Linfield celebrate title number 51
Linfield 2 Portadown 1: David Jeffrey was delighted, pleased, ecstatic and over the moon - and why not on a day when his Linfield team won its sixth league title in seven years in such sensational fashion.
Windsor Park was no place for the faint-hearted from the moment Philip Lowry broke the deadlock against a much depleted Portadown side, as much up for the fight as the defending champions.
However, until Lowry struck in the 64th minute the game had all the signs of petering out to a scoreless draw such were the feeble attempts at putting the ball in the net.
But goals change matches and the old saying was spot on once again because this showdown then took on a whole new meaning.
Suddenly the feeling of anti-climax disappeared, the atmosphere was electric and the Linfield legions found their voices.
‘Are you watching East Belfast’ rang out loud and clear. And there were strains of ‘we are the champions’ too.
But hold on a minute. This gallant Portadown side was not finished and four minutes from time there was almost total silence, certainly among the home fans. That’s when Richard Leckey rifled a beauty across Alan Blayney and the Ports were level.
Even Jeffrey later conceded his thoughts were turning to Tuesday and the home game against Cliftonville.
But Linfield, just like Manchester United, never give up. They battle to the final whistle and once again their intrepid spirit saw them home.
Eighty-eight minutes were on the clock when the old stadium rocked one more time and it was a stunning title winning goal which brought the fans to their feet.
Jamie Mulgrew that little midfield dynamo who obviously doesn’t know when he is beaten turned out to be the hero of the hour.
Not only for chasing what looked like a lost cause but for his stubborn refusal to give up when all the odds were stacked against him. When the ball fell between two sturdy Portadown defenders it looked like tiny Jamie had no chance but perseverance prevailed. He hit the ground but bounced up a la rubber ball, dragged the ball wide of towering goalkeeper Tuda Murphy, took
aim and fired an angled shot straight as an arrow high into the net between two despairing defenders.
Game, set and match and the signal for the celebrations to begin. This was Linfield’s 51st title triumph and with an Irish Cup semi final on Saturday they remain on course for a sixth double in seven years. Jeffrey didn’t hold back in his praise for everyone connected with the club but reserved special mention for Mulgrew when he declared: “He chased a nothing ball, showed great physical strength then superb skill followed by an absolutely fantastic finish.
“It was a tremendous, tremen
dous, tremendous way to finish the league championship, really first class.
“Jamie could have gone down and stayed down under a challenge but he’s an honest lad and one of the most fouled players who is battered all the time.
“But he had belief that he was going to get there and he did.”
Modest Mulgrew said: “I saw the chance of an opening and I just kept going. I could have gone down but I didn’t see any point in that because when I was round the keeper I knew I had a chance.
“I was wide of the goal but took the ball in a little bit and when I saw the two lads on the line I knew there was only one place I could hit it and that was high.
“You could say I was mightily relieved.”
Jeffrey and Mulgrew praised the efforts of Portadown with the Linfield boss conceding they were by far the better side in the first half.
But that was lost on Ports boss Ronnie McFall who justifiably moaned: “I thought we should have got a draw but this sort of thing has happened too often this season.
“Linfield had a lot of possession in the second half but didn’t really threaten. We had as many clear cut chances as them.
“But there is no denying Linfield deserve to win the title.”