152 weeks. 1070 days. 25,860 hours. But in the minds of all Linfield fans these times didn’t matter. All they cared about was the fact it was too long since celebration, silverware, or success at Windsor Park. The struggle for a trophy had spanned three managers, countless signings and a fair few bad performances.
But all that changed at the Ballymena Showgrounds. The Linfield team walked out unbeaten against their opponents Crusaders, and walked off still holding that record, and also with their first trophy under Northern Ireland legend David Healy. The band of Linfield fans who had watched relatively successful teams fail to win trophies had finally seen the return of trophies to the famous trophy room. This County Antrim shield was their 42nd competition win in their history, but we must ask the question: is this just start for Linfield?
To totally examine this we have to look at the present Linfield team and their positions. The Blues have had no lack of goals this season - 89 in all competitive games this season. They are currently sitting in second in the Irish Premiership, and have progressed to the quarter finals of the Irish Cup after wins over Glentoran and Institute. This all looks very well on paper but a closer look may reveal a little more about the side.
The gap between first and second is currently nine points, with Crusaders having a total of 71 points having only lost twice. Linfield sit with 62 points, yet have only lost one more game than their title rivals. The real problem with Linfield’s league form lies with the volume of draws from games that many fans and critics would say were winnable games against Dungannon Swifts, Coleraine twice and most recently, Portadown.
Many would say the Irish Cup campaign is Linfield’s ‘easier’ route to another trophy this season. The next step of this journey will see the Blues and Crues again lock horns at Seaview on 4th March. Linfield will once again have to be at their brilliant best to defeat a tough Crusaders side. Taking a look at Linfield’s best performances of the season so far, away to Crusaders on New Year’s Eve can show how Linfield will have to play if they want the league title that has evaded them for so long.
Linfield stuck with their usual 4-4-2 formation and the Blues took advantage of the pace of Niall Quinn, Aaron Burns and youngster Johnny Frazer. The creativity and touch of Burns allowed Linfield to take the lead, and pressure and commitment from Andrew Waterworth for the second showed the pressure which is required for success at this level. Despite losing captain Jamie Mulgrew and conceding, a stellar defensive and goalkeeping performance form the men in blue secured a win.
If Linfield can keep up performances and momentum, we could be looking at a close title race and an Irish cup win, but like everything in football, only time will tell.