Belfast Telegraph

Linfield boss David Healy maintains Crusaders are still big title favourites despite slipping up

Ballinamallard 1-2 Linfield

By Gareth Cauldwell

The race for the Gibson Cup is still very much alive after Stephen Lowry's 86th minute stunner saw Linfield snatch all three points against Ballinamallard United.

David Healy's side had to come from behind to claim the win at Ferney Park and, with Crusaders losing to Coleraine, Lowry's strike closed the gap at the top to four points with five games to go.

Indeed, that margin could be back to only one point as the sides meet in the first round of post-split fixtures next month but Healy is adamant that Crusaders are still in the driving seat to claim a third title in a row.

"They are still huge favourites," said Healy.

"I said three or four weeks ago that it would take an almighty collapse from Crusaders to let us get close to them and it's probably still that way."

With the champions slipping up, it looked for so long as though Linfield weren't going to take full advantage.

The Mallards had taken the lead on the half hour mark through a good effort from Ryan Curran before Aaron Burns equalised five minutes into the second half.

And, as the clock ticked down, it looked as if Healy's side would have to settle for a point before Lowry crashed home a wonderful shot from 20 yards.

"It was a great finish," added Healy.

"Stephen Lowry had scored a couple of big goals over the last month and he deserves all the plaudits he gets.

"It doesn't matter how you win or what minute you score, it was just important that we won. I was grateful that we won because I knew how difficult it was going to be.

"I warned the players all week that you don't get any free points down here. We don't ever get it easy against Ballinamallard and it was the same today."

Crusaders are next up for the Blues in the league in what will be a massive contest but Healy says that the focus this week will be on next Saturday's Irish Cup semi-final against Dungannon.

"Yes, there's a big game coming up but we have a bigger game coming up next Saturday in the semi-final of the Irish Cup and the title race will look after itself after that," he commented.

And Healy expects another tough afternoon against the Swifts as they look to make it through to the decider, adding: "You are not just going to turn up against Dungannon and ease through into a final. It will be a tough game, Dungannon are a team that have given us problems this year but I'm looking forward to it."

Ballinamallard boss Gavin Dykes felt his side should have taken something from the contest and cited Jason McCartney striking the crossbar just minutes before Lowry's winner as a pivotal moment.

"I'm not happy," he said. "We miss a gilt edged chance and if we go 2-1 up, the game is over but we don't take it and they go down the pitch, we don't deal with a ball into the box and, in fairness to Lowry, it is a great finish.

"I'm annoyed today because I thought for what we put into the game, especially in the first half, we deserved something from it."

BALLINAMALLARD: Brush, McLaughlin, Taheny (Mullen, 90 mins), McCabe (Frempong, 82 mins), McGinty, Lafferty, Armstrong (McCartney, 58 mins), McConnell, Curran, Mayse, McCann. Unused subs: McGrath, Morris .

LINFIELD: Deane, Haughey, Stafford, Callacher, M.Clarke, Millar (Carson, 75 mins), Lowry, Mulgrew, Quinn, Smyth (Burns, 46 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Casement, Ward, Glendinning.

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Kirk Millar

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