We continue our look back on the season to date reviewing the month of September when the Crues were the early front runners, Portadown started their promotion push and Linfield Ladies made it four in a row.
September kicked-off with the first televised game of the season as the resurgent Glentoran defeated Institute on Sky Sports.
In gameweek five, there was a big win for Linfield against Cliftonville as they refocused their attentions to domestic matters after a gruelling European campaign over the summer – Jimmy Callacher scoring the only goal. Elsewhere Crusaders (6-0), Coleraine (5-0) and Ballymena United (4-0) all picked up high scoring victories with a clean sheet to boot.
The Blues continued their fine form with another seismic victory in the first ‘Big Two’ derby of the season with Kirk Millar putting Glentoran to the sword in front of the largest attendance of the season to date (4,800+). However on the same afternoon it was Crusaders who extended their lead at the top of the Premiership to six points with a 3-2 victory over Glenavon at Seaview.
That set up the battle of the league’s two unbeaten sides on matchday seven, as Oran Kearney’s Coleraine produced a superb display to defeat the Crues 4-2 at the Showgrounds and close the gap at the top to just three points. On the Monday night, Linfield (four games behind the leaders) defeated Carrick Rangers live on Sky Sports comfortably by three goals without reply.
The Blues followed that win up later in the week with a 7-0 display against Glenavon, Shayne Lavery bagging a quick-fire hat-trick against his former club. Crusaders bounced back from their first defeat to enjoy a convincing 5-2 win over Glentoran whilst at the bottom of the table, Institute came out on top in the battle of the bottom sides, winning 3-1 at Warrenpoint to leave Steven McDonnell’s side still searching for their first point.
In the only outstanding second round tie in the BetMcLean League Cup during September – holders Linfield squeezed past Ballinamallard United in a pulsating 5-4 thriller at Ferney Park that went the distance to extra time. David Healy’s men therefore completed the line-up for the last sixteen, which would be played in October.
In September, Loughgall surrendered their early season lead at the top of the Bluefin Sport Championship to neighbours Portadown. Dean Smith’s side lost to Ballinamallard United and drew with Ards during another busy month as Matthew Tipton’s Ports produced four wins from four as their 100% return allowed them to take pole position in the title race.
Elsewhere in the second tier, Knockbreda finished the month bottom of the table after failing to win since the opening weekend of the campaign and time ran out for Stephen Hughes at Ballyclare Comrades as Paul Harbinson stepped up from assistant manager to take the job on a permanent basis.
After three rounds of fixtures in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League, Annagh United, Bangor and Newington were the only sides to still boast a 100% record in the division. With the luxury of having played a game more Ciaran McGurgan’s Annagh topped the table with September wins over Limavady United and Moyola Park to reinforce their early season billing as favourites for promotion.
Limavady United remained rooted to the bottom of the table with zero points as former Northern Ireland international Mark Clyde quickly began to learn the difficultly of picking up points in this division in his first few games managing at this level.
The most dramatic of title races in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership reached a nail-biting conclusion, as Linfield Ladies travelled to the Brandywell in the final game of the season needing to win by seven goals to overtake Sion Swifts on goal difference. The Blues obliged with a stunning 10-0 victory over the Candystripes to win their fourth consecutive Women’s Premiership title.
Comber Rec Ladies themselves were relegated, also on goal difference, after only one season in the top division as the season marked a huge spike in interest and exposure to the league with over 6,000 spectators taking in top-flight games during the 2019 campaign. Cliftonville Ladies’ defender Billie Simpson narrowly missed out on the prestigious Puskas Award for the FIFA Goal of the Year having made the final shortlist.
The Women’s Premiership said goodbye to one the long standing stalwarts as Nadine Murphy retired after 25 years with Crusaders Strikers, another departure seen Linfield’s talented forward Louise McDaniel make a move to Blackburn Rovers before the end of the campaign.
Linfield dominated September’s NI Football Writers’ Association awards as David Healy won his second Manager of the Month this season and was accompanied by defender Mark Stafford as the Player of the Month – Ladies captain Kirsty McGuinness also picked up the final Women’s Premiership Player of the Month award after leading her side to the league title.
Portadown’s Lee Bonis was awarded the Championship award after a fine goal return for the in form Ports and Crusaders striker Paul Heatley claimed the Goal of the Month for his acrobatic effort in the win over Glenavon at Seaview.
The first season of the Electric Ireland Women’s Academy League saw Crusaders Strikers Reserves crowned champions at Seaview, as the NI Football League strives to improve the pathway for the most talented young female players into the top division of football in Northern Ireland.
The NI Football League continued to supply some of the most talented players into various male and female international squads for the start of the Autumn internationals in September. Linfield’s Shayne Lavery became the first player from the Danske Bank Premiership since 2017 to compete in a senior international when he won caps from the bench against Luxembourg and Germany for Michael O’Neill’s side.
Four locally based players won caps for Ian Barraclough’s Under-21 panel in games against Malta and Finland – with Kofi Balmer (Ballymena United), Chris Gallagher (Glentoran), Callum Ferris (Portadown) and Caolan Marron (Glenavon) all getting game-time across the two Euro 2021 qualifiers.
Linfield Ladies’ Ashley Hutton scored a dramatic late equaliser at Rodney Parade for Kenny Shiels’ senior women’s team as they drew 2-2 with Wales in their second Euro Qualifier; Hutton was one of four Women’s Premiership stars to cap alongside Emma Higgins, Demi Vance (both Glentoran Women) and Marissa Callaghan (Cliftonville Ladies).