Mark Haughey on the Mark to bag late victory for Linfield
Warrenpoint Town 1 Linfield 2
The local boy came good for Linfield at Warrenpoint for the second successive year as Mark Haughey scored a dramatic late winner.
Such is the competition at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table, the Blues could not afford to drop two points to the basement side so it was a relieved Warren Feeney who hailed his central defender after his 89th minute header.
"The big man loves it down here," he said.
"I believe he scored the winner last year, too. He's a local boy, from Newry and I was pleased he got that in the end for everyone, but on our second half performance we deserved it."
Feeney, though, was also keen to mention Dale Patton, a teenager who has been scoring for fun with Linfield Swifts and the former international has high hopes for the young striker, whom he introduced for his senior debut on the hour.
"I think he can go on to be a very good player for Linfield," he explained.
"He works hard in training and I've always said if you're good enough you're old enough. I'll still protect him and look after him but it was a good start."
It was another much more experienced striker who got the visitors back on level terms, however, after Warrenpoint had dominated the first half with a high energy and work-rate which their illustrious opponents failed to match. But Andy Waterworth's stunning strike from 20 yards turned the tide.
"Andy has got that in his game," added Feeney.
"He's got pace and I've told him he just needs to anticipate more. But I brought Harry Kewell over this week and we've worked with the strikers around the box and it was a fantastic finish, the way he controlled Aaron Burns' pass with the outside of his foot, kept the defender on the other side of him and he hit it superbly."
Haughey's header, from Michael Carvill's right wing cross after Warrenpoint only half cleared a corner, sealed the win and kept Linfield just two points off the pace and with more players coming back for tougher challenges ahead.
"Ross Clarke didn't make the squad with a toe injury and we were also with without Stephen Lowry, but they will be back next week along with Sean Ward so there is good competition for places which is what you need," continued the Blues boss.
For opposite number Barry Gray, his immediate objective is getting off the bottom of the table and missing out on a point leaves them three adrift of Dungannon, their next home opponents after their trip to Ballinamallard on Friday night.
"It would have been nice to get something out of this game and maybe we should have but the next two are massive," he said. "They are the games you target for wins at the start of the season and it is what it is for us, we need to get off the bottom of the table, beating the teams immediately above us.
"We seem to be picking up a bit of history against Linfield (conceding late goals) and the players were frustrated coming off the field, but I was very pleased with the first half performance. Linfield may not have been at the level they would have liked, but we did very well."
They had every right to be frustrated because Daniel Hughes' goal after 13 minutes was their only reward despite a ratio of 14 goal attempts to two, which underlined the home team's dominance.
Feeney admitted his players did not have the required desire in that first period but chose to concentrate on his side's second half comeback. Against stronger opposition, however, his side could have been so far behind that the game would have been over at the interval.
Warrenpoint had too many shots off-target but Ross Glendinning saved well from Timothy Grant and Hughes twice but the Blues keeper was also grateful for a magnificent block by his captain, Jamie Mulgrew, to deny Stephen Hughes.
Mulgrew was the one red-shirted outfield player who couldn't be faulted for his effort in that first half and, when Linfield saw much more of the ball after the break, it was him who drove his team forward.
He started the move which should have led to the equaliser midway through the half but Sammy Morrow headed badly wide, but by then the force was with the visitors and in the manner of true title contenders, they would not be denied.
Warrenpoint: Parr, King, Moan, McVeigh, M Hughes, Smith, Devlin, McCabe, Grant, S Hughes, D Hughes. Substitutions: O'Connor (Devlin, 61 mins), Breen (Grant, 74 mins).
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Richards, Haughey, Callacher, Quinn, Carvill, Mulgrew, Burns, Spoule, Morrow, Waterworth. Substitutions: Patton (Sproule, 62 mins).
Man of the match: Jamie Mulgrew
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)