OPINION: Linfield’s final-third flair could add key cutting edge to title defence

Joel Cooper following finding the net for Linfield in the weekend win over Ballymena United. Pic by Pacemaker.
Joel Cooper following finding the net for Linfield in the weekend win over Ballymena United. Pic by Pacemaker.
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Defensive strength may have formed the bedrock of last season’s league title triumph for Linfield but early evidence suggests an increased attacking edge could prove decisive in any successful Danske Bank Premiership defence.

A record of 27 goals conceded across the 38-game fixture list marks a tally only improved within the past decade by David Healy’s first title-winning squad of 2017.

However, the 77 goals scored by the Blues is the lowest by any league champions since Glentoran found the net on 63 occasions towards the 2009 crown.

Healy’s rebuilding across the final third has included the additions of Joel Cooper, Shayne Lavery and Bastien Hery - with all three showing glimpses of individual strengths on the way to the weekend win.

Cooper’s match-winning goal brace grabbed the spotlight, with Lavery’s pace a constant concern to the Ballymena backline on his return from Northern Ireland international duty and Hery always composed and creative.

With one of the most prolific strikers of the modern Irish League era in Andy Waterworth introduced off the substitutes’ bench alongside Jordan Stewart and Kirk Millar coming away with another assist, Linfield’s options in the final third on Saturday allowed Healy significant flexibility and fluidity.

Healy was quick to highlight his desire for more from his players in the aftermath of the 2-1 victory - citing his captain Jamie Mulgrew and two-goal hero Cooper as two individual examples - within an overall frustration at failure to maximise more of the attacking opportunities.

The Blues boss also spoke of Mark Stafford’s growth in recent seasons and that drive to improve each individual for future gains - irrespective of past achievements in Mulgrew’s case or present rewards produced by Cooper on Saturday - stands at the heart of the Healy’s push for silverware.

The enhanced attacking flair on show this season is reflective of another forward step by Healy’s squad.