Linfield 2 - 0 Dungannon SW: Waterworth in top form
Striker blasts double to sink swifts but Ward can see big hurdles on horizon
Big Crusaders fan Carl Frampton is planning to put on a big show at the Odyssey Arena on Saturday, but a few hours before his scrap with Jeremy Parodi, the Hatchetmen, who are unbeaten in 12 games, will go toe to toe with Linfield who have netted nine wins on the bounce in all competitions.
Andy Waterworth's brace against Dungannon Swifts on Saturday takes his goal tally for the season to eight and moves the Blues four points clear at the top of the table though Portadown can close the gap to one point again if they conquer Glenavon in the Sky televised game at Shamrock Park tonight.
The biggest surprise on Saturday was the 45-minute delay to the kick-off following a security alert which forced the closure of the M1. But once the action got under way, Linfield went through the gears and the road to victory was a relatively smooth one.
Blues defender Sean Ward cuts a more relieved figure after seeing the Windsor Park side shoot to the top of the table from bottom spot but he knows only more hard work will keep the title contenders there.
"It's going well," said the centre-back (pictured). "It wasn't that long ago we were fighting a relegation battle but things have turned quickly.
"We never doubted ourselves. We had difficult games to begin with but we could have got wins from them, apart from the Crusaders game when we didn't play well.
"We are confident and the club always has a positive mindset but there are people who believe Linfield belong at the top of the league. In reality, you have no given right to be at the top of the league. The club have been there for so long because they have earned the right to be there.
"We are working extremely hard in training and there is strong competition for places but we also know how quickly things can unravel. That's why we'll keep working hard."
The Swifts, minus the injured Darren Boyce, threatened when Terry Fitzpatrick aimed a volley over the crossbar and Blues keeper Jonny Tuffey had to palm away a Johnny Topley free-kick. A Jamie Douglas cross along the six yard box also gave the home defence a brief moment of panic. Linfield's attacking game lacked imagination but keeper Gareth Buchanan was needed to thwart Waterworth.
Even though the Blues were struggling to hit top gear, Waterworth was lively in the final third and on 41 minutes he hammered in the opener with a low shot after Matthew Tipton's drive had been blocked.
Waterworth grabbed his second in the 58th minute, producing a back post header from an accurate Tipton cross.
The Swifts were stung but not in the mood to surrender and Tuffey produced a superb save with his legs to beat out Matt Hazley's powerful drive.
Waterworth picked up yet another man of the match award and his former Glentoran team-mate Ward knows the frontman is crucial to Linfield's title charge.
"He's scoring goals and he's fit," added Ward. "He has that pace and strength that scares a lot of defences. As a consequence, defences sit a lot deeper and we are taking advantage of that by pressing and doing things quite well as a team. It's just important that we keep going. Michael Gault has been outstanding in the middle, Jonny Tuffey has been superb in goals and Niall Quinn has been absolutely outstanding in the last few games. It's good that we are playing well but it's about consistency."
Dungannon Swifts boss Darren Murphy was disappointed with his side's defending, believing both goals were preventable.
"I was pleased with parts of our game and disappointed with others," he added. "I've a young squad and I think they sometimes lack a bit of belief in their own ability. They don't really believe they are good players.
Isaac Andrews, who earned legendary status through his exploits in Linfield's seven trophy season of 1961-62 and their epic European Cup battles against Man City in 1970, was presented with the Torrans Trophy on Saturday.
Andrews' name already features prominently in Linfield's history books. Waterworth looks on course to carve out his own contribution to this club's illustrious history.
LINFIELD: Tuffey, McVey (Glendinning 42), Gault, Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill, BJ Burns, Ward, Tipton (McAllister 68), Mulgrew, Quinn. Subs (not used): A Burns, Knowles, McCaul.
DUNGANNON SWIFTS: Buchanan, McKerr, Copeland, Brennan, Topley, Fitzpatrick, Harpur, Doyle (Lavery 57), Hazley, Glackin (Hutchinson 57), Douglas (Lowe 74). Subs (not used): Mulgrew, McCullough.
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast).