As we draw to the close of 2019, Jamie Megarry starts his review of the year with this look at the first four months of a year which saw the League Cup and Premier league trophies make a welcome return to Windsor Park.
The year got off to the best possible start for David Healy and Linfield as they won all seven January fixtures. League wins over Ards, Warrenpoint Town, Crusaders, Newry City and Glentoran which included run of more than eleven hours without conceding a goal earned David Healy the NIFWA ‘Manager of the Month’ award. The Blues also defeated Ballyclare Comrades in the fifth round of the Irish Cup, as well as overcoming Ballymena United to reach the final of the County Antrim Shield.
The only negative from January was a cruciate injury for the popular Roy Carroll, an exceptional goalkeeper who ultimately played his last game for the Club in a 1-0 win away to Crusaders. Departing Windsor Park in January was Robert Garrett who bowed out with 250 appearances to his name as he transferred to Glenavon for more game time. A few players went out on loan as Cameron Stewart followed Garrett to Glenavon, Eamon Scannell to Warrenpoint Town, Alex Moore to Dungannon and Jonathan Smith to Ards, all until the end of the season.
David Healy made three additions to his squad on loan deals. Kyle McClean joined on loan from St. Johnstone, Czech striker Marek Cervenka joined on loan from FK Teplice in the Czech Republic, and goalkeeper Conor Mitchell joined on loan from Burnley.
February didn’t get off to the best of starts as Linfield were eliminated from the Irish Cup. The tie went to extra time at Windsor Park and Marek Cervenka netted his first and only goal for the Club to level the scores in the 117th minute, however, Crusaders snatched a winner two minutes later.
The defeat was disappointing but it spurred David Healy’s men on to make February a fruitful month in the context of their season. The Blues had three League fixtures which brought three very significant wins. Firstly, Coleraine visited Windsor Park and Linfield had to show their title credentials. Trailing 2-0 after 50 minutes, Josh Robinson got Linfield back in it and Niall Quinn netted a leveller before Kyle McClean got off the mark with a last-gasp dramatic winner to complete a brilliant comeback. The next League match brought nearest challengers Ballymena United to Windsor, and Josh Robinson was on the scoresheet again to net the decisive goal. The Blues’ title credentials were evident once again as they had to dig deep to win away to Newry City on a crisp Tuesday night thanks to Chris Casement’s 93rd minute winner.
Linfield also tasted Cup success in February, ending an eleven year wait to get their hands on the League Cup. It was the 30th time Linfield had won the League Cup, which was ultimately clinched by Andy Waterworth’s early goal against Ballymena United in the final at Windsor Park. For the second month in a row, David Healy was the NIFWA ‘Manager of the Month’, whilst Josh Robinson picked up the ‘Player of the Month’ award.
March started in frustrating fashion as Linfield were beaten 2-0 away to Glenavon in the League. The Blues were able to bounce back, however, with a 2-0 win over Institute and a 5-0 win away to Dungannon Swifts as striker Andy Waterworth netted four goals to take him over the 150 goal mark in Linfield colours.
Further disappointment came in March, however. Linfield went to Seaview to take on Crusaders in the final of the County Antrim Shield. The main talking point of the match came from the weather conditions, as both teams battled gale-force winds. It was an extraordinary spectacle, but Crusaders ultimately lifted the Shield as Linfield let a 3-1 lead slip.
David Dorrian’s Linfield Swifts were crowned Reserve League Champions at New Midgley Park after a 3-1 win over Dungannon Swifts reserves.
After lifting 3 Premier League titles, 3 Irish Cups, 3 League Cups and 4 County Antrim FA Cups, Linfield Ladies’ inspirational captain Sarah Venney announced her retirement.
April was the final month of an eventful 2018/19 season for David Healy and his team. The Blues travelled to Ballymena to face their title rivals knowing that a victory would all but clinch the title. As they did so effectively all season, Linfield defended superbly and Andy Waterworth delivered on the big occasion yet again to score the decisive goal. The victory meant Linfield were twelve points clear of second place Ballymena United with four games to go and a superior goal difference – the champagne was on ice.
As fate had it, next up was outgoing champions Crusaders visiting Windsor Park. Linfield knew a point would be enough to mathematically win the League and they got it in a 0-0 draw. The game wasn’t a classic but the Gibson Cup was on its way back to Windsor Park for the 53rd time. Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew lifted the trophy aloft the following week after a defeat to Glenavon. David Healy rotated the squad for the last two matches to round off with an emphatic win over Cliftonville and a draw away to Coleraine when Charlie Allen made his debut aged just 15 to become Linfield’s youngest ever debutant.
In a further boost, Andy Waterworth signed a two-year contract extension and Mark Stafford signed a one-year contract extension. Jimmy Callacher was named Ulster Footballer of the Year for his contribution to Linfield’s many clean sheets and his 10 goals.
Ryan Prentice’s Linfield Rangers won the League in dramatic circumstances, pipping Ards on goal difference
Part 2 of 3 to follow in the next few days.