Linfield boss David Jeffrey insists his players will fight to the bitter end in the title chase with rivals Glentoran.
Jeffrey handed out the congratulations to his team after victory at Coleraine even though the Blues were forced to survive a late onslaught from the home side.
Jeffrey said: “We were comfortable right up until the final minutes when we let Coleraine back in with a late goal. That made us a little edgy.”
Jamie Mulgrew’s first half strike and an own goal from defender Howard Beverland on the hour had the champions in the box seat. However, a moment of magic from winger Stephen Carson helped fashion a reply for substitute Richard Gibson four minutes from the end of normal time.
“When you allow a player of Stephen Carson’s ability to do what he did then you will be punished,” admitted Jeffrey after the home favourite delivered an accurate cross for Gibson to head past international keeper Alan Mannus.
“That made for a very interesting finish but we held our nerve,” said the Linfield manager who now looks forward to back-to-back meetings with Cliftonville in the league and cup.
Returning midfielder Paul McAreavey was a revelation.
Mulgrew struck on 19 minutes, turning the ball home from close range after the Coleraine defence failed to deal with McAreavey’s header into the danger area. It was the midfielder’s third goal against the Bannsiders this season.
Coleraine defender Matty Crossan rattled the frame of the goal with a 25-yard free kick while at the other end, keeper Davy O’Hare turned away a Mark McAllister shot before the break but the champions scored again when Beverland, who otherwise had an outstanding game, could only divert McAllister’s cross from the right side of the box past O’Hare.
McAllister picked up on an impressive run through the centre by Robert Garrett to round the keeper but then stumble with the goal at his mercy.
Mannus made a brave save to rob Harkin the opportunity to level it late on.
Coleraine boss David Platt reckoned his side took too long to put it up to the Blues: “We gave them too much respect early on although we had two chances to score in the first half.
“We made it interesting in late on when Gibbo scored and they were hanging on at the end.”
Coleraine: O’Hare, McVey, Beverland, McLaughlin, Crossan (Dooley 70), Carson, Neill (Watt 62), McCallion, Harkin, Tommons, Patton (Gibson 70). Unused subs: Boyce, McClements.
Linfield: Mannus, Erwin, Douglas, Murphy (Lindsay 68), JP Gallagher, Garrett, Mulgrew, McAreavey, Carvill, McAllister (Tomelty 68), McHugh (Ferguson 57). Unused subs: Curran, Burns.
Referee: Davy Malcolm (Bangor)