BETMCLEAN CUP FINAL TICKETS

Linfield recorded their third consecutive victory this afternoon with a deserved win over Glenavon in the battle of the blues at Mourneview Park in Lurgan.

It had been almost a full calendar year since the Blues’ last visit to Mourneview, and a lot has changed since then – most notably the change in the Glenavon hotseat, with long-serving Gary Hamilton moving on and being replaced by former Warrenpoint Town manager Stephen McDonnell.

The Lurgan Blues had been one of the form teams in the division since his appointment, having gone eight unbeaten prior to last week’s defeat away to Larne, and so David Healy brought his troops down the M1 knowing they faced a tough opposition.

The Blues were able to welcome Kyle McClean back from a one-match suspension and he came back into the starting eleven. Jamie Mulgrew and Matthew Clarke also came into the starting line-up, with Michael Newberry, Dane McCullough and Josh Archer dropping to the bench in three changes from last week’s dramatic comeback victory over Dungannon Swifts.

McClean was fresh and it showed in his performance as he drove the team on. The midfielder showed his energy in the third minute as he burst up the left on a counter-attack before sliding through a precise pass into Rhys Annett who was racing through in a central area, and the young forward fired wide from just inside the box. He will have been disappointed not to have at least hit the target, however a backtracking defender put him under pressure which meant he had to rush his shot.

After a lively start to the match which was being played at a good tempo, there was a key moment in the match eighteen minutes in as a straight red card was brandished by referee Evan Boyce. Glenavon midfielder Robert Garrett was sent off for dangerous challenge which Jamie Mulgrew felt the full force of at knee height. It was a rush of blood from Garrett following a loose touch which allowed Mulgrew to dispossess him. The former Linfield man’s dismissal made a tough match even tougher for Glenavon.

The ten-man Lurgan Blues found themselves under a spell of strong Linfield pressure soon after the sending off, though they managed to ride it out, with various blocks and saves. They also changed their shape, bringing on another former Linfield player, Sean Ward, as they went to a back five.

Joel Cooper came agonisingly close to repeating the curling goal he scored against Glentoran in a League Cup tie at The Oval six weeks ago, however this time the ball flashed just wide of the far post. A short time later, he was teed up to hit a free-kick in a central position on the edge of the Glenavon box, but his goalward strike was blocked by a defender. The ball then popped up for Ben Hall to pounce with a volley which was crucially blocked, too.

The pressure told as Linfield found a breakthrough eleven minutes before the break. Kyle McClean recorded his 12th assist of the season as he turned two players and charged into the Glenavon box before finding Rhys Annett in the middle, and the young forward took a touch to set himself before firing the ball into the bottom left corner, following on from his first goals for the Club in last week’s win over Dungannon Swifts, to make it three goals in two matches.

McClean almost got on the scoresheet minutes later when he struck a sweet left-footed drive from the edge of the box, but it was well held by the ‘keeper. The Glenavon ‘keeper, Rory Brown – who was transfer listed by the host Club during the week – had a good game, but he made a mistake just before the break and it almost proved costly. His kick landed at the feet of Joel Cooper who unselfishly teed up Matthew Fitzpatrick, however the Linfield striker’s shot struck the post against his former side. Kirk Millar’s follow-up was well saved for a corner which Ben Hall headed just wide.

HT: Glenavon 0-1 Linfield

Jamie Mulgrew was withdrawn at the break following a strong first half showing, and following some tough knocks in the past ten days it brought another opportunity for young Josh Archer who again performed well. But, for whatever reason, Linfield started the second half quite slowly. Glenavon had a decent spell without really creating anything significant.

Glenavon were aiming to contain and then look to hit on the counter-attack, and former Linfield stalwart Niall Quinn almost came up with an excellent leveller for the hosts as he excellently brought the ball down and swung his trusty left foot at the ball, with his strike flashing not far wide of the far post.

Kyle McClean then went close again for Linfield. The midfielder was very unfortunate not to score his sixth goal of the season as his bullet header from Kirk Millar’s free-kick delivery struck the crossbar. The ball came back out to Joel Cooper whose fierce 25-yard strike was tipped over by Rory Brown who made an excellent save.

With the Linfield supporters starting to get nervy with the score remaining at 1-0, the Blues were let off the hook when Ben Hall was caught on the ball just outside the Blues’ box, but he did well to get back in and prevent Glenavon midfielder Jack Malone from getting a shot off, when he could easily have panicked and gave away a penalty, but he stood up well to atone for his error.

The Blues then netted a comforting second goal on 76 minutes. A lot of credit must go to Aodhan Doherty as the 17-year-old continues to shine. Following on from his assist against Larne eleven days ago and his game-changing impact off the bench in last week’s comeback against Dungannon Swifts, Doherty today contributed again with another assist as he controlled the dropping ball before turning with a burst of pace and then he played through Joel Cooper who raced in on goal to slot the ball past the ‘keeper for his 12th goal of the season.

The Blues managed the game out comfortably in the end for the three points, however a booking for Joel Cooper in the second minute of four in additional time means he will now serve a one-match suspension and miss next Friday night’s match against Coleraine at Windsor Park. In another blow, Euan East also departed in the closing minutes after pulling up injured, and he was replaced by Michael Newberry.

The Blues once again move back to the top of the Sports Direct Premiership by a point, whilst still having a game in hand over second place Larne.

FT: Linfield 2-0 Glenavon

Written by Jamie Megarry

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