Jay Donnelly goal hero but Cliftonville win has Linfield boss David Healy fuming
David Healy claimed a disputed refereeing decision cost Linfield their unbeaten record in the Danske Bank Premiership last night. The Blues suffered their first league loss of the season as goals from James Knowles and Jay Donnelly helped Cliftonville to a 2-1 win in an end-to-end showdown at Solitude.
Paul Smyth had nodded the visitors level in between times but it was Knowles' penalty opener that left Healy in a spin.
He contended that there was minimal contact between Matthew Clarke and the Reds' Daniel Hughes in an incident that led to ref Raymond Hetherington pointing to the spot.
"It was never a penalty," rapped Healy.
“There’s no push, there’s no trip — it’s a tangle of legs between two players chasing a ball away from goal,” added Healy.
“I wouldn’t like to think any of my players would be so stupid as to trip someone in that position and I’ve asked the referee for a bit of honesty afterwards.
“People make mistakes and he’s told me he’d like to see television footage before deciding if he was right or wrong, but I told him I’ll be expecting a phone call of apology in the next couple of days because it’s never a penalty.”
The Blues boss — whose side, previously unbeaten in the league, passed up the opportunity to climb to the top — says his men will play worse and win games this season and added: “Has the penalty decision cost us the game? I don’t know but it’s certainly contributed to the first goal and, generally speaking, teams who score the first goal in a match don’t lose too many.
“I’m pleased with how we reacted to get ourselves level early in the second half but, within a minute or two, we were behind again and Cliftonville are a good team, it was tough to break them down.
“They’re a good side with talented players and they’re going to be in the title race — but so are we, I’ve no doubt about that,” he said.
Reds boss Gerard Lyttle played down his side’s chances of Gibson Cup glory after the win that means just four points separate the top four teams in the table — and singled out goalkeeper Peter Burke for praise for a fine display.
“He was given a round of applause by everyone in the changing room,” said Lyttle.
“He had a great game and showed what he’s capable of.
“He’s had his critics but we’ve spoken to him about developing his game, showing maturity, knowing when to catch, when to punch and when to take pressure off his defence and he’s done all of that tonight.”
On that controversial penalty award, Lyttle added: “My view wasn’t great and I’d like to see it again to get a better idea.
“Daniel (Hughes) is as honest as they come and he’s told me there was contact.”
Paul Smyth levelled with a 49th-minute header but Jay Donnelly completed some good build-up play by heading home on 53.
Linfield remain second after missing the chance to go top while the Reds move above Ballymena into fourth spot.
The Blues face a tricky trip to Coleraine on Saturday, while Cliftonville also have an awkward assignment against Glentoran at the Oval. But on last night’s game, the Reds and Blues should both be in the title mix come the end of the season.