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Stewart's strike gives Blues hope of sparking title drive

Glenavon 0 Linfield 1

By Alex Mills

David Healy's battling Linfield last night bared their title teeth at Mourneview Park against fellow hopefuls Glenavon.

Having already been written off, the Danske Bank Premiership champions roared back into the mix with a performance of grit, passion and sheer determination in front of a sell-out crowd.

Big Cameron Stewart grabbed the all-important goal.

The Blues may have lost three of their last six league games, but they were fired up for this one.

They've now pocketed six points from the top two teams in the league table over the last seven days. Bullish Healy had already warned the doubters to never write off his team.

Those critics will certainly have second thoughts after this display.

It was only Glenavon's second league defeat - their first at home - and it's the first time they have failed to find the net, but Gary Hamilton's side are certainly second in the table on merit.

The early action was frantic and untidy with both sides eager to jump into rash tackles.

Mark Clarke was perhaps fortunate to avoid an early booking when he lunged into a challenge on Rhys Marshall, but referee Ian McNabb kept his card in his pocket.

Although the home side were neat and tidy in possession, it was the Blues who almost nudged in front on 16 minutes.

Robbie Garrett sent Andy Waterworth racing into the box and the striker's low cross was met by Stewart, whose shot was blocked by a wonderfully timed challenge from Marshall.

But Stewart had better luck two minutes later. The big striker rose high to meet a Chris Casement free kick that was flicked on by Waterworth, and his downward header somehow crept past a stranded Johnny Tuffey.

Angry Glenavon players immediately surrounded McNabb claiming for a foul, but the Newtownabbey ref wasn't interested.

Matty Clarke broke down the left at the other end, but Tuffey was out quickly to pluck the ball off the toes of Waterworth and Stewart.

Linfield should really have grabbed a second on 30 minutes when the jet-heeled Waterworth burst through the middle of the defence but the striker's fierce drive was superbly beaten away by the fists of Tuffey.

Mark Sykes, under the microscope of a number of cross channel clubs, tricked his way into the box after picking up a lovely touch from Bobby Burns, but the midfielder's low shot was easily saved at the base of the post by Roy Carroll.

Then sub Andy McGrory, who had just replaced the injured Andy Hall, tried his luck from distance, which Carroll was relieved to see fizz past.

But, just before the break, the Blues thought they had bagged a second when Quinn's cross was thumped home by Stephen Lowry only for eagle-eyed ref McNabb to rule out the effort for a hand ball offence.

Linfield roared from the traps after the restart and it took another wonder save from Tuffey to rescue the home team.

Jordan Stewart tricked and teased his way free inside the box, but his sizzling drive was somehow touched away by the in-form shot stopper.

The home team then upped the tempo.

Bobby Burns tested Carroll with a drive from distance before Sammy Clingan sent in a brilliant volley which the big Northern Ireland international somehow got a glove to, flicking the ball over the top.

Big defender Simon Kelly then joined his forwards to meet a Burns corner kick only to see his back post header flash inches past the post.

But with the clock ticking down it was Tuffey again who was called on to produce a great stop when substitute Kirk Millar's drive was beaten away by the keeper's boot.

Both sides squandered great chances in the last five minutes with Marshall hooking over from six yards before Quinn headed wide from point blank at the other end.

Linfield are up to fourth, three points behind second placed Glenavon and eight behind leaders Coleraine.

Glenavon: Tuffey, Burns, Kelly, Doyle (Griffin 89), Marshall 7, Mitchell, Hall (McGrory 36), Sykes, Clingan, Daniels (Hamilton 83), Singleton.

Unused subs: O'Mahoney, Lindsay.

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, C Stewart (Burns 63, Rooney 83), Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, J Stewart (Millar 79), Clarke, Casement, Garrett, Quinn.

Unused subs: Robinson, Burns, Mitchell.

REFEREE: Ian McNabb.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Haughey

Belfast Telegraph

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