Vol. 2 of Jamie Megarry’s review of 2021 - April until June

Posted : 1st January 2022 at 08:58:32

In part 2 of his review of a successful 2021 Jamie Megarry features the April - June period.

April

The Blues kicked off another busy month with a 2-0 win on the road, as goals from Jordan Stewart and Shayne Lavery gave Linfield victory over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park.

That was followed up by a hugely significant win over title challengers Coleraine at Windsor Park in front of the Sky Sports cameras, winning 2-1 courtesy of two memorable individual goals from Jordan Stewart to put the Blues 12 points ahead, having played a game more than their nearest challengers.

David Healy’s men also drew against Larne at Inver Park as the formidable Andy Waterworth came off the bench to head in an important late equaliser, and then a 2-1 win over Ballymena United thanks to goals from Mark Haughey and Shayne Lavery at Windsor Park put Linfield 11 points clear.

The Blues could have made a giant step towards the title in their following game, but they were beaten 3-2 by Glenavon at Mourneview Park, despite goals from Shayne Lavery and Christy Manzinga and that reduced their lead to 7 points at the top, going into the split.

April ended on a high as the Blues bounced back for a 2-0 win over Annagh United in the Irish Cup at Windsor Park, with Andrew Waterworth and Shayne Lavery once again on the scoresheet.

May

The defeat to Glenavon in the final pre-split fixture put a spanner into the works and had covid restrictions not been in place, the ‘Big Two’ derby would have drawn a massive crowd, rather than being played ‘behind closed doors’, as Glentoran came into the game six points behind. Had they won, the title race was set to be more difficult for Linfield, but the Blues kept them at bay with a goalless draw with great thanks to Chris Johns who saved a penalty from Glentoran’s Robbie McDaid late on.

That was followed up by an important 3-1 league win at home to Crusaders, courtesy of goals from Mark Stafford, Joel Cooper and Shayne Lavery.

In back-to-back Irish Cup fixtures, Linfield progressed past Dungannon Swifts with a 5-2 win at Windsor Park, before a 3-0 win away to Loughgall as Shayne Lavery’s hat-trick sent the Blues through to the semi-final.

On May 15, Linfield could have effectively won the league with a point, due to their superior goal difference, although for mathematical confirmation on the day, they would have needed all three points against Larne. However, Tiernan Lynch’s men inflicted a rare home defeat on the champions. Niall Quinn scored to level the scores on 85 minutes which could have all but sealed the title, but the Blues went in search of a winner to try and make sure of it, only for Larne to win the game late on, through Josh Robinson and the champagne was put on hold.

The Blues had to put their title challenge aside for a week. On the Tuesday they took on Ballymena United in the semi-final of the Irish Cup, as a strong performance brought a 3-0 with goals from Stephen Fallon and Shayne Lavery (X2),

It was a quick turnaround after the Blues booked their place in the Irish Cup final which was played the following Friday, as fans finally returned to grounds, as part of a government test event. Linfield took on Larne at Mourneview Park and goals from Shayne Lavery and Joel Cooper in the first half ensured the Blues won the prestigious Irish Cup trophy for the first time since 2017 and for the 44th time in the club’s history.

The Blues then had two games to finish their season, both league games continuing the demanding Tuesday/Saturday schedule. Healy’s men travelled to Coleraine in the penultimate league fixture knowing a point would secure the title, and they got it. Mark Haughey’s first half header proved to be the title-clinching goal, despite Curtis Allen’s equaliser for Coleraine. It was another massive effort just days after the consuming Irish Cup final. For the 55th time in our history, Linfield were Irish League champions and a 25th League and Cup ‘Double’ was completed.

Linfield wrapped the season up with a 2-0 win against Cliftonville at Solitude. Despite it being a ‘dead rubber’ match, the Blues wanted to end the season on a high and did so, thanks to goals from Christy Manzinga and the outgoing Andy Waterworth. The Blues lifted the trophy after the match, having won the league by five points. Linfield’s ‘Double’ earned David Healy the Manager of the Year award, whilst Shayne Lavery’s 30-goal season saw him become the first player to win both the Ulster Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in the same season.

June

The season may have ended but things were still busy around Windsor Park, with June 1 a significant day in the history of Linfield FC as on that date, the club’s first team became full-time professionals. On the same day, the Blues completed the signing of Mancunian centre half Sam Roscoe who joined from Ayr United.

Due to the 2020-21 season not starting until mid October because of the pandemic - which led to an end of May finish – the Blues only got two weeks off, before returning for the 2021-22 season, as David Healy prepared his team for the UEFA Champions League in July. On-field preparation started with a 1-0 friendly defeat to Kilmarnock at the Dub in Belfast.

There was a new look to the squad upon the return to pre-season, with long-serving trio Mark Haughey, Mark Stafford and Andy Waterworth all moving on to Glenavon after successful Linfield careers. Hotshot Shayne Lavery also moved on to Blackpool in the EFL Championship, whilst Joel Cooper returned to Oxford United in EFL League One, after the end of his loan spell. Ryan McGivern left and moved to his local team Newry City, Eamon Scannell moved to Ards and Brandon Doyle moved to Crusaders. Alex Moore went on loan to Dungannon Swifts.

At the end of June, more new signings arrived as young attacker Andrew Clarke joined from Crusaders, whilst Scottish goalkeeper Jack Ruddy also signed, after leaving Plymouth Argyle.



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