Glenavon 1 Linfield 2
Linfield manager David Jeffrey believes his squad possesses “the appetite, passion, determination and desire” to remain kings of Northern Ireland domestic football.
Premature title talk is, however, a banned subject at Windsor Park.
Instead, the Special One’s focus is on this season’s programme in which every match feels like a cup final with all opponents wanting to dethrone the champions.
Drama marked this game played in lashing rain and ending in sunshine.
Glenavon’s Ryan Harpur and Linfield’s Robert Garrett were ordered off in the 34th minute after a robust clash in the middle which temporarily disrupted the Blues’ rhythm and pattern.
Glenavon’s debut boy David Magee stunned the Linfield faithful with a fourth minute goal while Niall Henderson hit the upright and a goal then would have made it 2-0 — perhaps putting a different complexion on the outcome.
Then in the 20th minute Jamie Mulgrew, just back from a spell in America seeking full-time football, equalised while Nathan Hanley, the former Ballymena United player, snatched the winner in the 51st minute, ensuring their collection of three points.
This hard fought yet in the end decisive win underlined the Blues’ strength in depth, the ability to substitute players on a like-for-like basis thanks to their numerical playing superiority.
It is early days yet but indications are that summer signings Daryl Fordyce, Albert Watson and 70th minute substitute Rory Patterson are dovetailing perfectly into the Windsor Park family.
No wonder Jeffrey was delighted with the success — only the third time in 11 seasons the Blues have won their opening day fixture. “Hopefully, the trend has changed,” he said.
“I was disappointed to concede that early goal through indecision — we hesitated in attacking the first ball and followed the runner but my players were totally committed from start to finish.
“People can talk about depths of squads but if you don’t have that hunger and desire then talent is not enough. Yes, a good performance, three valuable points — and now for the next hurdle — Donegal Celtic at home.”
Glenavon boss Marty Quinn, who signed 10 newcomers during the summer, said: “I regret big-time we didn’t come away with the spoils.
“Firstly, we got that early goal from Magee on his debut, and then Henderson struck the upright.
“Near the end we should have been given a penalty when Mark Miskimmin was brought down in the box. We let Linfield off the hook but, in the final 15 minutes, threw everything at them. Still we can take some positives from this show and learn from it.”
Quinn, like most of the fans, was unhappy with some of the refereeing decisions.
“I thought Harpur should not have been ordered off but as the Linfield player had come into the tackle showing studs he deserved the red card,” he added.
“There were a number of other issues in which I thought the referee got wrong and needlessly handed out yellow cards... Overall I take encouragement from this fixture.”
Hanley, quickly establishing himself in the squad, said: “It was good to get off to a positive start. I have operated at left back for Hull City so the position is not alien to me.”
His concentrated shooting practice paid off for he scored the goal with his right foot and not the left which is the stronger.
Making predictions after only one game is unrealistic but should Linfield maintain this form, then that sixth League and Cup double dream should become a reality.
Glenavon’s much changed squad shows promise giving Quinn a solid basis to develop and hone a squad capable of measuring up to most opposition. Time will tell in each case!