LINFIELD took a giant stride towards retaining their Carling Premiership title on Saturday but boss David Jeffrey was taking nothing for granted after his side’s 3-1 victory over 10-man Cliftonville.
Solitude had not hitherto been a happy hunting ground for the Blues so far this season but, thanks to two precise finishes from substitute Daryl Fordyce and a typically reactionary conversion from Peter Thompson, the demons of 6-2 and 4-2 defeats at the north Belfast venue were well and truly exorcised to extend Linfield’s lead at the top of the table to seven points.
“It’s an important win both in terms of the title race and in terms of getting prior defeats out of our system,” admitted Jeffrey afterwards.
“Before the match, we spoke about things and broke them down in the most basic and simple terms.
“The players were told to forget about the title race. The players were told to forget about three points.
“Instead, they were asked to remember what had happened here earlier in the season when, in truth, they were given a footballing lesson and it was crucial that we were hungry to put that right.
“I remember my own playing days when we were beaten 6-1 by Glenavon and, afterwards, I simply couldn’t wait to play Glenavon again. It may have been another five months or so before we met again but I just had it inside me that I wanted to play them and put things right to exorcise the demons of that defeat.
“That was the attitude I wanted our players to take going into this game. It was their time to show how good footballers they are and I felt they did that.
“Fair play to Cliftonville, they really fought hard in the second-half and, as is often the case, 10 men find an extra gear from somewhere. They got a goal back but thankfully Peter [Thompson] has scored fairly soon afterwards and that helped us get back in control.”
The contest arguably hinged on a 10-minute spell midway through the first-half that saw Cliftonville lose central defenders Ciaran Caldwell and Mark Clarke – to injury and a red card, respectively – either side of Fordyce breaking the deadlock.
The same player would double the visitors’ lead before the interval and, though Joe Gormley’s 63rd minute header gave the Reds hope during a second-half rally, Thompson pounced to make it 3-1 five minutes later after veteran defender William Murphy had forced a wonderful save from John Connolly.
“Things just got away from us at key times,” said home boss Tommy Breslin.
“We’ve had Caldwell go off with a hole in his tongue and then Mark Clarke’s booked, Linfield score, Clarke’s booked again and it’s a huge uphill struggle from there.
“It’s difficult enough playing Linfield with 11 men so 10 only heightened the task and, inside a matter of minutes, we’ve gone from having one pair of centre halves to another pair entirely with Barry Johnston dropping in, which in itself meant we lost something in midfield.
“We did well after half-time and I think if anyone had just walked in, they wouldn’t have known it was 11 against 10. It’s just a shame that we conceded so soon after getting our goal because, had we been able to hang on even another five minutes or so, maybe we could have had a chance of getting something out of the game.”