Coop shines as Linfield edge out fiery Reds
Linfield 1 Cliftonville 0
Joel Cooper scored one and should have had two but ultimately Linfield made it into the last four of the BetMcLean League Cup.
Fireworks went off in the distance during this quarter-final clash at Windsor Park. Cooper has been in explosive form most of the season and he proved the difference against Cliftonville.
The former Glenavon ace struck early on and had another effort that looked as if it had crossed the line after Richard Brush had saved Shayne Lavery's penalty.
Had Linfield lost after that refereeing decision David Healy would have been fuming. Instead the Blues returned to winning ways and will now fancy their chances of retaining the League Cup they lifted last season en route to winning the title.
Healy was determined that his team would bounce back from a disappointing 1-0 defeat at league leaders Coleraine that left them five points behind the Bannsiders at the top of the table.
Also fresh in his mind was a penalty shoot-out loss at home to the Reds in the County Antrim Shield a fortnight ago.
In contrast the Reds were enjoying an awesome October having won six games in a row including Saturday's 5-0 hammering of Dungannon Swifts at Solitude when Joe Gormley reached the 200 goal mark for the club.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
The Blues made two changes to their weekend line up with Gareth Deane and Matthew Clarke replacing Rohan Ferguson and Mark Stafford while the Reds opted for only one switch with Gary Breen missing out and Joe Gorman coming in.
Not much squad rotation there. This was a game both managers were desperate to win.
The first opportunity came just three minutes in with slack play from Linfield allowing the in-form Conor McMenamin to set up Gormley. McMenamin was sharper to the ball when Bastien Hery aimed a crossfield pass towards Niall Quinn and after the Reds wide man played Gormley in Blues fans held their breath. There was relief amongst the home support when Deane made an important save.
At the other end Cooper looked in the mood waltzing past a couple of defenders like a Strictly professional before whizzing a shot wide.
The number nine's next attempt found the net with nine minutes on the clock. Kirk Millar's whipped corner was headed towards his own goal by Conor McDermott and while Chris Curran cleared off the line Cooper snapped up the rebound.
The goal was a major confidence boost and with influential right-back McDermott off injured the pressure was on the Reds. On 23 minutes it looked as though they would go 2-0 down when the Blues were awarded a penalty after Lavery fell in the box from Curran's challenge.
Lavery stepped up and Brush, repeating his Shield heroics, made a fine save. Under pressure Lavery failed to turn in the rebound and then Cooper's shot was adjudged to have been whacked off the line by Aaron Donnelly with the Linfield goalscorer certain it had gone over. TV replays suggested he was right. In the ensuing scramble Clarke and Millar had efforts but with the visitors throwing their bodies in the way somehow the scoreline remained 1-0.
There was an edge to this quarter-final with Reds sub Liam Bagnall putting himself about.
In the second period Cliftonville were a threat on the break but the best chances fell to Linfield late on with substitute Andy Waterworth hitting the post before the impressive Stephen Fallon fired the rebound over.