Solitude success just the tonic for Linfield's European hangover, says Healy
Cliftonville 0 Linfield 1
David Healy believes Saturday's Solitude showdown with Cliftonville provided the perfect environment for his players to readjust to the cut and thrust of the Premiership.
So often down through the years, the Irish League's European representatives have required a game or two to find their feet back on the domestic scene and, having come within a goal of an heroic Europa League group stage pass less than a week-and-a-half earlier, the Blues' potential for a psychological crash landing was significantly increased.
A trademark header from Jimmy Callacher was, however, enough to get Linfield back in the swing of things and, though they found themselves pegged back by some serious Cliftonville pressure in the aftermath, Healy was delighted with the manner of the victory that he hopes can kick-start their title charge.
"I said to the players and the staff during the week that what we probably needed was that today," he admitted.
"I wish we'd won two or three-nil and played outstanding but, in terms of getting back to the reality of playing for hard-earned points at a place like Solitude where, traditionally over the years it's been a difficult place to come, it was a great place to start.
"Right up until the final 30 seconds, Cliftonville had us under pressure and we had to work hard right up until that whistle."
The Blues boss also felt his team's continental experiences helped guide them through some nervy closing exchanges as the Reds poured forward.
"The pressure we were under, you're thinking about what changes to make but also wondering if you throw someone else on, might it have a negative impact," he explained.
"In the end, I knew that the players we had out there had been put under 180 minutes of pressure by Qarabag not so long ago, so I had confidence they could see the job through."
Opposite number Paddy McLaughlin had sympathy for his own players, whom he felt merited a draw for their efforts, but admitted to frustration at the nature of the contest's decisive strike.
"It was a disappointing goal for us to concede because we actually spoke about the threat that Linfield have," he said.
"Their deliveries are very good and Callacher attacks it really well, so it's disappointing because that's something we'd identified.
"Chances were few and far between in the game because both teams defended very well.
"Over the course of the 90 minutes, I felt we were fairly evenly matched, there wasn't much in it at all. We worked hard, we defended well, we attacked well - all fairly similar to what Linfield did - and I think a draw would probably have been a fair result but sometimes results can hinge on decisions and I think one or two didn't go our way, which is unfortunate but that's just the way it goes."
The decisions McLaughlin referred to centred on a string of penalty claims - following on from a similar protest from the Blues in the first half - and referee Andrew Davey's decision not to issue a second booking to Andy Waterworth for a foul on Richard Brush after the Bangor official appeared to reach for his yellow card before changing his mind.
"There's a few key decisions the referee's got to make and when they don't go your way, you can be bitterly disappointed but you've just got to accept his call on it," added McLaughlin.
"Only one person's opinion matters and that's the referee's. He's the man in charge and if he doesn't give it, you've got to just accept it."
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McDermott, Ives, Breen (Maguire, 77 mins), Harney, C Curran, R Curran (Garrett, 77 mins), R Donnelly, Bagnall (Wilson, 79 mins), Gormley, McMenamin. Unused subs: Dunne, Foster, A Donnelly, Gorman.
LINFIELD: Ferguson, Stafford, Callacher, Waterworth (Shevlin, 85 mins), Cooper, Millar, Kearns, Hery (Fallon, 68 mins), Mulgrew, Quinn, Casement. Unused subs: Deane, Larkin, Clarke, Mitchell, Reynolds.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the Match: Jimmy Callacher
Match Rating: 7/10