Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville have shown Linfield the way to go: Jeffrey

By Graham Luney

Linfield 2 Cliftonville 4: "We failed the test and that's the bottom line" – the words of Linfield manager David Jeffrey.

We can make football a complicated game if we want but there's really no need.

If you defend poorly and don't take your chances, you won't win football matches.

They say you learn more from your defeats and Linfield won't enjoy the post-mortem from this one.

In contrast, champions Cliftonville offered more evidence that they are well equipped and hungry to retain the title they won with consummate ease last season.

The only consolation for Jeffrey and his men is that there is plenty of time to make up ground.

If you are going to get a wake-up call, it's better to get it now when there is time to address the weaknesses.

But take nothing away from Tommy Breslin's men – scoring four goals at Windsor Park, even this early in the campaign, sends out a powerful statement of intent.

It was the visitors who were composed at the back and clinical in attack.

Linfield can rightly point to a penalty they should have been awarded when Tomas Cosgrove bundled over Aaron Burns in the first half but when the whole picture is studied closely that incident, as controversial as it was, becomes a sideshow.

The Reds fully deserved this triumph which leaves them five points ahead of Linfield.

Jeffrey admitted this game was going to reveal how his side measure up against the champions and the post-match analysis was grim.

Although angry with referee Colin Burns for booking Burns for diving when a spot-kick looked on the cards, the Windsor Park chief was more disappointed with his own side's failings.

Yes, Cliftonville enjoyed good fortune with Diarmuid O'Carroll's first goal but the other three strikes were ruthlessly dispatched as Linfield defenders were floundering.

Joe 'the goal' Gormley rocked the hosts with a sweet double but the Blues underlined the return of their competitive edge by getting back on level terms though a wonderful James Knowles free-kick and Aaron Burns header.

But Burns, Michael Carvill and Peter Thompson all missed good opportunities as O'Carroll made the home side pay.

Linfield's nightmare didn't end there. Philip Lowry went off with a hamstring injury and bottles were thrown onto the pitch towards keeper Conor Devlin near the end of the game and at Cliftonville players as they headed back to the dressing room.

Those unsavoury scenes are likely to lead to Linfield being hit with a fine.

There was also sectarian chanting from the stands, an ugly feature of games and a disease the Irish League hasn't managed to rid itself of.

While these matters leave a sour taste in the mouth, the six-goal thriller still served up some impressive play from both teams.

The Blues head to Seaview on Saturday for a clash with a Crusaders team who have lost their opening two matches. The desire for points is becoming a desperation.

"This is a new group and their first big setback," admitted a downbeat Jeffrey.

"This is a day where they saw exactly where they are in comparison to Cliftonville.

"I can say it's a marathon not a sprint but you have to have clear analysis. They needed fewer chances than us to score and that's the level we have to reach, there's no point in deluding ourselves.

"There's still a considerable amount of work that needs to be done."

Jeffrey's criticism of his side's defending was scathing – he said to call it schoolboy defending would be an insult to schoolboys.

"If you are not in a situation where you can pass and play, you do the basics which is defend," he added. "We want to play stylish football but we also have to realise there are times when you can't do that. Sometimes you just have to clear your lines.

"Their third and fourth goal came from two long balls and that's the analysis in black and white.

"Despite all the effort and commitment and domination for long spells of the second half there are key times when you must take your chances.

"We didn't do the right things at the right times and we were punished."

Jeffrey had a post-match grimace. Not surprisingly, Breslin was grinning from ear to ear but keeping his feet on the ground.

"There are another 36 games to play and we we aren't getting carried away," said Breslin.

"It's just pleasing that the players showed character and despite us being understrength we stood up to the challenge."

On the bottle throwing, he added: "I didn't see it and I'm not going to make a big thing about it. I don't think the people doing the throwing should be given any mention.

"It is mindless and our supporters in the past have done the same.

"I can remember then Coleraine player Johnny Black being attacked but you cannot account for everyone.

"I wouldn't give these people any publicity."

Belfast Telegraph

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