Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville 1-3 Linfield: Blues win Irish Premiership league title

 

By Alex Mills

Linfield were crowned Danske Premiership champs thanks to a devastating 15 minute hat-trick by Andy Waterworth in a day of drama at Solitude.

The 30 year old was simply unstoppable as the Blues lifted the famous old trophy for the first time in five years -- and how their sell-out crowd enjoyed it.

It’s the 53nd time the South Belfast team have had their named scribbled on the Gibson Cup, but they had to do it the hard way!

When news filtered through that Crusaders were winning 4-0 against Glenavon a few miles down the road at Seaview, the red and black ribbons could well have been prepared as a battling Cliftonville deservedly led at half-time, courtesy of an early Daniel Hughes strike.

But with David Healy’s half-time team talk still ringing in their ears, the Blues were back on terms within 60 seconds of the restart, Waterworth getting the party started with a slick finish before going on to complete his treble.

To make matters worse for the Reds, defender Chris Ramsey was dismissed in the second half.

The game erupted early on, off the pitch, with 60 Linfield fans escorted out of the Cliftonville end of the ground!

After the early sparring, Mark Haughey wasted a decent opening on 12 minutes, blasting high and wide after great vision by Waterworth to create the chance.

Seconds later, Haughey produced a great interception at the other end to prevent a certain opener when Matthew Clarke had his pocked picked right on the touchline by Stephen Garrett.

The Reds, however, were not to be denied. Marty Donnelly flicked a short corner to Tomas Cosgrove, who whipped in a great cross for Hughes to head home.

The Blues tried to come off the ropes with Niall Quinn and Clarke combining on the left, but when the defender drilled in a low cross, both Aaron Burns and Chris Casement failed to convert.

It was the Reds who almost struck again on 23 minutes with Roy Carroll producing an outstanding save to beat away a Garrett shot at the base of the post following a Marty Donnelly cross.

The usually lethal Waterworth missed a great chance to level matters on 28 minutes, when he met a teasing delivery from Haughey, only to see his effort flash well over the top.

Linfield roared from the blocks after the break and were level within a minute. Casement’s corner kick was met by Mark Stafford at the back  post and, although Peter Burke managed to get a hand to his header, Waterworth stepped in to convert from close in.

And, the big man struck again on 53 minutes with a wonderful solo effort. The big striker left Jamie McGovern in his wake in a blistering 30 yard dash and, when  confronted by Burke, Waterworth drilled the ball into the bottom corner.

It was game, set and match on 59 minutes with that man Waterworth was hauled down inside the box by Ramsey -- he was promptly red carded -- and referee Ian McNabb had no hesitation in awarding a penalty kick.

Waterworth causally stepped up to plant the ball past Burke.

The party began with the Linfield fans dancing with joy . . . it could go on for some time.!

Cliftonville: Burke, McGovern, Ives, Ramsey, Curran, Garrett, M Donnelly (Lavery 66), Hughes (Bonner 66), Winchester (McNicholl 66), J Donnelly, Cosgrove.

Unused subs: Reynolds, Nelson.

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth (Waterworth 88), Lowry, Burns (Stewart 77), Clarke, Casement (Millar 82), Mulgrew, Quinn.

Unused subs: Carson, Deane.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey).

Match preview

'Winkie' backs old club to get party started

By Graham Luney

Linfield legend William Murphy believes his old club will celebrate a 52nd title success this afternoon.

The race for the Gibson Cup has gone to the final day of the season for the first time since Glentoran grabbed the glittering prize in 2009.

Crusaders and Linfield both have their eyes on the trophy but David Healy's side are two points ahead of their rivals and with a vastly superior goal difference.

A draw at Cliftonville would be enough to spark a Linfield title party but a defeat to the Reds would allow Crusaders to make it three championships in a row if they beat Glenavon at Seaview.

Murphy, Oran Kearney's assistant at Coleraine, won an incredible nine league titles at Linfield and he needs no education on the mental toughness and hunger required to get across the line first.

'Winkie' accepts his old club have work to do to finish the job but he expects the Blues to be in party mood this evening.

"It's an exciting finish," said Murphy. "Last weekend's results have changed things quite a bit and a lot of people didn't see the Ballymena United win over Crusaders coming.

"Linfield deserve great credit as a lot of teams would have thrown the towel in a long time ago, especially with Crusaders having won back-to-back titles. At one stage they were nine, then seven points ahead so all Linfield could do was keep winning their games.

Read more

Linfield will toast title joy yet again: William Murphy 

"They didn't worry about anyone else and focused on what they needed to do.

"Linfield have to win one more game and then it's their title. Crusaders have to win and see what happens but on this year's form I would expect both teams to win.

"The 1994 title race was a thrilling one with the three teams, Linfield, Glenavon and Portadown, going for it on the last day. I think I was at Ards then but nobody had given Linfield a hope back then but the mid-Ulster sides drew 2-2.

"Anything can happen and it's a very shrewd move by Cliftonville to bring Tommy Breslin back in.

"I just feel Linfield have the momentum while the Reds have not been firing on all cylinders."

While Linfield try to keep a lid on their excitement, Crusaders know they must record a victory to give themselves any chance.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter said: "We've one game remaining, our focus is on taking three points from the Glenavon game and we'll see what happens up the road.

"Spirits were good in training this week - there was a lot of laughing and joking. These lads are a resilient lot. They know they just have to get on with it.

"I told them there was no point feeling sorry for themselves. What I'll be looking for is a response and how they react against Glenavon. The fans have been great to us all season, so we owe them a performance."

Baxter admitted the wheels are already in motion to beef up his squad for next season.

"You can't sit still in this game," he concluded. "I've already made a few enquiries for players that will hopefully strengthen the group.

"The league is now so competitive. Linfield and ourselves have been going toe-to-toe for the last three years now. We've seen the emergence of Ballymena United and Coleraine, who are now big trophy challengers.

"Cliftonville are always in the mix, along with Glenavon, while Glentoran are a big club that will be wanting to muscle in with the top teams in the near future."

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