Linfield maintained their unbeaten start to the Sports Direct Premiership season, whilst ending Cliftonville’s unbeaten record with a 2-1 win under the lights of Windsor Park this evening as Chris McKee and Joel Cooper both continued their fine early season form.

In an engaging contest, David Healy’s men almost went ahead after one minute and twenty seconds when Jamie Mulgrew anticipated and intercepted a chancy pass out from the Reds’ ‘keeper, who then atoned for his error with a good save to deny the Linfield skipper.

There was a big opportunity for Cliftonville midway through the first half from a well-worked move as Jim Magilton’s team combined down the left channel which allowed Norwich City loanee Sean Stewart time and cross and he pulled the ball back to Ronan Doherty whose shot from just inside the Linfield box was crucially and excellently blocked by Matthew Clarke.

A remarkable moment then saw Cliftonville go close as Chris Johns misplaced a pass when well out of his net and the ball was received by Cliftonville’s Ronan Doherty who swept the ball left to Rory Hale who was just inside Linfield’s half, on the edge of the centre circle and he took on a 40 yard strike. Chris Johns rushed back but was not set and he did well to push the ball over his crossbar in unorthodox fashion.

The breakthrough in the match arrived just before half-time, on 45 minutes exactly and it came about following brilliance from the mercurial Joel Cooper who won the ball in Linfield’s half before dribbling up to the edge of the box where he teed up Chris McKee to rifle a shot into the roof of the net with the hint of a deflection as he claimed his sixth goal of the season, and a fourth League goal from four League outings.

Cliftonville almost responded in the last action of the half, when Ben Wilson found space inside the box which allowed him to pull the trigger, however his shot in search for the far corner was well saved by the well-positioned Chris Johns.

Half Time: Linfield 1 – 0 Cliftonville

The Blues came out strongly at the start of the second half with two chances in quick succession. Joel Cooper did well to squeeze the ball through to Kirk Millar whose shot was saved at close range, and then from the corner that followed, Millar swung the ball to the back post where it was met by Finlayson who rose well and drew another save from Gartside.

Joel Cooper threatened with a wicked effort not long after as his stinging strike from 20 yards swerved awkwardly in front of the ‘keeper who saved and then grabbed the ball at the second attempt.

The Blues went agonisingly close to extending their lead on 75 minutes when Daniel Finlayson rose well to meet Matthew Clarke’s corner, and he got good connection on the header which smashed the crossbar. Jack Scott then stormed onto the ball as it came down as his header was excellent, beating the ‘keeper but unfortunately not a Cliftonville defender who did well to clear off the line.

The Reds then hit back with an equaliser on 79 minutes with a pre-rehearsed corner routine as Ronan Doherty wriggled free to receive a short corner in space – he had time to arrow a low shot which was flicked in by defender Luke Turner inside a busy six yard box.

Linfield then showed a bit of character to bounce back and retake the lead within three minutes with a good move as Matthew Clarke did really well to reach Kirk Millar’s ball into the channel, and Clarke’s cross was excellent as he found Joel Cooper at the back post. The attacker headed the ball back in the direction it came from and it was well-placed to find the bottom corner.

The Blues had to withstand eight minutes of additional time but managed the game well and limited Cliftonville to few opportunities. Indeed, the Blues could have added a third when Chris Shields won the ball high up the pitch with a wonderful tackle, however his shot was well saved when through on goal.

Full Time: Linfield 2 – 1 Cliftonville

Attendance – 4112 Man of the Match: Joel Cooper


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