Belfast Telegraph

It was local boy Strain who sparked Linfield to win over Carrick, says Healy

Carrick Rangers 0-1 Linfield

By Ian Callender

Kurtis Byrne scored his first goal for Linfield to end 80 minutes of frustration for the defending Danske Bank Premiership champions, who climbed into fourth place with this hard-fought 1-0 victory.

But it was the 'spark' provided by a boyhood Linfield fan that particularly caught the eye of manager David Healy as his side moved up to fourth in the table, 14 points behind leaders Crusaders with a game in hand.

Byrne's all-important goal was set up by Carrickfergus youngster Ryan Strain, whom Healy had introduced just two minutes earlier.

"It was a good goal, a great bit of play by the young substitute, so I'm pleased with that," said the Blues boss. "You make substitutions and sometimes they work. The local boy gave us that bit of spark and it was a great ball and great contact from Kurtis. Does it mean we are going to win the league title, probably not, but it puts us in a better position as we move forward."

Byrne, 27, signed from St Patrick's Athletic, and was joined in the starting line-up by Andrew Waterworth as well as fellow recruit Achille Campion, who joined from Cork City.

After back-to-back league defeats to end the old year, the Blues were just grateful to get back to winning ways and this was as good a place as anywhere to get it - they have never lost at the Belfast Loughshore Arena in the Premiership and this was their sixth successive clean sheet at the ground.

Healy had said before the match that he was worried his players would have trouble with the bumpy pitch and for much of the first half his fears were realised.

Poor control was a feature of the opening 45 minutes, compounded by a strong wind blowing down the pitch into the faces of the Blues defenders.

It was 13 minutes before there was a threat to either goal but even then Stephen Lowry's header from Andy Waterworth's cross was well over the crossbar.

Waterworth was one of three changes to the starting line-up from the Linfield team which hammered Glebe Rangers in the Irish Cup on Saturday, the striker joined by Kirk Millar and Robert Garrett at the expense of Stephen Fallon, Andrew Mitchell and Niall Quinn, who all dropped to the bench.

Carrick were without Mark Surgenor, who had been sent off in their Irish Cup defeat to Glenavon, while the injured Paddy McNally also failed to recover in time as they attempted to improve on a paltry two points out of the last 30 available.

Successive corners by Eamon McAllister caused confusion in the visiting defence, with Mark Haughey happy to head the first behind and Denver Gage heading the second just wide.

Linfield's new signings in the transfer window, Achille Campion and former St Pat's striker Byrne, combined well to force a save from Harry Doherty and a minute later the keeper was quickly off his line to stop Campion getting in a shot after an excellent through ball from Haughey.

The Blues were now knocking heavily on Carrick's door and after another Haughey through ball, Byrne's shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Danny Magill.

Yet it was Rangers who had the best opportunity to take the first-half lead. Morrow's free-kick reached the unmarked Gage at the back post but he delayed his shot a fraction too long and it gave Roy Carroll time to react and block his effort.

It continued to be one-way traffic on the Carrick goal after the break but a well-organised defence continued to frustrate the champions and there was little end product to their attacking forays.

A Millar free-kick led to a ping pong in the area before it was eventually cleared for a corner but the only excitement which came from that was Mark Edgar ending up prostrate in the back of the net, claiming he had been elbowed by Waterworth. Referee Keith Kennedy was content to talk to both players.

Carrick were happy to rely on breakaways and, as it turned out, an unexpected mistake by Carroll gave the ball away to Andrew Mooney but the striker was so surprised, the Northern Ireland international had the chance to make a second, much more successful, clearance.

A minute later, Chris Morrow had the keeper back-pedalling and grateful that a cross-shot was just over the bar, rather than in the top corner of the net.

At the other end, the chances continued to come and go for Linfield, with Campion, always alert, denied by the onrushing Doherty, a horrible miskick by Byrne from 12 yards and Garrett's long-range shot bouncing in front of the keeper who did well to claw it away for a corner.

But, eventually, the goal arrived with just 10 minutes to spare. Ryan Strain had just been thrown on in place of Millar and the youngster's first meaningful touch was an inch-perfect cross from the left for Byrne to drive home from the edge of the six-yard box; this time, Doherty had no chance.

Job done but the Blues are still 14 points off the top.

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