Linfield boss David Jeffrey celebrated his 16th anniversary in charge by seeing yet another goal king crowned at Windsor Park.
Summer signing from Portadown, Matthew Tipton, hadn’t found the back of the net until nine days ago when he got off and running against Glenavon, before bagging a New Year’s Day brace against table-toppers Cliftonville.
On Saturday, his comeback was complete when he went one further, netting his first hat-trick for the champions in a comfortable and at times dominant 5-2 win over Coleraine at Windsor Park.
Niggling injuries have meant the ex-Oldham and Macclesfield hitman (pictured) has spent more time on the treatment table than the pitch and he has been forced to watch the normally all-conquering Blues uncharacteristically struggle.
“He has had a horrendous time with injuries — it seems like it is a Linfield tradition for new signings,” said Jeffrey.
“He has had an inauspicious start because of injury, but we kept taking care of him and making sure he was at optimum fitness.
“There's a balance between the team and the individual and in his case we put him first.
“Ultimately, we knew when we got him back the whole team would benefit and his performances deserve a lot of credit and praise. It isn't just his fitness, though, it's also his team play, he is very much aware of the team ethic and it is not just about being talented but applying that talent — he worked very hard and I am very pleased.”
With Peter Thompson out of sorts before picking up a knee injury, Tipton’s goal-scoring return has come at the perfect time for the Jeffrey’s men.
And the former Wales under-21 front man has also quickly established a formidable looking partnership with Mark McAllister, who also got on the scoresheet against the Bannsiders on Saturday.
“Matthew Tipton has been brilliant in the last few games especially,” said McAllister.
“He’s a top class forward and he helps you throughout games, so hopefully his good goalscoring run will continue.”
Having picked up 19 points from a possible 21, the Blues believe they are back in the title race.
Tipton said: “We are still a bit behind but there is no way we are going to give up on our title — even if we would love to be where Cliftonville are.
“I don’t know if they will start to feel pressure — that is down to them. We just have to look after ourselves.
“The last nine or 10 games have been good for us but we know we will have to go another 10 unbeaten with little or no draws, then comes the split when the top teams play each other.”
Tipton all but settled the contest before the break, netting after only eight minutes and then five minutes before the break, either side of a Brian McCaul penalty.
Curtis Allen briefly gave the Bannsiders hope after the break before McAllister curled home from the edge of the box.
Ruairi Harkin scored again for the visitors before Tipton claimed the match-ball six minutes from time with a quality volley. Coleraine boss Oran Kearney has already added Jamie Tomelty to his squad and is interested in Donegal Celtic’s transfer-listed striker Mark Miskimmin — but insists it won’t be at the expense of top scorer Allen.
“Donegal Celtic will want something, ideally money or players, but it definitely won't be money from us,” he said.
“Curtis wants to keep his options open for full time football.
“I hear whispers but it won't cause me any sleepless nights.
“The ‘Curtis saga' as such won't be sorted until summer as he is here with six months left on his contract,” added Kearney, who last night released striker Aaron Boyd and defender Lee Colligan.
Colligan has agreed a short-term deal with Carrick Rangers.
Boyd left the Bannsiders with a parting shot, remarking on Twitter: ‘I’ve got a lot of respect for the club but I’m surprised to see that on the website. I thought I would hear from the club before being released.’