Blues on the verge of title

By Colin Millar

The past seven days encompassed Linfield kicking off their Setanta Cup campaign with a draw against Derry City and going on to extend their lead at the top of the Carling Premiership five days later.

Monday night’s Setanta clash was everything it was predicted to be – full blooded, energetic and closely fought between two evenly matched teams. The final score of 1-1 was perhaps a fair reflection of the game on the number of chances created, but Linfield will be disappointed they couldn’t create more.

Predictably it was Peter Thompson who got the opening goal of the game, deflecting home Billy Joe Burns’ initial effort in the 13th minute.

The pace of the game was frantic and the midfield battle was fascinating with Gault of Linfield and Derry’s Molloy both putting in superb tackling displays.

The Blues were on top for most of the match but opportunities were limited. Billy Joe Burns hit the bar with a mishit cross and Thompson, uncharacteristically, spurned a one-on-one opportunity with a heavy touch.

Having played Coagh United in the Irish Cup only 48 hours previously, the home side began to tire and defensive lapses began to appear.

Eventually this was punished with only four minutes left on the clock when David McDaid grabbed the Candystripes’ equaliser.

He found himself unmarked six yards out when Stephen McLaughlin’s header found him, and he made no mistake by hammering the ball past Blayney. This away goal may prove crucial and Linfield will need to be more clinical in front of goal at the Brandywell on Tuesday 20 March.

Saturday’s performance over Carrick Rangers was the polar opposite – with the Blues looking sluggish and cumbersome for the opening 75 minutes before bursting into life with a 15-minute spell of gusto.

It was a late brace from man of the match Jamie Mulgrew, who was making his 250th appearance for the club, which were instrumental for Linfield on their way to a 4-1 win.

The scoreline was harsh on Michael Hughes’ side whose spirited and dogged performance looked, for long periods, that it might upset the odds at Windsor Park. Thompson’s fine goalscoring run continued. His 28th minute strike meant that he has now scored for seven games on the trot.

However, it was against the run of play and the basement side richly deserved their equaliser seven minutes later through Shane Dolan.

That was how it stayed until 12 minutes from time when a placed Mulgrew shot went through Carrick’s goalkeeper Murphy and into the net.

Fordyce and Mulgrew again compounded Carrick’s misery with two further late goals.

The champions lacked invention and purpose until the late introduction of Daryl Fordyce, who continued his impressive recent form.

He scored a well-taken goal before setting up Mulgrew for the fourth with a sumptuous pass.

 

Lead

Linfield now lead the table by nine points ahead of Portadown, as their title rivals were held 3-3 at home by Cliftonville in a cracking match which saw both sides reduced to ten men.

This means that with only seven games to go in the league, Linfield are strong favourites to lift their sixth title in seven years.

Their two remaining games before the league splits are at home to Donegal Celtic and away to Lisburn Distillery, while post-split they will host Portadown, Cliftonville, Coleraine and Glentoran, along with having to travel to Seaview to play Crusaders.

Meanwhile, in the Irish Cup, Ballymena United have been reinstated into the competition following the complication of Alan Davidson’s registration.  Newry City are set to appeal.

Linfield’s next fixture is at home to Donegal Celtic on St Patrick’s Day, three days before they travel to Derry City to play the second leg of their Setanta Cup semi-final.

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