Linfield won't give up on title dream
Linfield 2 Cliftonville 0
David Healy's Linfield last night banished the Windsor Park blues with a one-sided victory over ailing Cliftonville.
Although some may think the Premiership title is already on its way to Seaview, Healy's braves have other ideas and cut the gap back to seven points.
It may have been only their second home win since the turn of the year, but it was one that was never in doubt. Stephen Lowry got the party started by slotting home a penalty before Andy Waterworth gobbled up his 20th goal of the season.
The Blues have now won 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games, proving they have ambitions to take the title race to the wire. Little wonder a delighted Healy punched the air.
In contrast, the result means the Reds' only realistic hope of a European place next season will now rest with the play-offs.
Healy unsurprisingly named the same team that defeated Crusaders in the quarter-final of the Irish Cup last week.
Following a disappointing draw with Coleraine, Reds boss Gerard Lyttle wielded the axe. He was without the injured Jaimie McGovern and Paul Finnegan, but he opted to hand startling slots to Levi Ives, Caoimhin Bonner, Chris Curran, Stephen Garrett and Aaron Haire.
Linfield almost forged an opening after only four minutes when skipper Jamie Mulgrew surged forward to unleash a thundering 25-yard drive that Jason Mooney did well to get a glove to.
The Blues threatened again with Mulgrew involved in a short corner routine with Paul Smyth, whose cross found the head of defender Mark Haughey, who directed wide.
But the home fans hadn't long to wait to witness the breakthrough when Haughey's shot on 22 minutes, following another Smyth corner, came off the hand of Chris Ramsey and ref Andrew Davey had no hesitation in awarding a penalty.
Lowry confidently stepped up to send Mooney the wrong way from the spot.
However, within five minutes Haughey blotted his copybook at the other end by chopping down Haire inside the box and once again, Davey was precise in his decision making.
Jay Donnelly stepped up to lash wide.
Cliftonville were fortunate they didn't fall further behind when Waterworth made ground on the right before picking out the towering Cameron Stewart, whose low shot hit the post.
Lyttle's team shrugged off the penalty miss by fashioning a foray forward that resulted in Haire heading over.
But it was the Blues who hit a killer second goal five minutes from the break - one that will give Mooney nightmares. The goalkeeper could only tamely paw away a Smyth cross that was gobbled up by Lowry. His initial shot was blocked but fell to Waterworth, who tapped in his 20th goal of the season.
The Blues should have been out of sight after half-time. Donnelly clipped the heels of Smyth on the right and, when Niall Quinn fired over the free-kick, Haughey failed to convert.
Haughey had the ball in the net again on 69 minutes, but referee Davey disallowed the effort as Waterworth had let the ball roll out of play before swinging the ball in.
Before last night, Linfield's last home win was against Ballymena on January 21 - they may have just turned the tide at the right time in the title race.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Stewart (Burns 85), Haughey (Casement 80), Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Clarke, Mulgrew, Quinn, Smyth (Millar 90).
Unused subs: Ward, Gaynor.
CLIFTONVILLE: Mooney, Ives, Bonner, Ramsey, Curran, Garrett (Lavery 76), Hughes (Winchester 46), J Donnelly (M Donnelly 66), Cosgrove, Nelson, Haire.
Unused subs: Burke, Seydak.
Man of the match: Paul Smyth
Match rating: 6/10
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)