Linfield relying on a miracle as they enter final furlong of season

Matt Tipton hits the post late in the game for Linfield
Matt Tipton hits the post late in the game for Linfield

The silence was deafening as David Jeffrey and his boys trooped off Windsor Park for the penultimate time on Saturday.

It was an eerie silence.

Everyone in the ground knew when Darren Murray headed in the equaliser 16 minutes from the end, it almost certainly heralded the end of Linfield’s Premiership title challenge.

And, when referee Mervyn Smyth gave the final blast of his whistle, even the die-hard Blues fans accepted it will now take a miracle to prise the Gibson Cup away from Cliftonville, who are now three points clear with only two games remaining.

It looked so good when Michael Carvill shot the Blues in front only 45 seconds into the second half.

Jeffrey, who leaves the club after next week’s game at Glenavon, gathered his boys in a huddle as they regrouped simply to inform them ‘he believes in them’.

In their first attack, Aaron Burns drilled the ball across the face of the goal and Carvill did the rest from three yards.

But their title dreams ended when Murray gobbled up the equaliser – a goal that will give goalkeeper Johnny Tuffey nightmares.

He spilled an innocently hit free-kick from Chris Casement and the big striker almost embarrassingly headed into the empty net.

Although Jeffrey refuses to toss in the towel in terms of the title race, he must have known it wasn’t going to be his day when substitute Matthew Tipton rapped the post from only two yards, when it looked easier to score with only second left.

“We are all gutted,” admitted Jeffrey. “Cliftonville are now in the box seat – three points in front with a superior goal advantage and with only two games remaining. They have been immensely consistent.

“I’m certainly not giving it up (the title race). Cliftonville now have two difficult away games, the first against Portadown who are now chasing down third place in the league in a push for European football.

“They then face Crusaders, who are also are also desperate for that Euro spot. I’m sure Cliftonville will relish the challenge, by the same token, we’ve got to make sure we take care of our own business against Glentoran and Glenavon.

“When you stop believing you stop wanting and you stop driving forward. If that happens, there is no point in being at this club.”

Long serving Portadown boss Ronnie McFall insisted his boys should have been leaving with all three points.

“We were caught out at the start of both halves,” he said. “We didn’t get our marking sorted out early enough and that has happened to us a few times this season

“The players gave everything, they were outstanding. Linfield really struggled to handle Darren Murray, who was superb.

“We are still in contention for third position and a European place. We have got to try and pick up maximum points in our last two games and see where we end up.”