David Healy can sense Linfield's bid for title is on course
Linfield 2-1 Ballinamallard United
Linfield manager David Healy punched the air with clenched fists after his team blasted their way back into the title race.
The Blues are now on the tails of Danske Premiership champions and current table toppers, Crusaders - only two points behind after a 2-1 win over Ballinamallard United. They are due to face the Crues at Seaview on April 9 for what could be termed a title decider.
Andy Waterworth shot the Blues into an early lead, but the Mallards battled their way back into the game through Adam Lecky, only for a horrible own goal by Ryan Morris to gift Linfield the points.
"It was all about getting the result," said Healy. "It wasn't our best performance of the season. The boys were anxious; they were nervous.
"The pressure was on us to a certain degree after Crusaders result earlier this week. The players felt that and the crowd were also living on nerves.
"The boys dug in. We got a wee bit of luck that we probably weren't getting in November. Sometimes result like that can help out go on and win titles."
Linfield went in search of a goal to settle the early nerves and they almost made the breakthrough on seven minutes when Kirk Millar's cross was met by Mark Haughey, but his header was bundled off the line by Morris.
Healy's boys thought they had grabbed the goal the craved seconds later when Millar's cross sailed over embarrassed Stefan McCusker and into the net, but the goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief when referee Keith Kennedy spotted Waterworth in an offside position.
The home fans did have something to cheer on 14 minutes when Waterworth demonstrated just what a deadly predator he is.
He was picked out by a pass from Sean Ward. Waterworth's first touch was sensational, his second was a blistering drive that exploded past McCusker.
The Blues almost capitalised on their total domination when Ross Gaynor picked out Haughey, but he could only send his header across the face of goal.
Gaynor was presented with a great opportunity early in the second half when he gobbled up a misplaced pass from Cathal Beacom, but he could only drill his shot wide of the target.
Against all the odds the visitors were level on 58 minutes. Morris' free kick broke kindly for Leckey, off the head of Jmmy Callaher, and the midfielder buired his shot into the net.
The Mallards were behind again within 50 seconds. Millar cut in from the right before sending in a low cross that was blasted into his own net by the unfortunate Morris. Waterworth should have had the Blues out of sight when he was again sent clear by Ward, but he could only scoop his shot over the top.
Ballinamallard weren't finished though. Stephen O'Flynn somehow failed to convert a wonderful cross from David Elliott before the striker rapped a header against the post, this time from a Beacom free kick.
Mallards boss Whitey Anderson believed his side deserved at least a point.
"We just had no luck," he said.
"I though we were the better side over the second 45 minutes and if our finishing had been better we could have got something out of it."