Belfast Telegraph

Windsor Park rebuild didn't cost Linfield title, but it didn't help

Feeney admits reconstruction of famous old ground caused difficulties for his team

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager Warren Feeney has admitted that the ongoing reconstruction work at Windsor Park has posed difficulties for his team this season.

And while he refused to use the re-development of the ground as an excuse for his team losing the title race to Crusaders, the former Northern Ireland striker noted it had messed up Linfield's training and playing schedule.

Over the past three weeks, the football scene in Northern Ireland has been dominated by the structural problems in the Kop Stand with fans wondering where Michael O'Neill's side would play Romania in June and where this year's Irish Cup final would take place.

There has also been much debate as to if and when the Kop Stand would be knocked down, when it would be built again, who was responsible for the damage and who was going to pay for it.

Some of those questions have been answered with next month's Irish Cup final being staged at The Oval, the Northern Ireland v Romania Euro 2016 qualifier going ahead at Windsor in front of 10,000 people and the Kop being demolished within weeks.

All the while one notable interested party has hardly rated a mention. Linfield Football Club have been largely forgotten in all of this.

Strange that, given the team play their home games at Windsor and have been affected by the upgrading of the stadium ALL season.

When the 2014/15 campaign began back in August last year, under new boss Feeney, who had taken over from the legendary David Jeffrey, the Blues were forced to play their first SEVEN games away from home due to the construction work at Windsor.

Hardly ideal.

And on the back of the recent issues with the Kop, the Blues are closing out the season with SEVEN games on the road, two of which were deemed home fixtures.

Unable to play at Windsor after cracks in the structure of the famous stand behind the goal were discovered last month, just two days on from Northern Ireland defeating Finland 2-1 to move closer to the Euro finals, Linfield had to play a home game against Glenavon at Ballymena, where Feeney's side lost, handing the title to Crusaders, and last night they faced the new Irish League champions at The Oval when the match should have been at the international stadium.

Linfield have played on with minimal fuss, but when asked about the situation yesterday ahead of the game with the Crues, Feeney revealed the impact has not just been on match day for his players.

"I'm not one to make excuses but we have trained at eight different training pitches this year and that has been very tough," he said.

"We have been all over the place from Cooke to Queen's and Civil Service to the Junior Stadium because Midgeley Park hasn't been the best with the reconstruction work going on and we haven't been able to train at Windsor as often as we would have liked, as there is an agreement in place with all the work being done at the ground."

In terms of the start to the season and the end of it with Windsor unavailable, Feeney said: "I want our players to be playing their home games at Windsor Park and to be able to run out knowing that it is their territory and for the opposition to know that as well, but we have had to move home games to neutral venues lately due to the issues with the Kop and at the start of the season we played seven games in a row away from home.

"Seven away from home to kick the season off was difficult, I have to be honest about that and once we did play home games, with the building work at the stadium, the atmosphere at Windsor wasn't as good as it normally would be. The players deserve credit though because they have just got on with it.

"The work at Windsor wasn't why we didn't win the title, but it certainly didn't help us.

"It's been a learning experience. I've said to the boys to take on board all that has happened and come back stronger for it. I believe we will."

Hitting Christmas, Linfield were on form and looking good for championship glory in Feeney's first season in charge.

"We were in a fantastic position and I did believe we would win the league but we let things slip and were too inconsistent and threw our chance away."

Asked about his first season as an Irish League manager, Feeney stated: "I have enjoyed it. I'm disappointed not to have won any silverware because I believe that you have to aim high.

"When I came to Linfield I knew what a big job it was and I knew what I wanted.

"Looking back it has been a decent first year. I would have liked a better cup run but there have been big plus points too such as the players buying into what I do.

"I am still confident that I will bring trophies and success to Linfield. I wouldn't have taken the job otherwise."

Belfast Telegraph


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