Linfield are in the title chase, vows confident Waterworth
Linfield 2 Coleraine 1
Bullish Andy Waterworth insists Linfield are up for a title fight.
The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in his team's victory over Coleraine at Windsor Park on Saturday - the first time the Bannsiders had lost in the league this season - which helped revive the Blues' Danske Bank Premiership title defence.
It may have been only their third win in 11 outings - in all competitions - but the relief was tangible as David Healy and his boys were given a rousing ovation from their fans.
But table-topping Coleraine made the Blues sweat before the celebrations could begin.
A quick-fire first half double from Waterworth and Mark Stafford appeared to have landed a knockout blow on the Bannsiders. Not a bit of it.
Kearney's braves came out for the second half with all guns blazing and when Darren McCauley reduced the deficit, it made it an uncomfortable last half hour for the big home support.
When referee Andrew Davey blasted on his whistle for the final time after 93 minutes, Waterworth and his team-mates knew it was a victory that could well ignite a fresh title challenge.
"We all believe in our ability and I'm talking about the boys in the dressing room," he said. "We are a tight knit bunch of lads. I believe we'll come good.
"Will we win the league? It's very hard to say at this stage. But we are very much up for the fight. We have been written off before and we've proved people wrong.
"We wanted to put things right and end a poor run of results. It was a great opportunity because we were playing the league's form team. We knew we had to be out of the blocks quickly and we knew an early goal would be crucial.
"I firmly believe we can chase down the teams at the top and I firmly believe we are still in the title mix. But there is no point in me saying that and then end up being beaten at Glenavon next Friday. We are now taking one game at a time."
He added: "Things can turn quickly. There are fine margins in this league. We were written off last season and look what happened."
Waterworth held his nerve to slot home an early penalty have having his heels clipped by big defender David Ogilby.
"There was a lot of pressure on me," he added. "I knew how important it was. I just took a deep breath - I knew I couldn't afford to miss. Hopefully, that can kick start me for the rest of the campaign, it was only my fourth goal of the season but, of course, I missed the first 11 weeks because of injury."
Coleraine boss Oran Kearney admits all the damage was done following his team's sluggish first half performance.
"I told the boys there are very few places you can go in this league an just turn up for one half - for whatever reason that's what happened," said Kearney.
"We were edgy. That then spread throughout the team in the first half. We didn't want to put our foot on the ball and we didn't want to have a go.
"But we got it right after the break, but it was too late by that stage. We had a great chance just before the half-time whistle - the sort of chance that Jamie (McGonigle) usually puts away, but it has to go as a good save from Roy Carroll.
"Our second half display was certainly encouraging. A lot has been said about our unbeaten run, but it was never an issue with us."
Linfield: Carroll, Casement, Stafford, Haughey, Clarke, J Stewart (Burns, 73 mins), Garrett, Lowry, Quinn, C Stewart (Millar, 73 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Callacher, Rooney, Mitchell.
Coleraine: Johns, Mullan, Harkin, Ogilby (McConaghie, 46 mins), McCauley, Smith, Carson, O'Donnell, Parkhill (McCready, 80 mins), Traynor, McGonigle. Unused subs: Douglas, Kee, Whiteside.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Mark Stafford
Match rating: 8/10