Linfield were unable to take advantage of the opportunity to hit top spot in their first Sports Direct Premiership split fixture this evening as the Blues were held to a goalless draw away to Glentoran at The Oval. The Blues’ point takes them within a point of leaders Larne who were beaten at home to Crusaders earlier today, however Linfield will be disappointed with their point given the opportunities they crafted out in the second half.

It was the Blues’ second visit to The Oval inside the space of eight days, having beaten their rivals in the semi-final on the Irish Cup last week. David Healy named an unchanged team following Tuesday night’s hard fought win away to Carrick Rangers. Josh Archer missed out again through injury, having picked up a knock in last week’s Irish Cup win at The Oval.

It was a frustrating match for Linfield and certainly not a ‘Big Two’ derby that will rank among the greats. The first half was a low-key, quiet affair both on and off the pitch. Chances were at a premium, and neither goalkeeper was seriously tested. The fierce wind that accompanied ‘Storm Kathleen’ this weekend did not help matters, nor did a playing surface that wasn’t conducive to flowing football.

Glentoran adapted a direct approach, looking to find Junior out wide on the left with most of their attacks. Daniel Finlayson stood up to the challenge in an assured manner. That said, Junior did get joy inside the box on one occasion which allowed him to get a cross in, but he fizzed it just over the head of Jay Donnelly in the middle.

Linfield’s first meaningful opportunity came after 20 minutes when Matthew Fitzpatrick clipped a ball in behind the Glentoran defence and, as it held up in the wind, Joel Cooper was able to nip in between the defender and onrushing goalkeeper. However, as the ball dropped on his weaker right foot, he declined the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards when the ‘keeper was off his line. Cooper was then tackled and in hindsight probably wishes he’d had a rattle.

The Blues also threatened when Matthew Fitzpatrick latched onto a loose ball inside the box following a misplaced header by Glentoran defender Patrick McClean, however he drove his low shot across the face of goal. Kirk Millar was not too far away from getting on the end of it at the back post. Other than that, not much to report from a dull first half, other than several dangerous set-piece deliveries from Kirk Millar going untaken, with Daniel Finlayson particularly close to getting on the end of one after wriggling free and unmarked in space at the back post.

HT: Glentoran 0-0 Linfield

The second half was livelier than the first half. The Blues created several big chances which they were unable to take. Two minutes after the break, Ben Hall had the first of several opportunities that would fall to the central defender. It came from a Kirk Millar free-kick into the middle, but Hall headed an effort the wrong side of the post.

Glentoran then had a massive chance to take the lead in the 52 minute as striker Jay Donnelly was put through on goal from Rhys Marshall’s long ball. Donnelly went bearing down on goal and got inside the box before Chris Johns rescued Linfield with a big save, making himself big to block the shot.

The Blues then had a strong spell where they went close three times within five minutes. Firstly, Kyle McClean outmuscled Rhys Marshall down the left to get a cross in which he hammered right across the face of goal, with Fitzpatrick an agonising matter of inches away from getting contact on it which surely would have turned it into the net at close range.

Soon after, Joel Cooper turned Glens defender Luke McCullough inside the box before his low right-footed shot was pushed around the post by McCarey. McCarey then made another good stop from the following corner when the ball came out to Daniel Finlayson on the edge of the box and he had a crack with a well-struck shot from 20 yards which bounced awkwardly in front of the ‘keeper who did well to claw it around the post.

The Blues then suffered another almighty scare on 66 minutes. A cross delivered from Fuad Sule on the left was no defended with conviction from Linfield, from hesitancy between Chris Johns and Matthew Clarke which led to Glentoran striker David Fisher nipping in between them to meet the cross with a header, to which Chris Johns once again came up with a great save, tipping it onto the post to rescue Linfield for a second time.

Linfield ended the final fifteen minutes on top, missing several chances – two of which came in the 78 minute, both crafted by Jamie Mulgrew. Firstly, the captain got down the left before pulling the ball back to Kyle McClean inside the box, but the in-form midfielder sliced a left-footed shot which was unlike him. Soon after, Mulgrew crossed from the right and put it on a plate for Fitzpatrick, but he headed over from close range with the best opportunity of the match.

Central defender Ben Hall then had a great chance in the 82nd minute following pinball inside the box from Joel Cooper’s corner, with the ball eventually falling for Hall inside the box as he fired a left-footed shot against the crossbar. He had another good chance in the 90th minute, heading agonisingly wide from a cross from the right. The big man from Omagh has a knack of scoring in big matches, but today was not his day.

Whilst frustrating for Linfield not to take full advantage of Larne’s slip-up, it remains in the Blues’ own hands with four big matches remaining, three of which are at home. Next up is a trip to Seaview to face Crusaders on Friday for the Blues’ last away match of the season. With Larne not playing until the following day, let’s hope the Blues take this opportunity to hit top spot, although it will be a tough challenge, as always on the Shore Road.

FT: Glentoran 0-0 Linfield