Linfield manager David Jeffrey hailed the contribution of goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey in his team’s vital 2-1 win over Glenavon at Windsor Park on Monday night.
The Northern Ireland international has come in for some harsh criticism this season following a couple of uncharacteristic blunders, but his performance against the Lurgan Blues was immense which ultimately helped Jeffrey’s boys reclaim the top spot in the Danske Bank Premiership table.
Tiarnan Mulvenna shot Glenavon into the lead from the penalty spot, but Philip Lowry equalised before the break.
Mark Haughey, who joined the Blues from Glenavon the summer, plundered the winner – much to the relief of his manager.
“Yes, Jonny made a couple mistakes earlier this season and certain people, as they usually do, were very quick to criticise,” said Jeffrey.
“There was some unfair criticism. People will make mistakes, but when a goalkeeper is guilty it is highlighted even more.
“Jonny made a save on Friday night to prevent Curtis Allen from scoring – and that was the catalyst for our win over Glentoran.
“He then made two or three saves against Glenavon that were absolutely superb.
“It gives great satisfaction to me that the faith you have in players is rewarded. I’m absolutely delighted for him.”
Jeffrey also admitted it was a game that his boys would not have won last season.
“People have questioned our mental strength and desire, but we’ve picked up nine points from our last three games, so that is not bad,” he added.
“We knew we would have to work hard to win the game.
“Give credit where credit is due – Gary Hamilton has assembled an excellent squad of youth and experience.
“By all accounts, they were unfortunate not to come away with three points from their game against Crusaders, so we knew it would be a big test.
“They said they were coming to Windsor for the three points – and you could definitely see the way they went about it. It took a couple of great saves by Jonny to keep them out.
“We had to really dig in, especially with the gale force wind blowing into us in the second half. In all honesty, it was a game we wouldn’t have won 12 months ago.
“The boys stuck together and they didn’t panic.”
Jeffrey added it was good to be at the top of the table again, but pointed out that trophies were not handed out at this time of the year.
“This time last year we were battling for third place, Cliftonville and Crusaders were well out of sight,” he said.
“I knew it was going to be rebuilding process this season – major surgery was needed. But the boys are making good progress. We are in there battling, but there is a long, long way to go.
“It’s going to be a very, very close race from now on in – it may well even come down to goal difference in the end, it’s that close.
“Cliftonville are the champions and are a good established squad, whereas we’re a new group, but we are competing very well.”