Belfast Telegraph

Glentoran land Boxing Day knockout

Glentoran 2 Linfield 1

By Alex Mills

Linfield's title defence yesterday hit the buffers at the home of their biggest rivals.

Manager David Healy finally raised the white flag after witnessing another display that lacked courage, desire, determination - and a real hunger to retain the Danske Bank Premiership trophy.

It was Healy's first Big Two defeat, but the Blues will be kicking themselves for letting these points slip through the net.

It looked so good for Linfield when big Cameron Stewart sent the visiting fans into raptures by shooting them into the lead. But ace predator Curtis Allen levelled before Robbie McDaid's deflected last-gasp strike wormed its way past Roy Carroll. Both McDaid and Allen claimed the credit, but referee Ian McNabb officially marked it down as a Matthew Clarke own goal.

Regardless of who got the telling touch, Healy admitted afterwards his team's title chances had gone, but they can certainly still have a major say in where the Gibson Cup will be taking up new residence - they face high-flying Crusaders at the weekend.

Linfield's game plan went out the window after only eight minutes when skipper Jamie Mulgrew limped off injured.

And, in fact, the Glens looked to have taken advantage immediately when Jonathan Smith tucked home a flick from Allen, but the young striker had strayed offside.

Glentoran goalkeeper Elliott Morris then went down injured when he appeared to pull a back muscle when making a simple clearance. He was able to carry on only after a lengthy spell of treatment, although he still looked in some discomfort.

The Blues seized the initiative as the home team were pinned back for long spells. Andy Waterworth was unfortunate to see his low cross hoofed away by Calum Birney with Stewart ready to pounce.

Then big defender Mark Haughey joined his forwards for a Niall Quinn corner-kick. His header looked to be fizzing into the roof of the net until Birney appeared from nowhere to head clear.

But Healy's team had better luck on 25 minutes with Stewart's breakthrough strike. Carroll's monster clearance was helped on by Stephen Lowry and the striker held his nerve to score.

Indeed, Stewart should really have done it again seconds later when he was sent clear by Stephen Fallon, but this time he rolled his shot past the post.

Blues defender Josh Robinson then gave the big away support a nervous moment when his intended back pass flew past Carroll, but the international shot-stopper got back to save what would have been a huge embarrassment.

Against all the odds, the Glens were level 10 minutes before the break when James Knowles whipped in a great delivery that appeared to take a deflection, but it found Allen at the back post and he made no mistake with a neat volley.

Linfield attempted to repair the damage with Stewart failing to get any clean contact to a Quinn corner-kick, before Quinn picked out Waterworth and, after a quick turn, his low shot was charged down by a last-gasp Willie Garrett tackle.

Healy's half-time team talk certainly helped rally his boys with Waterworth drilling a great cross from Fallon just past the post with Morris struggling to get down.

The veteran shot-stopper was then relieved to see a Lowry shot flash wide before Fallon crossed for Quinn, whose volley looked destined for the net until it crashed off the body of Nathan Kerr.

Morris rescued the Glens on 55 minutes when he got a hand to a Haughey header to deflect over the top following another wonderful cross from Quinn.

The game then erupted for all the wrong reasons when Mark Stafford and Davidson clashed right in front of both dugouts, which led to a free-for-all that involved practically every player on the pitch. Both instigators were duly booked when the dust settled.

Substitute Ross Clarke missed a glorious chance to nick all three points for the Blues when he was picked out by a delicious pass from Lowry but, with only Morris to beat, he blazed over.

But it was the Glens who stole it right at the finish. McDaid's scuffed shot appeared to lack power, but it took a deflection off Matthew Clarke, which left Carroll helpless.

Davidson picked up a second booking for his over-exuberant celebrations, and the 10-man hosts' delight was almost cut short when Haughey had the ball in the net with the very last kick, but the goal was ruled out by a lineman's offside flag - which was the signal to officially get the festive party started in east Belfast.

Glentoran: Morris, Garrett, Kane, Birney, Kelly, Allen, Davidson, Kerr, Knowles, Nelson, Smith (McDaid, 60 mins). Unused subs: Foley, McMullan, McNicholl, Redman.

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Stewart, Robinson, Haughey, Waterworth, M Clarke, Fallon (Millar, 81 mins), Mulgrew (Lowry, 8 mins), Garrett, Quinn (R Clarke, 75 mins). Unused subs: Rooney, Mitchell.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)

Man of the match: Willie Garrett

Match rating: 7/10

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