Jordan Stewart celebrates ‘big goal’ as Linfield defeat leaders Cliftonville
Inspired by the dancing feet of little Jordan Stewart, Danske Bank Premiership defending champions Linfield bared their title teeth to snatch three crucial points at Windsor Park on Saturday.
Having collected merely one point from a possible six, their showdown with table-topping Cliftonville was pigeonholed in the ‘must win’ category for David Healy’s side.
Just to twist the knife, the Blues were also dumped out of the League Cup by Ballymena United, which meant they hadn’t won any of their three previous fixtures.
But they are champions for a reason – and they had all the answers in a riveting 90 minutes in which Stewart provided the most telling moment just after the break when his thumping header, following a delicious delivery from Ahmed Salam, ballooned the net.
“No team wants to lose back-to-back games, but it’s how you react to those defeats – it’s all about bouncing back,” said Stewart. “I know people were questioning us, but that didn’t even come into our thinking.
“In the grand scheme, it’s a long season. Nothing is won or lost at this stage.
“No team can sustain winning formula every week – there will all have highs and lows.
“Unfortunately, we were eliminated from the League Cup which was disappointing.
“Overall, I thought we performed quite well at Seaview against Crusaders, but we still lost the game.
“We were guilty of conceding a couple of soft goals, but we couldn’t afford to brood over it or feel sorry for ourselves.
“We had to move on.
“Thankfully, we did that against Cliftonville.”
Stewart was also thrilled to find the net for only the fourth time this season.
“For about four or five weeks I’ve found myself apologising to my team-mates for not scoring or not winning the game for us,” he added. “I think I was due a goal.
“The chances have been falling to me...I’ve had about five shots cleared off the line in the last two or three weeks. It was important to score in this big game.
“Hopefully, it will set me up now to go on a little scoring run, I had a bit of bad luck at times, I have been getting into the right positions but I just haven’t been hitting the net.
“Thankfully, it didn’t happen again. It was a big goal which managed to win us the game and it was a big three points.
“Ahmed has been brilliant in training and he had to be patient in terms of waiting on his chance to get into the side.
“I thought he was superb and his cross for my goal was right on the money.
“Hopefully, that will stand him in good stead and he can now get a run of games to show what he is all about.
“There is certainly a good player in there.”
Reds chief Paddy McLaughlin admitted his boys could hold their heads high in defeat.
“Yes, I’m disappointed with the result but the work-rate and the desire from my players was absolutely fantastic,” he said. “We came here to win the game, I’ve no complaints at all with the performance.
“We just needed a little bit of quality or a wee bit of luck in the final third.
“We had two great chances, both from headers...on another day we could have been coming away with a point.
“Our fans cheered us off the pitch...that says a lot about the team’s performance.
“The supporters came here in their big numbers and they play a huge part on what we are doing at the football club.
“That adds to our frustration because when they come out and back us like that, we wanted to give them the result they craved.
“Hopefully, they were not too disappointed and they understand how tough it is to come to a place like this.”
LINFIELD: Johns, Byrne, Shields, Callacher, Millar, Hume, Manzinga (Green, 92), Stewart, M.Clarke, Mulgrew, Salam (Fallon, 32).
Subs (not used): Walsh, Newberry, Donnelly, A Clarke, Marshall.
CLIFTONVILLE: Dunne, McDermott (O’Neill, 54), Ives (Coates, 87), C.Curran, R.Curran, McDonagh (Kearns, 69), Lowe, Donnelly, Addis, Gormley, Turner.
Subs (not used): McNicholas, Foster, Casey, Morgan.
REFEREE: Raymond Crangle.
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