Linfield's Kirk Millar delighted to stake Irish Cup final claim
Linfield 3-0 Coleraine
Midfielder Kirk Millar admitted his double in Linfield's 3-0 victory over Coleraine did his chances of cementing a spot in the Irish Cup final squad no harm at all.
The 24-year-old struck twice in a totally one-sided first-half against the inept Bannsiders to help David Healy's boys secure second spot in the Danske Bank Premiership table, which guarantees the Blues a financial bonanza in the form of European football next season.
Skipper for the day Jimmy Callacher also got in on the scoring act, which meant that Coleraine's miserable record at Windsor Park - they hadn't won on their previous eight visits, dating back to March 2011 - continued.
With the Cup final against Glenavon on May 7 looming -and the title practically out of sight - Healy took the opportunity to rest a number of his star names, including talisman striker Andy Waterworth.
However, he could possibly have given himself a much more severe headache as his charges simply demolished the Bannsiders in the opening 45 minutes.
"It was important we responded after last week's defeat at Crusaders," said Millar. "I think the boys showed a lot of character.
"It's always good to get on the scoresheet, especially as I got one with my head, which is a collector's item. It was a great ball in from Paul (Smyth). I just needed to get something on it. I thought we worked well together up front.
"He's been excellent since he's come into the side, he's been a breath of fresh air.
"Paul has been playing like that all season, we know he's always capable of creating chances. I was unlucky with another few chances - the goalkeeper (Chris Johns) managed to push my shot on to the post, but I was really annoyed at missing out on the chance of a hat-trick in the second-half.
"I really should have scored. The ball jumped up just before it reached me. I've never scored a hat-trick before but hopefully it won't be long before it happens."
Millar admits that everyone in a blue shirt is now hoping to play themselves into the manager's plans for the final
"There were a lot of players left out for different reasons, but the boys who came in did well," added Millar. "Ross Clarke is now back from injury which will put me under pressure, but that just helps drive me on. Having competition for places in every position helps drive on the team.
"The boys who have the shirt know they have to keep producing the goods. We all know we have the last three games to stake a place in the Cup final squad. From now on, you have got to put your name in the gaffer's book. It's now all about putting in good performances."
Healy explained the reasons for revamping his squad. He said: "Reece Glendinning, Andy Waterworth and Mark Stafford were all running the risk of missing out on a possible Cup final spot in terms of picking up another booking.
"Ross Gaynor was carrying a little injury, while Jamie Mugrew has played an awful lot this season. The boys that came in did a fantastic job. It means I'll have a headache naming the squad come Cup final day."
Coleraine chief Oran Kearney admitted his team were second best, especially in the first-half.
"We started and finished the half badly," he said. "Had we come in at half-time only 2-0 down, we were still in the game - it still had a wee bit of an edge. But the third goal killed it.
"It was a disappointing day. We just weren't at the races. We showed a lot of naivety. We have progressed greatly this season, but this was a backward step.
"The only saving grace is the fact that we still have a chance of claiming a European place via the play-offs. To do that, we must produce a lot more than we did at Windsor."
Linfield: Deane, Haughey, Callacher, Lowry, Millar (Lavery, 75 mins), Ward, M Clarke, Kee, Fallon (R Clarke, 66 mins), Quinn, Smyth (McLellan, 76 mins). Unused subs: Mulgrew, Gaynor.
Coleraine: Johns, Beverland, Mullan, Higgins, Morrow, Harkin (Kanswicher, 82 mins), Brown, Watt, McLaughlin (Lyons, 52 mins), Kane, McGonigle (Parkhill, 58 mins). Unused subs: Doherty, McCafferty.
Man of the match: Kirk Millar
Match rating: 6/10
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)