The weight of history against Glentoran
Traditionally Big Two, Windsor Park, the Christmas clashes haven’t been good for the men in the East.
Based on our research and calculation, the Glens last won a Christmas game in Windsor in the last pre-war season, 1939/40. There are eighty-two Christmases, not Boxing Day either, but actually the 23rd. It should be noted that the game is not as traditional as many think, and for several seasons it has not. was not on the Christmas program.
Since the mid-seventies, however, this has become more common, with Linfield scoring eight wins along with the remaining 8 trim levels (typically 1-1).
So without a doubt and emphatically, the story lies in the blue side of Belfast when it comes to Boxing Day Windsor.
But the Glens have torn up the form this season, interrupting long barren streaks. They won the championship for the first time in ten years at Seaview last month and returned a few days ago from Coleraine Showgrounds with three points. This had not happened since 2013!
Regardless that season, there was also 1963/64 … not a Christmas game, but a few older Glenmans will recall a barely believable 8-1 win at Windsor Park that season, in the time of Glentoran’s first league success against Linfield there. in 17 long years.
It shows that nothing lasts forever, and the 2021 edition of ‘The day after Christmas’ whatever the location, seems closer than ever.
It’s a fight between the league’s highest ranked team and its meanest defense. the Blues have been waterproof. Only two goals conceded in the last seven and nine of the entire season in the league.
They look fiercely solid from mid-to-back, but less convincing at the striking end, where much will depend on the availability of Christy Manzinga and Kirk Millar. Manzinga couldn’t continue with a blow to the left ankle after beating Jordan Williamson for the lone goal in the last midweek victory over Ballymena, as an injury recently reduced Millar.
David Healy is going to sweat a bit over the fitness of the two men.
Yet Linfield’s incredible resilience remains … they’ve only lost once in the league this season (to the Crusaders at Seaview) and have seen Glentoran, 3-0 at the Oval.
It was September when the East Belfast team were battling for form and manager McDermott was facing a lot of heat from disgruntled fans. However, the waters are calmer at the Oval these days, after eight rebound wins and the announcement of three new Irish Football League signings.
For their part the Blues have been undefeated for seven, so Monday is unmistakably a meeting of the league’s form teams … the attackers too, as this puts the best shooters in local football into direct conflict: Frenchman Manzinga’s total of 14 in the league is not surpassed only by Jay Donnelly on 17.
It has been several years since the two clubs entered the shock of Boxing Day with such regularity. It could be the proverbial Christmas cookie, but of course there’s always that petard potential, where each side cancels out the other. It happens so often when tensions rise so close to the surface as they undoubtedly will on Monday.
The result, whatever it is, will decide nothing. It’s far too early for that in a title race in which half of the contenders have faltered in recent weeks, yet he still has three teams neck and neck up front.
A draw certainly keeps things tight and suits Cliftonville and the Fighter Squad, although the red also, have their work cut out for them in the same day north belfast derby with the Crusaders.
For Healy and McDermott, the next four months, not so much Boxing Day, are key. Every man demands both daring and subtlety. The Linfield manager is bound to recruit aggressively in the January window. If he can add firepower and goals, his team will struggle to navigate the race.
It is most often the team which concedes the fewest times, wins the title. This is where Linfield has been more impressive than all the comers in the first half of the season. Glentoran fans can also point out that their team have only conceded once in their last 8 games, although their run has been slightly less intense.
McDermott has been busy and managed to close his January deals quickly, efficiently and impressively. His challenges now are to keep a thriving team happy and precisely finding the right times to infiltrate quality, new hires so as not to disrupt the momentum.
If he finds the right formula, the pendulum could swing east …
(My thanks to Roy France for helping me with some research for this article) …