Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Linfield back with a bang against Cliftonville

Cliftonville 0 Linfield 4

Linfield players celebrate scoring against Cliftonville at Soilitude

Linfield are back! For the last three weeks they have been criticised both collectively and individually, written-off as a spent force - despite three successive league and cup doubles - and laughed at by their rivals.

This evening those critics are choking on a rather large helping of humble pie after the Blues gave a magnificent response to a run of four successive defeats in amazing style.

And with the game being broadcast live on Sky Sports, they showed the entire world just what they are made of.

David Jeffrey's side fired home four goals in the first-half alone to leave Cliftonville shell shocked on the night they returned to Solitude as their plush new stand opened for the first time.

In the second-half it seemed Linfield took the foot off the gas to save the beleaguered Reds any further embarrassment.

The real Linfield stood up, their big players gave big performances, William Murphy and Noel Bailie in particular at the back were as resolute as ever and that allowed the youthful exuberance of Robert Garrett and Michel Carvill to shine like a beacon.

And then there was Paul Munster, a relative unknown in his home city after spending his career in far flung spots from Canada to the Czech Republic and home via Sweden.

Now everyone knows who he is after his double strike.

The first after just four minutes was a shot in the arm for a team who hadn't found the net in any of those four successive games they lost. The second - a minute before half-time - killed off any slight hope there might have been of a Cliftonville comeback and ensured that the second 45 minutes would be academic.

Linfield may never replace the prolific Peter Thompson after banking over £100,000 from his sale to Stockport County in the summer, but Munster is as close as they are going to get for the time being.

He acts on instinct and that's what got him into the right place at the right time to slot home the first goal and in a split second the weight of any pressure that was on the team after the losing streak had gone.

Yes, they relied on an Alan Mannus save from Kieran O'Connor a minute later to protect their lead, but even the goalkeeper himself will tell you that's what he's paid to do.

There was nothing spectacular about William Murphy's goal on 17 minutes which

doubled the lead, it came after a classic goalmouth scramble, but that hardly mattered to the 500 or so travelling Bluemen behind the goal.

Carvill delivered the class when he put the Blues 3-0 up nine minutes before half-time, cracking home a beautiful left-foot shot into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box after Damian Curran's free-kick was only half cleared.

If the Linfield fans were already happy they were delirious seconds before the break when Munster all but wrapped up the points.

Billy Joe Burn's cross was pinpoint and Munster met the ball in the same way his strike partner Glenn Ferguson has done for years, getting clear of his marker to power a header into the net.

The second-half wasn't so much a non-event, but the hard work had been done. All that remained was for Linfield to stay strong and determined to make sure there was no let up.

Neither Jeffrey, any of his players or even a single Linfield fan could have imagined an outcome like this to bring that run of successive defeats to an end. It really would have been beyond their wildest dreams.

The dreams last night would have been sweet though and there is one more that still exists - a fourth successive league title and maybe even a quadruple double.

Who would dare rule it out?

Those who have written Linfield off will surely be reluctant to do it again and risk an even bigger slice of that humble pie, because Linfield are back and they are back in style.

CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, B Holland, O'Hara, Donaghy, R Scannell, Hamill, Johnston, O'Connor, McMullan, M Holland, C Scannell. Subs: Murphy, Catney, Patterson, Downey, Boyce.

LINFIELD: Mannus, Burns, Murphy, Bailie, Harkness, Carvill, Garrett, Curran, O'Kane, Ferguson, Munster. Subs: Douglas, McAreavey, Martin, Doherty, White.

Referee: Alan Black (Antrim).

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