By Colin Millar

The past seven days have been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Linfield. Their Setanta Cup campaign came to a painful end, their Irish Cup semi-final tie has been thrown into further doubt, while they also took another massive step closer to regaining their Irish League title.

It all started with the visit to the Brandywell on Tuesday night. The tie was finally poised at 1-1 following the first leg in Belfast, and both sides approached the match confident of progression.

Despite taking a deserved first half lead through Philip Lowry, the Blues fell apart in the last 20 minutes and conceded three late goals to seal their fate.

For the first hour Linfield played with the aura of champions and were in firm control of the game.

The whole team played with a passion and tempo which their hosts struggled to deal with and in particular Michael Carvill, Albert Watson, Michael Gault and William Murphy were individually magnificent.

But the commanding Watson suffered a head injury on the hour mark and had to be substituted off, which proved to be the turning point. David Jeffrey’s side lost the initiative and Derry City sensed that their tiring visitors were vulnerable.

Halfway through the second half Derry equalised through captain Barry Molloy’s header, and ten minutes later Stephen McLaughlin gave them the lead with a rasping shot past Blayney.

The Blues pushed for a late equaliser which would have put them through on away goals, but this was not forthcoming. Indeed, it was the home side who put the icing on the cake with a breakaway goal in the 93rd minute to end Linfield’s Setanta dreams for yet another year.

The result also meant that the Blues have only won once in their last 13 matches in the competition – surely a cause for concern for manager David Jeffrey.

What this tie did show was that Linfield were at least equals to Derry, and had it not been for a slight lack of luck and tiring legs, they could easily be the team in the semi-finals. As it is, Linfield now have to focus on domestic honours.

Much has been said of the League of Ireland’s superiority to their Irish League counterparts but this tie conveyed that the gap between the top clubs in each league is non-existent.

 

Progressed

Three Irish League clubs have progressed in matches against Southern opposition this season alone – Glentoran defeating Bray, Cliftonville overcoming St Patrick’s and Crusaders knocking Bohemians out in midweek.

The only cup competition remaining for Linfield is now the Irish Cup, but this was hit by yet more controversy last Thursday when the Blues’ semi-final against either Ballymena United or Newry City was postponed due to the eligibility row over Sky Blues striker Alan Davidson. Ballymena have appealed against their expulsion from the competition.

The original game was set to take place this coming Saturday, but this is a row which looks to rumble on and on. The other semi-final between Dungannon Swifts and Crusaders will still take place on Saturday.

The only thing that does look certain at this moment is Linfield retaining the league trophy, as they brushed aside Lisburn Distillery 3-0 last Saturday.

Goals from Michael Carvill, Peter Thompson and Daryl Fordyce ensured that the Blues only need four more points from the remaining five league fixtures to win their 51st crown.

It was a stroll in the park for the visitors as the Whites offered little resistance and were no match for the champions.

Jim Ervin’s whipped cross, on the 12th minute, was hammered into the net by Michael Carvill – this goal was significant as it was Linfield’s 100th goal of the campaign.

Linfield were completely dominant and the only surprise of the opening half was that they didn’t add to their solitary goal.

 

No surprise

Therefore it was no surprise when the predatory Peter Thompson notched his 15th goal of the season on the hour mark following a mix-up in the home side’s defence before Daryl Fordyce completed the win with ten minutes left.

This was the last game before the league split and with five games to go Linfield’s stranglehold of the Irish League looks set to continue.

They face home games against Portadown, Cliftonville and Coleraine, before travelling to Crusaders for the penultimate game of the season, then round the league campaign off with a home tie against Glentoran.

Four points against Portadown and Cliftonville would seal the title, although if either the Ports or the Reds slip up then this total may not even be required.

 

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