On-song Shayne Lavery seals Linfield win over Crusaders
Shayne Lavery grabbed the priceless winning goal at Seaview to take Linfield 11 points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
The in-form striker took his goal tally for the season to 19, with a typical poacher’s effort – one that put a huge dent in Crusaders’ slim title hopes.
Alarmingly, the Shore Road team have now lost five of the last six games at their North Belfast base.
Stephen Baxter’s boys got off to the best possible start with Ross Clarke hitting a ‘Goal of the Season’ contender.
But the defending champions hit back with Joel Cooper levelling before Lavery’s party piece.
Following his team’s defeat at Coleraine last time out, Crusaders manager Baxter made four changes - handing starting shirts to Jarlath O’Rourke, Rodney Brown, Paul Heatley and Clarke.
The Blues had won their last four games, hitting 14 goals and conceding none - but manager David Healy still made one alteration to the team that defeated Dungannon Swifts in midweek, drafting in defender Mark Stafford for Connor Pepper.
After the early bout of sparring, Clarke scored with the first significant shot at goal.
He picked up a pass from Adam Lecky wide in the right and, after cutting past Niall Quinn, he let rip with a fantastic left-footed effort that rocketed into the top corner.
Linfield attempted to come back off the ropes, with Kirk Millar whipping in a trademark corner-kick from the left that defender Jimmy Callacher, shadowed by Lecky, just failed to flick home.
The visitors had their first effort at goal on the half-hour when Brown sent Lavery tumbling with a clear push. Millar tried his luck with an audacious 20-yard shot that fizzed just inches past the post.
And they threatened again seconds later when Cammy Palmer, Jordan Stewart and skipper Jamie Mulgrew combined to create a chance for Cooper, who blasted inches over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
But the Crues retaliated and were almost two up on 35 minutes. Clarke turned provider when he whipped in a great cross from the right which was met by Jordan Forsythe, whose header brushed past the post.
Midfielder Philip Lowry then tried his luck with a low 35-yard shot that Chris Johns gathered with ease.
The Blues were level nine minutes after the restart – and it was another cracking effort.
Cooper gobbled up a long punt from Quinn then held off a challenge from Robbie Weir and Aidan Wilson before drilling a low shot past Jonny Tuffey.
Now oozing with confidence, Cooper again tried his luck from distance after a clever solo run, but Tuffey gathered at the base of the post.
And the game was turned on its head on 66 minutes when Lavery shot the Blues into the lead.
Millar’s corner-kick was totally miscontrolled by Paul Heatley eight yards out and the Northern Ireland striker walloped an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
Lavery almost topped an impressive performance with another goal when he hammered in a shot from an awkward angle that Tuffey managed to beat away.
The game finished in an ugly incident involving most players on the pitch, which resulted in referee Raymond Crangle booking O’Rourke and Lavery.
CRUSADERS: Tuffey, Weir (Cushley, 60), Wilson, Brown, O’Rourke, Forsythe, Waddell, Lowry, R.Clarke (McGonigle, 74), Lecky (Owens, 71), Heatley.
Subs (not used): O’Neill, Ruddy, McKinley, Larmour.
LINFIELD: Johns, Haughey, Stafford, Callacher, Quinn, Millar, Mulgrew (Clarke, 79), Palmer, Cooper (Nasseri, 81), Stewart (Waterworth, 76), Lavery.
Subs (not used): Moore, Larkin, Newberry, Pepper.
REFEREE: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper whenever you are able to do so.
Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world.
But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper when you can safely.
You can also enjoy unlimited access to the best news from across Northern Ireland and the UK by subscribing to newsletter.co.uk
With a digital subscription, you can read more than five articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.