County Antrim Shield: Ruthless Linfield breeze past East Belfast to set up Cliftonville showdown
Linfield 5 East Belfast 1
From the glamour and glitz of the Europa League it was back the more mundane issues of the Toals County Antrim Shield – but it was still business as usual for David Healy’s Linfield, who marched into the second round following this win over East Belfast at Windsor Park.
It may not have been the might of Azerbaijan champions Qarabag – they defeated the Blues on the away goal rule, depriving them of a place in the group stages – but Healy’s boys still went about their business and a professional, ruthless manner to set up a showdown with Cliftonville on October 15.
It was their first game back at the international venue since that epic victory over Qarabag and, with most of their big guns missing, it was left to Daniel Reynolds to get the show on the road, scoring after 19 minutes.
Visiting defender Karl Robinson unwittingly fired into his own net after the restart before Ryan McGivern, Matthew Shevlin and Andy Waterworth chipped in with eye-catching strikes. The Amateur League side grabbed a late consolation through substitute Andrew Kane.
Taking into account the first Big Two derby of the season against fierce rivals Glentoran is looming at the weekend, Healy made no fewer than a staggering 10 changes to the team nicked all three point against the Reds at Solitude last Saturday – their first piece of domestic action following that European venture. Midfield maestro Joel Cooper being the only survivor.
Fair play to East Belfast, they came to the international venue to enjoy themselves and brought a sizeable crowd with them, filling two sections of the North Stand.
Linfield should have been in front on eight minutes when new signing Shevlin blazed over the crossbar form six yards after Josh Robinson had headed on an Andy Mitchell free kick.
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Robinson then tried his luck from distance only to see his low 25-yard graze the post.
The Blues had a let-off on 12 minutes when ex-Glentoran striker Danny Purkis – formerly McKee – let fly from the edge of the box which Gareth Deane was relieved to flash over the top.
Healy’s boys forged the breakthrough on 19 minutes. Shevlin displayed great body strength to hold on to a Matty Clarke pass before releasing Reynolds, who shot low past Dean Haggan.
Linfield should really have been out of sight after that. New kid on the block, Charlie Allen skimmed the post before Cooper’s low drive met with a similar fate after a dazzling solo dash.
Clarke also head his head in frustration when he somehow screwed a shot past the post when it looked easier to score.
Then, just before the break, Stephen Fallon’s blockbuster cannoned back off the crossbar . . . the plucky visitors were hanging on grimly.
Talisman striker Waterworth required merely 60 seconds to make an impact after replacing Reynolds on 54 minutes.
Allen’s delighted pass sent the big striker through the middle and, when Gary McBride attempted to hoof clear, he only succeeded in playing the ball off the shins of defender Robinson which duly ended in the net.
Seconds later, Waterworth rapped the crossbar with a stinging effort from 20 yards.
With the junior team visibly tiring, the Blues added a third on 71 minutes. McGivern moved forward to meet a Mitchell corner kick and his header fizzed past Haggan.
Shevlin then got the goal he deserved five minutes later. His first touch was class, his second was sublime has he steered the ball into the bottom corner following great work from Clarke on the left.
Kane then gave the visiting fans something to cheer with three minutes remaining when he reacted quickly to a Stephen Cockcroft cross and his close-range shot ballooned the net.
But Waterworth had the final say. He tapped home another Clarke cross in injury time to complete the job.
Man of the match: Matthew Shevlin.
LINFIELD: Deane, Larkin (Hume 46), Robinson, McGivern, Shevlin, Cooper (Taylor 60), Allen, Clarke, Mitchell, Reynolds (Waterworth 54), Fallon.
Unused subs: Moore, Casement, Millar, Quinn.
EAST BELFAST: Haggan, Rossborough, Evans, McBride, McCaughan, McVeigh, Cockcroft, McNaul (Finlay 66), Purkis, Armstrong (Kane 83), McWilliams (Workman 60).
Unused subs: Ferguson, Braiden, Tumilson, Roy.
REFEREE: Raymond Crangle.
Match rating: 6/10.
Belfast Telegraph Digital