IRISH LEAGUE: Linfield keep pressure on Crusaders after beating Ballinamallard United

Linfield celebrate
Linfield celebrate

Andy Waterworth claimed his 30th goal of the season as Linfield cut the gap on Danske Bank Premiership leaders Crusaders to just two points on Thursday night.

Waterworth showcased his predatory finesse with a clinical strike in the 14th minute as David Healy’s side continued their title pursuit with a 2-1 victory over Ballinamallard United.

Healy had demanded a professional display from his Blues following the shock defeat of champions Crusaders on Tuesday night.

What transpired was a nervy night at Windsor Park as Linfield toiled and laboured before earning three valuable points.

Waterworth forged the home side ahead in the opening half, but a defensive lapse allowed Adam Lecky to equalise in the 58th minute.

Less than 60 seconds later Linfield were ahead again, this time the unfortunate Ryan Morris deflecting Kirk Millar’s low cross into his own net.

It was a night that had Linfield boss Healy pacing the touchline, but in the end he got the desired result.

The Blues have lost just once in the Premiership since November 28 and now have Crusaders – who they still have to play on April 9 – firmly in their sights.

Waterworth’s opener was just the start Healy would have craved.

Sean Ward was the architect, delivering a sublime lofted ball into the path of Waterworth, and after taking a touch to bring the ball under control, the striker dispatched a low shot past McCusker.

The Blues dominated the half, with Mark Haughey having a header cleared off the line by Morris in the seventh minute.

Waterworth – who earlier had a goal disallowed for offside – was then denied by Mallards goalkeeper Stefan McCusker in the 27th minute.

Cathal Beacom tested Ross Glendinning with a shot from distance in the 51st minute that the Blues keeper did well to palm behind.

The game was then turned on its head, not once but twice, with two goals in the space of a minute.

Lecky equalised for the Mallards with an instinctive finish in the 58th minute after Linfield failed to deal with Morris’ free-kick.

From the restart Kirk Millar forged down the right for the Blues and fizzed in a low cross that Morris turned into his own net.

Ballinamallard were denied by the woodwork in the 76th minute as the tension grew inside Windsor.

Beacom deliver a curling free-kick that Stephen O’Flynn met with a glancing header, but the ball skimmed off the outside of the post with Glendinning well beaten.

Referee Keith Kennedy’s final whistle was greeted with rapturous cheers from the home fans when it arrived after three minutes of stoppage time.

The dream of a first title since 2012 remains alive and kicking at Windsor.