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Heatley didn't use an elbow, I can't believe he saw red: Stafford

By Graham Luney

Mark Stafford has admitted he was surprised Paul Heatley was shown a red card by referee Mervyn Smyth on Tuesday night.

Heatley was shown a straight red by the official after a first-half challenge on Stafford and Linfield exploited the extra man advantage by going on to seal a 3-1 victory which brought the County Antrim Shield back to Windsor Park.

And ahead of today's clash with Carrick, Blues defender Stafford said Heatley did make a connection with his eye but he doesn't know if it was intentional.

"There was talk of an elbow but there was no elbow," said Stafford. "He caught me on the side of my eye with his hand and I went down as a reaction to being hit in the face.

"Mervyn (Smyth) was quick to show the red card and I was surprised to see it. He must have made a quick decision and determined it was deliberate. I don't know if that was the case but Mervyn had seen it that way.

"I saw a flash of the red card and couldn't believe it but Mervyn called it as he saw it."

Smyth has announced his retirement with immediate effect and Stafford and his team-mates will quickly forget about the incident and focus on building on the club's first piece of silverware since March 2014.

"It was a massive win for this group of players," admitted Stafford. "Had we lost another final I dread to think what the criticism would have been like. We owed it to ourselves to prove we could win a big game like that.

"Losing wasn't an option. How long would it have been for us to reach another final and what would the pressure have been like? A defeat on Tuesday would have been hard to take. It's great for David (Healy) as he puts more pressure on himself than anyone else could given his demands and expectations.

"Obviously we want to win the league title and Irish Cup but the Shield win is hopefully an important hurdle behind us as we move to where we want to be.

"It's still Crusaders' title to lose and a big ask for us to get in front of them but we will try to keep the pressure on them.

"This Carrick game is massive as they are in good form and when we beat them 2-0 at Windsor it was far from comfortable. They are dangerous."

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