Carrick 0 Linfield 2
Linfield saw off Carrick Rangers 2-0 in the Danske Bank Premier Leon Saturday but what a struggle it was for David Healy’s side.
The Blues had taken the lead through a Stephen Lowry penalty in the 45th minute before Paul Smyth made it 2-0 right at the death.
But well done to Carrick who played for most of the match with midfielder Mark Surgenor in goal after keeper Brian Neeson went off injured in the 30th minute
Linfield are still seven points behind league leaders Crusaders and on another day they could have scored lots more.
In the howling wind Linfield had the first chance of the half through Cameron Stewart but he shot wide.
Three minutes later - as the Blues turned up the heat - Jimmy Callacher’s shot was well saved by Brian Neeson in the Carrick goal.
Neeson was again called into action in the 22 minute as he made a double save from Stewart and Niall Quinn.
There was bad news for Neeson and Carrick on the half hour mark as the keeper was helped off after falling badly. The keeper could now be an injury doubt for next Saturday’s League Cup final against Ballymena United.
It was also bad news for the home side as they had no replacement keeper on the bench, so captain Mark Surgenor had to go in goal against the Blues.
Linfield had all the territory and possession and were creating all the chances. And in the 39th minute Andrew Waterworth set-up Stephen Lowry - but he blazed high and wide. And Surgenor had yet to be tested.
The Blues finally took the lead right on the stroke of half-time as Lowry scored from the penalty spot after the visitors were awarded a penalty after a Steven Quigley handball. It was a good finish from Lowry and stand-in keeper Surgenor had no chance.
The second half started quite slowly with both sides finding it difficult to cope with the strong swirling wind.
Kirk Millar did throw in a wicked corner in the 59th minute - but Surgenor did well to push it over the bar for another corner. A fine save from the midfielder.
Te Linfield fans frustration was growing as they looked for that second goal that would kill off the tie and their frustration was not helped by Quinn who blazed over in the 65th minute.
Two minutes later the Blues had another chance from a corner but the Carrick goal was leading a charmed life.
That good fortune continued in the 75th minute as Lowry psuhed a cross from Matthew Clarke just wide of the post with Surgenor beaten. He sould have scored.
Mulgrew then blazed wide a minute later and the groans and shouts of the Linfield faithful was getting more heated.
Carrick nearly drew level in the 83rd minute. Sean Noble’s pile driver being brilliantly flicked over by keeper Roy Carroll. A fantastic save from the former Northern Ireland number one who may just have saved his side’s blushes.
Three minutes from the end it could have been 2-0. Niall Quinn’s shot hit the post and Stewart failed to finish off the rebound.
Right at the death it was 2-0 as substitute Smyth finished after the Blues had hit the post again and Surgenor had made another save.
Carrick; Neeson (McVey, 30mins), Quigley (McConnell 73mins), McCullough, McNally, Surgenor, Kelly, Clarke, Noble, McAllister, O’Connor (Murray, 60mins), O’Brien.
Subs not used: Smyth,Elder.
Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Stewart, Haughey (Ward,69mins) Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Millar (Smyth, 80mins), Clarke, Mulgrew, Quinn (Gaynor, 90mins)
Subs not used: Fallon, Carson.
Referee: K Kennedy (Lisburn)