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Linfield brought their league campaign to a close this afternoon with a 1-1 draw against Cliftonville at Windsor Park – a result which saw the Blues finish the season in second place as Larne retained the title.

The Blues realistically weren’t going to win the league today because they needed a 20-goal swing in goal difference which simply wasn’t going to happen. With that in mind, many expected Linfield manager David Healy to ring the changes, particularly given his team are involved in the Irish Cup Final next Saturday, however he went strong. Matthew Clarke in for the injured Ethan McGee was the only change from the team that drew with Larne at Windsor Park during the week.

This was a dress rehearsal for next week’s Irish Cup Final between the Blues and Cliftonville, however next week will most certainly be a better match and occasion. This one was lifeless for the most part and played like a pre-season friendly at times.

The first half was particularly flat. The only real clear-cut chance of the half came in the 33rd minute when Joel Cooper fizzed the ball into Matthew Fitzpatrick and he touched the ball into Kyle McClean who’d run off his shoulder. McClean went through 1v1 inside the box but was denied by a brilliant save.

The Blues also threatened in the last few minutes of the first half as Chris McKee slid a pass down the right channel to Matthew Fitzpatrick who squared the ball across to 16-year-old Braiden Graham, however he was denied what probably would have been a goal on his second start as Cliftonville defender Jonny Addis got an excellent block in.

Cliftonville’s only real effort of the half came when left wing-back Reece Jordan cut in from the left and struck a well-hit strike from 25 yards on his weaker right foot, however it was well held by Chris Johns.

HT: Linfield 0-0 Cliftonville

The second half was an improvement as Linfield lifted the tempo. There was a chance three minutes after the break as the ball fell kindly for Chris McKee on the edge of Cliftonville’s box, but the Linfield forward lashed a left-footed volley wide of goal.

Joel Cooper then had a good opportunity nine minutes into the second half as a great low cross from Matthew Fitzpatrick from the right wing found Cooper racing in at the back post. Cooper slid in and made contact but turned the ball the wrong side of the post.

David Healy made a quadruple substitution on 62 minutes to freshen things up. Chris Shields, Joel Cooper, Chris McKee and Matthew Fitzpatrick were replaced by Ceadach O’Neill, Jordan Stewart, Rhys Annett and Ethan Devine. The subs made an impact.

O’Neill – who turned 16 just three weeks ago – was making his fifth appearance of the season and the highly-rated central midfielder from Kilrea impressed again, showing just why he’s being tipped for interest from huge English clubs. He even almost scored, breaking through a challenge and hitting a fierce strike from the edge of the box before it was well saved.

The breakthrough finally arrived in the 78th minute. Ethan Devine challenged a defender down the left which allowed Joel Cooper to nip in and clip a cross to the back post where Jordan Stewart rose to head in his first Linfield goal since April 2022 when he scored against Glentoran in a post-split fixture at Windsor Park.

The Blues almost doubled their lead shortly after when Rhys Annett pounced upon a loose ball inside the box before trying to squeeze a low shot in at the near post, only to be denied by a great save by the leg of David Odumosu.

Cliftonville then struck a late equaliser with just four minutes remaining. It was well-worked. Shea Gordon found 16-year-old substitute forward Keevan Hawthorne racing down the left into space in the box and the youngster drilled a pinpoint cross in across the face of goal where fellow substitute Sam Ashford converted at close range.

FT: Linfield 1-1 Cliftonville

Written by Jamie Megarry

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