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Stewart helps Linfield stride towards title

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Target acquired: Jordan Stewart sweeps home the opener for Linfield against Coleraine

Target acquired: Jordan Stewart sweeps home the opener for Linfield against Coleraine

Two good: Jordan Stewart wheels away after netting his second

Two good: Jordan Stewart wheels away after netting his second

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Target acquired: Jordan Stewart sweeps home the opener for Linfield against Coleraine

Linfield look like champions. Again. The Blues are now 12 points clear in the Danske Bank Premiership thanks to the dazzling feet of Jordan Stewart.

What a performance from Stewart in this top-of-the-table clash against Coleraine in which both sides finished a gripping contest with 10 men.

Stewart should have been wearing a wizard's hat at Windsor because his two goals were pure magic. Twice in the first half he cast a spell on the Bannsiders' back line to find the net.

And that proved enough despite a late flurry from Coleraine, who pushed on following a red card to Niall Quinn.

Oran Kearney's side scored through substitute Curtis Allen in the 86th minute but with Aaron Canning sent off in injury time, the game was up and possibly the title race too.

In a crunch period of the season, Linfield have come on strong. That's now eight league wins out of nine.

Coleraine have a game in hand but a dozen points is a mighty gap to close at this stage.

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Third-placed Glentoran are 14 points adrift. Even having two matches spare over their Big Two rivals is unlikely to be enough.

Linfield's opening goal 18 minutes in was class from the in-form Stewart.

Stephen Lowry uncharacteristically gave the ball away inside his own half and how the home side took advantage with Navid Nasseri finding Matthew Clarke on the left flank, though when his low cross reached Stewart he still had much to do.

With a shimmy here and a body swerve there, Linfield's No.10 danced past Coleraine defenders inside the area before hitting the net with a calm finish. It was his third in three games and had quality written all over it.

Stewart's superb strike arrived in between two glorious opportunities for Nasseri.

First he fired straight at Gareth Deane after Coleraine defender Canning presented him the ball inside the box and then, following more slack defending from the visitors, he smacked a left-foot drive wide.

The Blues had another fantastic chance in the 35th minute when the dashing Shayne Lavery raced past Canning. Given his strike rate of late, Linfield fans watching on Sky Sports would have expected the Northern Ireland international to double the lead only to see him drag wide.

Within seconds, the Bannsiders should have drawn level after a howler from Chris Johns. The Linfield goalkeeper inexplicably gave the ball to Jamie Glackin 25 yards out but with the goal gaping he didn't get his shot away quickly enough, curling wide off target as Quinn fouled him on the edge of the box to collect a yellow card. Eoin Bradley blazed the resulting free-kick well over.

It was a compelling encounter with more drama just before the break. There were loud handball claims for a Coleraine penalty when Lyndon Kane fired into a mound of bodies and then came a lightning break from the Blues with Lavery streaking into the opposition half and committing defenders before playing in Stewart, who shot wide.

He made up for that seconds later with another high-class piece of skill to grab his second. Lavery was once more the provider, whizzing past Coleraine players as if they weren't there prior to delivering to the near post where Stewart's control in a tight area was exemplary and after outwitting Stephen O'Donnell he was sharp enough to waltz beyond Deane before scoring another delightful goal.

In the second half, Kirk Millar hit the side-netting while at the other end Bradley was booked for diving prior to Deane producing a flying save to deny the impressive Cameron Palmer.

Deane fell awkwardly and was taken off shortly after and within seconds Quinn, on 62 minutes, followed him after receiving a second caution for a foul on Matthew Shevlin.

This was the lifeline Coleraine needed and they pressed only to be constantly pushed back by Jimmy Callacher and Ross Larkin until Glackin's inviting cross was glanced home by Allen.

Coleraine picked up a red card with Canning bringing down Christy Manzinga. Game over. Title over? It's hard to see Linfield letting this slip now.

LINFIELD: Johns, Larkin, Haughey, Callacher, Stewart, Millar, Lavery (Manzinga 75), Nasseri (Fallon 64), Clarke, Quinn, Palmer.

Subs not used: Moore, Stafford, Newberry, Waterworth, Pepper.

COLERAINE: Deane (Gallagher 61), Kane, Canning, Jarvis (Allen 70), Lowry, Bradley, Carson, O'Donnell, Glackin, Traynor, Shevlin (Parkhill 70).

Subs not used: Wilson, Tweed, Nixon, Beverland.

Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)

Man of the match: Jordan Stewart

Match rating: 8/10


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