David Healy reveals relief as Linfield avoid repeat of Cliftonville collapse
Cliftonville 1 Linfield 2
David Healy admitted he feared a bout of deja vu as Linfield attempted to steer themselves to victory over Cliftonville on Saturday.
Leading courtesy of Jimmy Callacher's first-half header and an own goal from Tomas Cosgrove, the Blues saw their advantage narrowed when Jay Donnelly reduced the arrears on 81 minutes - ominously close to the very minute the Reds commenced their comeback from 2-0 down when the sides met at Solitude in September.
"I'm standing there on the sidelines going 'surely not, surely this isn't going to happen again'," reflected Healy afterwards.
"So I brought Josh Robinson on to give us that protection and we set things a little narrower and the players saw it out. Our game management was better this time.
"I thought we deserved to win the game because we were the better team for the majority of it."
Linfield's opener came when Callacher made a firm connection with a Kirk Millar corner and it was 2-0 when, under pressure from Achille Campion, Cosgrove diverted Niall Quinn's free-kick delivery beyond his own goalkeeper - and Healy was pleased to once again see his side take advantage of dead-ball situations.
"We work hard on our set pieces and it's good when they pay off for us," he added. "Anything you can do to increase your goal threat is important and that's an area we do well in because we have a lot of big targets in there.
"Solitude is a very difficult place to come, no matter what form either of the teams is in. They have some real quality players and when they're taking Joe Gormley off and replacing him with someone like Rory Donnelly, that shows you what you're up against."
Reds boss Barry Gray bemoaned yet another slow start from his charges, who only found any kind of stride after falling behind.
"I thought we battered them in the second half but weren't aggressive enough in front of goal," he said.
"At times around the edge of the box we were passing balls when we should have been having digs and things like that but outside of their goal - a set-piece against the run of play - we were miles on top as far as I can see and it was a complete contradiction to the performance in the first-half.
"We talked about it at half-time and we get a solid second-half performance, but then you think the players are the same, the system is the same, the tactics are exactly the same - nothing has changed, yet in all you have two performances in the first and second half that vary massively.
"It's hugely frustrating for everybody involved in Cliftonville at this minute, watching more and more and more of it."
CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, Cosgrove, Harney, Breen, Ives, J Donnelly, Harkin, Bagnall, Curran, McDonald (Garrett, 74 mins), Gormley (R Donnelly, 63 mins). Unused subs: Winchester, Grimes.
LINFIELD: Deane, Crowe, Callacher, Stafford, Quinn, Millar, Mulgrew, Lowry, Byrne (Strain, 63 mins), Campion (Robinson, 85 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Mitchell, Fallon, Adams.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Kirk Millar
Match rating: 7/10