Belfast Telegraph

Mark Stafford tips Linfield to turn the screw

Linfield 4 Portadown 1

By David Mason

Defender Mark Stafford believes Linfield are still striving to move up the gears in their pursuit of the Danske Bank Premiership title.

Although the Blues casually swatted away the challenge of lowly Portadown at Windsor Park on Saturday, the performance suggested there is more to come from David Healy's team.

They failed to build on Ross Gaynor's first half strike, until Stafford struck just after the break with a header that just about crept over the line. Little Paul Smyth then celebrated his 19th birthday with a wonderful finish, before Aaron Burns wrapped up a satisfactory day at the office.

Robbie Garrett, however, bagged the goal of the game five minutes from time for Portadown - who will today learn if their 12-point deduction stands, handed out over a contract issue involving former player Peter McMahon - with a thundering drive that big Roy Carroll had to stand back and simply admire.

Stafford admitted there are certain aspects that his team can improve on.

"There is always pressure at Linfield, but there was even more pressure going into the game because we had drawn our previous two home games (against Coleraine and Dungannon Swifts)," he said.

"We didn't want to be slipping down the league table by dropping valuable home points.

"It was a decent display, but I think we can be a little bit better on the ball. There are still a lot of areas that we can improve on. There is certainly more to come from the boys.

"Teams come to Windsor and make it hard for us.

"With all respect to them, they do sit behind the ball at times. It makes it difficult for us to break them down.

"We are working hard on the training pitch to improve that side of our game. The boss continuously comes up with different solutions and different ideas for us not to be so predictable.

"It's a work in progress. Teams come here knowing anything they get is a bonus, so they are always going to make it hard for us. We know it's up to us to take the game to them.

"The gaffer said at half-time that he needs more from us. One silly mistake and they would be back in the game.

"And we responded in the right way by scoring straight after half-time. That really killed them off."

Although there was a lot of doubt whether Stafford's header had crossed the line as Adam Rodgers appeared to hack the ball clear, the big man was of no doubt.

He added: "I should have done better - the ball should have been buried in the net, but it glanced off my head. The defender was on the line and he reacted a little bit late.

"I think it was definitely over the line.

"I'm claiming every goal, that's for sure."

Ports manager Pat McGibbon believes the score line was harsh on his boys.

"There was little or nothing in the game in the first half," said the former Manchester United man.

"We conceded early after the break which made it an uphill battle.

"Their goals were preventable, particularly the fourth one - it was messy.

"Yes, they opened us up a little bit over the last 10 or 15 minutes, but finishing 3-1 would have been respectable. 4-1 give the impression it was a drubbing, which wasn't the case.

"We'll draw a line under it and regroup for next week."

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Clingan, Callacher, Waterworth, Clarke, Casement, Fallon (Bright, 68 mins), Mulgrew (Millar, 71 mins), Gaynor, Smyth (Burns, 77 mins). Unused subs: Ward, Quinn.

Portadown: Miskelly, Carson, Rodgers, Byrne, O'Hara, Garrett, Henderson, Hughes (Kirwin, 71 mins), Ferris (McAllister, 71 mins), Shannon (Mouncey, 88 mins), Simpson.

Unused subs: McCaughey, Withers.

Ref: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)

Man of the match: Paul Smyth

Match rating: 6/10

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