Belfast Telegraph

Linfield still the team to catch

By Graham Luney

Linfield 3 Portadown 2: Don't be fooled by the scoreline. Linfield were, by some distance, the better side against Portadown and they go into the festive tussle with their old enemy Glentoran in good shape.

Goals from Andy Waterworth, Jamie Mulgrew and a rejuvenated Mark McAllister saw the Blues home but the margin of victory could have been much greater.

This defeat sees Portadown sink 10 points behind Linfield and any title aspirations they possess are also sinking.

But David Jeffrey's side are on song, four points clear at the summit and they are looking a menacing attacking force.

Mulgrew and Philip Lowry were awesome in the engine room and while the Blues also produced a cutting edge in attack, Portadown's formidable strike duo Gary Twigg and Darren Murray were given little time and space to inflict damage.

Blues boss David Jeffrey said: "The players showed great courage and technical ability as the conditions were very difficult but, while we are pleased with our league position, we also know things can change quickly."

Man of the match McAllister said: "All the lads were very good and I thought we were more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.

"The keeper (David Miskelly) made my mind up for the goal when he came out and I went for the lob.

"I don't have a great record on one-on-ones so it was a pleasant change."

The weather was dreary but from the first whistle the game wasn't.

Fans were treated to three goals in the first 19 minutes as the Blues came off the ropes in style after conceding an early goal.

Chris Casement's powerfully struck free-kick from 30 yards flew through the hands of keeper Jonny Tuffey into the net.

The shot-stopper cut a frustrated figure but he redeemed himself in the 17th minute by foiling the former Blues defender with a stunning fingertip save from another setpiece. Stung into action, Linfield sprung to life and in the 14th minute Miskelly could only punch Matthew Clarke's corner onto the head of Waterworth who did what he does best from close range.

Five minutes later and just after Tuffey's wonder stop from Casement the home side went in front when Mulgrew's low drive had sufficient power to go under Waterworth's feet and find the net.

On 29 minutes Twigg's volley sailed past the target and then Darren Murray's overhead kick beat the crossbar as the Ports fought to get back into the contest.

Hopes of a comeback fizzled out after Linfield's third. McAllister raced onto Mark Haughey's long pass and found the net with a sweet lob over Miskelly in the 52th minute.

Waterworth should have made it four on 61 minutes but failed to get a proper connection just as fans expected the net to ripple.

Tuffey produced a stunning block from close range to deny Murray near the end as the visitors looked to produce a sting in the tail. Murray did have the final say when he slammed the ball into the net after Tuffey had palmed away Peter McMahon's shot.

The Ports looked livelier when McMahon entered the fray in the 63rd minute but Linfield bossed that central area.

Ports assistant manager Kieran Harding admitted his side were second best.

"We never took control of the game and we only started to play when (Peter) McMahon came on," complained Harding.

"We make no bones about it, we are disappointed after making such a great start. We were poor in midfield and didn't have that spark until Peter came on.

"We needed someone to get on the ball and make things happen. Peter has been struggling with injuries so we have had to nuture him back. Keith (O'Hara) was perhaps a bit leggy as he has just come back.

"The league doesn't take shape until the end of January. All we can do is stay on people's coat-tails and take it from there."

LINFIELD: Tuffey, Haughey (McVey, 83 mins), Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill, BJ Burns (Glendinning, 63 mins), A Burns, Ward, Clarke, Mulgrew, McAllister (Tipton, 80 mins). Unused subs: Knowles, McCaul.

PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Casement, O'Hara, Ramsey, Mackle (Rooney, 78 mins), Murray, Mouncey, McStay (McCafferty, 56 mins), O'Connor, Twigg, Barton (McMahon, 63 mins). Unused subs: Brennan, Breen.

Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).

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