Linfield manager David Jeffrey admitted his side would have had only themselves to blame had they not taken something from a rip-roaring game at Warrenpoint Town on Saturday.
Despite having the bulk of the chances in the first 45 minutes, they failed to score due to a combination of some fine stops from ‘Point keeper Jonny Parr and wasteful finishing.
The Blues then found themselves 2-0 down at the break with a shock result on the cards following Stephen Hughes’ penalty and a Liam Bagnall header.
Warrenpoint then hit the post in the second half and had a Stephen Hughes goal controversially ruled out for offside before Linfield produced the mother of all comebacks to nick the three points.
After Michael Gault and debutant Ivan Sproule had been introduced in a tactical move at half-time, the visitors were forced into using their third and final substitute just six minutes after the restart with Brian McCaul coming on for dead leg victim Jamie Mulgrew.
It proved to be the difference between the sides as three McCaul set-pieces led to Andrew Waterworth, Mark McAllister and Mark Haughey all scoring to enable a stunning turnaround from the league leaders.
“We were wasteful, particularly in the first half, and their goalkeeper has made several very good saves. The two goals we conceded were very schoolboy error-ish – we should have defended better from the corner and, prior to that, how we gave the penalty away, I do not know,” Jeffrey said.
“You’ve got to give an awful lot of credit to Warrenpoint. I don’t want that to come across as patronising or as a wee pat on the back because we have beaten them.
“Warrenpoint, in the first half, worked really hard and their goalkeeper Jonny Parr was absolutely immense. In the second half, they were very dogged and they got men behind the ball and didn’t give us an awful lot of space to play into.
“I felt that we needed to make changes at half-time, not because Matthew Clarke or Michael weren’t playing well, but because we needed to do something different tactically. It was certainly a long wait, but it was a fruitful wait and Warrenpoint can certainly feel aggrieved not to have taken something from the game.
“From our point of view, given the opportunities we created, the performance of Jonny Parr and our stickability, then I don’t think people could deny us the fact that we deserve the points.
“You’re looking for leadership and, at times, you’re make decisions or say things that hopefully will show that but when the players cross the white line, you can’t do a thing.
“My praise is for the players who responded to what we tried to do at half-time. I thought they were superb, in particular Brian McCaul. Three set plays and three quality set-pieces and it was an absolutely phenomenal contribution by him.”
The hosts took the lead against the run of play on 25 minutes with Jonathan Tuffey brought down Daniel Hughes to allow Stephen Hughes to convert from the penalty spot.
Warrenpoint stunned the title favourites again by doubling their lead a minute before half-time.
Mark Hughes’ short corner was played to Daniel Hughes and he crossed for Bagnall to bullet home a header.
Stephen Hughes then hit the post for Warrenpoint 10 minutes into the second period before Mark McAllister did likewise at the other end two minutes later and then Hughes as denied again, this time by the linesman’s flag before the Linfield revival began.
Waterworth headed home on 85 minutes before McAllister struck four minutes later.
Another pinpoint McCaul delivery found Haughey free to power home his first goal for the club a minute into stoppage time.
Warrenpoint manager Barry Gray said: “At Ballinamallard on New Year’s Day, we conceded goals from set-pieces and we’ve done it again today. They were two silly free-kicks to be fair.
“It’s disappointing on the day but the bigger picture for us is that winning or losing against Linfield is not going to make or break our season one way or another.”