Concluding his review of the successful 2021 Jamie Megarry features the events from October to December.
A busy month with seven games kicked off with Linfield taking on early pacesetters Cliftonville who came into the match at Windsor unbeaten. The Friday night fixture would end up being another draw for the champions who led through an early Jordan Stewart strike which was cancelled out by Joe Gormley’s second half header for Cliftonville.
Four unanswered goals at Windsor in a short space of time saw Linfield win again against Carrick Rangers who were the early surprise package in the Danske Bank Premiership, Sam Roscoe and Martin Donnelly were both on the scoresheet, as well as the returning Christy Manzinga who netted a brace.
Manzinga scored again a week later alongside goals from Kirk Millar and Chris Shields in a 3-0 win away to Warrenpoint Town. The Blues then had to dig deep nine days later to maintain their unbeaten start, as Jordan Stewart scored an 88th minute header to salvage a point at Inver Park against Larne who’d gone ahead through David McDaid ten minutes prior.
There were also cup wins in October as a mostly young Linfield team defeated Ards 1-0 in the Co. Antrim Shield, thanks to Martin Donnelly’s strike, and the youngsters were rewarded with starts in a 6-1 win over Dundela in the following round. Again the few experienced players in the team led by example, as Niall Quinn scored a first senior hat-trick alongside goals from Jimmy Callacher, Ahmed Salam and Andrew Clarke.
A 3-0 win over Dungannon Swifts in a league fixture at Windsor Park saw Linfield end a generally positive month on a high, as Matt Green came off the bench to score twice and put the game beyond doubt after Matthew Clarke’s early opener.
Linfield Ladies finished a tough season with a 2-1 victory over Crusaders at New Midgley Park.
Another busy seven-match month, November got off to a good start as Linfield ruthlessly netted 11 goals past PSNI FC in the League Cup: the Blues’ biggest win of the year. Frustratingly, it was followed up five days later with a goalless draw away to Portadown in the league. A first domestic defeat of the season followed at the hands of Ballymena United in the Quarter final of the League Cup, then a first league defeat at the hands of Crusaders who won 2-1 at Seaview through a late Paul Heatley winner.
After three winless matches, Linfield typically responded as they tend to do when the chips are down. Six points adrift of high-flying Cliftonville, the Blues needed to beat the table-toppers on November 20, and they did so as Jordan Stewart’s header proved to be the crucial winning goal.
The Blues put in a strong performance in Lurgan to defeat Glenavon 3-0 at Mourneview Park a week later, with goals from Christy Manzinga (X2) and Ahmed Salam. Just as pleasing was the return of Kyle McClean who came onto the pitch for the first time in eight months following an ACL injury. The following Tuesday, Linfield ended the month as they wished to, as they recorded a 2-0 win over Carrick Rangers with goals late on from Chris Shields and Kirk Millar.
There was disappointing news however, as a scan revealed that on-loan Hull City forward Billy Chadwick had sustained anterior cruciate ligament damage which would end his season and that brought a premature end to his Linfield career.
Linfield continued to fight on with a thin squad, with several first team players missing through various reasons, but David Healy continued to get results through December.
The Coleraine Showgrounds wasn’t a happy hunting ground for Linfield for a period of time and it’s a ground where Coleraine are notoriously hard to beat. The Blues did win and draw there last season, but it is still with great delight any time Linfield win there and that was the case in the away end, as the blue men and women cheered their team to a 2-1 win after going behind, with the goals coming from Christy Manzinga and Stephen Fallon.
A Linfield team with several changes progressed to the final of the County Antrim Shield with a dramatic victory over Cliftonville at Solitude. It was a memorable game, as Kyle McClean equalised in the third of four additional minutes for the Blues before an eventful penalty shoot-out where young Linfield ‘keeper David Walsh saved two spot kicks and Cliftonville’s Chris Curran had one ruled out for a double contact.
One of the more frustrating results of the season came midway through December when a very dominant Linfield couldn’t find a winner against a defensive Warrenpoint Town who’d equalised through a free-kick after Christy Manzinga’s early opener for Linfield.
On December 17 Linfield recorded their first win at Inver Park in six visits since Larne’s promotion to the Premiership. It came courtesy of a penalty from Chris Shields after Christy Manzinga was fouled by Kofi Balmer who was then sent off.
A goal from Christy Manzinga late in the game was enough for a hard-fought league win over Ballymena United at Windsor before 2021 was rounded off with a draw in the traditional festive derby between Linfield and Glentoran in front of the biggest Irish League crowd since 2008. The game finished 1-1 with Trai Hume’s Linfield opener cancelled out by Glentoran’s Jay Donnelly who salvaged a point for the Glens despite the Blues’ dominance.
Unfortunately, Linfield Swifts were edged out in the Christmas morning Steel and Sons Cup final by Newington who showed their experience to win 1-0. In the aftermath, former Linfield midfielder Michael Gault replaced the outgoing Swifts coach David Dorrian.
Another departure was Matt Green whose contract was terminated by mutual consent.
A successful 2021 and hopes are high that Linfield can maintain their current top of the table League position until the end of the season and add further silverware.