It was certainly a Good Friday for Linfield who deservedly booked their place in the Final of the Clearer Water Irish Cup tonight with a 3-1 win over Glentoran at The Oval.

After much rainfall and some doubts throughout the week, it was full steam ahead after The Oval passed a 2pm pitch inspection, and so a sold-out crowd of 5,600 flocked to east Belfast to see the competition’s two most successful clubs battle it out for a place in the showpiece Final.

Linfield started on the front foot. They had been 2-0 down after 10 minutes on their last visit to The Oval on a torrid night when the Blues lost 4-0, but they looked eager not to repeat their laboured start. The Blues got on the ball and took the game to their rivals, and with a great workrate they forced the Glens backwards and sidewards when in possession.

Linfield went close just inside ten minutes with a quick break as Joel Cooper intercepted a weak kick-out from the ‘keeper before slipping it to Archer to his right. Archer pulled the ball across the box to Millar, but with a slight deflection it proved just too far beyond the winger as Glentoran got off the hook.

The Blues were the dominant team in the first half, and yet the best chance of the half fell for Glentoran 25 minutes in, but it was one which they were unable to take. A free-kick was clipped into the box from Shay McCartan out the left and it was headed back across goal by Jay Donnelly for defender James Singleton who stooped for a diving header which he somehow put the wrong side of the post from a couple of yards out.

The Blues would soon make the Glens regret their missed opportunity as David Healy’s men took the lead on 33 minutes. A dangerous cross from Kyle McClean out the left was whipped in, in search of Matthew Fitzpatrick who probably should have made contact but didn’t, and a Glentoran defender got his head on it but only put it on a plate for Joel Cooper to race onto the dropping ball and hammer in a volley on his weaker right foot from just inside the box.

Linfield could and probably should have went into the break two goals ahead, with Kyle McClean once again the architect of a great opportunity. A free-kick delivery found its way to the midfielder unmarked at the back post and he whipped the ball to the front post where Matthew Fitzpatrick was unmarked, however he headed off target from a great position.

On the verge of half-time, the Blues had another opportunity as a loose ball broke kindly into the path of Kirk Millar on the edge of Glentoran’s box, however he dragged a low shot wide of the far post.

HT: Glentoran 0-1 Linfield

The Blues continued with their positive play in the second half and went in search of a second. They didn’t give Glentoran a chance to give their supporters a lift and forced several corners in the early stages of the second half. This pressure would prove to pay off seven minutes into the second half when Kirk Millar’s deep free-kick delivery from the right was met by Daniel Finlayson at the back post and headed back into the danger zone, before the ball was deflected back out to Kyle McClean around the penalty spot where he hammered in a clinical volley through a sea of bodies in front of the travelling support.

Glentoran’s newly-appointed boss Declan Devine – in charge until the end of the season – turned to his bench in search of a spark. Off came Bobby Burns, and Niall McGinn, who got no change out of the ever-impressive Ethan McGee. Junior and Rhys Marshall came on, but were unable to get Glentoran to overturn Linfield’s control in the match.

The Glens were inches away from pulling a goal back on 73 minutes when Jay Donnelly pulled the ball across to Shay McCartan who swept a curling effort goalwards from 25 yards and was unfortunate to see his shot come back off the base of the post before Josh Archer cleared the danger.

Glentoran did then pull a goal back on 81 minutes as central defender Patrick McClean crossed from the left and substitute forward Junior got across the near post to slid the ball past Chris Johns. Linfield were unfortunate in a sense because Ben Hall – who’d swept everything up all night – was off the pitch at the time as he’d been receiving treatment and had not yet been approved to return to the action.

The remaining nine plus minutes could have been very nervy, but they weren’t, such was Linfield’s excellent, swift, positive response to the goal they conceded. Straight away, the Blues attacked again and almost retook the lead instantly as Kirk Millar’s cross from the right was headed by Glentoran defender Luke McCullough onto the top of his own crossbar.

The Blues then restored their two-goal advantage just three minutes after conceding. It came from a corner delivered by Joel Cooper, and the ball was knocked out to Kyle McClean on the edge of the box where he took a touch before unleashing a second unstoppable strike past the ‘keeper for his 13th goal of the season.

There was a flashpoint in the closing stages which led to bookings for McClean and Fitzpatrick of Linfield, and McClean and Marshall of Glentoran.

The closing six minutes, plus another six additional minutes, were comfortably managed by Linfield. To top off a good night, Chris Shields made a substitute appearance for the final six minutes, despite having been expected to miss the rest of the season through injury at a point. On the other hand, Ben Hall and Josh Archer both went off with injury concerns which will need assessed.

Linfield will find out tomorrow who they’ll play in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park on Saturday 4 May. The other semi-final is between Larne and Cliftonville at Windsor Park tomorrow evening – Linfield will face the winner. It’ll be the Blues first Irish Cup Final since 2021, when they beat Larne in front of a reduced-capacity crowd at Mournveview Park, at a time when the world was managing a return to normality following the covid-19 pandemic.

Now, though, attention will flick back to the League, with six big matches to be played before the Irish Cup Final. Next up is the final pre-split League fixture, away to Carrick Rangers on Tuesday evening. Linfield are currently two points behind reigning champions Larne, so it’s all to play for!

FT: Glentoran 1-3 Linfield

Written by Jamie Megarry


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