Aaron Burns stepped up to the plate to prove the old adage that it’ll be all right on the night — or in this case, a wet and windy afternoon at Windsor Park.
Burns came in for some banter after a less than inspiring training session on the eve of Saturday’s Carling Premiership showdown with Dungannon Swifts.
He was so bad, manager David Jeffrey described him as an imposter masquerading as Aaron Burns.
‘Dreadful’, in fact, was how DJ described his efforts but, after the Golden Boy grabbed a hat-trick to sink Dungannon and restore Linfield’s seven point lead at the top of the league table, the bossman was forced to change his tune.
Suddenly, he was stuck for superlatives to describe the ice cool kid whose finishing was more reminiscent of Pistol Pete Thompson.
“Absolutely brilliant,” gushed Jeffrey, “I’m immensely proud of him.
“Before kick-off, I told him it’s OK to be terrible in rehearsals but now you’re on the stage go out and do it.”
The gifted 20 year-old needed no further encouragement or incentive.
He was simply a revelation, star of the show who certainly earned top billing when it came to handing out accolades afterwards.
It was Burns’ first hat-trick and, typical of the lad, he didn’t hang around long afterwards to bask in the limelight.
Hacks were left waiting for half-an-hour only to be told he had gone home!
It took Burns just over that same length of time to break the deadlock but the wait was worth it. Picking up the ball near the half-way line, he launched into a dynamic solo run which saw him glide past a group of defenders.
And, just when it looked as if he might have had overdone things, he pulled the trigger with the ball on his supposedly weaker right foot and keeper Niall Morgan was left hopelessly beaten.
Half-time brought a lull to the Burns show but the second half brought no respite for a Dungannon side even manager Rodney McAree claimed lacked desire.
A little harsh perhaps but the bottom line was they couldn’t cope with the movement of Burns who popped up in just the right place at all the right times.
Like in the 53rd minute when he dashed into space inside the box to make contact with Michael Carvill’s cut back to make it 2-0.
That signalled match over but Burns hadn’t finished just yet and, on 69 minutes, he climaxed a tremendous personal performance with a third strike which belied his tender years.
Carvill again provided the pass which enabled Burns to race clear of defenders caught napping but he still had work to do in a one-on-one with Morgan.
Cool as a cucumber, he took the ball up to the keeper before nudging it beyond him and just inside his left hand post.
However, while Jeffrey needed no encouragement to sing the praises of his fast rising star he insisted: “The team as a whole deserves credit because they played some excellent football on a dreadfully difficult day.
“We emphasised the importance of playing the ball on the ground and to feet. They did that and reaped their reward.”
He added: “The league is going to be nip and tuck, very tight.
“We may be seven points ahead just now but we never mention or get into what other teams are doing because that deflects from your own focus.”