Belfast Telegraph

Linfield hit high five as super Stew sparkles

Linfield 5-1 Cliftonville

Linfield forward Michael O'Connor.
Linfield forward Michael O'Connor.

By Steven Beacom

Jordan Stewart turned on the style with a sparkling individual display as Linfield ran riot in their final home game of the season.

The Blues may have been hammered 4-0 by Glenavon at Windsor Park on Saturday when the Gibson Cup was handed out to David Healy's men but Stewart's magic ensured this was going to be a special night for the champions.

Stewart was a joy to watch as he paraded his full array of skills; dribbling, crossing and finishing. He was unstoppable hitting the net in the second half after Daniel Kearns and Michael O'Connor with two had ended the contest by the break.

The former Glentoran ace set up Kirk Millar for Linfield's fifth late on and was applauded long and loud by the home fans as he and his team-mates left the pitch following a resounding victory.

After not fielding a full strength side at the weekend, Healy made wholesale changes for last night's all Belfast encounter - eight in total with Conor Mitchell, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Chris Casement, captain Jamie Mulgrew, O'Connor, Stewart and Kearns all returning.

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin wasn't shy in rotating his team either, recalling Brian Neeson, Jaimie McGovern, Ruairi Harkin, Aaron Harkin and Conor McMenamin to the team that defeated Crusaders at the weekend.

Just 11 minutes in Linfield had taken the lead through Kearns though the goal was all about the dazzling skills of Stewart.

Down the right flank Stewart brilliantly jinked his way past Cliftonville defenders, delivering a classy exchange of passes along the way with Kearns. Stewart's cross to the back post was headed back by O'Connor to the onrushing Kearns who tucked the ball home.

The goal from Kearns was the 100th in all competitions for the champions this season and kept a remarkable record going against Cliftonville.

The Blues have scored in every league game versus the Reds at Windsor since September 2010.

Two quickfire strikes from O'Connor put the contest to bed.

First on 38 minutes more magical wing play from Stewart, this time on the left side, set up the big striker from close range.

If Stewart was the creator supreme for O'Connor's opener, his second on 40 minutes was all about himself.

The forward showed power and pace to shrug off the attentions of two Cliftonville players before steadying himself inside the area to score.

Stewart was as it again on 49 minutes, performing party tricks before striking the ball home.

At the other end the impressive Conor McMenamin hit the bar and on 77 minutes he was claiming a goal after looking as though he got a touch to Ryan Curran's shot.

On 85 minutes Stewart had the final say, breaking out and playing Millar through to score.

What a way to end a wonderful season at Windsor for the champions.

Belfast Telegraph

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