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Linfield 3 - 2 Glenavon: Blues hit back and hang on

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On target: Mark McAllister wheels away after bagging Linfield's equaliser, which brought obvious pleasure to skipper Michael Gault

On target: Mark McAllister wheels away after bagging Linfield's equaliser, which brought obvious pleasure to skipper Michael Gault

On target: Mark McAllister wheels away after bagging Linfield's equaliser, which brought obvious pleasure to skipper Michael Gault

The looks on the faces of the respective managers said it all after this closely fought battle of the Blues at Windsor Park.

Linfield boss David Jeffrey sat with a look of contentment and relief with a smile on his face, Gary Hamilton with a frown and looking decidedly dejected.

It accurately reflected the outcome of a match which saw Linfield bounce back from successive defeats to maintain their three point lead on Crusaders at the top of the table.

But it left Glenavon wondering what might have been had they pushed on after Rhys Marshall headed them into a deserved 17th minute lead.

Hardly surprising then that after all the excitement and intrigue opinions differed.

Jeffrey made four changes following the debacle at Dungannon the previous week and was fully vindicated.

Skipper Michael Gault, back after suspension, gradually restored a supremacy in midfield while Jeffrey also dished out bouquets to James Knowles who started ahead of Jamie Mulgrew, Mark McAllister in for Matthew Tipton and whose header sparked the comeback and to Michael Carvill who missed out on the Stangmore Park setback and replaced Philip Lowry.

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At the end of the day, little separated the teams. Glenavon started the brighter, took the lead but let it slip before rallying again towards the end.

Hamilton reckoned they deserved at least a draw for their efforts claiming they had played as well as they have done for a long time.

He also felt hard done by in that some of referee Mervyn Smyth's decisions were unkind.

He was referring to situations where Kyle McVey handled Mark Patton's shot but no penalty was forthcoming, Kyle Neill being blown for offside while straight in on goal and of course Andy McGrory's disallowed goal with the scores locked at 1-1.

All disheartening stuff and Hamilton didn't attempt to camouflage his disappointment insisting: "I don't mind being beat it's the way you get beat. It's just been happening so many times in games when it's been nip and tuck."

If Jeffrey had sympathy for his rival he wasn't showing it but did concede: "While I feel we were worthy winners in the end they made us work hard for the win and they were the better team in the first-half.

"They were sharper to the ball, snappier in the tackle and scored a very good goal. But we sorted things at half-time. We pressed the ball higher up the pitch and worked harder as a group.

"Michael Gault coming back obviously helped. He has been in consistently good form. And it was not a gamble to bring in the others, more a respect for the players in the squad waiting for an opportunity and they each responded very well.

"I was well pleased with the character shown and our resilience and determination."

Linfield began as if still suffering from a hangover from those successive defeats to Crusaders in the League Cup and that ignominious beating at the hands of Dungannon. Swifts last weekend

Glenavon were indeed sharper, forcing a series of early corners and eventually making the pressure count with the breakthrough goal.

Patton's right wing corner was punched clear by Jonny Tuffey but it went straight back out to Patton still in a wide position and when he whipped over another inviting cross, schoolboy Marshall taught the Blues defence a lesson with a looping header that ended up in the Linfield net.

Linfield squandered several chances before the break with McAllister directing a close range header straight at keeper John Connolly before Waterworth fired his shot wide of the goal and saw another effort well blocked by the advancing keeper.

However, after the half-time pep talk the Blues needed only 10 minutes to restore parity with McAllister thumping home a powerful header from Knowles' cross.

Tuffey spilled McGrory's shot but recovered before Ciaran Martyn could pounce, Patton curled one just wide and McGrory's 65th minute strike was ruled out for offside despite Glenavon claims he had ghosted in from behind at the back post.

The let-offs sparked a response and Waterworth, released by Mulgrew, ignored shouts for offside and rounded the keeper to put the Blues in front.

That was in the 84th minute and two minutes later sub Aaron Burns managed to squeeze in a third from the most acute of angles to give the Blues a two-goal cushion.

But as the game entered time added on, veteran David Rainey pounced and lashed home Glenavon's second and, as Sir Alex Ferguson used to say, it was squeaky bum time.

However, the Blues held on and recorded the victory to the delight of their manager.

LINFIELD: Tuffey, BJ Burns, McVey, Ward, Clarke, Carvill (A Burns, 62 mins), Gault, Knowles, McCaul (Mulgrew, 62 mins), Waterworth, McAllister. Unused subs: Lowry, Tipton, Ervin.

GLENAVON: Connolly, McCallion, McKeown, Murphy, Marshall, McGrory, Kilmartin (Hamilton, 86 mins), McCabe, Patton (Neill, 66 mins), Martyn, Bates (Rainey, 74 mins). Unused subs: Lindsay, McIlveen.

Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Dundonald)


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