Linfield 1 Ballymena United 0
David Jeffrey trod a familiar path after his table toppers made ‘crazy’ work of stretching their lead to four points by warning: “We must keep our eye on the ball.”
Jeffrey is only too aware of just how tight this marathon league campaign is going to be and once again spelled out the dangers lurking for those not alert enough to recognise them.
Philip Lowry’s early strike was enough to keep the Blues boss happy and content even though he insisted: “It really was a game we could have made an awful lot easier for ourselves had we taken our chances.
“It was a crazy game because we had a clatter of possession and a clatter of chances.
“We hit the bar, hit the post and had 21 corners. We totally dominated but it doesn’t matter how many chances you create unless you convert them.
“We didn’t do that. Mark McAllister should have had a hatful of goals, so should Michael Carvill.
“But the bottom line is we kept a clean sheet and earned three very good points.”
Even so, Jeffrey also acknowledged the fighting qualities of Roy Walker’s battlers and conceded: “While we totally dominated the game and had massive possession, it took a great save by Alan Blayney and a goal-line clearance by Jim Ervin for us to get the result.”
And Jeffrey added: “It’s good to be top, unusual for us at this stage of the season but, believe me, there will be twists and turns, ups and downs before it’s all over.
“We knew in our heart of hearts that we needed to win this one to stay top. The league is so tight.
“Portadown will be disappointed to lose but then Crusaders are back in the mix again and Cliftonville are on fire and had another superb victory.
“What we need to do now is to concentrate on ourselves, look after our own business because we know the quality of a lot of other clubs.”
Rival boss Walker felt his side deserved something from the game even though he conceded: “In the first half we were insipid, stand-offish and couldn’t wait to get in at half time.
“Linfield had a lot of corners but we dealt with them really well. We made changes for the second half and were much better and I’m really disappointed because we contrived to cause ourselves problems.
“The goal was an awful one to concede and in the past we would have capitulated but this time we showed resolve to hang in there.
“We were naive. We only had one experienced player in the back four and it showed. Kids need to learn quickly, but will they? I don’t know.”
The goal which won the game was gift-wrapped for Lowry but all credit to him for his opportunism.
Carvill chipped the ball forward, forcing Chris Rodgers to turn but the big defender was too slow to clear, allowing Lowry to dispossess him and calmly slot past a cruelly exposed Wayne Drummond.
It was a major blow for United who went oh so close to equalising a minute later only for Blayney to push Allan Jenkins’ header on to a post.
Had that gone in who knows what might have happened?
After that, it was all Linfield and Ballymena’s goal lived a charmed life with veteran William Murphy strking the bar and McAllister going close on a couple of occasions, in addition to visiting keeper Drummond denying Aaron Burns.