Linfield must get to grips with negative tactics, says Jeffrey
Linfield 1 Dunganoon Swifts 0
David Jeffrey has thrown down a new challenge to his title chasing Linfield players — quickly learn how to cope with blanket defences.
It took league pacesetters Linfield more than an hour to break down Dungannon Swifts’ stubborn and well organised resistance with rising star Aaron Burns grabbing the only goal of the match.
But rather than criticise rival boss Dixie Robinson’s approach — stringing five men across the back protected by four in front of them — Jeffrey was philosophical.
The Blues supremo insisted: “Several teams are playing in a particular way against us and there won’t be a complaint in the world from me.
“We just have to focus on how we can cope and combat such tactics.
“Other managers might criticise such tactics but, at the end of the day, that’s the challenge.
“To be fair, Dungannon were very, very well organised, very disciplined and worked very hard and, after conceding five goals the week before, it’s understandable.
“I appreciate it is very hard for my players because there is suddenly so little space but we chose a difficult day not to pass the ball quickly like I know we can.”
Robinson made no apology for his tactics, although he conceded: “We did go against our principles and went with a system which we felt might frustrate Linfield.
“I thought that if we could sit in, contain and frustrate them then we might be able to hit them on the break. The idea was to keep ourselves in the game for as long as we could.”
As a game plan, it was so well executed Linfield players trudged off at half-time to a chorus of boos from fans totally frustrated by their inability to penetrate.
And ironically it was Dungannon who really should have taken the lead just two minutes into the second half.
Lone ranger Stefan Lavery was released by Terry Fitzpatrick’s precision pass but couldn’t apply a clinical finish.
Lavery lost out in a one-on-one with Stuart Addis, who was making his first league appearance of the season in place of Alan Blayney who injured his shin in a training ground tackle with Damien Curran.
With only the keeper to beat, Lavery saw his effort deflected for a corner and a golden chance was squandered.
The contest’s only goal came on 63 minutes when substitute Rory Patterson’s header was palmed out by keeper Niall Morgan and Burns was on hand to find the net — a strike which Swifts boss Robinson was frustrated to concede.
“I feel slightly aggrieved by how the goal came about,” he said.
“The referee sent Johnny Topley off to change his shirt because there was blood on it. While he was off the pitch, Linfield took a quick throw-in and went on to score when we were down to 10 men. We couldn’t get him back on quick enough to stop them.
“We lost our shape momentarily because of it and they made the most of the advantage.”
But even in defeat Robinson insisted: “I couldn’t be any more proud of my players and I feel we deserved a point.”
Apart from that goal, there were few other clear cut chances.
Linfield, however, did heave a mighty sigh of relief when Addis left his line but failed to collect a Dermot McCaffrey free-kick.
Ryan Mullan nipped in front of him but, luckily for the Blues, his glancing header came back off a post.
To balance things, Morgan did well to block a blistering shot from Patterson and, in the dying embers, workaholic Robert Garrett smacked Morgan’s left hand post.
Rather than moan, Jeffrey took the opportunity to heap praise on goal scoring hero Burns insisting he’ll be surprised if the youngster doesn’t collect the Carling Player of the Month Award.
Bossman Jeffrey insisted: “The lad is doing phenomenally well, absolutely. If he’s not recognised there is something wrong.
“He was not in the side at the start of the season and he didn’t get in because of other people’s poor form. He got in on the back of his own very good form in the Reserves and in training.
“He has taken his chance and is doing extremely well. I’m very pleased with him.”
There was little to commend this game, a cat and mouse affair from the first whistle but, as Jeffrey has warned, there could be more of the same ahead with teams doing what ever is necessary to smother the champions — though Jeffrey was pleased to get back to winning ways following Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to Cliftonville.
“There are times when you have to stand by your players,” he said.
“I only ever praise in public and criticise in private. Up until Wednesday night they had only been beaten twice this year. They don’t become bad players overnight so you back them.”