Linfield tonight moved six points clear at the top of the Sports Direct Premiership with a 2-0 win over Glentoran in the first ‘Big Two’ derby of the season – a game played in front of the largest non-Boxing Day crowd since the redevelopment of Windsor Park in 2015, as 7,772 spectators attended under the floodlights.

The Blues showed all their experience which mounted to a quiet night for goalkeeper Chris Johns. That said, the Glens did have one decent chance early in the match, coming from a corner delivered by Shay McCartan and headed over by James Singleton who’d wriggled free from his marker.

There was a cagey start to the match. Understandably, neither side wanted to risk too much. The Blues’ first opportunity came after nine minutes as Joel Cooper robbed Fuad Sule of possession before taking on a 25-yard shot which flashed wide of the post.

On 17 minutes, Matthew Clarke started and almost finished a nice Linfield move. An accurate and well-timed pass into the channel found Matthew Fitzpatrick who moved the ball into Joel Cooper and he then teed up Matthew Clarke rushing into the box, however his shot was always curling away from goal which meant it went wide of the far post.

Joel Cooper was getting joy drifting out wide right, and on another occasion he spun Glens defender Bobby Burns to reach Ben Hall’s ball into the channel. The winger then got into the box and pulled the ball across to the near post area where excellent defending from Aidan Wilson saw him get there in front of Linfield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick.

There was lift-off for Linfield on 36 minutes as they took the lead. Following patient build-up play, Chris Shields whipped in a cross at pace which was punched out by his former Dundalk teammate Aaron McCarey, only as far as the edge of the box where Shields was reactive to the dropping ball as he stuck his foot through it with a 20-yard strike which found the corner with the help of a slight nick off Glentoran’s Bobby Burns on the way through.

The Blues then doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time courtesy of a penalty after Glentoran defender Aidan Wilson was penalised for a push in the back of Chris McKee who was receiving the ball to feet inside the box. Chris Shields stepped up and coolly converted into the bottom left corner, sending the goalkeeper the opposite direction for his sixth goal of the season.

Half Time: Linfield 2 – 0 Glentoran

The Blues should expert game management in the second half to protect their two-goal lead. At times, they looked to try and extend it, without committing too many men forward. This was the case early in the second half when Kirk Millar was found in the box by Chris McKee, and Matthew Fitzpatrick was just about beaten to his near-post cross by Aaron McCarey.

Glentoran’s one big chance for a lifeline also came early in the second half as a right-wing cross from Daire O’Connor found its way through to Shay McCartan who had anticipated it beating the defenders, however he didn’t connect on the volley he had lined up, and missed the ball entirely. Generally, they did put together some decent spells of possession, but were lacking in the final third. This was the one time they broke through.

The Blues almost sealed the win with 20 minutes remaining when Matthew Fitzpatrick went through on goal following a defensive slip. The striker was being caught up by a backtracking defender, so he had to take the shot early and it was destined for the far corner, only for a good save by McCarey down low to his right.

Glentoran’s night went from bad to worse when substitute striker David Fisher got injured thirteen minutes after coming on, and had to be replaced, so on came 15-year-old George Feeney, son of Glens’ manager, Warren, who was back at Windsor Park for the first time since resigning as Linfield manager in October 2015.

David Healy’s men held on comfortably, and were knocking on the door of a third goal in the latter stages, coming close in stoppage time when Darragh McBrien drove a cross right across the face of goal, with Kirk Millar inches away from getting on the end of it.

Full Time: Linfield 2 – 0 Glentoran

Linfield Team :

Chris Johns (GK), Daniel Finlayson, Ben Hall, Euan East, Matthew Clarke ©, Chris Shields, Kyle McClean, Kirk Millar, Joel Cooper (Jack Scott 69’), Chris McKee (Jamie Mulgrew 69’), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Darragh McBrien 78’)

Linfield Subs not used :

David Walsh (GK), Michael Newberry, John Robertson, Rhys Annett

Glentoran Team :

Aaron McCarey (GK), James Singleton, Aidan Wilson, Patrick McClean, Bobby Burns, Fuad Sule, Josh Kelly (David Fisher 69’ – George Feeney 82’), Cammy Palmer, Daire O’Connor, Shay McCartan (Niall McGinn 78’), Junior

Glentoran Subs not used :

Oliver Webber (GK), Marcus Kane, Harry Murphy, Bailey Locke