A new season, but unfortunately for Dungannon Swifts, the same old Linfield.
Nobody really needed reminding of the champions’ ability but they demonstrated it anyway with a comprehensive, four-goal victory at Stangmore Park.
Seasons come and go but some things never change, and the sight of the Blues in full stride, even at this early stage, is indeed an ominous one for the rest.
They were ahead inside 10 minutes through Robert Garrett’s sublime strike, and had the final say when Rory Patterson scored in the final minute.
And so the week ended with Linfield again top, already three points clear, while Dungannon are stuck at the opposite end of the table.
While few would bet against the Blues finishing the campaign at the summit, Dixie Robinson can be cautiously optimistic that Swifts’ fate is not sealed.
A fortnight into the season is not the time to pass judgement, and especially when it has included a tough double-header against Belfast’s Big Two.
Better teams than Dungannon will suffer at the hands of Linfield in the coming months.
The Blues’ quality across the pitch was apparent on Saturday, from the outstanding Chris Casement in defence to the abundance of talent they possess in the forward areas, so much so that Patterson was again restricted to a place on the bench.
In midfield Garrett more than compensated for the absent Jamie Mulgrew with a dominant display, and it was one of his driving runs which fashioned the first goal.
Breaking forward from midfield, Garrett collected a pass from Mark McAllister along the way before rifling the ball into the top corner from 12 yards.
Although Dungannon tried to respond and forced a series of corners, all were easily dealt with by the visitors’ back line.
Instead it was Linfield in control, and McAllister wasted a glorious chance to double their advantage later in the half. He was sent clear by Garrett but wanted too long on the ball, allowing Craig McClean to race back and clear the danger.
The resulting corner from Damian Curran picked out Philip Lowry, but his header struck the crossbar before rebounding to safety.
But Swifts’ luck did not hold, and Linfield did get a second in the 37th minute.
The ball was going out of play when McClean intervened to concede a needless corner. Curran’s delivery found Lowry whose effort was stopped on the line, Peter Thompson’s follow-up was blocked before McAllister fired home at the third attempt.
Half-time allowed Robinson to try and inject some fresh energy and belief into his players, and he pushed Michael Ward into a more advanced role.
However, any hopes of a comeback were ended by a third Linfield goal. McAllister set up David Armstrong, whose crisp, right-foot drive found the bottom corner.
Linfield could have further stretched their lead. Thompson headed wide from Garrett’s free-kick then Daryl Fordyce lifted an effort inches off target.
With an hour played, it seemed David Jeffrey thought the points were secure.
Thompson and Garrett were withdrawn, but any sense of relief for Dungannon ended when Patterson and then Michael Carvill took their places.
They did, however, pull a goal back. Shea McGerrigan supplied the corner and Johnny Topley escaped Casement’s attention to convert from six yards.
Philip Donnelly had brought energy and impetus to Swifts’ play since his introduction, and one goal-bound effort drew a decent save from Alan Blayney.
Linfield, though, had the final say, capping a fine performance in the final minute.
Carvill’s pass pierced the Dungannon back line and sent Patterson racing clear, and he calmly slipped the ball beyond Niall Morgan to seal another fine victory.
DGN SWIFTS: Morgan, O’Neill, McCaffrey, McClean, McMinn, Fitzpatrick, A Forker (Donnelly, 74), Ward, Topley, Murphy (McGerrigan, 62), Lavery (C Forker, 62)
Subs not used: Campbell, Montgomery
LINFIELD: Blayney, Armstrong, Curran, Lowry, Thompson (Patterson, 62), Fordyce (Burns, 82), Garrett (Carvill, 65), Ervin, Watson, McAllister, Casement
Subs not used: Douglas, McCaul
Referee: Stephen Weatherall (Belfast)