead, only for it to be rescinded later in the week when the referee held his hands up to his mistake.

Just right too, but it's clear he remains unforgiven at Windsor Park as the dust had barely settled before the Blues had issued an extraordinary statement regarding the state of refereeing in the NIFL.

It didn't go as far as demanding they hang 'em high, but in local football terms it was a seismic blow, the biggest club in the land lamenting falling standards and few fans would argue that they don't have a valid point, but was this really the best way to do it?

"In recent weeks we have witnessed costly mistakes by match officials at Coleraine and Ballinamallard, resulting in either the loss of league points or unwarranted disciplinary sanctions against a player," said the statement.

"The club recently highlighted the fact that incorrect decisions in professional football can have costly consequences and called on those involved in running the local game to make every effort to improve standards and increase confidence in those officiating at our games.

"The bizarre incident at Seaview on Wednesday evening has further heightened this club's lack of confidence in our match officials. Linfield acknowledge that refereeing can be a thankless task at times, but Northern Irish football needs match officials that can perform to the increasingly high standard that the public expects of players and teams in NIFL competitions.

"Linfield Football Club calls on the IFA's Referees' Committee to urgently examine these incidents and to ensure that those involved are held to account for their actions. We further suggest a full review of refereeing be carried out by the IFA in order to put clearly needed plans in place to improve the quality for the future."

Extraordinary stuff. Some would say it is clever, some would argue it is calculated. Referees are only human, contrary to popular belief, and with this missive hanging over their heads there is a natural fear amongst other clubs that it will put undue pressure on the men in black to favour the Blues.

This will bring a smile to many fans' faces, after all Linfield have had some of the best referees I can remember through the years - Peter Rafferty, Lindsay McKeown, David Jeffrey, Lee Doherty and Glenn Ferguson to name but a few!

Seriously though, the Blues do raise a valid point, refereeing does need to improve, but it can't be on an us against them footing. Surely the clubs can come together and discuss what they want, take it to the IFA and NIFL and work with, rather than against, the referees?

If that was the bad, the ugly then came in another remarkable rant, at little Larne of all things, sandwiched between the very good of Linfield inflicting a first league defeat of the season on Coleraine.

It came courtesy of a penalty and before eyes are raised to the heavens, it was a penalty, Andrew Davey got it spot on and did remarkably well to handle the game the way he did when the eyes of the world were upon him.

And Healy clearly learned a thing or two from Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at Manchester United.

"Coleraine are miles ahead of us at the minute. The good thing for me as the Linfield manager is the pressure isn't on us this year. The pressure is on Coleraine, they've not been there, we have come from behind before, so we are capable of doing it," he teased.

"It's a different pressure for these other clubs, can they sustain it, have they got good enough squads to sustain it?"

Straight from the Big Boy's Book of Mind Games, but there was still time for the ugly, a bizarre blast at striker David McDaid who opted to sign for Larne rather than the Blues, clearly for a few dollars more in Healy's mind.

"I understand players want to gain the best advantage when it comes to contracts.

"Am I surprised that Larne can over-pay a player who we had been speaking to, a player that had talks with Coleraine and Glenavon? Absolutely," he charged.

It was a cheap shot, whatever McDaid's reasons on signing for Larne are his concern, not David Healy's, mine or anyone else's.

As for Larne, what a statement of intent that is from new owner Kenny Bruce and chairman Gareth Clements on their ambitions to bring the club back to life.

"Maybe he couldn't handle the challenge of playing for the champions?" mused an irked Healy.

Perhaps, although he seemed to do grand at Cliftonville and at Waterford, but only time will tell if his goals can fire the Invermen up the Championship table and into the Premiership.

As for McDaid himself, the Derryman spelt out his reasons.

"Obviously they're a league below but they're investing heavily in the club, in their youth set-up and they're building a new pitch, new stadium and I just think it's a project I'd like to be involved in from the start," he said.

You just know how this is going to end, and I will certainly have a fistful of dollars on it, Larne to play Linfield in the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, refereed by Raymond Hetherington, but that would just be a perfect world.

Out on the wing

Morris is one Ell of a goalie, but is he best?

A HUGE shout this week from Gary Haveron as he hailed Elliott Morris for rescuing Glentoran at Warrenpoint and then put him on a very lofty perch.

 “He’ll go down as probably the best goalkeeper in the history of the club,” said Haveron after Morris saved a penalty and pulled off a clutch of top saves on Saturday.

 “Some people might argue that but the service he’s provided, and to continue to do it at his age, is testament to his professionalism, how he looks after himself, how hard he trains and how he keeps himself right.”

 Hard to argue with any of that, but has he scored a winner in a Big Two cup final like Alan Paterson did in the 1988 Roadferry League Cup final? I thought not…

Big G ensures crisis is over for Bannsiders

RUMOURS of the impending demise of Coleraine following their defeat at Linfield on Saturday seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

 They bounced back with a 4-1 trouncing of Ards on Tuesday night with an unlikely goal hero in big Gareth McConaghie (below), the man who works at Old Bushmills Distillery the toast of the Bannsiders with two goals.

 I’m delighted to see him back in the side and getting his chance at this level and he deserves great credit for dropping down the leagues after his release by Ballymena, as does Oran Kearney for taking a pop on the Dervock man.

Mind you, Oran will probably argue that he only brought him in as a translator for Mosside’s finest James McLaughlin!

Feathers fly as Ducks are savaged by Dykes

I’d imagine they’ve been repainting the home dressing room at Ferney Park this week after Gavin Dykes roasted his Ballinamallard United players after yet another defeat.

 The end of his tether has clearly been reached, the defeat by Glenavon on Saturday — their 14th in 16 games this season — the final straw.

 “If anyone doesn’t want to be here and aren’t prepared to fight for this club, leave. Leave — do the honest thing,” he blasted.

 “That might be harsh on some fellas who are here but we are in a serious battle.”

 And that continues with the visit of Warrenpoint this weekend. Players, you have been warned.

Billy tackles... Chris Johns

By deliberately losing 7-4 to Dungannon Swifts’ Ryan Mayse last weekend, it took the season score to 7-4 in the favour of the players, so with that out of the way I can concentrate fully now.

 I am breaking new ground this week by taking on a goalie, and a bloomin’ good one too, in the shape of Coleraine’s Chris Johns, who is likely to be a busy man this weekend when the league leaders face Crusaders.

 But first up a bigger challenge, predicting the other matches’ scores, with the usual rules of three points for an exact score, which Ryan did with his 2-1 tip for Linfield over Coleraine, and one for a correct outcome, which he did in all four of the other matches.

What a clever chap.

Glenavon v Linfield

Friday (7.45pm)

Linfield have had a lot of games recently and didn’t look that fresh against us in the second half, so they’ll need to recover this week to have a chance. Glenavon are on fire, they’re scoring goals for fun at the minute and they have tightened up at the back recently as well. I just don’t think that there will be many goals in it.

Johns prediction: 1-1

Weir prediction: 2-1

 

Cliftonville v Ballymena Utd

Saturday (3.00pm)

Ballymena have had a few good results lately, but I have to fancy Cliftonville. Their strikeforce is frightening and goals are to be expected. I rate their keeper, Brian Neeson, very highly. It’s good for the team to get him a run of games because he was in and out of the side but once you have a settled back four and keeper it is a lot easier to shut them out.

Johns prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Glentoran v Ards

Saturday (3.00pm)

Neither team have reached the heights that they would like to and with Ards playing us on Tuesday night they could have a few tired legs going into Saturday. Ards are a good side but when there are so many games in a week it’s hard to keep fresh.

Johns prediction: 2-0

Weir prediction: 2-1

 

Ballinamallard Utd v Warrenpoint T

Saturday (3.00pm)

I have no idea! These were two of the hardest games we’ve played all season, Ballinamallard and Warrenpoint at home. Against Warrenpoint we could have been two or three down at half-time and they went down to 10 men and if they’d kept all 11 it would have been a very tough night. They’re not a bad side at all, like Ballinamallard, they just need a bit of luck. We had a very even game with them up at our place, it’s hard to figure out why they’re down at the bottom. Warrenpoint have more of a threat up front, so I’ll go for them.

Johns prediction: 1-2

Weir prediction: 2-2

 

Dungannon Sws v Carrick Rangers

Saturday (3.00pm)

This should be a good game because both of them play really good football, as everyone likes to point out. I’m going to go for a draw.

Johns prediction: 2-2

Weir prediction: 3-1

Season’s standings: Players 7 Weir 4

 

By deliberately losing 7-4 to Dungannon Swifts’ Ryan Mayse last weekend, it took the season score to 7-4 in the favour of the players, so with that out of the way I can concentrate fully now.

 I am breaking new ground this week by taking on a goalie, and a bloomin’ good one too, in the shape of Coleraine’s Chris Johns, who is likely to be a busy man this weekend when the league leaders face Crusaders.

 But first up a bigger challenge, predicting the other matches’ scores, with the usual rules of three points for an exact score, which Ryan did with his 2-1 tip for Linfield over Coleraine, and one for a correct outcome, which he did in all four of the other matches.

 What a clever chap.

Glenavon v Linfield

Friday (7.45pm)

Linfield have had a lot of games recently and didn’t look that fresh against us in the second half, so they’ll need to recover this week to have a chance. Glenavon are on fire, they’re scoring goals for fun at the minute and they have tightened up at the back recently as well. I just don’t think that there will be many goals in it.

Johns prediction: 1-1

Weir prediction: 2-1

Cliftonville v Ballymena Utd

Saturday (3.00pm)

Ballymena have had a few good results lately, but I have to fancy Cliftonville. Their strikeforce is frightening and goals are to be expected. I rate their keeper, Brian Neeson, very highly. It’s good for the team to get him a run of games because he was in and out of the side but once you have a settled back four and keeper it is a lot easier to shut them out.

Johns prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Glentoran v Ards

Saturday (3.00pm)

Neither team have reached the heights that they would like to and with Ards playing us on Tuesday night they could have a few tired legs going into Saturday. Ards are a good side but when there are so many games in a week it’s hard to keep fresh.

Johns prediction: 2-0

Weir prediction: 2-1

Ballinamallard Utd v Warrenpoint T

Saturday (3.00pm)

I have no idea! These were two of the hardest games we’ve played all season, Ballinamallard and Warrenpoint at home. Against Warrenpoint we could have been two or three down at half-time and they went down to 10 men and if they’d kept all 11 it would have been a very tough night. They’re not a bad side at all, like Ballinamallard, they just need a bit of luck. We had a very even game with them up at our place, it’s hard to figure out why they’re down at the bottom. Warrenpoint have more of a threat up front, so I’ll go for them.

Johns prediction: 1-2

Weir prediction: 2-2

Dungannon Sws v Carrick Rangers

Saturday (3.00pm)

This should be a good game because both of them play really good football, as everyone likes to point out. I’m going to go for a draw.

Johns prediction: 2-2

Weir prediction: 3-1

Season’s standings: Players 7 Weir 4

 

Final word

Another contender for soundbite of the season from Warrenpoint boss Matthew Tipton after their defeat by the Glens. “I’ll be watching Carl Frampton and hoping that he wins but if that game out there had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it,” he said. Sadly

it wasn’t and he didn’t, but on the plus side, the Jackal won on points.

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