Belfast Telegraph

Reds are happy to shun spotlight

Linfield 1 Cliftonville 2

By David Mason

Cliftonville skipper Jason McGuinness admits his team are happy to operate under the radar in the Danske Bank Premiership title race.

The Reds muscled their way back into contention with this impressive 2-1 win over Linfield at Windsor Park, although it took a last-gasp strike from Ross Lavery to secure three priceless points.

Daniel Hughes shot Gerard Lyttle's boys into an early second-half lead - an advantage they held until 11 minutes from the finish when Andy Waterworth plundered an equaliser.

With the clock ticking down, 20-year-old Lavery pounced to win it after a Stephen Garrett effort had been blocked on the line by Mark Stafford.

"We came with a game plan and I thought we stuck to it and it really paid off for us," said the Dublin-based McGuinness. "If we really stick to that sort of game plan every week, we've got the players who can open up teams.

"It's all looking good and now we have to build on it. We believe we've turned a corner. We've good players and, even though it was a blow how we conceded, we showed what we are all about."

Although champions Crusaders remain favourites to retain the title, McGuinness believes the Reds are equipped to push them to the wire.

"If people want to talk about Crusaders and Linfield being involved in a two-horse race then great," he said. "We like to keep our heads down and go about our business quietly. We're happy to let it be all about them.

"We believe we are a good side and we are growing. It suits us just fine that people are talking about other teams.

"I think we've shown we do have the bottle. Last week we got a late, late winner (against Ballinamallard) and then coming to a difficult place like Windsor Park after a tough trip to Glenavon in midweek, I think it answers a lot.

"We are learning all the time and it suits us that we are going under the radar. I don't think we've been getting the credit we deserve at all. Look at Crusaders; they are getting late winners all the time and they are digging out results for themselves and they are getting lots of credit.

"But we can only look after ourselves and focus on what we are doing. We have some really exciting young players like Levi Ives at left-back, Tomas Cosgrove and Jude Winchester. They are full of energy and enthusiasm.

"The quality has been a real eye-opener for me. That quality is there and now we are learning how to grind out results."

McGuinness admits he has found a new appetite for the game, for which he credits Reds boss Lyttle. He added: "The players are all behind Skin (Lyttle). He's a good guy and I really enjoy playing for him.

"I was ready to retire when he asked me to come up and I'm so happy I did. You get such a good vibe from him. I wasn't playing with a smile on my face but I certainly am now.

"The Irish League has a tag for being physical. In the League of Ireland they like to try to play the right way, whereas up here it is a man's league.

"If you come up here thinking you're going to be able to tip-toe around with the ball, you're in for a real shock. Everyone is so honest in this league - they go to the 90th minute and you see late winners every week.

"It was a bit of a culture shock for me when I signed for Cliftonville.

"I'd played a lot against teams up here in the Setanta Cup and it was physical but every week you have to be prepared to work hard.

"Winning games like this is great for the fans because they've had to put up with a bit but they've stayed right behind us."

Linfield boss David Healy admitted his boys 'didn't do enough' to win the game.

He moaned: "I'm frustrated and disappointed. We didn't start the game at the right tempo. Their two goals were avoidable, down to poor defending.

"There wasn't too much in the game. But winning teams find a way to win - we failed to do that. We are still trying to find a way to crack that.

"This was a good example of that. There wasn't a lot in the game, but we should have found a way (to win it) because I thought we were good enough and capable enough - but we didn't.

"The players just didn't do enough.

"We've had a few little pats on the back over the past few weeks, so to lose this game was a sore one to take."

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher (Burns, 75 mins), Waterworth, Lowry (Clarke, 59 mins), Ward, Mulgrew, Quinn, Gaynor (Millar, 59 mins), Smyth. Unused subs: Casement, Fallon.

Cliftonville: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Knowles, McDaid (Catney, 77 mins), Garrett, Hughes (Curran, 72 mins), Harkin, Winchester (Lavery, 67 mins), Cosgrove. Unused subs: J Mooney, Bonner.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).

Man of the match: Jason McGuinness

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph

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