Preview of opening Premiership game

Posted : 12th August 2022 at 23:50:16

​Match day one of the 2022/23 NIFL Danske Bank Premiership sees Linfield welcome Portadown FC to Windsor Park (3pm ko, all-ticket). Linfield will be breaking new ground with a first ever home game for the club on a Sunday. This follows the decision reached at the club’s 2020 AGM, which was made in anticipation of future European matches scheduled for a Thursday night and which has now occurred with Euro ties against Zurich and RFS causing a 24 hour delay in 3 scheduled League games. Welcome support for this unprecedented move in the club's history has been forthcoming from the NIFL, and upcoming opponents Portadown, Newry City and Carrick Rangers.

In our last outing, Linfield rose to the challenge of a tough UEFA Europa League assignment at FC Zurich. The Blues, carrying a two-goal deficit from the first leg, left the Stadion Letzigrund with their pride intact, despite losing (0-3) to the Swiss champions. This was a steep learning curve in the European arena playing away from home against a formidable opponent. Linfield now drop down seeded to the UEFA Conference League to face FK RFS of Latvia in the play-off round of the competition. The Blues will travel to the city of Riga for the first leg on the 18th August, before hosting the Latvian side at Windsor Park one week later.

Visitors Portadown were given a pre-season boost when manager Paul Doolin committed to a two-year deal at the club. The Portadown manager has been handed a difficult start to the new campaign, with fixtures against five of last season's top six clubs. There has been a high turnover in the playing staff at Shamrock Park with nine departures, along with teenage proteges Harry Murphy and Sam Glenfield, who secured moves to Glentoran and EFL One side Fleetwood Town respectively. New arrivals include Greg Upton (Annagh United) and Dominican Republic international Alberto Blade, who returns to the club from Middlesbrough.

Even in the midst of a demanding European campaign, with a financially lucrative group stage qualification spot potentially just one huge tie away, the NIFL Premiership title still remains Linfield's main priority for the season. Any successful run in the European competitions comes attached with a caveat of fixture congestion, and for Linfield the unfamiliar territory of Sunday football. But David and the players will relish the high game count that success brings, and the intense challenge from other clubs of another season as 'the team to beat'. It is always important to strengthen any team when it is in the ascendancy, and the Linfield manager with the backing of the Board, has done just that. He has now assembled together a well-balanced squad that can only get stronger operating in a second season as a full-time outfit. Aside from having to utilise his squad through injuries and enforced suspensions, David has some real options for each and every position on the park. The pressure is on for every player in the squad to perform and earn the right to wear the shirt!

A good sized attendance is expected at Windsor Park as the traditional Championship Flag unfurling ceremony is made before kick-off. The home supporters will be urging the Blues on for a winning start in what is sure to be another entertaining season. There will be plenty of twists and turns, highs and hopefully not so many lows for Linfield along the way! COYB!

Ken Garrett

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