The Irish League season continues and I went to two very different games. One will take some beating as my game of the season. The other, erm, won’t.
At the third time of asking, Coleraine’s season is up and running!
On the face of things, an away game against the reigning champions was hardly what you’d want after an opening week which saw Coleraine twice throw away leads and end up with only two points from six. Even less so when opponents Linfield were just coming off a historic European victory on Tuesday night.
But then the game kicked off and then Coleraine scored. Fourteen seconds was all it took for them to cut through Linfield and for Ben Doherty to open his account for the season with a fine curling effort. “We’ve probably scored too soon,” I thought to myself in the stand.
Then it was 2-0 slightly comical circumstances. Doherty whipped in the corner and Linfield’s Ryan McGivern barged one of his own teammates out of the way to power in a header. Not sure what was going through his head at the time, but oh well.
Into the second half and although Linfield started playing with a bit more intensity, Coleraine looked to have the game under control and appeared to have put the result beyond doubt when captain Stephen O’Donnell headed in a Doherty free kick just after the hour.
But Coleraine don’t make things easy for anyone who watches them. After the game on Tuesday I’d half-joked that we’d go 3-0 up against Linfield and somehow still end up drawing. At the time this was a flippant remark, but the fear was all too real when the Blues reduced the deficit, first through Joel Cooper’s deflected free kick and then through Shane Lavery’s close-range header. Linfield’s tails were up and in contrast, Coleraine seemed to be wilting.
But momentum swung again as Linfield were reduced to ten men. McGivern, not content with his earlier own goal, clumsily brought down Eoin Bradley for his second booking of the game and this really took the wind out of Linfield’s comeback.
There was one final flourish from Coleraine, courtesy of some appalling defending and an eager debutant ready to make his mark. Emmett McGuckin has barely been on the pitch a couple of minutes when he intercepted Kirk Millar’s attempted backpass, took the ball round Rohan Ferguson and squeezed the ball in from a narrow angle before sprinting off to celebrate under the fans in the North Stand. A moment he’s never going to forget.
Match Cost: £12 💷
Match Rating: 10/10
After last Saturday’s rollercoaster ride, 90 minutes of complete frustration.
Despite another bright start, Ben Doherty with a shot that had it been a few inches to the right would have almost rivalled his goal the previous week for speed, Coleraine soon got bogged down in an attritional battle with the visitors who had lost all three games so far this season and of course, lost 4-0 in a friendly here just over a month ago.
Just before the break, Eoin Bradley reacted to some extremely close attention from his marker and was shown a straight red card. Despite being down to ten men, Coleraine were mostly on the front foot but missed a focal point in attack meaning there was often no one in the box to take advantage of the crosses put in.
Doherty hit the post, a couple of effort were blocked on the line and then in basically the last kick of the game, an almighty goalmouth scramble looked to have forced the ball in, but with half the Institute team lying on the goal line there was no way the officials could see if the whole ball had actually crossed it.
Match Cost: £12 💷
Match Rating: 4/10