The New Year is ushered in by matchday 23 of the NIFL Danske Bank Premiership, with Linfield heading down the North Down coast to face Ards FC at the Bangor Fuels Arena (3pm ko). This season Ards have taken four points from the two games already played between the two teams, winning at Bangor (2-1) and drawing at Windsor (0-0).
A visit to Solitude to face Cliftonville during the festive run of fixtures may not figure very highly on any visiting supporters' Christmas wish list. But this proved not to be the case for the 507 Linfield supporters who purchased tickets for Saturday's game at the North Belfast venue. Both teams showed plenty of commitment and endeavour but it was Linfield who proved to have just that little bit more in the locker to go on and ensure that all three points would be heading back to Windsor. Victory (2-0) was secured with goals from Jordan Stewart and Niall Quinn and a resolute display from the Linfield backline which battled hard all afternoon to keep a clean sheet. It is hard however not to once again put MotM Jordan Stewart under the spotlight after another stellar performance in a blue shirt from the talented striker. In a tough frenetic game, Jordan at times resembled a matador on the ball, seemingly able to make time and find space in the midst of a flurry of red shirts. As David noted in his post match interview, Jordan has also developed and added a fine work ethic to his game, seen most notably at Solitude with his relentless closing down of the opposing Cliftonville defenders. Overall though, this was a fine and very determined team performance which arguers well for the busy fixture schedule that is waiting in the wings.
Ards have had a very disappointing last few months which has seen them slip steadily down into the basement slot in the Premiership table. Whilst manager Colin Nixon had been relatively pleased with most of the performances during this period, he also was not too surprisingly bemoaning a lack of firepower which prior to last Saturday, had seen a return of just 5 goals from their last 10 Premiership games. With this in mind, he may well take a dip into the January transfer window to bring in a new striker at the club. On Saturday though, it all seemed to came good for the team after they put three unanswered goals past Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park.
The race for the title is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and exciting for years, with just five points now separating leaders Ballymena and fourth placed Glenavon. At this stage of the season, there is no red hot favourite amongst any of the four main title contenders. Linfield for their part, must now continue to build up some momentum before the February IPL/LC Final double header with Ballymena United. Linfield will need to be on top of their game against an Ards side who may have already turned the corner after winning at Dungannon. A bright start to the New Year hopefully begins in Bangor with a Linfield victory! COYB!