BETMCLEAN CUP FINAL TICKETS

Linfield suffered last-gasp heartbreak this afternoon as a Glenavon equaliser with almost the last kick of the game in the seventh minute of additional time saw the Blues drop two points in a 2-2 draw at Mourneview Park.

The Blues have been knocked off top spot following Larne’s win last night. David Healy’s men could have returned to the summit with a win in Lurgan this afternoon, however the draw sees Linfield drop to second, a point behind reigning champions Larne. Having lost the previous League fixture, two weeks ago against Dungannon Swifts, it leaves the Blues with work to do, with ten League fixtures remaining.

Today the Blues were without Joel Cooper due to injury and he was replaced in the starting eleven by Stephen Fallon who made his first start since September. Ben Hall missed out through injury again, as did Michael Newberry, Jordan Stewart and Robbie McDaid.

Central midfielder Fallon made an instant impact as he put Linfield into the lead after just 1 minute and 54 seconds. Glenavon were caught playing a high line as Fallon ran from deep through the heart of the Lurgan Blues’ defence to reach Kyle McClean’s neat through ball. When the midfielder went through on goal with former teammate Gareth Deane in the Glenavon goal, he kept his nerve to round the ‘keeper and slot the ball in left-footed.

This set the tone for an open and entertaining first half. Glenavon almost offered an instant response as striker Lido Lotefa got a strike off inside the box and forced Chris Johns into a good stop. The Blues almost threatened to double their lead in the opening minutes as a well-worked corner saw Kyle McClean head the ball down to Matthew Clarke who volleyed on goal, but Deane made a decent save.

Glenavon’s new signing James Doona caused Linfield many problems in the first half. The first time he went close was with a fierce strike from 25 yards which flashed not far wide. A short time later, he pulled the ball back to the edge of the box where Jack Malone could race onto it before hitting an arrowed strike which Chris Johns brilliantly saved around the post.

The Lurgan Blues levelled in the 33rd minute following a good spell. It was an opportunist goal from the lively Doona who anticipated and pounced upon a loose defensive touch from Linfield’s Kyle McClean on the edge of the box. The Glenavon man poked the ball past the onrushing Johns which, at the time, was a deserved equaliser for the hosts.

Glenavon’s opposite winger, Peter Campbell also threatened before the break as he used his superior pace to get past Jamie Mulgrew inside the box. Chris Johns then came rushing out at the winger to apply pressure, but when the winger managed to poke the ball past the Linfield ‘keeper, the pull-back was just beyond the reach of Glenavon midfielder Jack Malone inside the box.

Linfield also had a good opportunity to retake the lead on the stroke of half-time but they were unable to take advantage of it as Kirk Millar’s corner delivery found Chris McKee with a free header, but he never connected well on a header that he glanced wide of the post.

HT: Glenavon 1-1 Linfield

Both teams were forced into half-time substitutions due to injury. Linfield had to withdraw Euan East who wasn’t fit to continue, and he was replaced by Chris Shields who partnered Daniel Finlayson in central defence. Meanwhile, Glenavon dangerman Lido Lotefa had to be withdrawn at half-time due to injury. He was replaced by Gavin Hodgins.

The second half started at a slower pace than the first. Chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half were at a premium, though Glenavon did have a good one which they didn’t take on 54 minutes as the ball found its way to Jack Malone on the edge of the box where he whistled a half-volley not far wide of the post.

The Blues then threatened twice in quick succession. Firstly, Matthew Fitzpatrick teed up Kyle McClean, whose shot looked destined for the net had it not been met by a crucial block by Glenavon’s David Toure. Soon after, a long throw-in into the box from Ethan McGee was headed out only as far Kirk Millar who attempted an acrobatic bicycle kick which he was unfortunate to see flash just wide when the ‘keeper was beaten.

Sadly, the returning Stephen Fallon was hit by injury again, pulling up injured and holding what appeared to be his hamstring as he chased an overhit cross. It was particularly unfortunate because he was due to come off a minute before the injury happened, but the ball hadn’t yet went out of play. Fallon and Matthew Fitzpatrick were replaced by Rhys Annett and Darragh McBrien, who made a good impact.

Whilst there was an edge to the game, it wasn’t until the final ten minutes that both managers really went for it in search of a winner. David Healy brought Braiden Graham on for Kyle McClean, moving to a more attacking 3-4-1-2, whilst Glenavon brought on another striker, Aaron Prendergast, on for a midfielder.

The Blues then got the goal they were searching for, taking the lead in the 88th minute. Kirk Millar whipped in a glorious cross from the right and substitute Darragh McBrien powered in a brilliant powering header to put Linfield ahead with his fourth goal of the season.

As play entered six additional minutes of injury time, Linfield were a lick of paint away from sealing the win, with Chris McKee unlucky to see a well-struck left-footed drive come back off the post.

David Healy’s men were managing the lead well in stoppage time, preventing Glenavon from creating any major opportunities… until the Blues switched off right at the death as Peter Campbell was able to get a shot off from the edge of the box. The Glenavon winger was unfortunate to see his shot strike the post, but Aaron Prendergast was following in to tap in the rebound in the dying seconds to salvage a point for Glenavon, but a point which they probably deserved from a hard-fought match.

A disappointing day for Linfield and one which they will need to bounce back from when they make the long trip to Coleraine in Friday night’s televised League fixture.

FT: Glenavon 2-2 Linfield

Written by Jamie Megarry