David Healy happy as ruthless Linfield get back in the groove with Cliftonville win
Linfield 3 Cliftonville 0
Linfield cruised into the semi-finals of the Co Antrim Shield with a comfortable 3-0 win over Cliftonville last night. The Blues punished some slack defending as they ran out easy winners at Windsor Park.
Matthew Clarke's cute finish - after a mistake by Tomas Cosgrove - separated the sides at the break.
David Healy's side - runners-up last year - stepped it up and took control after half-time.
Ross Gaynor made it 2-0 after another slip-up, running on to a stray pass before dashing in to score. After the Reds lost Caoimhin Bonner to a second yellow, Andy Waterworth headed the third late on.
Healy was delighted with the response to last week's 2-1 defeat when the sides met in the Danske Bank Premiership.
"We know their strengths. They try and overload you in midfield," he said. "I went with something different to try and combat that and the boys put a shift in.
"We were organised, disciplined and we did a very professional job in winning the game."
The Blues made four changes from the weekend draw at Coleraine, with Sean Ward and Reece Glendinning among those recalled. Cliftonville, meanwhile, kept only three of the starting XI that faced Glentoran.
Perhaps the reshuffled line-ups had an impact on the quality of play. Both sides had decent spells of possession but each time someone tried to get forward they were frustrated by a defender.
An example came after 25 minutes when Waterworth lined up a shot from distance, only to be immediately closed down.
Clarke's goal gave the Blues a half-time lead after an instantly forgettable opening.
It came in the 37th minute after Waterworth's cross caught Cosgrove napping in front of goal.
Clarke brushed aside the defender and let the ball run onto his left foot before firing in.
Cliftonville's best chance fell to David McDaid just before the break. Chris Curran slipped the ball to Aaron Donnelly and he delivered an inch-perfect cross for the striker, who headed just over.
The Blues threatened at the start of the second half as a ball from Sammy Clingan picked out Mark Haughey at the back post.
He headed towards goal but Jason Mooney made an easy save.
The game was finally starting to open up, and soon afterwards Gareth Deane made a decent save from a Jay Donnelly header.
A cross then found McDaid, but he got it all wrong and the Blues doubled their lead just past the hour mark.
Gaynor stole possession and netted with a classy left-foot finish.
Cliftonville introduced Daniel Hughes and he nearly pulled one back in the 72nd minute.
Ruairi Harkin played the ball to McDaid, who swung over a cross, but the substitute headed wide.
The Reds' chances of a comeback were fading fast, and were over when Bonner saw red 12 minutes from time.
He received a second booking after a late tackle on Waterworth.
Linfield wrapped up the win with a third in the 84th minute.
A terrific cross from Kirk Millar picked out Waterworth, who headed home at the near post to send the Blues through in style.
Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle felt the final score was harsh on his side.
"I'm disappointed we lost," he said. "We made three mistakes and were punished for them, but I didn't think it was a 3-0 game."
On Bonner's sending off, Lyttle added: "The second yellow was probably a bit silly on his part but the first one was never a booking.
"The second is probably a bit rash, but was it a sending off? I don't think so."
Linfield: Deane, Glendinning (Callacher, 82), M Clarke (Fallon, 88), Stafford, Haughey, Ward, Clingan, Mulgrew, Millar, Gaynor, Waterworth (Bright, 84). Subs not used: Carson, Quinn
Cliftonville: Mooney, Cosgrove, Bonner, Ramsey, Curran, Knowles, Harkin, Catney (Hughes, 68), A Donnelly, McDaid (McGuinness, 82), Garrett (J Donnelly, 43). Subs not used: Ives, G Donnelly
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)
Man of the match: Kirk Millar (Linfield)