Linfield boss David Healy hailed striker Michael O’Connor, who hit his team’s crucial winning goal in last night’s Big Two derby with Glentoran at the Oval.
The big 22-year-old walloped home a first half bullet to keep the Blues hot on the tails of Danske Bank Premiership leaders Glenavon.
But the victory came at a price because the Blues lost winger Joel Cooper because of injury – he was the victim of two horrible first half challenges that went unpunished by referee Arnold Hunter.
Healy, however, couldn’t hide his delight at the finish. He knew it was a massive result at the home of his team’s biggest rivals.
“It was a big goal from Michael,” he beamed. “He tired towards the end, but his all-round game was great. He was big and strong, and he got us up the pitch when it mattered.
“He probably doesn’t know too much about the derby rivalry, but he his celebration showed what it did exactly meant to him.
Although it wasn’t pretty on the eye, Healy insisted his boys deserved the points.
He added: “We were resilient, and we were dogged. We showed a lot of discipline over the 90 minutes.
“The big disappointment for me was the fact the Joel Cooper didn’t get the opportunity to go and express himself the way he should have done.
“He was hit with two x-rated challenges - they were horrific tackles. I had a player (Jamie Mulgrew) sent off by the same match official at Cliftonville five or six weeks back for nothing too serious in my opinion.
“I thought they were two really bad challenges that literally ended his game because we had to take him off. I know if Robert Garrett or Jamie Mulgrew had made those challenges, they would have got away with it.
“Joel is now struggling – the second tackle was a red card. The player went over the ball.”
Glentoran boss Ronnie McFall insisted his team lacked a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch.
“I can’t remember our goalkeeper having a save to make,” he said. “We had chances that we didn’t take. Curtis Allen missed a great opportunity with a free header.
“There was nothing in the game. Neither keeper had a shot to deal with. O’Connor is a handful for them, but we knew that. He was a big plus for the Blues.
“Their goal was of our own making. We gave the ball away and Cooper was allowed to run and run. He went past about three or four players when he should have been stopped.
“I can’t fault the boys for commitment and effort. We have to take a lot of positives from the game.”