Full Steam Ahead: Linfield and Ballymena pull away at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership


Linfield stay top after what can only be described as one hell of an exciting game at the National Stadium. Ballymena keep the chase up after beating Institute and Ards remain anchored at the bottom after another defeat, this time away to Glenavon.

So, cup fever is over and not a waterlogged pitch in sight, well Ballymena were away. The league is now starting to turn into a race for the finish. Crusaders keep showing they don’t want the excitement of the chase, so it is over to Ballymena to continue to put the pressure on David Healy’s men?

Game of the day. Take away the display of certain officials, Linfield showed their bottle and fight against Coleraine and turned this game from being 2-0 down to win 3-2. The Blues have been in great form. A run of seven games undefeated before this one. But it was the Bannsiders who got the scoring off and running with this pulsating affair.

Controversy? Indeed. Did Jamie Glackin handle the ball? This is another product of the officials not watching the game as it flows and missing the little things that count. But you play to the whistle. So why did Andrew Waterworth just stop and let Glackin collect the ball then deliver a cross when Jamie McConaghie was on hand to finish? Never stop! Especially when the opponent is on the front foot, no matter what you think the decision is. The referee has the whistle, play to it.

The Bannsiders doubled their lead through new signing Dean Shiels. Again controversy. Did the ball go over the line? This game is a prime example for VAR, but that is just not a financial option for the Irish League. Shiels got on the end of an Ian Parkhill cross to finish. The linesman’s positioning on this was questionable, but between the officials, they decided it was a goal.

The Blues started the fight back through their centre-back pairing. A free-kick was met by the head of Jimmy Callacher. He directed the ball to Josh Robinson who in turn thundered the ball into the net. The Blues’ next goal was simply something else. Niall Quinn starting and finishing the move. Neat interplay between Marek Cervenka and Quinn saw Quinn finish past a helpless Chris Johns. The winner came from the boot of on-loan St Johnstone man Kyle McClean. From a corner, the ball eventually fell to the midfielder who fired home.

What a game. The Blues keep moving on and look on this performance full of determination, fight and desire. They are going to be a hard team to stop.

Ballymena United kept the pressure on The Blues with a 2-1 win away to Institute. So, as I have been saying for the last few weeks Stutes season will be decided on what happens to their top goal scorer Michael McCrudden. Well, he has signed a pre-contract with Derry City and has taken it upon himself to exile himself and not play for Stute. Personally, he should honour his contract and the club that give him the break and the captains armband. I feel sorry for Stute and there must be options for them as McCrudden surely is under contract and must honour it. To be fair would you want a player with that mentality playing again? I think that’s the last he will be seen in a Stute shirt.

The Sky Blues got the first of the afternoon against Stutes keeper Martin Gallagher with a howler. A Sky Blues corner from Steven McCullough went straight into the goal over the head of Gallagher. One he will not want to see again. Yet again another game another controversial decision. A dubious penalty awarded for what the referee decided was a pull. Looked soft in fairness! Cathair Friel didn’t hesitate, stepped up and fired home to make it two.

Stute got a conciliation through Stephen Curry who volleyed home. That’s 3 wins in a row for the Sky Blues, but will their substandard pitch come back to haunt them in the long run? The possibility of continued cancellation of games at home will cause them a fixture backlog.

Dungannon Swifts entertained Crusaders and came away with a great 1-0 win. Once again Crues’ team selection has to be questioned. The Crues going into the game without a recognised striker. The all-important goal came through Douglas Wilson. Wilson connecting with his head from a corner.

Not the greatest day for the Crues. Wasteful. If David Cushley would have just lifted his head on the odd occasion the result might have been different. But he was like a kid in the playground yesterday just wanting to shoot, shoot, shoot.

So, Paddy McLaughlin took over control of Cliftonville for this one and registered a 1-0 win at home to lowly Newry. Not the greatest of performances but a win is a win and he has registered his first for the club. It will take time before he gets them playing the football he wants. Let’s hope he is given the time, and fans have the patience to let him get on with it.

The all-important goal came with three minutes on the clock through Conor McMenamin. McMenamin chipping the ball over the keeper to give the Reds the lead. That’s the way the game finished. A win and a clean sheet for McLaughlin.

Life just isn’t getting any better for Ards as today saw them go down to a 2-0 defeat away to Glenavon. They remain rock bottom off the table. Goals from on-loan Cameron Stewart and Conor McCloskey was enough to see the men from Mournview Park collecting all three points.

Things are looking a whole lot better at the Oval with a new man at the helm and a cash injection. Things are on the up for Glentoran and today they travelled to Warrenpoint and got a comprehensive 5-0 win

The Glens started quickly and were one up on two minutes. Luckas Gwiazda was on hand to head home from two yards out. Five minutes later it was Gwiazda who got his and the Glens’ second. The big striker getting his head onto the end of a free kick. Darren Murray then made it three. The ex-Point striker was in the right place inside the box to finish when the ball fell to him.

The Point where reduced to 10 men when Ciaran O’Connor got his marching orders for something he said to the referee. The Point then were reduced to nine men when Francis McCaffery saw red for an awful challenge on John Herron. The only intent was to injure the Glens player.

The Glens pushed on and claimed number four. Murray rounding the keeper and finishing to give him two for the game. The scoring was complete when a Robbie McDaid cross was headed into his own net by Stephen Moan. 5-0 the score and playing with nine men for the majority of the game did not help Points cause.

Player of The Weekend

Jamie Mulgrew: Linfield’s fixer in the middle of the park. Today putting in a Captains performance of calmness under pressure.

Danske Bank Premiership

Standings provided by Sofascore LiveScore