With just over five weeks until Cliftonville’s Sports Direct Premiership campaign kicks off against Linfield at Windsor Park, cliftonvillefc.net reflects on the recent history of opening day showdowns with the Blues – and there are fewer than you might expect.
Since the inception of the Premier League in 1995, the Reds have lifted the curtain on a new League season by facing Linfield just three times and, curiously, they occurred in consecutive years from 2006 until 2008.
The first, on September 23, 2006, saw Cliftonville clock up a memorable 3-0 victory at Windsor Park.
Following an infamous Aidan O’Kane own goal that handed the visitors a half-time advantage, Declan O’Hara’s header (above) made it 2-0 ahead of an ice-cool Chris Scannell finish putting the seal on a superb display.
Twelve months and one day later, the sides locked horns again on an historic night at Solitude.
The first ever Irish League game to be broadcast live on Sky Sports saw Linfield edge in front through Glenn Ferguson only for David McAlinden to scramble home an almost immediate leveller (below).
Thomas Stewart’s close-range finish looked to have sealed all three points for the Blues until, with his first touch after emerging from the bench, Stephen O’Neill nodded in to make it 2-2.
Remarkably, Linfield and the Reds would meet on the first day of the 2008/09 season as well – sort of.
Originally slotted in as the second game of the campaign, a referee’s strike saw the opening weekend of action postponed to a later date, meaning Cliftonville’s trip to Windsor on August 16 represented the sides’ first outing of the Premiership programme.
But even that had to be rearranged.
For, 32 minutes into a rain-lashed showdown, referee Alan Black accepted he was swimming against the tide – almost literally – on the day of the infamous Westlink flooding in Belfast and abandoned the game with the hosts a goal to the good.
Fifteen years on, the teams will once again go toe-to-toe when a new year of League action gets under way… and there are sure to be one or two nervous glances at the weather forecast as August’s opening weekend approaches.
Premiership curtain-raisers with the Blues
September 23, 2006: Linfield 0-3 Cliftonville
September 24, 2007: Cliftonville 2-2 Linfield
August 16, 2008: Linfield A-A Cliftonville