Ben Doherty: Coleraine hit Linfield with an expected blow amid European adventure
Linfield 2 Coleraine 4
Coleraine goal hero Ben Doherty admitted his team took advantage of Linfield's vulnerability following their European heroics to claim their first win of the season at Windsor Park on Saturday.
David Healy's boys have already rewritten the record books by becoming the first Irish League side to reach the Europa League play-off round - they now face a double-header against Qarabag with a place in the group stages up for grabs.
The adrenaline was still pumping after their magnificent 3-2 victory over Montenegrin side Sutjeska when Oran Kearney's men arrived.
And even though Healy utilised his squad by making five changes, they certainly didn't expect the Bannsiders to land a knockout blow after merely 14 seconds when Doherty curled a beauty around the outstretched glove of Rohan Ferguson.
But it got worse - much worse. Defender Ryan McGivern gifted the visitors a second by heading a Doherty corner into his own net, before Coleraine skipper Stephen O'Donnell powered home a third early in the second half with his head.
The shell-shocked champions did rally with Joel Cooper and Shayne Lavery finding the net, but when McGivern picked up a second yellow, hopes of salvaging a point were gone.
In fact, a woeful back pass from Kirk Millar presented substitute Emmett McGuckin a debut goal. After walking around Ferguson, he tapped into the empty net.
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"All the hype around Linfield is about their European run, and rightly so - they've the chance to make history," said Doherty. "They have one of the biggest games in the club's history coming up. So, Oran's message to us was, 'Let's hit them with something they'll not expect'.
"We got off to the perfect start and just built on that. It's the fastest goal I've ever scored. It just opened up for me.
"A one-goal lead at Windsor Park isn't a comfortable score. The Blues always carry a big threat. But the second one settled the nerves a little bit."
Kearney warned his boys at half-time that the Blues would stage a second-half revival - and they didn't disappoint.
"Oran said there will be a 10 or 15-minute spell when they will come good. We conceded two sloppy goals during that period, from two set-pieces," said Doherty. "But we dug in and, when big Emmett came on to score the fourth, that sealed it for us. I think it was a deserved victory."
Although it was Coleraine's first league win, they remain unbeaten after three games.
Doherty added: "We've had two sickening results. Against Cliftonville last week we dominated only to concede a late equaliser. It was the same in midweek against Glentoran. Yes, the red card for James McLaughlin had a big effect, but we still surrendered a two-goal lead.
"Our mentality against Linfield was, 'We'll not let that happen again'. Even when we conceded the two second-half goals, we were still big and brave."
Blues boss Healy refused to blame his team's busy early season European schedule for what was a poor day at the office.
"I'll take that defeat on the chin," said Healy. "I can't be too critical of the players even though they under-performed because they have given me so much this season, especially on our European run.
"Although there were five changes to the side that beat Sutjeska, the team wasn't weakened in any shape or form. Even when we did get back into it at 3-2, we committed another desperate mistake to throw it away.
"We have to be better on Thursday - and we will be better. It's a massive game and, although it's great for the club having this run in Europe, we can't afford to take our eye off the bread and butter stuff, in terms of the league championship."
LINFIELD: Ferguson, Callacher, Waterworth, Cooper, Stewart (Millar, 49 mins), Clarke (Lavery, 58 mins), Kearns (Hery, 65 mins), Fallon, Mulgrew, McGivern, Casement. Unused subs: Moore, Larkin, Mitchell, Quinn.
COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Mullan (Douglas, 57 mins), Canning, B Doherty, Lowry, Bradley (McGuckin, 90 mins), Carson, O'Donnell, Glackin, Shields (Parkhill, 80 mins). Unused subs: M Doherty, McConaghie, Burns, Gawne.
Referee: Keith Kennedy.
Man of the Match: Eoin Bradley
Match Rating: 8/10