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Champs Linfield latest comeback routine timed to perfection

 

By Conor McLaughlin

There was a certain poetic justice about not just the manner in which Linfield clinched the Danske Bank Premiership title, but also the venue where their dream became a reality.

Saturday's 3-1 victory over Cliftonville was almost a metaphor for the entire season. Trailing and looking a shadow of the force they were capable of being, the Blues showed their class by roaring back in unstoppable fashion.

Back at Solitude - where they surrendered their status as champions back in 2013 - the delirious hordes in the Bowling Green Stand saluted their champions long before the finish.

The game was over as a contest when Andy Waterworth tucked home a 60th minute penalty to claim his hat-trick but, in truth, everyone at the north Belfast venue knew the writing was on the wall from the moment Waterworth blasted Linfield level early in the second half. There would never be any stopping them from that point.

Even the return to the Cliftonville dugout of Tommy Breslin added extra poignancy to the occasion. For it was he who had masterminded the extraction of the Gibson Cup from the Blues' grasp four years ago - when even the most pessimistic of Linfield fans couldn't have foreseen such a long wait until the trophy returned to Windsor Park.

And as far as managerial comebacks go, David Healy could barely have penned a better script for himself. Banished by Irish FA disciplinary chiefs following a series of touchline dismissals, his six-game suspension ended just in time for him to guide his players through one final 90 minutes of Premiership action.

He, just like his team, has confounded expectation and, though it is not in a manager's nature to concede any title when there's still the possibility of a mathematical turnaround, Healy will have struggled not to contrast his emotions at the weekend with how he felt on February 17.

Held to a 1-1 home draw by Portadown at the same time Crusaders were marching into a seemingly unassailable nine-point lead at the top, the Blues boss ended the night in the stand after picking up his latest rebuke from officialdom.

His return to the Windsor dugout will come in Saturday's Irish Cup final showdown with Coleraine - when nobody would bet against Linfield doing things the hard way again.

As for the Reds and interim boss Breslin, they must learn the metaphoric lessons Saturday provided for their own campaign. A good start, followed by a non-existent finish is a pattern Cliftonville - who have now lost five matches in a row - must eradicate before Glenavon visit in next Monday night's European play-off semi-final.

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