Our first season ended with us meeting the board’s expectation of a top half finish, in the end a bit of consistency might actually have secured us European football. This season, the board are simply asking again for another top half finish but they’ll no doubt expect to see some progression on our 5th place finish from last year.
Wheeling and Dealing
Trying to strengthen a squad at Irish League level is always a tricky prospect. Not least when you lose two of your most influential players from your squad and your hand is forced into replacing them!
As mentioned in my end of season one post, Hrvoje Plum has left on a free to join Al-Aldalah, this leaves a massive gap in midfield to be filled. To compound our misery we’ve also lost Dutch winger Elvio van Overbeek in a £140k deal which could not be turned down as the assisting wizard moves on to another Saudi side Al-Ra’ed.
We made two signings for central midfield to give us better options. In comes Gary Deegan, an experienced Dubliner who has been over the water in England and Scotland since leaving Bohemian in 2009. We’ve also brought in former Ireland U19 midfielder Mackenzie Hunt following his release from Everton.
Our defence has been strengthened across the board. Ethan Patterson first came in on loan from Shamrock Rovers in January as a back up option and will stay on for the remainder of this season. Charlie Oliver was signed on a pre-contract agreement and is first team ready. Our European signings continue with Norwegian fullback Benjamin Gleditsch joining on a free transfer after his release from English Non-League Poole Town. Scottish fullback Patrick Reading comes in on a season long loan from Middlesbrough.
Our final big signing of the summer is David Parkhouse, a Northern Ireland U21 international, on loan from Sheffield United. Parkhouse’s physical attributes and work rate should see him compete very well in the league this season. Two minor signings in the shape of goalkeeper Tiernan Parker and winger Chris Conn-Clarke will slot into our Reserve team for the time being with a view to gradually making the transition to senior football.
This is probably the shortest pre-season schedule I’ve ever experienced with just four fixtures played. An overseas trip to glamorous West Lothian saw goals from our new signings before a battling performance at home to Oldham yielded only a 1 goal loss. There was a short drive up Pims Avenue to Wilgar Park for our annual Dundela friendly before our final game of pre-season at home to East Belfast. 4 games, 12 goals, no clean sheets.
The lack of intensive preparation most definitely affected our start to the season as we picked up just two points from our opening four games. We failed to create anything of note against Cliftonville before giving up a lead on three occasions at home to Ballymena in a disastrous draw. Conor Pepper rescued an undeserved point at Inver Park before Coleraine blew us away at home.
Things needed to change and, after some extensive forum searching and head scratching, I switched things up tactically again with an emphasis on more urgent pressing.
The tactical changes paid dividends as we went on a run of six wins in our next nine league games. Alongside that we also managed to reach the semi final of the County Antrim Shield (for the second year running) and the semi final of the NIFL Cup! David Parkhouse finally began to find form as he hit 10 goals in these two and a half months.
And then November hit us like the 14.30 train from Bangor to Great Victoria Street. A familiar foe reared its head against Larne – the lost lead – as we succumbed to a last minute defeat. “These things even themselves out” as we bit back against Coleraine with a late winner of our own. Then we took Cliftonville to penalties (again) in the County Antrim Shield Semi Final – and for the second season running Cliftonville beat us on penalties in the semi final of the Country Antrim Shield. Dire. Crusaders compounded our miseries to give us our second consecutive defeat to a North Belfast team.
BUT THEN! We kicked off December with our second Semi of the season so far. Dungannon came to East Belfast and we sent them packing with a David Parkhouse hattrick and a peach of a finish (although somewhat controversial) from young winger Chris Conn-Clarke.
Our disappointing start to the season has certainly given us work to do in reclaiming ground in the league. Along with this we’ve had to deal with serious injuries for last season’s top scorer Curtis Allen (torn thigh muscle, 3 months) and new signing Benjamin Gleditsch (broken foot, 4 months). Not to mention the dreaded one on one scenario in the current ME build…
Having now managed to reach a final of a cup competition, glory could soon be on the horizon for me in this save. However, there are minor victories to be had in many forms. One such minor victory is that I have outlasted not one but two Linfield managers in my short tenure thus far. Fortune Favours The Glens.