Lisburn Distillery make Linfield battle right to the end
Linfield finally recorded their first win of the new Premiership campaign on Saturday - but they were given a real fright by hard-working Lisburn Distillery.
After opening their campaign with a frustrating scoreless draw at home to Ballymena United and then defeat against Dungannon Swifts, the Blues returned to Windsor Park with the intention of sweeping Distillery into oblivion and officially kickstarting their defence of the Gibson Cup in style.
Things looked to be going to plan in the early stages with Michael Carvill torturing Whites defender Paul Muir before teeing up Damien Curran for an opportunity which, after taking time to set himself, the former Newry man struck over the bar.
Then a fizzing Robert Garrett drive was spilled by Distillery keeper Phil Matthews, who reacted in time to keep Paul Munster’s close-range follow-up from finding the net.
It wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken, however, and Linfield were in front on seven minutes.
Carvill cut in from the flank and, despite being subject to a poor challenge from Pat McShane, knocked possession to Jamie Mulgrew and his exquisitely-weighted first-time return sent the sprightly Carvill in the clear and he coolly stroked beyond Matthews into the bottom corner.
From that point onwards, though, the Blues threatened only in patches and looked distinctly cumbersome at the back.
Goalkeeper Alan Blayney made two instinctive stops to keep Gary Browne at bay before the first-half was out and, in the second, produced a fingertip stop from a fierce Scott Davidson strike.
Opposite number Matthews matched him save for save at times, with his fully-stretched dive from a William Murphy header arguably the best of the match.
Straight from that effort, the Whites broke at pace and Davidson should have levelled only to blaze high over the bar after Curran had inadvertantly directed Mark Patton’s low cross into his path.
Linfield had Curran to thank, however, when he hacked Gary Liggett’s strike off the line during a spell when, sensing the uncertainty in the hosts’ backline, Distillery boss Tommy Wright ordered a bombardment in search of what at times looked an inevitable equaliser.
The introduction of substitute Jamie Tomelty — in place of the punctured Carvill — helped swing the tie back in Linfield’s favour, though, and suddenly they had a pacey outlet with which to ease the tension.
His inventive running almost led to goals for Garrett, Philip Lowry and an out-of-sorts Peter Thompson but Carvill’s early strike proved enough to secure the Blues’ first victory of the new campaign.
“We are notoriously slow starters,” explained boss David Jeffrey afterwards.
“When your summer is geared towards preparing for Europe, sometimes it can be difficult to then make that transition to your domestic programme.
“Against Rosenborg, we found ourselves up against a top class side and we had to retain our discipline and look to play on the counter attack. That was the system we worked on but, back in the Premiership, we have to set out differently and it can take a little while for everything to click together.
“We were downright poor at times against Distillery but we got our win and a clean sheet so we have to come away happy.”
Whites manager Wright felt for his players.
“We’re coming away disappointed to have lost 1-0 and I think that tells you the story.
“When you come to Windsor, you know Linfield are going to have more chances than you. You accept that.
“But to have created as many opportunities as we did ourselves and not got something is harsh on the players because I thought that, after maybe affording Linfield a little bit too much respect early on, they settled down and showed good confidence and maturity and produced a stirring performance.”