Linfield 2-0 Cliftonville
Linfield boss David Healy last night hailed the character of his team after their win over Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
A quick-fire double whammy just after the restart from Shayne Lavery and Kirk Millar, earned the Blues three valuable points, keeping them in the slipstream of Danske Bank Premiership leaders Larne.
What a difference a week makes. Seven days earlier Healy’s boys turned in a miserable showing and were surprisingly turned over by Warrenpoint Town.
But the title holders bared their title teeth and produced a performance hunger, desire and commitment – attributes that were all sadly missing last week.
“It’s what we needed after last week’s poor showing,” agreed Healy. “I read a quote during the week by a football manager who said, good teams don’t lose two games in a row’.
“So, it was important we responded the way we did. The first half was a little bit like a game of chess... both teams were probing and trying to work each other out.
“We probably gave Cliftonville too much time on the ball, making it more comfortable for them.
“But we regrouped at half-time and Shayne scored a fantastic opening goal, not long after the restart.
“It gave us that little but of imputes and a wee bit more urgency. Kirk’s goal not long after that, was a big goal.
“Cliftonville were on the back foot, so it was important we captalised. They are a good side, so we had to be disciplined and not leave ourselves open. The performance could have been slightly better but winning the game against a good side was so important.”
Blues skipper Jamie Mulgrew was first to threaten, firing wide before curling another effort over the top.
But Linfield’s 18-year-old rookie goalkeeper David Walsh was called into action ion 18 minutes, getting down low to paw a shot from Joe Gormley around the post.
Linfield forced Richard Brush into his first save of the night after Garry Breen had ended Conor Pepper’s impressive 20-yard dash with a crude challenge just 20 yards out, but Niall Quinn’s free kick was expertly dealt with by the shot-stopper.
Healy’s troops roared from the traps after the break and were almost in front straight from kick-off with Millar’s cross finding Niall Quinn at the back post, but his shot was hoofed off the line by Seanan Foster.
But the breakthrough came on 47 minutes. McClean’s punt through the middle was flicked on by Callacher for Lavery to drill the ball low and hard into the bottom corner.
They struck again two minutes later – a goal that will give the Reds’ defence nightmares. Lavery’s shot was blocked by a defender and, as Garry Breen and Brush hesitated, Millar took advantage, drilling the ball into the net in spite of Conor McDermott’s last-ditch effort to clear.
The Reds almost reduced the deficit 17 minutes from time. Foster’s cross was cushioned down by Ryan Curran for Ronan Doherty, whose shot clipped the top of the crossbar.
“We were done with five minutes of madness,” moaned McLaughlin. “We didn’t come out for the second half and that couple of minutes cost us the game.
“I actually spoke to the boys during the interval about keeping it tight at the back because I knew Linfield would have a reaction because they were frustrated going in at half-time.
“We nullified their threat and stopped them from playing in the first 45 minutes and we enjoyed long spells on the ball ourselves.
“I knew they could come out firing on all cylinders, but our boys never heeded the warning.
“They are usually good at taking on information, but for some reason they didn’t take in on board and they gifted them two soft goals which cost us he match.”