Linfield claimed the derby day bragging rights with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Glentoran in the traditional ‘Big Two’ Boxing Day derby at Windsor Park this afternoon, maintaining the Blues’ proud record of never losing to Glentoran at home on Boxing Day since this fixture became tradition in the seventies.
The match was a sell-out of all available tickets, with Linfield fans seated in the Kop Stand, South Stand upper and lower tiers, as well as as Railway Stand, whilst Glentoran fans occupied the North Stand upper tier, amounting to plenty of noise and an attendance of 9,544.
The Blues’ tickets were snapped up early doors, whereas a 4-0 win for Glentoran in the last derby meeting just 25 days ago saw a spike in interest amongst the Glens’ fans. David Healy said he wasn’t using the word ‘revenge’ in the lead up to the Boxing Day derby as he wanted his players to remain focused in battle, however today’s win will surely feel all the sweeter after that tough night at The Oval at the beginning of the month.
One thing about David Healy’s teams during his Linfield reign is they always bounce back. This was another example as they made it five wins on the bounce. The Blues’ boss was boosted with captain Jamie Mulgrew fit again for selection, and Joel Cooper available after serving a one-match suspension in last Friday’s 2-1 win over Coleraine at Windsor Park. Josh Archer and Aodhan Doherty dropped to the bench in Linfield’s two changes.
Having been two goals down inside ten minutes in the last derby fixture, Linfield knew the importance of making a positive start and they did so. They had the ball in the back of the net after just three minutes, though it was rightly disallowed instantly for a foul on the Glentoran goalkeeper from a set-piece.
In a lively match that flowed from the off, both teams moved the ball quickly. The Blues threatened again in the opening ten minutes as Joel Cooper broke away down the left wing and curled in a cross towards Matthew Fitzpatrick in the middle, with the centre forward just inches away from making a contact which most likely would have turned it into the net.
There was also an early chance for Glentoran. Their most dangerous player on the day, Daire O’Connor broke away down the right wing on a counter-attack before pulling the ball back to a central position on the edge of the box where English forward David Fisher fired a strike over the crossbar.
A lot of the Blues’ best opportunities in the first half came through neat combination passing down the left side to force an overload, and this led to two decent opportunities for Rhys Annett, but the young striker fired straight at the ‘keeper on both occasions.
The in-form striker then won Linfield a penalty on 28 minutes. Kirk Millar’s deep corner was dropped by Glentoran ‘keeper McCarey, who dived at the feet of recipient Annett as panic set in and he fouled the striker who hit the ground. However, McCarey made amends for his error as he made a good stop to prevent Annett from scoring his fifth goal in four matches.
Six minutes later, the Glens had their best chance of the first half and were a matter of inches away from taking the lead. Experienced winger Niall McGinn delivered a dangerous free-kick to the back post area and defender Luke McCullough got his head on the end of it, though his effort flashed just wide of the post.
The breakthrough then arrived on 36 minutes as Linfield took the lead. A free-kick from the right was wonderfully delivered by ‘Man of the Match’ Kirk Millar, pinpoint for defender Ben Hall who hardly had to move to get his head on it and he dispatched a clean header into the corner of the Kop End net for his third goal of the season.
The Blues ended the half strongly in search of a second. Matthew Fitzpatrick did well to turn Luke McCullough and win a free-kick out the left – Kirk Millar played it low across the box to Joel Cooper in a pre-rehearsed routine, though the winger scuffed his shot. It was well-worked, though the technique was just lacking on the shot, otherwise Glentoran were in real danger. The Glens eventually scrambled the ball clear.
HT: Linfield 1-0 Glentoran
Linfield could have sat in and looked to see out their 1-0 lead, but instead they were positive and brave, taking the game to their rivals. The Blues started the second half brightly and Glentoran were fortunate not to be down and out ten minutes after the break.
Evergreen captain Jamie Mulgrew picked the pocket of Shay McCartan before surging away up the left wing, with the Glentoran attacker ultimately fouling legendary Linfield midfielder Mulgrew. Kirk Millar again delivered the free-kick brilliantly and it was met by Daniel Finlayson at the back post, however the Scottish full-back saw his header down strike the post before fellow Scotsman, Euan East, struck a shot across the face of goal.
Minutes later, Linfield were denied by the post a second time. Once more, the superb Kirk Millar was the man who crafted the opportunity with another excellent cross which landed for Matthew Clarke at the back post where he turned and shot with a low strike which came back off the post.
Following a rare Glentoran chance where Shay McCartan headed wide from Daire O’Connor’s cross, Linfield deservedly doubled their lead just before the hour-mark. A quick break saw Kyle McClean loft a forward pass into Matthew Fitzpatrick who took a touch to set himself, then shifted the ball onto his stronger right foot to drill a strike low into the Railway End net for his fifth goal of the season.
It was almost game over a few minutes later when a Linfield corner landed at the feet of Fitzpatrick at the back post and, with the angle improbable, he pulled the ball back to Euan East, whose goalbound shot was crucially blocked by a Glentoran defender.
Linfield didn’t allow Glentoran any real clear-cut chances in the last half-hour, managing the game expertly. There was a blow for the Blues, however, as Joel Cooper went off injured following a strong challenge from Fuad Sule. On the other hand, Chris McKee made his return with a substitute appearance for the final few minutes following seven weeks out injured.
The Blues remain a point clear of second-place Larne, who the Blues travel to face at Inver Park this coming Saturday. Glentoran, meanwhile, currently sit 17 points behind Linfield, with the Blues also having a game in hand over both teams.
FT: Linfield 2-0 Glentoran
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Kirk Millar
Written by Jamie Megarry