Linfield’s league title hopes are left hanging by a thread after the Blues conceded a last-gasp equaliser to Coleraine inside the last 20 seconds of seven additional minutes at Windsor Park this evening.

Whilst the Blues were conceding, title rivals Larne were winning their match across the city with a last-gasp own which takes Larne three points clear of the Blues with an insurmountable goal difference tally. Even if the Blues were to defeat Larne at Windsor Park next Monday, Linfield would still need to rely on a favour from Coleraine against Larne on the final day of the season.

David Healy made one change to the team that beat Crusaders with a last-gasp winner on Friday – a straight swap in the forward line as Chris McKee replaced Matthew Fitzpatrick. Coleraine, on the other hand, made two enforced changes, with injured duo Stephen O’Donnell and Aidan Tejada replaced by Alfie Gaston and Kieran Farren.

Coleraine came into the match on a seven-match unbeaten run, so perhaps that’s why they started as confidently as they did. They moved the ball around and used the big pitch well, not allowing Linfield to settle into any rhythm early in the match.

The Blues were well off the boil in the first half and were lucky not to have conceded a couple before they did. Coleraine striker Matthew Shevlin had two good opportunities, both quite similar situations with free headers, but on both occasions he headed straight at Chris Johns.

Linfield didn’t create much in the first half. The closest they came to scoring was a deflected cross from Matthew Clarke which looped over the ‘keeper and flashed across the face of goal. Chris McKee had the Blues’ only real proper chance of the half when Kirk Millar delivered after a short corner, but he headed straight at the ‘keeper.

The Bannsiders gave Linfield one last warning shot, nine minutes before the break as young midfielder Alfie Gaston showed a burst of pace to beat Ethan McGee inside the box, advancing into a dangerous area at close range where he opted to go for power and slammed a shot just over the bar.

Coleraine then took the lead in the 44th minute following a swift counter-attack with Josh Carson picking up the ball in central midfield and slotting Jamie McGonigle through on goal where he raced in to slot coolly beyond former teammate Chris Johns for his first goal since Coleraine’s 3-0 win over Linfield two months ago.

The former Crusaders and Derry City forward almost netted again on the brink of half-time, however Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew produced a vital block.

HT: Linfield 0-1 Coleraine

Linfield boss David Healy made a half-time substitution and a tactical tweak as Matthew Fitzpatrick replaced Matthew Clarke, with Ethan McGee going out left and Kirk Millar going from central to the right side. It made a difference as the Blues made a strong start to the second half.

This was evident as Linfield levelled just seven minutes into the second half as Kirk Millar lofted a cross into the box where substitute striker Fitzpatrick got a header off to clinically find the corner for his 11th goal of the season.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the equaliser, Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew went down injured and was unfit to continue. 16-year-old forward Braiden Graham came on in his place.

The Blues had their tails up from the equaliser and scored again to go in front six minutes later. It was a chaotic turn of events as Linfield were initially outraged that they hadn’t been given a penalty when Kirk Millar pulled the ball back to Chris McKee, whose goalbound shot appeared to be blocked on the face of goal by the arm of a Coleraine defender. The referee, Christopher Morrison waved away the appeals, then the Blues did get a penalty moments later as defender Graham Kelly went through the back of Matthew Fitzpatrick from a long throw into the Coleraine box. The referee didn’t initially give the penalty before his linesman corrected him that it was a foul inside the box. Chris Shields excellently converted for his eighth goal of the season.

During this spell when Coleraine were subject to Linfield bombardment in the opening twenty minutes of the second half before the Blues then opted to settle things down and keep the ball, it was almost 3-1 as Joel Cooper’s corner fell for Chris McKee inside the box and his shot at close range was well kept out by the feet of Coleraine ‘keeper Rory Brown.

Coleraine did well to dig in and hang in there at 2-1. They knew if they stayed in the game they could throw the kitchen sink at it in the latter stages and that’s what they did. Seven minutes of additional time were added on at the end, and the Blues were 20 seconds away from winning, but it was late heartbreak as they found themselves camped in their box as a pinpoint cross form Lee Lynch found the head of Matthew Shevlin at the back post where the former Linfield striker came back to haunt his old team with a major blow to their title hopes.

The Blues must somehow pick themselves up for the visit of Larne next Monday evening and try to get three points to prevent Larne winning the title at Windsor, and to put some pressure back on Larne by taking the title race to the final day.

FT: Linfield 2-2 Coleraine

Written by Jamie Megarry