Linfield 0 Coleraine 1
Michael Hegarty did something he has never done before for Coleraine — score a goal.
And that it was enough to beat champions Linfield on their own Windsor Park patch and stretch new boss Oran Kearney’s unbeaten run to eight games will have made the moment even more memorable.
It could only be surpassed if Hegarty could manage to squeeze home the winner in tonight’s JJB Sports Irish Cup quarter-final replay against Glentoran at the Showgrounds.
The former Dungannon Swifts midfielder struck in the 18th minute, keeping a cool head when he found himself in acres of space and with only keeper Alan Blayney to beat after Aaron Canning threaded through a peach of a pass.
Hegarty had earlier squandered a chance to break the deadlock, this time in more typical fashion rifling the ball high and wide.
The Bannsiders fully deserved the triumph although rival boss David Jeffrey claimed the all deciding goal was down to ridiculous defending and the defeat to a growing inability to kill off teams.
He had a point because the stuttering Blues — who have now witnessed a one time 12 point lead at the top of the Premiership table evaporate — let chances slip away before Kearney’s braves took a grip.
Philip Lowry side footed Aidan O’Kane’s cross against Gavin Cullen’s crossbar then had a goal disallowed for offside.
Robert Garrett rattled the bar just after half-time and, as the Blues launched a late rally in a vain attempt to ease the growing unrest among the faithful, sub Billy Joe Burns saw his goal bound shot deflected by the despairing Cullen’s outstretched boot.
Linfield were without three key hitmen in Curtis Allen, Peter Thompson and Mark McAllister but manager David Jeffey insisted: “I won’t hide behind excuses. We still had enough quality on the pitch to win the game.”
And a shellshocked Jeffrey, whose side not long ago looked to be running away with the title, conceded: “The title race is right back in the mix. We have a lot of work still to do.”
Rival boss Kearney, still to lose a game since taking the reins, refused to gloat at having beaten the team he once starred with for five years
Instead Kearney acknowledged: “While this is a big result we rode our luck a bit.
“They had chances early on and hit a post and the crossbar.
“But I couldn’t have asked for much more than a win and a clean sheet. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
“When I took over my main aim was to stave off relegation but we’ve done much
better than that with a run of eight games unbeaten with an injury ravaged squad.
“We had some kids on the bench, some of whom I’ve never see play such is our injury situation.
“And this was Darren Boyce’s first action since I took over.
“We didn’t take a risk with Marc Mukendi or Stephen Carson, who was unable to train all week after taking a bang against Glentoran in the cup tie.
“We’ll reassess both before making a decision on whether they are fit enough to take on the Glens in the replay.”