Linfield march on in title race
Shayne Lavery just can’t stop scoring. The Linfield striker last night bagged his 18th goal of the season to help his team extend their lead to eight points at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
David Healy’s team dominated this game, but came up against a spirited Dungannon Swifts, with new manager Dean Shiels taking charge for only the second time.
The Blues had only Joel Cooper’s first half strike to show for all their pressure until Lavery sealed the deal early after the restart.
Linfield approached the game on the back of three successive wins.
Although they rammed home seven goals against Carrick Rangers at the weekend, manager Healy made two changes to the side, handing starting shirts to Mark Haughey and Connor Pepper.
Even though the Swifts were narrowly defeated by Larne at the weekend, Shiels made four alterations to his side, drafting in Caolin Coyle, Callum Byers, Daniel Hughes, and Mark Patton.
It was hardly surprising the Blues roared from the traps and were almost in front after only three minutes. Kirk Millar tried his luck with an audacious drive from an awkward angle that ricocheted off the face of the crossbar with ex-Blues’ goalkeeper Roy Carroll totally stranded.
The home team had the ball in the net on 10 minutes when Joel Cooper headed home a Millar free kick, but eagle-eyed referee Steven Gregg disallowed the effort, having spotted a foul on Rhys Campbell.
It was all Linfield, and they went close again when Millar whipped in a great cross to the back post, which was headed wide by little Jordan Stewart.
Swifts rode their luck on 21 minutes following another lightning break with Millar sending Niall Quinn racing clear, but the midfielder’s low drive was deflected past the post.
Then, Shayne Lavery turned provider, picking out the elusive Jordan Stewart inside the box and after twisting and turning his way free, Matty Smyth got back with a last-ditch challenge to salvage the situation.
After all their domination the Blues had to wait until four minutes before the interval to break down the visiting team’s resistance. Lavery’s persistence earned him space on the right and when the cut the ball back, Cammy Palmer produced a wonderful dummy leaving Cooper in the clear and he thumped an unstoppable low drive past Carroll.
Linfield had the ball in the net again just two minutes after the restart. Stewart was hauled down by Dougie Wison 25 yards out only for Millar to see his free kick rebound back off the post.
Stewart was quick to react to poke home, but he had strayed into an offside position.
But the Blues did strike again on 52 minutes – and what a goal it was.
Chris Johns and Niall Quinn were involved before Cooper went sent clear on the left. When he drilled in a low cross, Lavery powered a stunning low drive past a bemused Carroll.
Lavery almost did it again when Cooper was again the provider, but he lashed this shot over the bar at full stretch.
The visitors had to wait until 70 minutes for their first sniff at goal, but Rhys Campbell had his shot hoofed off the line by Millar.
And, four minutes later, an error by Connor Pepper presented Michael Carvill with a gift chance, but he could only shoot against the base of the post.
LINFIELD: Johns, Haughey, Callacher, Stewart, Millar (Nasseri 83), Lavery (Waterworth 83), Mulgrew, Pepper, Quinn, Palmer, Cooper.
Unused subs: Moore, Larkin, Clarke, McGivern, Archer.
DUNGANNON SWIFTS: Carroll, Coyle, Wilson (McGee 72), Byers, McAleer (Forde 64), Hughes, Campbell, Patton, Carvill (Patterson 77), Glenny, Smyth.
Unused subs: Johnston, Gallagher, Mayse, Convie.
REFEREE: Steven Gregg.
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