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Lavery seals deal to help Blues avoid banana skin

Linfield 2 Annagh United 0

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Killer blow: Linfield ace Shayne Lavery celebrates after finally putting the tie beyond Annagh United at Windsor Park

Killer blow: Linfield ace Shayne Lavery celebrates after finally putting the tie beyond Annagh United at Windsor Park

Killer blow: Linfield ace Shayne Lavery celebrates after finally putting the tie beyond Annagh United at Windsor Park

No monumental shock for Linfield in their first Irish Cup game this season then. Last year, the Blues were stunned by Championship outfit Queen's in what manager David Healy described as his worst moment in football. Last night, they eventually saw off battling Annagh United to record an opening-round victory at Windsor Park.

Andy Waterworth broke the deadlock in the second half after some nervy moments with Shayne Lavery's late strike taking the relieved champions into the last-16 of the competition.

How Linfield are going to miss Waterworth when he departs in the summer. The striker has scored countless important goals for the Blues and his effort against Annagh was another one.

Ciaran McGurgan's side, crowned Premier Intermediate League champions in June 2020, deserve immense credit for their performance. They were disciplined and organised and caused the Premiership leaders problems from long throws.

And remember, Annagh have not played a league match all season due to Covid-19 restrictions and warmed up for this with a series of friendlies to build fitness.

Founded in 1963, this was United's first match at the national stadium and their first encounter with Linfield. They did themselves proud.

Five years ago, they upset Glentoran in the League Cup which led to the resignation of Alan Kernaghan. While there was no Big Two double, this was still a fairytale for a club that has come far in recent times.

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While other second-tier sides were withdrawing from the Irish Cup earlier this year, McGurgan insisted Annagh would be staying. He will be delighted they did.

With an important league match against Glentoran on the horizon, Healy left some big hitters like Lavery and Jordan Stewart on the bench but still put out a seriously strong side captained by Jamie Mulgrew.

Christy Manzinga looked sharp early on in a rare start, forcing Eoin Hughes into a save.

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Linfield’s Andy Waterworth celebrates

Linfield’s Andy Waterworth celebrates

Linfield’s Andy Waterworth celebrates

 

That was as close as the Blues came in a first half in which they dominated possession but found it impossible to break the well-drilled visitors down.

In the 32nd minute, United would have taken a shock lead but for the acrobatics of Linfield goalkeeper Chris Johns who did superbly to claw away a header from defender Stephen Acheson following a long throw from Craig Taylor.

Annagh started the second period in confident mood but a misplaced pass on 53 minutes from substitute Jackson Holmes gifted Waterworth the ball and when he released Kirk Millar there was an air of inevitability. Assist king Millar pulled the ball back and there was Waterworth to slide in.

Navid Nasseri and Waterworth were denied by Hughes as Linfield went for the kill and Lavery hit the post.

At the other end, Annagh found themselves in promising positions but couldn't take advantage. Lavery did on 85 minutes thanks to fine work from fellow substitute Cameron Palmer.

For Linfield they can now turn their attention to Saturday's showdown with Big Two rivals Glentoran. Healy's men enter the first post-split fixture just seven points clear of the Glens with five games left.

The derby will be the biggest match of the Irish Premiership campaign so far. Linfield will have to be better than this.

As for Annagh, their next competitive fixture is likely to come on August 7 when the Championship is scheduled to begin. They ought to keep this committed display in the memory bank. It will inspire them.

LINFIELD: Johns, Newberry, Callacher, Waterworth, Manzinga (Lavery 67), Millar, Nasseri (Stewart 67), Mulgrew, Pepper, Quinn, Cooper (Palmer 79).

Subs not used: Moore, Haughey, Clarke, Fallon.

ANNAGH: Hughes, McConville, Acheson, Henderson, Duffin (McCordick 82), Taylor (Stewart 90), McDonald, Jordan (Holmes 46), McCaffrey, Upton, McCormack.

Subs not used: McCullins, Campbell, Eagles, Kerr.Referee: Christoper Morrison

Man of the match: Eoin Hughes (Annagh)

Match rating: 6/10


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