Linfield’s title ambitions took another hit tonight on a dismal night at The Showgrounds in Coleraine.

Following on from last week’s draw against Glenavon at Mourneview Park, and defeat at home to Dungannon Swifts a couple of weeks ago, this stuttering form could potentially have the Blues four points off the top and down to third place come 5pm tomorrow, subject to the results of Larne and Cliftonville.

In three changes from the team that drew in Lurgan last week, Darragh McBrien was rewarded for his goal off the bench with a start tonight as Matthew Fitzpatrick dropped to the bench, whilst Chris Shields came into the starting eleven in place of Stephen Fallon, and David Walsh in between the sticks in place of the unavailable Chris Johns. Ethan Devine, Robbie McDaid, Jordan Stewart, Joel Cooper, Ryan McKay, Michael Newberry and Ben Hall remain unavailable for selection due to injury.

The first half was one of few chances, with the best one falling for Linfield who should have taken the lead on the half-hour mark. Kirk Millar whipped in a pinpoint cross from the right into the back post area where Darragh McBrien got free of his man for an unopposed effort at close range, but he volleyed straight at the ‘keeper. Whilst Coleraine ‘keeper Rory Brown did well to hold it, either side of him and it would have been a goal.

Kyle McClean was unlucky not to put the Blues ahead towards the end of the first half following good play. Chris McKee flicked the ball out to McClean who made an inverted run from the right touchline before bursting past two players and unleashing a 20-yard left-footed drive which flashed narrowly wide of the top corner.

Ethan McGee also threatened after turning well inside the box after receiving a pass from Chris Shields, but the full-back’s shot went just over the bar, and a short time later Darragh McBrien tried his luck with a shot after cutting in from the left, but his effort was saved by Brown down low to his right.

Coleraine’s only meaningful effort of the first half came early on when winger Conor McKendry cut in from the right and struck a powerful shot from a central position which wasn’t far wide of goal. Soon after, the Blues were let off the hook when Coleraine took a quick free-kick as Glackin found Shevlin running through in the box, however the striker’s touch let him down.

HT: Coleraine 0-0 Linfield

Despite a positive start to the opening minutes of the second half, the Blues hit the self-destruct button in the second half. The first warning sign came five minutes into the half as the ball fell for Coleraine winger McKendry in a central area on the edge of the box and he cracked the post with a well-struck volley.

The Blues did have a strong spell early in the second half where they were dominating the ball and getting plenty of crosses into the box, but the problem was a lack of bodies in the middle to take advantage of them. The only time they really got on the end of one was when advanced central midfielder Kyle McClean got on the end of Matthew Clarke’s cross from the left, with McClean getting an instinctive toe on the end of it and he was unlucky to see his effort go just over the crossbar.

Coleraine then took the lead on 66 minutes and, from a Linfield perspective, it was self-inflicted. The Blues had held the ball in Coleraine’s half for a sustained spell, and subsequently piled bodies forward, but it broke down as Chris Shields dallied and lost the ball. The Bannsiders broke and Shevlin went in the clear, but the onrushing Walsh did enough to get a touch on the shot to put it wide of the post. However, the Blues were unable to deal with the corner that followed as Matthew Shevlin scored with a free header.

Linfield manager David Healy then changed things with a triple substitution as Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rhys Annett and Aodhan Doherty replaced Darragh McBrien, Jamie Mulgrew and Matthew Clarke. However, the changes didn’t turn things around for the Blues who gave further cheap goals away.

Coleraine doubled their lead on 75 minutes with a hint of controversy as Jamie McGonigle’s effort was adjudged to have crossed the line despite Chris Shields believing he’d cleared it off the line following neat build-up play from Oran Kearney’s team.

It went from bad to worse for Linfield as Coleraine added a third goal in the 83rd minute, with Conor McKendry’s free-kick delivery from the right going all the way through the box untouched to nestle in the far corner.

Currently three matches without a League win, it’s crucial that the Blues bounce back on Tuesday evening against challengers Cliftonville to keep themselves in contention, but they’ll have to be more potent in attack and less generous in defence.

FT: Coleraine 3-0 Linfield