Linfield striker Eetu Vertainen walked away with the match ball after bagging a sensational four goals in the demolition of Dungannon Swifts at Windsor Park.
The 23-year-old Finnish forward showed just why David Healy brought him to the club — and how he deserved the standing ovation he received when he was replaced late on.
Vertainen, who also had a hand in Chris McKee’s strike, revealed afterwards it was the first time he’d pocketed four goals.
“It was a good day — an impressive win, a clean sheet and my first goals for the club,” he said. “I’ve never scored four goals in a game before at professional level.
“I’ve scored a few hat-tricks, but never four. What made it special was my brother Vella and his friend were over for the game. It was a massive victory, every point is so important now.”
Vertainen admitted he had a point to prove after moving on loan to the Blues from St Johnstone in January.
“When you go on loan, you need to prove yourself, not only for your new team, but for the team you left. I think I’ve been doing that,” he added.
“I’ve been confident in my previous games, but I knew the goals would come. As a striker, I have to score goals.
“I think I have something to prove to St Johnstone and the only way to do that is score goals. But my focus is on helping Linfield win the League title. That’s the most important thing for me and the club.
“I knew the demands at Linfield. The expectation levels are high, but I was used to that when I played for HJK Helsinki in Finland. There is also a lot demanded of them, they are expected to win Leagues and Cups. It’s the same at Linfield.”
The Blues required merely 12 minutes to forge open a fragile Dungannon defence.
McKee slipped a clever pass to Vertainen, who expertly side-stepped the challenge from a sliding Bilel Mohsni before stroking the ball under the outstretched gloves of Dwayne Nelson.
Vertainen did it again just before the half-hour. Kirk Millar sent the big Finn racing down the right and, from the tightest of angles, he managed to squeeze the ball past Nelson.
Healy’s boys were out of sight 10 minutes before the break. Inevitably, Vertainen played his part on the left before finding McKee, who danced past Nelson before poking the ball through the legs of Mohsni on the line — pure theatre!
Vertainen completed his tremendous treble on 68 minutes with another moment of sheer class.
It was substitute Jordan Stewart who provided the pass and, after tricking his way past Cahal McGinty, Vertainen held his nerve to roll the ball past Nelson.
But he still wasn’t finished. He did it again four minutes later. It was Millar who provided the low cross and the striker nipped to the near post to poke the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper.
Dungannon Swifts boss Dean Shiels admitted his boys were outclassed on the day.
“When we have the ball, we are not a bad team. We played round Linfield, but when they had the ball, they were too good,” he said.
“We lost too many individual battles, we didn’t defend properly, we didn’t track runners, so that’s where we fell down.
“They have so many good players, they will punish you. We simply didn’t do enough out of possession. We were three goals down at half-time, so there had to be an element of pride that came into it.
“Yes, we know that they are a better side — they have got better resources and they are full-time — but that’s just a challenge for me. I urged my boys to go and match that. Linfield were too good on the day.”
LINFIELD: Johns 7, Roscoe 7, Callacher 7, Hall 6, Shields 8, Millar 7, Fallon 7 (McClean, 55 mins, 7), Salam 7 (Stewart, 65 mins, 7), Evans 7 (Hastie, 65 mins, 7), Vertainen 9 (Donnelly, 74 mins, 6), McKee 7 (Devine, 65 mins, 6). Unused subs: Walsh, Quinn, Donnelly.
DUNGANNON SWIFTS: Nelson 6, McGee 6, C McGinty 6, Mohsni 5, Glynn 6 (Mayse, 65 mins, 5), Campbell 6, Devlin 6, Knowles 6 (Conway, 83 mins, 5), S McGinty 6 (Gallagher, 65 mins, 5), Walsh 6 (Glenny, 65 mins, 5), McCready 6 (Friel, 65 mins, 5). Unused subs: Coyle, King.
Referee: Chris Morrison (Belfast) 8