Coleraine 2 - 3 Linfield: Blues respond with top show
Pride restored by Bannsiders but two equalisers not enough to stop Linfield
Both sets of players owed their manager a performance at the Coleraine Showgrounds and they rose to the occasion.
Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney was feeling the heat after watching his side crash to four straight defeats but some pride was restored following a display full of guts and passion against the joint league leaders.
Linfield chief David Jeffrey had looked for a response following a limp display against champions Cliftonville and while this wasn't a vintage performance from the men in red, they returned home after netting three precious points in the title race.
The home side threw the kitchen sink at the Blues but a late, close-range finish from Philip Lowry sealed the away win and Linfield's star man, Aaron Burns (pictured), who drilled in a first half penalty, understood the significance of the result.
"The boys were excellent. We put in a good shift to get three important points," said Burns. "They needed the points as much as we did but on the day I think we just pipped them, quality wise.
"There were some good goals, especially Mark McAllister who caught it well with his bad foot! Phil Lowry showed his great fitness levels by surging forward for the winner.
"Good teams can be beaten but not twice in a row and we wanted to hit back. David (Jeffrey) made that obvious to us and we talked about the need to do that this week. It's going to be a tight title race but we will keep working hard, listen to our coaches and focus on what we are doing. Hopefully we are in the mix come the end of the season."
In the absence of the suspended Michael Gault, keeper Jonny Tuffey donned the captain's armband and he breathed a sigh of relief when Paul Owens' setpiece flew past him and rebounded off the woodwork.
The home side, without the injured Howard Beverland, relied on their own shot-stopper, Wayne Drummond, to keep the Blues at bay. The Coleraine number one tipped away Billy Joe Burns' long range effort and then palmed away Aaron Burns' drive.
Linfield did most of the attacking but luck deserted them in the 32nd minute as Carvill's shot clipped the crossbar.
Lowry poked a shot wide of the post and it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors would take the lead but, instead, it was Coleraine who missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the 38th minute.
Eoin Bradley was tugged back by Billy Joe Burns in the box but Ruairi Harkin failed to do his job from the spot, his low effort was firmly struck but cannoned back off the base of the post.
Salt was firmly rubbed into Coleraine's wounds when Linfield were awarded a penalty three minutes later. David Ogilby felled Mark McAllister and on this occasion Aaron Burns made no mistake from the spot.
Drummond then produced a wonder save just before the break to turn away Billy Joe Burns' ferocious drive.
The rain came down but the goals didn't dry up as Kearney's men got back on level terms in the 54th minute. Paul Owens floated in a sweet free-kick and Eoin Bradley supplied the clinical finish with a left foot volley as the Blues defence stood still.
On 64 minutes the Linfield woodwork was shaking again as Paul Owens' firm shot struck the post. The Blues took full advantage of their good fortune when McAllister hammered in his side's second goal three minutes later.
Coleraine needed a sprinkling of magic to get back into the contest and Bradley provided it in the 82nd minute. Stephen Carson's deep cross was headed back into the danger area by Ogilby and the striker produced a stunning overhead free-kick from six yards.
But this pulsating game was far from finished and it was Lowry who performed the final decisive act in the 86th minute, poking the ball across the line from close range after Andy Waterworth deflected the ball into his path.
Bradley was left to reflect on a man of the match performance which featured two sweet finishes but the taste of defeat.
"After the last few weeks Oran was looking for a performance and the supporters would have been too," he said. "We did give a performance but just didn't get the rub of the green. If we keep playing like that now we will fare much better.
"Ruiari (Harkin) had bad luck with the penalty and things might have been different if he scored then. But Linfield are probably the best team in the league and we ran them close."
COLERAINE: Drummond, McIlmoyle (Watt, 46 mins), Hegarty, Douglas, Ogilby, Owens, Harkin (Jennings, 70 mins), Canning, E Bradley, Tommons, Moore (Carson, 62 mins). Unused subs: Browne, McMullan.
LINFIELD: Tuffey, McVey, Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill (Tipton, 85 mins), BJ Burns, Burns, Ward, Clarke, Mulgrew, McAllister. Unused subs: Knowles, Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, McCaul.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).