Blues and Larne match NI drama
That game at Windsor Park this week will go down in history as one of the most memorable of all time.
For a team to come from behind and win under the most difficult circumstances says a lot of its depth of character.
No, no, not Wednesday's Northern Ireland-Spain game . . . yesterday's Linfield-Larne match!
Just when Irish football fans thought they'd seen it all at the international venue, Linfield and Larne served up a game that mirrored the remarkable drama that shocked the world just four days beforehand when Northern Ireland ambushed the Spaniards.
Take Lewis Hamlin's late arrival after his plane delay. Take Paul McAreavey's early departure from the game £ a fifth minute dismissal. Add in two stunning Larne goals from cousins Colm Kearney and Liam Mullan. Baste it with comeback goals from Tim Mouncey and Peter Thompson, bring it to the boil and top it off with a winner from ex-Larne favourite Mark Dickson in the final minute.
Not even Paul Rankin could serve up a reason why Larne are not reaching for the Rennie with a bellyful of sweet victory this morning.
Larne boss Jim Hagan must have thought he'd found the magic ingredient to spoil Linfield's secret to success. But once again, it was his counterpart David Jeffrey who was emphasising that he has the patent on glory in Irish football.
"It was immense character that got us through in the end," said Jeffrey.
"It was an enthralling and entertaining game. To be down to 10 men for 85 minutes was a tall order for us but even though we went behind I told the players to be calm and confident.
"Larne scored their first against the run of play and their second was an absolute cracker of a free-kick. But the one thing my team does not lack is character and self-belief and the way that we battled back was phenomenal. The script could not have been better concluded with Mark Dickson's introduction and with the Larne fans singing 'who are you?'
"Well, they know who he is now and they won't forget him or his goal in a hurry."
Former Donegal Celtic man Colm Kearney gave Larne the lead in the 23rd minute, capitalising on slack defending to send the ball past keeper Alan Mannus.
The lethargic Grand Slam winners were trailing to a second Larne goal in the 59th minute after quick-thinking Mullan curled his free-kick around Mannus.
But typically Linfield responded in the most clinical fashion. Mouncey woke his colleagues with a headed goal just when it seemed Larne's superb young keeper Chris Keenan couldn't be beaten. Peter Thompson levelled with his headed effort in the 73rd minute and then, with his head of course, Mark Dickson came flying in to meet Thompson's cross and claim the winner in the final minute.
"I'm delighted to have scored because I wasn't on the pitch too long," said Dickson.
"The goal meant a lot to me for obvious reasons and it was probably one of the best of my career.
"We played well with 10 men and might have been happy with a draw. I was bursting to get on and it wasn't looking like I'd get a shout because we were a man short."
Jim Hagan found himself in a bizarre position, finding it hard to criticise his players after such an impressive performance that failed to reap reward.
"We took the advantage we had and went 2-0 up," he said. "But hats off to Linfield, they showed their quality. My only complaint with my side is that we gave the ball away too cheaply.
"I will praise my boys at the same time because we troubled Linfield and opened them up on several occasions. The game was there for us to win.
"If all football games were like that and your team came out winning half of them, you'd have to be happy."
Hagan had little sympathy for Blues midfielder Paul McAreavey. He added: "It wasn't our fault that their man was sent off. He was rash, he was very unprofessional and he gave us an advantage.
"McAreavey deserved to go in my opinion. Maybe something happened, I don't know, but he reacted and he swept our man and put him up in the air."
LINFIELD: Mannus 6, Douglas 7, Murphy 5, McAreavey 4, O'Kane 7, Mouncey 7, Thompson 8, Ervin 6, Ferguson 5, Mulgrew 7, Bailie 6. Subs: Gault 7, Dickson 7, Magennis 6.
LARNE: Keenan 7, Wharry 6, Mullan 7, Hanford 7 Hamilton 7, Grzegorgzuk 7, Montgomery 7, Ward 7, Hamlin 7, Kearney 7, Fulton 6. Subs: PJ Scheufele 5, O'Hare 5.
REFEREE: Brian Turkington (Belfast) 6