Dungannon Swifts 2 Linfield 1: It may have been frustrating for the champions, but it was unbridled joy for Dungannon Swifts as they banished the disappointment of defeat at Newry City by deservedly picking up full points when Linfield provided the opening opposition at Stangmore Park.
All the goals came in an action-packed ten minute period that spanned the hour mark with Swifts, in their stunning new azure blue jerseys, showing greater invention and creativity than their hotly-fancied visitors.
Swifts opened the scoring on 57 minutes through Mickey Ward but held the advantage for under four minutes, Paul Munster heading past man of the match Sean O’Neill. Swifts, however, quickly responded with the decisive score, defender Dermot McCaffrey heading the winner.
Pre-match, Linfield were expected to get their season underway at the second attempt after huffing and puffing to a day one home draw with Ballymena United and, in terms of possession at least, they dominated.
Superior time on the ball reaped a series of first half chances, Munster leading the attack for the orange-stripped Blues. The front man brought a couple of saves from O’Neill, while Peter Thompson, Damien Curran, Billy Joe Burns and Philip Lowry all squandered good chances under pressure from a confident home defence.
In between those shots, there was a moment of controversy in the eyes of Windsor boss David Jeffrey when a claim for a penalty was waved away by Fermanagh referee Arnold Hunter, the incident between striker Thompson and Dungannon defender Terry Fitzpatrick on 13 minutes the main talking point after the game.
“Last week against Ballymena the referee had a large part to play, disallowing a perfectly good goal, and today’s penalty incident had referee Arnold Hunter having a massive say. To say that I am frustrated is a massive understatement,” slammed Jeffrey following the shock defeat.
Swifts boss Dixie Robinson was equally clear with his view of the incident.
“The referee got it right; the ball was never under control and Peter Thompson went down too easily” he ventured.
Swifts struggled to get out of their own half, managing just twice in the opening 45 minutes with nothing of significance coming from those forays forward.
The second half proved different for Swifts as they punished shabby defending on 57 minutes, a one-two between Ryan McCluskey and Johnny Topley saw McCluskey race clear of the defence.
He expertly drew keeper Alan Blayney off his line before unselfishly slipping a pass to Ward, in support on the right, for a simple finish.
Munster levelled on the hour when he met a cross from Aidan O’Kane, but McCaffrey’s header finish on Ryan McIlmoyle’s corner proved crucial on 67 minutes.
Linfield threw everything at their hosts right up to 93 minutes but the best they could muster was a Munster header that stayed out after smacking the crossbar.
The first home win for Swifts over Linfield since 2007 was fully deserved, reckoned opening goalscorer Ward.
“We had a game-plan that worked. We were forced to spend large parts of the tie defending. That suited us and the longer we had to do it, the more comfortable we
got; it was fairly straightforward stuff. We didn’t have the same number of scoring chances but, critically, took them when they presented themselves. It was a day of quality not quantity.
“After we scored, we were put under serious pressure and I suppose to do it for so long, we kind of rode our luck a little” acknowledged Ward, also a goalscorer against Linfield last season.
While some quarters are dismissing Dungannon as relegation contenders, Ward believes there is potential for improvement on last year.
“We might have lost some quality players but the guys that have come in are no slouches either, as proved by Sean O’Neill today. So I think we have done well.”