David Jeffrey challenged his Linfield players to keep the pressure on Cliftonville after winning their game in and to move 13 points behind the Reds at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
A seven-minute flurry of second-half action saw the defending champions Linfield suck the life out of gallant Donegal Celtic, with the Blues finishing up 4-1 winners.
The win takes Linfield’s unbeaten league run to 11 games, but there is still a lot of work to do if they are to retain the title.
“I’ve asked the players for the rest of the season to go out and see how many points we can accumulate and then we’ll see where that takes us,” said Jeffrey.
“It’s going to get very, very interesting..”
Leading thanks to Philip Lowry’s goal which came after just two minutes, Linfield had struggled to deal with a host that dominated thereafter.
Lowry’s opener created the impression Pat McAllister’s men were about to face an onslaught, but by the time the interval came Jeffrey was the more concerned of the respective managers.
Celtic would have hoped for more in the second half, but got nothing other than a lesson on how to deal with a stubborn challenge.
Inside seven minutes this tussle was set on fire by the Blues.
Two goals from Brian McCaul, one from the penalty spot, either side of a Matthew Tipton strike, saw Linfield safely home.
It all started in the 52nd minute when Celtic had a goal disallowed after defender Paul Bradley plodded the ball over the line in a crowded goalmouth — referee
Arnold Hunter citing a foul on Linfield’s back-up goalkeeper Ross Glendinning.
Linfield’s response was clinical. Seconds after Celtic goalkeeper John Connolly made a terrific save to deny Jamie Mulgrew, he was picking the ball out of his net from McCaul’s penalty after substitute Pearse Devine upended Michael Carvill in the 55th minute.
Devine would later see red for a ludicrous foul on Linfield substitute Robert Garrett.
Celtic barely had time to deal with the shock of their disallowed goal and McCaul’s spot-kick when Tipton scored in the 57th minute to claim his eighth for the season.
Then, two minutes later, Celtic’s defence parted and Lowry’s pass found McCaul unmarked and he was presented with the simple task of steering the ball past the advancing Connolly into the net.
In the 84th minute, former Linfield striker Mark Miskimmin grabbed a consolation for Pat McAllister’s tattered and torn hoops. Miskimmin nicked in behind the visiting defence to make the most of William Murphy’s poorly headed clearance and cleverly volley the ball into an empty net.
Donegal Celtic: Connolly, McShane, Bradley, C Burns, Keegan, McAreavey, McVeigh, O’Neill, Downey (Devine 27), Cleary (Miskimmin, 58), Gargan (McAllister 64). Subs: M Burns, Deans
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Armstrong, Murphy, Carvill, Burns, Tipton, Mulgrew (Glendinning 82), McCaul (Garrett 69), McAllister (Thompson 72), Lowry, Quinn. Subs: Ervin, Clarke
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge).