Linfield secure routine Carrick victory after nervy start
Carrick Rangers 0
Linfield moved within seven points of Danske Bank Premier League leaders Crusaders, with three games in hand, after an ultimately straightforward victory over Carrick Rangers, their 11th in 12 Premier League meetings.
A 45th minute strike from Niall Quinn meant Rangers’ first half dominance counted for nothing and the Blues asserted their authority after the break with further goals from Kirk Millar and Mark Stafford.
But Carrick boss Niall Currie had headed to the dressing room at half-time delighted by his team’s performance and probably wondering just how they were behind.
From the first minute they went toe to toe with the champions and did everything but score, never letting the Blues settle and consistently forcing them into mistakes.
Rangers forced a corner from their first attack and when Rohan Ferguson missed his punch, it was a surprised Daniel Kelly who headed over.
Five minutes later, Kelly was in the thick of it again, seeing his near post header palmed over by the keeper and from the corner, another unconvincing punch led to a goalmouth scramble ended by Chris Rodgers blazing over.
Midway through the half, a short back pass from Mark Stafford was pounced on by Stewart Nixon. He rounded Ferguson but the angle was just too tight for the lively striker and his shot went into the side-netting.
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Two minutes later, a superb cross from Nixon seemed destined to go into the path of Michael Smith but Stafford made amends for his earlier error with a goal-saving interception.
Little wonder that a wag in the stands, shouted out “We’re showing the champions how to play”.
But on the stroke of half-time, Linfield showed why they are champions by taking the lead. Quinn collected the ball centrally 30 yards out, drove right, beat the challenges of Mark Surgenor and Reece Neale and shot right footed into the opposite corner of the net.
The second half followed a more predictable pattern, with the Blues, who were missing skipper Jamie Mulgrew because of concussion, on the front foot. Shane Lavery cut inside from the left, laid the ball off to Quinn who was shot first time, left footed, and the ball thudded against the crossbar and over.
The chances were coming thick and fast now. Ryan McGiven made a superb connection from all of 35 yards but his spectacular effort was matched by a flying save from Aaron Hogg and then Lavery rose highest at the near post from a left wing corner but again the ball hit the woodwork and not the back of the net.
Rangers’ night was summed up in the space of three minutes. On a rare break, Neale fired through a ruck of players but his shot was inches the wrong side of the post and his agony was compounded at the other end when Kirk Millar’s free kick on the left was driven goalwards, Neale, the first Carrick defender, got his head to hit but it flew straight into the top corner of the net.
Linfield were now in cruise control and they scored their third in the 76th minute from another Millar free-kick, which was met at the back post by the unmarked Stafford who headed in.
Carrick Rangers: Hogg; Ferrin (Loughran 73 mins), Surgenor, Rodgers; Chapman, Kelly, Faulkner, Neale; Smith (Keke 67 mins), Anderson (Hassin 60 mins). Unused subs: McAuley, Carson, Sanusi, McDermott.
Linfield: Ferguson; Stafford (Larkin 85 mins), Callacher, McGivern; K Millar, Fallon, Hery (Mitchell 77 mins), Quinn; Lavery, Waterworth (Reynolds 90 mins), Cooper. Unused subs: Deane, Shevlin, Clarke, Hume.
Man of the match: Kirk Milar
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)
Belfast Telegraph Digital