Jordan Stewart lit up Windsor Park on Saturday by hitting a wonder goal in Linfield’s thumping win against the current Danske Bank Premiership champions, Crusaders.
It was a performance that suggested David Healy’s boys are in this title race – which has now reached the half-way point – for the long haul.
However, it’s going to be along road back for Stephen Baxter’s off-colour Crues. They not only suffered the seventh defeat of the campaign but have now fallen a staggering 10 points adrift of table-topping Ballymena United.
Goals from Joel Cooper and Jimmy Callacher had the Blues out of sight be half-time.When Josh Robinson struck early after the restart, everyone in the international arena knew the points were safely banked. But the best was yet to come.
Stewart, who was put on the transfer list two months ago because he wasn’t figuring in Healy’s first-team plans, produced a little piece of magic that will live long in the memory of every Linfield fan. Having picked up a pass from Joel Cooper, he danced past Michael Carvill, ghosted away from Sean Ward, waltzed around stranded goalkeeper Harry Doherty before drilling the ball past Colin Coates on the line. Absolutely fantastic.
Crusaders did hit back through Philip Lowry, but it was mere consolation – there wasn’t even a celebration on or off the pitch.
“I’ve had a tough time,” he added. “I’ve been bothered by a lot of niggling injuries and, when I did recover, I just couldn’t get into the side.
“I maybe lost my way a little bit when I came back from England. I discussed the situation at length with the boss, but I was eventually put on the transfer list.
“Everyone goes through a bad spell...it happens to a lot of players. But I decided to knuckle down and work my socks off in training in an attempt to get back into the side. After all the hard work, thankfully, the performances are starting to come through now.
“I was determined to work my way out of it and I was determined to prove a point, whether it was here at Linfield or somewhere else.
“I worked hard in training and I had to be patient to get my chance. A few of the lads went out of the team injured...their misfortune was my gain. I’ve waited a long time to get my opportunity, so I wanted to grab it. I was due a goal at Windsor Park, but maybe not one of that quality. The boys have been giving me a bit of stick in training for not shooting enough. Maybe after that one, they’ll get off my back a bit.
“I just wanted to get back to enjoying my football again – I wanted to start playing with a smile on my face. I’ve realised over the past few years, that a footballer’s career can be very short. Hopefully, I can now get a run of games in the side.”
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter offer no excuses afterwards, admitting his boys were out played over the 90 minutes.
“Linfield were the better team – they created the better chances -- they were first to the ball,” he said. “They passed it better than us. When you dominated the ball better than the opposition, you are always likely to win the game. Sometimes, you’ve just got to hold up your hands and say they were better than us. I was disappointed with the quality of all the goals we conceded. They put us under pressure and we made mistakes – that’s where the goals came from. We were careless, which was not like us.
“Take nothing away from Linfield. The quality of Cooper’s turn on Sean Ward for their fourth goal and the quality of Stewart’s finish was exceptional. Those were little moments of magic we couldn’t live with.
“Once we went two goals down after only 14 minutes, we had a mountain to climb. We’ve no excuses, Linfield were the better team.”