Linfield ready to start title party
Linfield 3 Glentoran 2: Linfield eased to their third Big Two win in a row, last night, and edged ever closer to their 50th league title in this their 125th year.
Two goals from Philip Lowry, brought in for the suspended Jamie Mulgrew, did the damage to Glentoran and it was a walk in the park for the champions elect but for a rally near the end that was really too little, too late.
Colin Nixon made it 2-1 before substitute Chris Casement added his name to the scoresheet.
Daryl Fordyce then converted a penalty after Peter Thompson had apparently handled in the box which caused a few hearts to flutter, but Linfield held out to kick-off a title party on the Kop, with only a Steven Douglas red card in injury time dampening the celebrations.
Now six points clear of Crusaders and with three games remaining it could be as early as this weekend for Linfield to seal yet another Gibson Cup, if they beat Cliftonville.
The game was up for the Glens as early as the third minute when Lowry scored one of the easiest goals he's likely to claim in a blue shirt. Nathan Hanley's corner was knocked back across goal by William Murphy and there was Lowry to head in, unmarked, from a couple of yards out.
If there was going to be any fight in the Glentoran team, whose confidence was sure to have been rocked by the two late goals that sunk them at the Oval on Saturday, it was ripped from them and they never looked like getting back into the game until the latter stages. In the past few weeks, dogged and determined have been the bywords of Linfield's successes, but those qualities weren't needed last night. David Jeffrey's side played with a freedom that suggested this was a team without the pressure of a title challenge weighing them down.
Not that there was any sign of complacency sneaking in. Linfield remained resolute at the back, on the very few occasions that the backline was needed, such was Glentoran's inability to carve out an opening.
At the other end there were precious few other chances in a drab first-half, aside from a Hanley free kick, from the right which almost sneaked in on 14 minutes, but Elliott Morris saved well.
Fordyce, who was booked for a rash challenge on Michael Carvill, saw a 20 yard effort go wide on 29 minutes then five minutes later, the Glens best opportunity arrived via a rare error from Robert Garrett.
He got in a bit of a twist trying to work out whether to clear or bring the ball out on the bye-line and was dispossessed by Andy Waterworth. The striker pulled back, but Paul Leeman's shot was blocked by Murphy.
After the break the Glens showed a threat they had been lacking throughout the game.
First Jason Hill went on a fine run through the midfield and fired a shot low which was easily saved by Blayney and the Blues keeper denied Matty Burrows soon after.
Then on 54 minutes Paul Munster saw his shot tipped over by Elliott Morris.
Hanley swung in the corner, Lowry lost his marker and nipped in to head home at the near post.
The Glens pulled one back in the 69th minute — Johnny Black's free-kick was missed by the home defence and Nixon fired home the 75th goal of his career.
The two goal advantage was reclaimed with 10 minutes remaining as Thompson fed Casement who burst through and side-footed home. The Glens were awarded a penalty which Fordyce scored, but that proved to be little more than delaying the inevitable.
LINFIELD: Blayney, BJ Burns, Douglas, Murphy, Hanley, Carvill, Gault (Casement 64), Garrett, Lowry, Munster (McAllister 76), Thompson. Subs: A Burns, Tomelty, Ervin.
GLENTORAN: Morris, McGovern, Nixon, Ward, Hill, Fordyce, Clarke, Leeman (Callacher 80), Black, Burrows (Doran 61), Waterworth (Gawley 61). Subs: Steele, Johnny Taylor, Callacher.
Referee: Stephen Weatherall (Belfast).