Linfield’s patience was eventually rewarded as two second half goals ensured The Blues overcame Ballymena United at Windsor Park in the Sports Direct Premiership this afternoon. The Blues moved back to within a point of leaders Larne, though the Inver men have a game in hand.

After Tuesday night’s morale-boosting 3-0 win over Cliftonville at Solitude, David Healy would have asked his team for more of the same, although he was forced into one change as Daniel Finlayson slotted into the back three in place of the injured Chris Shields, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the season.

It was a similar match to when the two teams last met, in an Irish Cup tie a few weeks ago – Linfield dominating the ball, but Ballymena United breaking quickly when they won the ball and looking a threat on the break.

The Sky Blues almost had joy 10 minutes in as Ben Hall was dispossessed, and only for the pace and well-timed tackle from Euan East, United forward Calvin McCurry would have been through on goal. It was a good piece of defending from the Scotsman to rescue Linfield.

Both teams had one big opportunity apiece in the first half and both were denied by the woodwork. Firstly, Matthew Clarke was unable to clear a hopeful cross to the back post, and pressure from a Ballymena United attacker saw the ball fall kindly for Noah Stewart – who made one appearance for Linfield last season before joining his local club last summer – and he struck the base of the post at close range. It was a big moment in the game, as United were well set up and had they got that breakthrough, things would have become even tougher for Linfield.

The Blues were also denied by the woodwork on the half-hour mark following a neat move. Daniel Finlayson crossed from the right, it was touched down by Fitzpatrick to Annett who then teed up Josh Archer inside the box, however his shot cannoned back off the post.

Linfield also threatened with two ambitious overhead kick efforts. Firstly, Jamie Mulgrew’s driven shot was flicked up by Rhys Annett who attempted a bicycle kick which wasn’t far over. Likewise, Fitzpatrick later showed good close control before a bicycle kick which was also not far over the crossbar.

Despite all that, it was a fairly frustrating half of football for Linfield, with United forcing them backwards and sideways with their hard work, and clear-cut chances few and far between.

Jim Ervin’s men called Chris Johns into a good save ten minutes before the half-time interval as left-back Steven McCullough advanced into space down the left wing before hitting a 25-yard strike which was pushed around the post.

HT: Linfield 0-0 Ballymena United

Linfield targeted an early goal in the second half and it came ten minutes into the half. It was a good goal as Ethan McGee whipped in a nice cross from the right and Kyle McClean finished brilliantly with a header into the far top corner for his ninth goal of the season. After that, Linfield took full control.

The Blues probably should have doubled their lead on 72 minutes when Ethan McGee’s cross to the back post was well won and headed down by Matthew Clarke to Euan East who put the ball the wrong side of the post from close range.

The insurance of a second goal would arrive six minutes later, however. It was another good Linfield goal as Daniel Finlayson clipped a nicely-weighted ball over the top of the Sky Blues’ defence for Matthew Fitzpatrick to run onto, and he produced a good finish to side-foot the ball over United ‘keeper Sean O’Neill for his eighth goal of the season.

The striker almost scored again just a few minutes later when he got a touch on Matthew Clarke’s corner delivery, though his glancing header went wide of the far post.

The Blues comfortably managed the game out, but unfortunately lost Matthew Clarke through injury with a couple of minutes remaining, with the extend of it unknown at this time. He was replaced by Dane McCullough, who made his fourth appearance for the Club.

A professional job done. Just two League matches remain before the split (Newry City – H, Carrick Rangers – A) and the Blues are still in contention. However, League focus will be parked now for a couple of weeks, as The Blues’ next match is next Sunday 3 March in an Irish Cup Quarter-Final tie against Institute at Brandywell Stadium, prior to the League Cup Final against Portadown on Sunday 10 March.

FT: Linfield 2-0 Ballymena United

Man of the Match: Matthew Fitzpatrick

Written by Jamie Megarry