Carrick 0 - Linfield 2
Linfield eased into the semi-finals of the Toals Co Antrim Shield with a facile victory at the Belfast Loughshore Arena, with goals from Navid Nasseri and Jordan Stewart in the first eight minutes.
It is five years since Carrick scored against Linfield – the only goal in 18 matches between the teams since Rangers’ elevation to the top flight in 2011 – and that run was extended to 12 matches last night in what proved a gentle warm-up for the Blues before the Premiership action begins on Saturday – with a home match against Carrick!
Linfield made five changes from the team that hammered PSNI 6-0 in the first round with first domestic starts of the season for Christopher Johns, Mark Stafford, Kyle McClean, Ryan McGivern and Niall Quinn. There was no place for teenager Joshua Archer in the 18.
Carrick boss Niall Currie, as expected, made changes from their disappointing 1-0 victory over Newington on Saturday with a welcome return for goalkeeper Aaron Hogg after a long-term injury. Club captain Mark Surgenor and Reece Neale also came in.
But they had no answer to an electrifying start by the Blues who took the lead inside three minutes. Kirk Millar broke down the right and his perfectly placed pass allowed Nasseri to hit the ball without breaking stride and he gave Hogg no chance from 12 yards.
Two minutes later, another right wing cross from Millar was met by Andy Waterworth but his flick just went the wrong side of the crossbar.
The second goal was not long delayed and this one came from the left with Nasseri’s cross finding Stewart who volleyed the ball into the net in spectacular style.
The early goals killed the game as a contest with Linfield comfortably holding their hosts at arms length and their only goalbound effort in the first half came from Neale whose 30 yards shot lobbed tamely into the arms of Johns.
The visitors upped the tempo in the closing stages of the half and a slip by Surgenor gave up possession to Waterworth whose cross found Nasseri, but this time Hogg was quickly off his line to deflect the shot over the bar.
A delightful back-heel by Stewart set up Millar for a cross from the left but McClean, unmarked six yards out, headed wastefully wide.
Carrick introduced all three substitutes in the first 17 minutes of the second half but although two of them, Lee Chapman and Michael Smith, had Carrick’s second and third goal attempts of the night they were rare forays in and around the Linfield box.
At the other end, the front three of Nasseri, Stewart and Waterworth combined again in the 65th minute but the latter’s shot was deflected for a corner.
It proved to be Nasseri’s last action as he was replaced by Jamie Callacher as Linfield reverted to a back four.
Not that they came under any sustained pressure and unlike their first round game, when Linfield scored five in the last half-hour, here they were content with their early strikes.
Carrick Rangers: Rodgers, Surgenor, Loughran; Kelly; Glendinning (Chapman 52), Anderson, Gibson, Neale; Fearon (Smith 52), Frazer (Gawne 62). Unused subs: McGinty, Forsythe, Ferrin, Colligan.
Linfield: Johns; Stafford, Haughey, McGivern; Millar, Mulgrew, McClean, Quinn; Stewart (Shevlin 87, Doyle 90), Waterworth, Nasseri (Callacher 69). Unused subs: Moore, Doyle, Boyle, Pepper, Scannell.
Man of the Match: Navid Nasseri
Match rating: 5/10
Referee: Keith Kennedy