Belfast Telegraph

Linfield boss Healy's plans can pay dividends for years to come: Gaynor

Cliftonville 0-3 Linfield

By Conor McLaughlin

Ross Gaynor says Linfield's double vision can provide the perfect platform for greater success in the years to come.

The Blues have not won a major honour since the Irish Cup success of 2012 but, after inspiring his side to Saturday's 3-0 quarter-final defeat of Cliftonville at Solitude, former Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and Cork City ace Gaynor insisted that manager David Healy is laying the foundations to take Linfield back to the top.

"We're still not out of the title race and we're into the semi-finals of the Irish Cup so we have a big chance to go on and do something," said the 28-year-old.

"There have been games we've lost recently but Crusaders have slipped up as well, so it's just a case of trying to put a run together to make sure we take advantage if they drop points between now and the end.

"I think we'll be massive contenders next year but hopefully we can push on for the rest of the season and give them a little scare."

Gaynor registered the breakthrough goal as Linfield ended their four-year wait for victory at the north Belfast venue and, after Andrew Waterworth had all but secured progress to next month's last-four date with Lurgan Celtic, the Ardee man completed his double with a cheeky injury-time penalty - which ultimately led to home goalkeeper Conor Devlin's dismissal.

Having picked up a caution for belting the ball towards Gaynor in frustration, Devlin was then shown a straight red card by referee Andrew Davey for dissent.

Defender Caoimhin Bonner's sending off - which came following a second bookable offence shortly afterwards - saw Cliftonville end the afternoon with nine players and Gaynor admitted the casual nature of his spot-kick may have provoked a response.

"(Devlin) was giving it out all game to our young lads so I thought I'd take him down a few pegs," he explained.

"The game was dead and buried by then anyway, then I think he's tried to kick the ball at me but Guy Bates is a big lad and he blocked me. It's maybe hit him on the head or something.

"It's a bit naive of him to get sent off. It's stupid on his part but I don't care because we're in the next round."

Gaynor's opening goal - a smart first-time touch over the keeper's head - was every bit as noteworthy, with the ex-Republic of Ireland Under-23 international adding: "I'd never do it again!

"It's just pure instinct. The ball came to me and I thought I'd hit it early to catch him by surprise. It wasn't the cleanest strike ever but it went in so I'll not complain."

Championship 1 minnows Lurgan Celtic are all that stand between Linfield and an Irish Cup final date on May 7 and Gaynor admits the prospect of participating in the season's showpiece occasion is a tantalising one.

"As a group, we knew this game was our season," he continued. "It was a major chance for us to get nearer winning a medal and I don't think we'd won here in a few years so to get a result and march into the next round is brilliant.

"I've had a few cup finals in my career and they're great memories that stick with you, so hopefully I can get to another one and get my first medal up here."

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle was exasperated not only by his team's performance but also by the red cards dished out to Devlin and Bonner when the contest was virtually over.

"Stupidity," was how he described it. "It's a lack of discipline. The game's done, you're out of the Irish Cup, which is obviously the most disappointing thing, but then you've two players who pick up suspensions."

While reflecting on how the game got away from his side, Lyttle also sent out a warning to any members of his squad who are contemplating downing tools now that their Irish Cup dreams are over.

"They've scored, our heads have gone down and we've felt sorry for ourselves," he added.

"You're looking for leaders out there, someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and get players rallied round and raring to go again.

"I asked the players after the game do we just throw the towel in now? Do we walk away and give up? There's a European spot still to be won and we've 10, 11 or 12 players coming out of contract, so they're playing for their futures here too.

"You're looking for that mentality from your players - I'm going to be winning, I'm going to get a contract, I'm going to be here, I'm going to make sure the club's in Europe - and hopefully we do get that."

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Ives, Bonner, Flynn, McMullan, McDaid, Garrett, Catney, J Donnelly, Hughes. Subs: Knowles, Curran (Hughes, 70 mins), M Donnelly, Murray (Garrett, 77 mins), Winchester (McMullan, 65 mins).

LINFIELD: Deane, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Burns, Ward, M Clarke, Mulgrew, Gaynor, Smyth. Subs: Bates (Waterworth, 86 mins), Millar (Burns, 74 mins), Kee (Ward, 83 mins), Fallon, Quinn.

Man of the match: Ross Gaynor

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)

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