Linfield boss Warren Feeney warns 'we can get better'
Linfield 2 - Glentoran 1
Warren Feeney toasted his first Boxing Day victory as Linfield boss and then warned the rest of the Danske Bank Premiership "we can get better".
This 2-1 win over Glentoran at Windsor Park wasn't pretty but it was certainly effective and it leaves the Blues four points in front of nearest challengers Crusaders.
The supporters are dreaming again, and so they should as this group of players have netted 25 points out of a possible 27.
Eight wins and a draw in nine outings is the form of serious title challengers but they left it late to knockout the Glens with Ivan Sproule grabbing the winner in the 82nd minute.
Sammy Morrow's fifth goal of the season had cancelled out Steven Gordon's opener but Sproule supplied the golden touch and was promptly sent off for collecting a second booking for tearing off his shirt during the celebrations.
Up next for the Blues is a top of the table showdown against Crusaders at Seaview on Thursday and a jubilant Feeney said: "Linfield were seven points clear in February last year, so we just keep our feet on the ground and I won't be looking at tables or social media.
"Crusaders fans had a pop at me at Seaview during the Steel & Sons Cup final but I just like to let everyone else do the talking and I will focus on my dressing room.
"I just care about this football club, no-one else and we are in control of the whole situation and that's the way it's got to be. There's a long, long way to go but we must just keep winning games and hopefully have something to show for it at the end of the season.
"I believe in the players and we are starting to gel. We can still go up a gear but the good thing is we are winning when not playing well.
"We have momentum and we are in a fantastic position but it's still only December.
"We are getting stronger and stronger and if I can add to the squad in January I don't think we will be far away this season."
Sproule, who had been booked for dissent in the second half, couldn't keep a lid on his excitement after scoring the winner and after ripping off his jersey and placing it on top of the corner flag, a red card was inevitable.
Feeney added: "Ivan is gutted. Sprouley knows he's done wrong. He one of our more experienced players but sometimes all of us, including myself, get carried away.
"When I played I was passionate too and to be honest I think it's the worst rule in the world. He has done wrong but fair play to the boys, we are a family and we are together.
"The boys have a bit of togetherness and I think that's massively important."
A foot injury to Aaron Burns in the warm-up was Linfield's first setback of the afternoon and Kirk Millar was promoted to a starting spot but in the end it was the superb work in the engine room from Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Lowry that swung the contest in the home side's favour.
But the Blues then needed an equaliser from Morrow on the stroke of half-time to dig them out of a hole after the visitors stormed in front on 27 minutes.
The home defence failed to deal with Jordan Stewart's cross along the six yard box and Steven Gordon rifled the ball home.
Keeper Ross Glendinning was helpless on this occasion though he did come to the rescue two minutes earlier, producing a superb block from Gordon's header.
The league leaders were frustrated but in the 45th minute Morrow collected a pass from Lowry, turned smartly past Barry Holland in the penalty area and tucked a low shot past keeper Elliott Morris.
A winner looked unlikely until Sproule raced onto Andy Waterworth's pass in the 82nd minute and drilled a low shot into the net. It proved to be Sproule's last contribution but what a way to leave the arena.
Glentoran pushed for a late equaliser but Stephen McAlorum's low shot sailed inches past the upright.
Glens boss Eddie Patterson blasted the match officials, saying: "I thought, in the second half in particular, some of the decisions were pathetic particularly the goal which I thought looked offside.
"I felt the two linesmen were not up to the standard all day but the lads put in a great shift and played some great football."