Linfield’s fading title hopes extinguished by Glenavon

Glenavon's Kevin Braniff celebrates his goal against Linfield
Glenavon's Kevin Braniff celebrates his goal against Linfield
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LINFIELD 0 GLENAVON 2

Europa League hopefuls Glenavon extinguished Linfield’s fading title hopes at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Goals from Kevin Braniff and Ciaran Martyn secured a massive 2-0 win for the Lurgan Blues.

Braniff broke the deadlock with a deflected shot in the 39th minute, with Martyn wrapping up the victory with a bullet header in the 76th minute.

It leaves Linfield nine points behind Crusaders with just three games remaining this season.

And with the Crues boasting a far superior goal difference - now standing at 27 - the race for the Gibson Cup appears done and dusted.

The 2-0 win moves Glenavon up to third in the Danske Bank Premiership as the scrap for European qualification continues to gather pace.

Gary Hamilton’s side took a 1-0 lead into the break following Braniff’s opener.

It arrived in the 39th minute after some industrious work from Eoin Bradley.

Bradley outmuscled Sean Ward before feeding Braniff whose shot deflected off the boot of Matthew Clarke and looped over the head of Tuffey.

The Blues keeper managed to claw the shot away from the goal-line, but the referee’s assistant deemed the ball to have crossed the line.

Glenavon had other chances during a combative opening half.

Braniff just failed to get enough purchase on Bradley’s low cross in the second minute.

The roles were reversed in the 11th minute when Braniff crossed for Bradley, but after letting the ball roll across his body the striker’s shot was well saved by the onrushing Tuffey.

The Blues goalkeeper did well to palm away a Braniff free-kick in the 33rd minute, and then denied Bradley with another good save three minutes later.

Linfield were reduced to half chances during a frustrating opening half.

Andy Waterworth had a shot blocked by Simon Kelly in the 20th minute while Aaron Burns shot from an acute angle was well saved by James McGrath.

Braniff almost doubled the Lurgan Blues’ lead in the 62nd minute but his low drive drifted wide of the post.

The striker tested Tuffey with another rasping effort in the 65th minute but the ‘keeper did well to parry the shot behind for a corner.

At the other end substitute Kirk Millar headed straight at McGrath.

Glenavon dashed Linfield’s fading title hopes with a second goal in the 76th minute.

Rhys Marshall was the provider, the defender delivering an inch perfect cross for Martyn to power home with a near-post header.

Tuffey did well to deny Glenavon a third goal in the 88th minute when he expertly tipped Braniff’s shot over the bar.

LINFIELD: Tuffey, Belezika, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry (Callacher 69), Thompson (R. Clarke 52), Burns, Ward, M. Clarke, Mulgrew, Sproule (Millar 61).

Subs not used: Carvill, Ro. Glendinning.

GLENAVON: McGrath, Kelly, Lindsay (Elebert 46), Kilmartin, Bradley (Hamilton 81), Patton (Neill 76), McGrory, Marshall, Braniff, Martyn, Singleton.

Subs not used: Caldwell, O’Brien.

Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)