Linfield manager David Jeffrey admitted that, while Saturday's victory over Ballinamallard United was a massive result for his side, it is Cliftonville who arefirmly in the driving seat with regards the destination of the Gibson Cup this season.
Jeffrey's team produced a fine second half performance to shake off Whitey Anderson's outfit at a packed Ferney Park but the Linfield boss knows that, with a 14 point lead over Linfield, the Premiership title is in the Reds’ hands at this stage.
“It was a massive three points for us but Cliftonville are in a very a strong position, they just keep knocking results out,” said Jeffrey.
“It’s pretty fair to say that they are massive, massive favourites and some will suggest the title is theirs to lose because they have such a commanding lead.”
Having lost their previous encounter with this year’s top flight newcomers at Windsor Park and having watched Ballinamallard play Crusaders recently, Jeffrey knew it was going to take a big performance from his side to claim the victory.
“I’m very happy, although I have to give Ballinamllard great credit and I’m not being patronising.
“They’ve done superbly well this season and played some great football. I saw them earlier in the season when working for Radio Ulster and enjoyed a great game with them and Crusaders.
“They’re a really good footballing team so I knew it was going to be a massive task coming down here and I thought that, from the first minute until the last seconds my players’ workrate, level of commitment and desire and quality of football was first class,” he said.
An open and entertaining first half saw both sides carve out chances with Chris Curran wasting a glorious opportunity to give the Mallards the lead while full back Danny Keohane hit the post.
At the other end, home goalkeeper Alvin Rouse had to be at his best to deny Peter Thompson on two occasions but there was nothing he could do to stop the excellent Michael Gault heading home the opener for Linfield from a corner.
Ballinamallard, though, were back on level terms on the stroke of half time as Linfield old boy Andy Crawford slotted home after a slip by Billy Joe Burns.
It was the Blues who dominated matters in the second period, however, with Jeffrey delighted with the defending champions’ work rate.
“We had a lot of the play to begin with but then Ballinamallard created several chances and we had that little bit of good fortune in that they failed to score at that stage and we went on to score.
“But there was a real resolve and determination in the changing room at half-time after the good fortune deserted us when Billy Joe Burns slipped and they went in for a great goal.
“If anything the players worked even harder in the second half,” added the Blues boss.
A second half double from Michael Carvill (pictured) proved decisive and Jeffrey was full of praise for the goalscorer.
“The two goals from Michael Carvill, if scored in England they would be watched again and again, treat inventive play, a super ball in from Michael Gault for the first and the second was absolute class. I think we deserved the victory and the three points,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ballinamallard manager Whitey Anderson admitted that his team were beaten by the better side on the day as they slipped down to fourth in the table.
“We played well in the first half and created some good chances but Linfield didn't let us play in the second half.
“They controlled the game after the break and I would say that is the hardest any team has pressed us this season.”