Linfield 1 Ballymena United 0
When Mark Miskimmin burst onto the scene with a flurry of goals last season, Bluemen dared to believe they had unearthed the new Peter Thompson.
The similarities were there for all to see; both play off the cuff and look gangly on the ball but they shared a devastating eye for a goal.
Thompson’s departure to Stockport County provided Miskimmin with the opportunity to become the new darling of the Windsor Park faithful — and he didn’t disappoint.
But after making his name, a freak injury sustained at Dungannon Swifts interrupted his breakthrough campaign and David Jeffrey brought in Kevin McHugh and Mark McAllister in the January transfer window.
Since then, 21-year old Miskimmin has overcome another injury and rediscovered his goal-scoring boots in the Linfield Swifts side before making his first-team return on Saturday.
And what a timely return.
Fresh from a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Cliftonville and with fellow striker McHugh forced off at half-time against Ballymena United due to illness, Miskimmin was thrust into action.
It looked a high-risk gamble by Blues boss David Jeffrey, who made three changes at the break — one tactical and two forced with JP Gallagher also suffering a dead-leg.
With Roy Walker’s Braidmen frustrating the Blues, it seemed a goal was never going to come until Miskimmin pounced 18 minutes from time with a stunning low strike across goal, past the helpless Dwayne Nelson, after a superb cushioned header from man of the match Philip Lowry.
“I was delighted to get on the score-sheet, but it was more important we got back to winning ways after losing so heavily to Cliftonville,” said Miskimmin.
“Strikers are all about confidence and playing in the Swifts in the last four or five weeks I’ve scored a few goals so I hoped when I got my chance for the first-team, I could score — and I hope there will be a lot more.
“Others boys have got in after I had a poor pre-season but I knew if I could score goals, I’d get a chance and now I want to take it. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in.”
Miskimmin’s joy was matched only by relief. He raced to embrace Jeffrey, in a show of unity after a difficult week for all concerned at ‘The Park’.
He added: “David got a lot of stick after the Cliftonville game but he put the team out onto the pitch and ultimately it is down to us to win games.
“That didn’t happen on Monday but Saturday was just a relief for all of us to get back on track.
“I don’t think anyone has been playing to their potential in recent games and David gets more of the flak from supporters than the players do so it was great for him that we got three points as well.”
Jeffrey recognises Miskimmin’s similarities to Northern Ireland international Thompson, but has challenged his hitman to perform consistently.
“I would say Mark Miskimmin is as close to Peter Thompson as we have at this club but he needs to bring consistency to his game,” said Jeffrey.
By the time Miskimmin fired the winning goal, the Sky Blues should have been in front, only for Orman Okuniaya to waste a glorious chance with Blues keeper Alan Blayney already committed to going to ground.
The winger tried to round the giant stopper and he stretched out an arm to thwart the danger.
Paul Munster, another half-time replacement, almost doubled the Blues lead with a delightful chip but Lee Colligan cleared off the line.
With Linfield seemingly cruising to victory, Darren Lockhart sliced horribly wide from close range in the dying seconds and that just about summed up Ballymen’s afternoon.
“I thought we were the better team by far in the first-half but you have to take your chances when they come,” said Sky Blues boss Walker.
“Linfield did, and we didn’t.”