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Chris Shields holds nerve from spot to fire Linfield to Premiership summit

Linfield 1 Larne 0

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In battle: Larne ace Ben Doherty tussles with Linfield’s Chris Shields at Inver Park. Credit: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

In battle: Larne ace Ben Doherty tussles with Linfield’s Chris Shields at Inver Park. Credit: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Kofi Balmer is sent off. Credit: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Kofi Balmer is sent off. Credit: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

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In battle: Larne ace Ben Doherty tussles with Linfield’s Chris Shields at Inver Park. Credit: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Linfield moved to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with a 1-0 win at 10-man Larne.

The winner came from Chris Shields’ 30th-minute penalty, after Larne defender Kofi Balmer was adjudged to have taken Christy Manzinga out as he ran clear on goal.

Balmer protested his innocence, but referee Raymond Crangle dismissed the complaints as the champions brought to an end Larne’s 15-game unbeaten record at Inver Park.

As for David Healy’s men, it takes their record to 16 points from a possible 18 in recent weeks and sees them leapfrog a Cliftonville side who are in action this afternoon.

Larne started on the front foot and almost caught Chris Johns cold within the first minute.

Davy McDaid tested Johns from distance and with goalkeeper unable to hold the ball, full-back Matthew Clarke was on hand to mop up the danger.

As Larne looked to put recent disappointments behind them, their bright start continued.

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This time Mark Randall was the creator down the left, pulling the ball back to Ben Doherty just outside the box and the former Coleraine man fired over.

Linfield settled into the game and began to become a threat. With 14 minutes on the clock, Manzinga curled a decent effort just wide of Rohan Ferguson’s top corner.

The deadlock was broken on 30 minutes from the penalty spot.

Manzinga got in behind the Larne back four to race onto the ball and, as he did so, went down just inside the box as he crossed paths with Balmer.

Referee Crangle deemed Balmer to have made a deliberate foul and issued a red card.

When calm was restored, Shields stepped up to slam the ball home off the right-hand post, just beyond Ferguson.

This led to Larne’s second defensive reshuffle in the opening half an hour, as Graham Kelly came on to replace flying winger Andy Scott.

With Linfield sensing blood, they came within a whisker of adding to their tally 10 minutes before the break.

Good work from Manzinga presented Stephen Fallon with a chance six yards out, but he crashed his effort off the bar.

Once Larne had regrouped, they went close to a leveller five minutes before the break.

Ronan Hale did well to turn his man on the edge of the box, but fired agonisingly wide.

It was Linfield who came close 10 minutes into the second half. A cross-field ball from the right found Ahmed Salam on the left.

However, the on-loan Hull City player’s sweetly struck effort was well blocked by Albert Watson.

From this point on, changes were hard to come by as Larne struggled to trouble a Linfield side who utilised their man advantage well.

In a bid to rescue something from the contest, Larne boss Tiernan Lynch made a triple change with a quarter of an hour remaining.

One of the subs, Thomas Oluwa, made an instant impression, using his pace to win a corner, but Watson headed well wide of the goal.

In stoppage time, Andy Mitchell saw his free-kick charged down, with Kyle McClean denied by former Linfield stopper Ferguson on the breakaway.

Larne: Ferguson, Balmer, Sule (Mitchell 74), Randall (Lynch 74), Hale (Oluwa 74), McDaid, Doherty, Scott (Kelly 31), Bolger (Watson 17), Cosgrove, Jarvis

Subs not used: Argyrides, Nasseri,

Linfield: Johns, Newberry, Shields, Callacher, Hume, Manzinga, Stewart (Donnelly 80), M Clarke, McClean, Fallon (Archer 87), Salam

Subs not used: Walsh, McCoubrey, A Clarke, Carroll, Marshall

Referee: Raymond Crangle.


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