Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Daniel Finlayson, Michael Newberry, Sam Roscoe, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew ©, Chris Shields, Joel Cooper, Kirk Millar (Conor Pepper 85'), Chris McKee (Kyle McClean 82'), Kyle Lafferty (Ethan Devine 82')
Linfield Subs not used :
Ben Hall, Niall Quinn, Max Haygarth, Rhys Annett
Cliftonville Team :
Nathan Gartside (GK), Kris Lowe, Jonathan Addis, Colin Coates, Levi Ives (Aaron Traynor 77’), Chris Gallagher (Chris Curran 77’), Rory Hale (Jamie McDonagh 63’), Ronan Doherty, Ronan Hale, Sean Moore (Joe Gormley 63’), David Parkhouse
Cliftonville Subs not used :
Gerard Doherty (GK), Luke Turner, Odhran Casey
Linfield recorded a much-needed three points with a 1-0 win over League leaders Cliftonville at Windsor Park this afternoon, with a second half own goal from Kris Lowe proving the difference in front of a big crowd drawn for the debut of Linfield’s new signing Kyle Lafferty.
The match was a slow burner but, although the first half was generally dull, it brought two massive goalscoring opportunities – one for each team. Kyle Lafferty should have put the Blues ahead 32 minutes into his debut after brilliant work from captain Jamie Mulgrew who dropped the shoulder to beat his man in the box before pulling the ball across goal for the Northern Ireland International striker who fired over from close range.
Cliftonville then created a great opportunity a few minutes before the break when buccaneering left-back Levi Ives played a one-two with Ronan Hale who flicked the ball over the top for Ives to run in on goal beyond the Linfield backline, however Ives’ powerful drive was well saved by Chris Johns.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 0 Cliftonville
The Blues were the better side and were particularly strong in the second half, and should have made more of two big opportunities within ten minutes of the restart. Firstly, Kirk Millar whipped in a brilliant cross from the right and Joel Cooper headed over from seven yards.
Soon after, Sam Roscoe was on his toes to spot space to attack when Chris Shields clipped a deep free-kick delivery into the box but the defender’s unchallenged header flashed just wide of goal with the ‘keeper froze on the spot.
The only goal of the match then arrived on 59 minutes. Credit is due towards the referee who played an excellent advantage in the build-up, which allowed Chris McKee to thread a brilliant pass out wide right to Kirk Millar who was in space and he hammered a low cross into a dangerous area where Matthew Clarke was attacking at the back post area. Cliftonville defender Kris Lowe challenged Clarke but in doing so he ended up turning the ball into his own net.
The Blues were unfortunate not to double their lead four minutes later when Chris McKee hooked a shot goalwards at close range from a Linfield corner, but with the ‘keeper beaten, the ball was kicked off the line by Cliftonville’s Rory Hale.
David Healy’s men passed up a golden opportunity with 20 minutes remaining. The chance to give themselves some comfort arose when Matthew Clarke squared the ball across goal after being brilliantly picked out by Michael Newberry, however Chris McKee got underneath his side-footed effort which he put over the crossbar. The young forward had an otherwise strong performance playing off Kyle Lafferty.
Naturally, Cliftonville showed more intent in the closing stages in an attempt to try and salvage a point, and they very nearly did that on 87 minutes when a speculative 25-yard strike from Ronan Hale came back off the woodwork. Joe Gormley blasted in the rebound but he was denied by the flag as he was adjudged to have been offside.
Chris Johns was then forced into an excellent save in the second of four additional minutes when Ronan Hale surprised everyone by shooting from a tight angle and it required a good stop from the Blues’ ‘keeper who reacted brilliantly to get down to his near post and push the ball out. That resulted in a long Cliftonville throw-in into a crowded box but Johns came and made it his as the Blues held on for an important victory.
The Blues are now a point off second-place Cliftonville, and a point off the new leaders, Larne who have a game in hand over the Blues. Next up for Linfield is a trip to The Oval for Tuesday’s ‘Big Two’ derby against Glentoran who are ten points behind the Blues with three games in hand.
Full Time: Linfield 1 – 0 Cliftonville
Attendance – 4816
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Chris Johns