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Irish League Round Up: Linfield and Cliftonville ease to comfortable away wins as David Parkhouse shines for Ballymena

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Linfield's Trai Hume celebrates his goal against Dungannon Swifts (David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

Linfield's Trai Hume celebrates his goal against Dungannon Swifts (David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

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Linfield's Trai Hume celebrates his goal against Dungannon Swifts (David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

Cliftonville will have the chance to go top of the Danske Bank Premiership in midweek but still top for now are Linfield after Saturday afternoon’s top flight action.

The Reds overcame Glenavon at Mourneview Park, while the Blues put Dungannon Swifts to the sword at Stangmore Park to stay at the summit, with Ballymena United also picking up three points and Crusaders and Carrick Rangers playing to a goalless draw.

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Dungannon Swifts 1 Linfield 6

LINFIELD captain Jamie Mulgrew conceded they needed a bounceback display after blowing a lead against 10-man Glentoran earlier in the week, and they most certainly got one at Stangmore Park.

David Healy’s men stayed top of the Danske Bank Premiership with a comfortable 6-1 win over Dungannon Swifts and the manager surely got exactly the performance he was looking for.

The first four goals in the Danske Bank Premiership in 2022 came at Stangmore as Kirk Millar, Chris Shields and Jordan Stewart all scored for Linfield, while Darragh McBrien had briefly levelled for Dungannon.

But Linfield were always on top, and in the second-half goals from Trai Hume, Michael Newberry and Ahmed Salam only served to emphasise their dominance that keeps them two points clear at the top of the table.

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"It was about us being very professional and being very hungry to score more and push on. On Boxing Day, that was a game we should have won and got away from us, and it was important we came here today and got the three points,” maintained Mulgrew.

"That result today has been coming because we’ve been giving up a lot of chances, certainly on Boxing Day and games before that where we should have won more comfortably but we haven’t. Today was a day that was coming.”

In an unbelievable start, the two sides both scored inside the first three minutes, Millar lobbing Quinn just 90 seconds in, but straight off the restart Dungannon equalised as McBrien cut in from the left and rifled into the bottom corner.

Within ten minutes the visitors pulled ahead again, this time Shields rifling a fine effort into the back of the net, and Stewart made it three on the quarter-hour mark when he nodded Mulgrew’s cross home – although there was a bit of doubt as to whether it did cross the line.

Linfield weren’t able to score again before the break, but after the restart it took them just 45 seconds to extend their advantage as Hume powered in Matthew Clarke’s corner to make it 4-1.

And they would add two more late strikes, Newberry meeting Kyle McClean’s free-kick to divert it into the net before Salam got the final touch on a scramble in the box to keep the Blues sitting pretty at the top.

"That was a game that was a potential banana skin,” continued Mulgrew. “We started off very very well but then shot ourselves in the foot by conceding so soon after it, a poor goal from our view and something we don’t associate with ourselves.

"We continued to go and we continued to press and push and, again, it was about us, if we applied ourselves in the right manner, we could make the game as easy as we wanted it and fortunately that’s the way it turned out. We were really good value for the points today.

"I know that, I’ve been around long enough to know that and expect that, and certainly from my perspective it’s about me and whenever I’m playing that I set that example and tone that we all are bang on the money with our attitude.

"We have a good squad there that, if we do have a good attitude and take on the game with the right manner, we are hard to beat. It’s important we continue to put in those performances and the work rate and the quality because if we don’t turn up with that in this league you’re found out very quickly.”

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Cliftonville's Levi Ives celebrates his goal against Glenavon (Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press)

Cliftonville's Levi Ives celebrates his goal against Glenavon (Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press)

Cliftonville's Levi Ives celebrates his goal against Glenavon (Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press)

Glenavon 0 Cliftonville 2

CLIFTONVILLE ensured they will have the chance to go top of the table again if they can win in midweek, but manager Paddy McLaughlin still isn’t getting sucked into any talk of a title challenge.

Levi Ives’ sensational free-kick put the Reds up just after the quarter-hour mark before Ryan Curran’s second-half finish ensured all three points as they claimed a 2-0 win over Glenavon at Mourneview Park.

That leaves Cliftonville two points behind league leaders Linfield with Crusaders coming to Solitude on Tuesday, but McLaughlin still doesn’t want to label his team as potential Gibson Cup winners yet.

"I thought the boys were superb, we know how tough this place is to come, Mourneview is a really tough ground, it’s not a place you look forward to coming because you know how difficult it’s going to be,” smiled the Reds boss.

"They have good players here and Gary has done a great job here over the years, but I have to give our boys all the credit in the world, I thought they were brilliant from start to finish. We controlled and managed the game very well and we deserved our 2-0 victory.

"It was a battle at periods of the game, but we scored at good times during the game and we knocked the stuffing out of Glenavon, especially with the second goal.

"It’d be nice to be top but we’re delighted to be in the leading pack. We’ve done really well up to now but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we’re not looking at league tables or anything like that.

"If we go top then that's brilliant. Not too many people outside of the dressing room would have given us a chance before the season, so it’s good to prove some doubters wrong, but we’re just taking it one game at a time and we’re trying to stay in touch with the leading pack as long as we can. You never know where it can take you.”

Ives put the visitors ahead with a peach of a free-kick in the 17th minute, placing the set-piece perfectly into the top corner that left James Taylor with no chance of making the save.

It was a high quality first-half as both sides pressed forward, playing some expansive and attacking football, with the best chance falling the way of the Reds as Kris Lowe rifled into the side netting, but neither side could find a goal before the interval.

But after the break Cliftonville began to turn the screw and they deservedly doubled their lead nine minutes into the second-half when Rory Hale crossed into the box and, although Paul O’Neill couldn’t control it, Curran was there to supply the finish.

Curran almost put the game to bed when he seemed to have the goal at his mercy, only to see his goalbound effort somehow blocked on the line by Matthew Snoddy, and Jamie McDonagh could have sealed it when he broke away along with O’Neill but he saw Taylor make the stop.

But it wouldn’t matter as the visitors went on to dominate the rest of the second-half to comfortably close out the win, and McLaughlin had special praise for the returning Hale and the impact he had on the game.

"Brilliant to see him back. You see the energy he gives the team and the dressing room, and the boys are delighted to see him back because he’s such a key player for us and he’s almost like a new signing,” hailed his manager.

"We haven’t seen him in 10 or 12 weeks because it was such a bad injury he had and he was frustrated with how long he was out. But fair play to the boys, they kept performing and kept producing the goods.

"We’re delighted to have him back now because he’ll be a big plus for us at the turn of the year, having that quality back and also backing it up with a good result today.

"Levi’s done that again. He did that earlier in the season for us and he did it here again. He’s got that technique and ability to do that. Brilliant free-kick, brilliant goal.

"Jonny Addis, we’ve said it all season long, the players and the staff and the fans love him, he’s been a class act and has such an influence on the younger players in the team. He’s been a fantastic signing for us.”

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Crusaders Ben Kennedy and Carrick's Kyle Cherry clash at Seaview (Andrew McCarroll/Pacemaker Press)

Crusaders Ben Kennedy and Carrick's Kyle Cherry clash at Seaview (Andrew McCarroll/Pacemaker Press)

Crusaders Ben Kennedy and Carrick's Kyle Cherry clash at Seaview (Andrew McCarroll/Pacemaker Press)

Crusaders 0 Carrick Rangers 0

NO goals at Seaview, but no matter for Carrick Rangers manager Stuart King, who was thrilled to see his side end a run of six straight defeats and put a point on the board for the first time in nearly two months.

In what was a relatively benign game on the Shore Road for the first 75 minutes, the game suddenly burst into life in the final quarter and both sides had chances to win it, but ultimately it would finish scoreless.

Crusaders, on their return to action after a Covid-enforced absence, missed the chance to draw level with Larne in fourth, but it was the visiting boss who was the happier at the full-time whistle as their long barren stretch came to a halt.

"New year, new start. That’s a massive point for us. Fully deserved point, I think. I thought we were outstanding,” grinned King.

"Time to drive on now and try to improve our league form and get as high up that league table as we can, because I want to drive the standards at this club through the roof. if my boys give me what they gave me today, we’ll do okay.

"Nil-nil, we’ve done that a few times to some of the big teams, but today was a bit different, we weren’t sitting in, we were really positive, really aggressive. I thought some of our attacking play was outstanding and we were unlucky not to go in front.

"We limited Crusaders to very little until the last few minutes. They’re a quality outfit, their bench is ridiculous – they have guys sitting in the stand who would walk onto my team, if I’m being honest. I brought on a lot of kids again today but they gave me everything.

"Yeah, we were on a bad run, but that’s now over and now I’m looking to improve this place, bring in some new players and keep driving the standards through the roof.”

The best chances of the game all came in the last 15 minutes and the first fell to the visitors and it required an excellent save from Jonny Tuffey to rescue the draw as he denied Daniel Kelly’s curling effort after some good hold-up work by Jordan Gibson.

But how Johnny McMurray didn’t win it in the dying stages for Crusaders is anybody’s guess, the striker having three massive chances to earn all three points but denied on all three occasions.

He thought he had done so when he chipped the ball home but was denied by the offside flag, before he then scuffed another chance off Jordan Forsythe’s long throw that looked to have been the final chance of the game.

But McMurray would have one more opportunity and it was his best of the afternoon as Jordan Owens’ knock down found his strike partner and although he managed to poke it past Matthew Skeet, Carrick defender Ben Tilney rescued it off the line to save a point for the visitors.

"Goal scorers win games, defences win league titles,” added King. “That was driven into me when I came back to Northern Ireland. Defensively we’ve been strong the last few weeks now and we work on it, analyse other teams and I try to set up my team as well as I can.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but defensively this season we’ve been really good. Delighted with them.

"I’m going to mention Stevie Gordon too because he hasn’t played for a long, long time, he hasn’t played a game for me all season, and I thought he was absolutely immense.”

Ballymena United 4 Portadown 0

DAVID Parkhouse’s dynamic return from injury left his manager David Jeffrey purring as the striker struck twice in Ballymena United’s 4-0 win over Portadown to take them up to sixth in the table.

The forward continued his superb comeback with a double to make it three goals in two games, while Jude Winchester and Ross Redman also struck for back-to-back wins for the Braidmen.

With Paul McElroy missing out due to Covid-19, Parkhouse was the man who stepped up to the plate in his absence and delighted the Showgrounds crowd with what they’ve been missing since his injury in the first game of the season.

"We knew what we were getting when we went after David. David brings you a presence up front. Technically he’s very good, he holds the ball up very well, and physically he’s very powerful and he works extraordinarily hard,” said Jeffrey.

"On many occasions through that period of rehabilitation and recuperation, the hours he spent with our team, he was doing so much work and the credit to him is enormous because David applied himself and took ownership of his rehab.

"He’s now getting the rewards and recognition for recovering from an injury he sustained on the first day of the season. It’s great having the big man back and playing ever so well.”

The Sky Blues finally forged the breakthrough midway through the first-half, Redman’s cross finding Winchester and, although his initial shot was saved by Jethren Barr, he made no mistake with the second effort.

Parkhouse then notched his second goal in as many games on the half-hour, the striker rising to meet a cross and sweeping the shot home when the ball fell loose at his feet.

The Irish forward scuffed his lines early in the second-half when he had a chance to double his tally, but the game was put to bed shortly after that when Redman this time turned from provider to scorer, his corner evading everybody and nestling into the top corner.

On another day Parkhouse could have had a hat-trick, but he would at least finish the day with a double as he slotted in his second moments from the full-time whistle, wrapping up a fine individual display.

After a battling start to the season where they dealt with a string of injuries, Ballymena are now up into the top-half of the table, jumping above rivals Coleraine who did not play on Saturday, and their manager couldn’t hide his delight.

"We asked of the players to go out and give their best – it took us 10 or 15 minutes to find our feet but I felt after that we did extraordinarily well. To score four goals at home, keep a clean sheet and get another three points was most pleasing,” he enthused.

"There was a great attitude and focus with the players. We said there was no point performing so heroically against Coleraine and not showing up today, so the challenge was put in front of them and they met it head on.

"If you were watching the game closely, what epitomised the work rate of the players was in the 92nd minute, Steven McCullough is still making runs all over the pitch. That just shows the attitude and commitment of the players.”


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