Belfast Telegraph

Linfield hit front in league title race

By Graham Luney

Glenavon 1 Linfield 3: Rumours of Linfield's demise have been greatly exaggerated. That's six league wins on the spin for the Blues who have gone from bottom of the pile to top of the table.

Those visits to the crisis management classes have been paying off.

Manager David Jeffrey and his players were under intense pressure after securing only two points out of a possible 12 at the start of the season.

But the smiles were back on their faces at Mourneview Park. Title rivals Cliftonville and Portadown failed to win, but the Blues needed to put their own house in order and there was further evidence against Glenavon that another title-winning machine is being assembled.

Those supporters who called for Jeffrey to be sacked aren't so vocal now ... in fact, the silence is deafening.

Midfielder Philip Lowry, scorer of Linfield's third goal against Glenavon, feels that criticism of the team went over the top after a rocky start.

"I think the character of the team has shone through," said Lowry. "People were calling for the manager's head after four games which was absolutely ludicrous to be honest with the amount of stuff he's done here.

"We were well aware our start was difficult and everyone now sees how strong Portadown are. Our first four games were against the top teams so it was never going to be a stroll. More competition for places has helped us and everyone looks to be very hungry this year.

"But it's still very early days and there hasn't been one full cycle of the league yet.

"We didn't get off to the best of starts but I thought we were worthy winners in the end. Gary (Hamilton) has assembled a great squad here, with the perfect blend of youth and experience.

"I think they will comfortably finish in the top six and the manager had warned us of how strong they would be. It was a big test and we could have crumbled after the first goal, but this team has steel and the new signings are getting used to what it takes to win.

"At this club, a win is paramount no matter who we are playing. We have good options in attack with guys like Brian McCaul and Matthew Tipton who can come off the bench as well as a fit-again Mark McAllister.

"We were fluid and it was a good all-round team performance. The passing and movement from the front four was good. I had a setback this season with a hamstring injury but that was my first start back since then. I was glad to get into the box and score but I could have scored again."

William Murphy was given the honour of wearing the Glenavon captain's armband against the club where he earned legendary status.

But any thoughts the big defender would offer a few gifts to his former comrades were dismissed when he produced a thundering challenge on Peter Thompson and engaged in a shoving match with Michael Gault after Andy Waterworth's 'goal' was ruled offside in the eighth minute.

Just when you felt Linfield were knocking on the door, Guy Bates produced his sublime touch in the 23rd minute.

Former Blues player Andy McGrory provided the assist from the right wing and the striker rose in majestic fashion to beat Sean Ward in the air and direct a looping header over keeper Jonny Tuffey and into the corner of the net.

McGrory's cross bounced off the crossbar but the visitors grabbed their deserved equaliser in the 39th minute. Waterworth stretched the Glenavon defence on the right flank, Peter Thompson surged forward with the ball and it fell kindly for Michael Carvill who hammered it into the net from six yards.

Two goals in three minutes after the break saw the pendulum swing dramatically in the Blues' favour. Waterworth coolly converted a penalty after Gareth McKeown's trip on Gault on 50 minutes and then Lowry (pictured below with Waterworth) headed home from Jamie Mulgrew's cross. Bates' drive near the end whistled past the upright as the Lurgan Blues fought to the finish, but Linfield almost scored a fourth as Carvill's long-range effort rebounded off the crossbar.

Glenavon boss Hamilton said: "Linfield are the best team we have played this season and if they keep playing like that they will win the league. I can't fault the effort of our boys but we have a new team here and it will take time for the progress to happen. We switched off at the start of the second half and a team like Linfield will punish you when you do that."

Both sides are in League Cup action tomorrow night with Glenavon hosting Institute and Jeffrey's men going for their eighth straight win when they take on the old enemy, Glentoran, at the Oval.

Lowry added: "Glentoran have had an indifferent start to their season and their financial problems have been well documented but Eddie Patterson always has his teams set up well and it's always a massive game.

"These are my favourite games when playing for Linfield – coming up against Glentoran and all the lads will be keen to make the next round."

Glenavon: Connolly, Murphy, Kilmartin, Bates, Rainey (Hamilton, 65 mins), Patton (Neill 65), McGrory, Marshall, McKeown, Martyn (Farren, 78 mins), Singleton. Unused subs: McCallion, Lindsay.

Linfield: Tuffey, McVey, Gault, Waterworth, Lowry, Thompson, Carvill, BJ Burns, Ward, Mulgrew (A Burns, 83 mins), Quinn. Unused subs: Knowles, Tipton, Ervin. McCaul.

Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey).

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