Glenavon 0 Linfield 3
Linfield are finally on the march and have flashed a New Year message to all and sundry.
It’s a simple one spelling out that, despite a stumbling first half to the league campaign, they have not gone away.
Neither have they given up the fight to retain the Gibson Cup which has become part of the furniture at Windsor Park.
David Jeffrey’s battlers are still a distant 13 points behind red-hot league leaders Cliftonville as a new era dawns but that can be cut to 10 when the titans collide tomorrow after the Blues stretched their unbeaten run to eight games with this victory over Glenavon.
Brian McCaul’s penalty, Matthew Tipton’s first goal since arriving from Portadown in the summer and rising star Ross Clarke’s late spectacular has given fans reason to hope for better things from here on in.
Much, of course, depends on the outcome of the showdown with the Reds. Another win and the Blues really would have the bit between their teeth.
It’s a tall ask but if any team is capable of catching up surely it’s the champs.
Jeffrey is delighted at the progress made but insists: “The secret now is keeping it going.
“We’re still not making the most of the chances we’re creating while on top.
“It was the same at Mourneview where we really should have turned around more than just a goal in front.
“We pressed the ball high up field and our passing was quick and incisive.
“Yet at half-time we had to remind players of one or two recent games when we were on top but didn’t score.
“We told them to make sure it didn’t happen in the second half and, to be fair, the players responded.
“Ironically when Glenavon had (Ciaran) Martyn (pictured) sent off they came back into it.
“We lost our shape a wee bit but made a couple of changes to put that right.
“At the end of the day it was a case of three goals, three points and a clean sheet so I’m pleased with that.”
While Jeffrey was in a position to eulogise, Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton continues to be damning in his indictment of officials.
He was fuming when two ‘perfectly good’ goals were disallowed in the Boxing Day clash with Mid-Ulster rivals Portadown.
And he was equally frustrated and irritated after this latest defeat.
Insisting it was a dive which cost Martyn a second yellow card, Hamilton fumed: “It’s soul destroying for the boys when week after week big decisions are costing us.
“The performances of officials need to be looked at.”
Hamilton conceded the better side won but contended: “We were still in it until Ciaran was sent off. After that we were chasing the game.
“Linfield were the better team when we went down to 10.”
McCaul, who spent a loan spell at Glenavon last season, was the heartbreaker this time round.
He showed an ice-cool temperament when called upon to break the deadlock from the spot in the 32nd minute, after a reckless and needless tackle by home skipper Kris Lindsay grounded Tipton.
And Tipton dusted himself down to make it 2-0 five minutes into the second half.
At last Tippy showed why Linfield made such efforts to take him away from Portadown in the summer.
Plagued by injury for much of the season, he muscled his way into space before firing past Andy Coleman.
“I’ve waited a long time for this moment but I knew it would come once I started playing regularly,” said Tipton afterwards.
But the best goal was kept for last, a spectacular from the left boot of super sub Clarke, who followed up his Boxing Day cracker against Glentoran with another blockbuster which fairly ripped into the net.