Shayne Lavery’s double joy over Larne helps strengthen Linfield league lead

Shayne Lavery’s delicious double strike helped harden Linfield’s title challenge at Windsor Park.

By Alex Mills
Friday, 26th February 2021, 10:02 pm

After picking up merely two points from their previous three games, David Healy’s boys were back on full throttle - with Lavery the tormentor-in-chief.

They may have been beaten by Belfast rivals Glentoran in midweek – their first league defeat at the international arena since August 2019 – but the reigning champions were in no mood to sample another disappointment.

Instead, they produced a performance of grit, hunger and passion that earned them a crucial 2-1 win – a victory which takes them six points clear of Larne at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.

Linfield's Shayne Lavery celebrates after scoring against Larne. Pic by Pacemaker.

Lavery’s double takes his tally to the season to 11 – he may not score two more important goals this season.

Larne did reduce the gap when Jeff Hughes scored in the last minute...but there was no denying the Blues a key victory.

It was the visitors who had the first sniff at goal. Lee Lynch tricked his way past Jimmy Callacher before sending Dylan Mottley-Henry racing into the box but goalkeeper Chris Johns was out quickly to save with his legs.

The Blues, disciplined and keeping a good shape against a lively Larne frontline, almost broke the deadlock on 22 minutes when Conor Pepper played a delicious pass into the path of Kirk Millar.

Even though he was bearing down on goal at an awkward angle, he still managed to get in a stinging shot that was beaten away by Conor Devlin.

Healy’s boys forged ahead just before the half hour when Lavery’s lightning pace took him clear of Dean Jarvis, whose outstretched boot sent the striker crashing to the ground inside the box. Referee Jamie Robinson had no hesitation in awarding a penalty kick.

Lavery picked himself up to send Devlin the wrong way from the spot.

Larne could have been level five minute before the break. Fuad Sule’s brilliant 40-yard pass picked out Jarvis free on the left and, when he drilled in a low cross, both Ronan Hale and Mottley-Henry failed to land a killer touch.

Seconds later, Hale tried his luck from distance that Johns managed to paw clear. The rebound fell to Lynch, who could only pull his shot across the face of goal.

Linfield had another half-hearted shout for a penalty when Sule clattered into Joel Cooper, following Matty Clarke’s short corner, but this time referee Robinson wasn’t interested.

There was still time for Larne to create another opportunity before the break. Lynch’s corner-kick was nodded back into the six-yard box by Hughes, but defender Albert Watson could only direct his header over the top.

Linfield stormed from the blocks, with Lavery going close with a header after Millar had whipped in one of his trademark corner-kick set-pieces.

But they should have been two goals in front on 51 minutes.

Stephen Fallon surged forward before sending Cooper free on the right. The tricky midfielder drilled in a low cross that Fallon somehow steered wide from six yards.

Healy’s braves grabbed that crucial second goal with 17 minutes left.

Pepper’s surging 40-yard dash opened up the Larne defence. Although defender Tomas Cosgrove attempted to clear the defender’s cross, it rebounded off Fallon into the path of Lavery and he made no mistake.

Larne did pull one back in the last minute when substitute Conor McKendry slipped a delightful pass into the path of Hughes, who hammered it past Johns.

LINFIELD: Johns, Haughey, Callacher, Millar, Lavery (Waterworth, 76), Clarke, McClean, Fallon (Palmer, 86), Mulgrew, Pepper, Cooper.

Subs (not used): Moore, Newberry, Stewart, Nasseri, Quinn.

LARNE: Devlin, Watson, Robinson, Sule, Hale (McKendry, 77), McDaid (McMurray, 67), Lynch, Mottley-Henry (Randall, 57), Cosgrove, Hughes, Jarvis.

Subs (not used): C.Mitchell, Kelly, A.Mitchell, Wade-Slater.

REFEREE: Jamie Robinson.

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