Linfield simply Blue it
In glorious weather in north Belfast, the sun set on another season for Linfield.
A long, hot summer lies ahead with plenty of time to reflect on why it ended trophyless.
After a remarkable treble double, the 2008-2009 campaign wasn’t meant to end this way.
Manager David Jeffrey talked about injuries, referees and rebuilding. Yet he also realised that there were no excuses for finishing runner-up.
Jamie Mulgrew, the heartbeat and driving force of the Linfield team, gave an honest and frank assessment of his own side’s failures as former team-mates danced with joy at the Oval.
“We have only ourselves to blame,” said Mulgrew.
The midfielder was at his menacing best on Saturday as Linfield crushed Crusaders 5-0.
Great way to end to the season but as William Murphy commented: “It counts for nothing”.
Mulgrew was happy to pose for pictures with fans but at times it was difficult for him to fake a smile.
“We just haven’t taken our chances when we should have,” he said.
“You can’t afford to give away late goals like we did at the Oval and expect to win league titles.
“We were in so much control and played Glentoran off the park yet we didn’t get the win. That was the game that turned the title race. Obviously if we had won that game things would have been a lot different.
“The club will not dwell on what has happened although we have to learn from the experience. New players are here and everyone recognises David (Jeffrey) is rebuilding the squad.
“That is not the excuse for us not winning the league as we believed we had the quality to do that.
“Mistakes that we have made collectively as a team have let us down.
“Next season we will come out fired up for the challenge as we will not let Glentoran have the trophy for long.
“I think everyone is glad to get a break come the end of the season, recharge the batteries and come back fresh for another big challenge.
“I know we will be more determined than ever to get our title back.”
Events at Seaview on Saturday felt like going along to a party you never really believed would take off. Even before Linfield scored their opener, the writing was on the wall across the city.
It was just not going to be Linfield’s day or title.
Ironically, if the Blues had knocked Cliftonville out of the Irish Cup, the Reds may have tested Glentoran’s title mettle to a greater degree.
But Linfield could not afford to let the title slip from their grasp in humiliating circumstances and when it became clear that their title dream was fading, the fans, quite rightly, acknowledged the fight to the finish from the men in blue.
“The fans were great,” added Mulgrew. “Seaview was absolutely bonged and the atmosphere was brilliant. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
“We were determined to do our job and put in a winning performance for the fans who turned out because they have been so supportive all season.
“Not many teams will be 4-0 ahead at half-time at Seaview and it could have been more — I had a chance myself.
“Perhaps they had one eye on the cup final but that does not take away from the hunger and determination to get a result which we showed. There was pressure on us but we were superb.
“It was certainly one of the best first half performances we have put in this season.
“We wanted to make the fans proud of the club they support. The Crues have given us so many hard games this season but to put in such a good performance and play so well is good for us.
“Now the challenge for us is to come back stronger.”
As long as Mulgrew stays in the heart of the Linfield midfield, there is every chance the Gibson Cup will not be away from Windsor Park for long.