Linfield must keep our heads to deliver title dream, says Stewart
Linfield 2 Institute 0
Box-of-tricks Jordan Stewart believes Linfield are now back in the title groove.
David Healy's boys responded after successive defeats to claim a crucial three Danske Bank Premiership points against a dogged Institute at Windsor Park on Saturday.
With only six games remaining, the Blues have now built up an impressive nine-point lead over nearest challengers Ballymena United, whose hopes were ironically dented by a home defeat by Linfield's greatest rivals, Glentoran.
After huffing and puffing for the first hour, it was the magical Stewart who broke the deadlock with a sensational strike on 62 minutes - the relief around the international arena was tangible.
And, six minutes later Josh Robinson sealed the deal with a thumping header following a delicious cross from set-piece expert Niall Quinn.
"Although it took us a bit of time to make the breakthrough, there was no panic," insisted Stewart. "The goal came at the right time for us.
"Institute had everyone behind the ball, they seemed happy enough to let us come at them. We missed a few chances... big Chris (Casement) had a great header saved in the first half and then he hit the crossbar with a free kick. I began to think is it going to be one of those days?
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"Thankfully, we held our nerve, we knew it (the breakthrough) would come. Once we scored, the game opened up a bit, I think our fitness levels told as well.
"We were not feeling any pressure in the dressing room at half-time, but we are at a stage of the season that every game is now crucial. We are enjoying it, but we know we must keep putting points on the board.
"Patience was the key for us. Institute still have their eyes on seventh place in the league table, which would earn them a place in the European play-offs, so they were prepared to defend and try and it us on the break."
Stewart insists the Blues will be not lured into a false sense of thinking now that they opened up such a big gap.
"I know we are nine points clear, but we look at it as six because Ballymena have played one game less," he added cautiously. "It's all about focusing on our own results. We know there will be a lot of twists and turns before it's all over.
"We know every game is going to be a challenge. It's up to us to show up in every one of those to get the points. We know we have the quality in the squad to win football games.
"We have a great opportunity to bring the title back to the club, so it's a matter of keeping our heads - the boys' attitude has been brilliant from the off. We need to maintain our high standards to achieve that.
"I haven't got a league winners' medal, but if we keep performing to our potential, I could realise my dream."
And, on his goal, Stewart added: "It was instinctive. The ball dropped to me on the edge of the box and I just let fly. Once it left my foot, I knew it was in.
"The boys have been hammering me in training, telling me I don't shoot enough. I don't shoot from outside the box enough, so it was nice to get one over on them."
Institute coach Paul McLaughlin admitted his team's game plan worked for an hour before they finally collapsed.
"When you come to Windsor Park you have to expect to be chasing the ball for long periods," he said.
"We came with a game plan and it worked to a certain degree, but it is difficult to withstand wave after wave of attacks over 90 minutes. I couldn't fault our lads for effort and commitment."
LINFIELD: Deane, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth (O'Connor, 78 mins), Cooper (Clarke, 71 mins), Stewart, Kearns (Cervenka, 78 mins), Mulgrew, Mitchell, Quinn, Casement. Unused subs: Mitchell, Stafford, McClean, McGivern.
INSTITUTE: Gallagher, R Morrow, C McLaughlin, Bonner, D Curry, Dunne (McIntyre, 64 mins), S Curry (Moorehead, 82 mins), J Morrow (Smith, 68 mins), Jarvis, Wilson, McCready. Unused subs: Scoltock, Kelly, Leppard, E McLaughlin.
Referee: Tony Clarke (Newtownabbey)
Man of the match: Jordan Stewart
Match rating: 7/10