Roy Carroll (GK), Casement, Robinson, Callacher, M Clarke, Mulgrew (C), Fallon (Mitchell 68), Millar (Garrett 90+1), J Stewart, Quinn, Waterworth (O'Connor 72)
Linfield ended 2018 on a high with a professional performance and victory away to Cliftonville at Solitude this afternoon.
Cliftonville almost took the lead after just nine minutes when Chris Curran slipped in Rory Donnelly. The former Swansea City and Gillingham striker went past Callacher before shooting from close range, only to be denied by an excellent Roy Carroll save. The ball came back out for Joe Gormley who looked certain to score from 10 yards but Matthew Clarke threw his body on the line to make an exceptional goal-saving block as the ball flew over the crossbar for a corner.
A long ball over the top caused Cliftonville problems and Jordan Stewart latched onto a loose ball but Damien McNulty met his shot with an important block. Stewart retained possession to fire across a ball with venom on it but it was just too far ahead of Kirk Millar. Millar retrieved the ball and whipped in a dangerous cross to the back post but Jamie Harney defended it well for the Reds.
The Blues’ biggest chance of the half came on 31 minutes when Jordan Stewart’s cross made its way through to Niall Quinn, who took a touch before drilling a strike just wide of the post.
The opening goal in the game arrived seven minutes later, however. Kirk Millar dinked in a smart cross and one of the smallest men on the pitch nodded home as Jordan Stewart claimed a deserved goal. Richard Brush seemed to get a fingertip to it, but it wasn’t enough as the ball sneaked in off the post. Replays suggest the ball might have came off Chris Curran in the process.
Barry Gray’s men almost levelled within moments when Ruairi Harkin floated in a cross and Rory Donnelly got up well, but his header struck the post.
Half Time: Cliftonville 0 – 1 Linfield
The first half was a good even contest and the next goal was going to be important. Thankfully for Linfield, they grabbed it – just 79 seconds into the second half. Jordan Stewart’s intelligent pass in behind gave Waterworth something to chase and the striker used his pace to nip in ahead of a Cliftonville defender and onrushing goalkeeper Richard Brush to knock the ball towards goal and Niall Quinn raced in to score the easiest of goals, tucking the ball into an open goal.
The Blues then started to keep possession very well and it was another 12 minutes before Cliftonville would have an effort at goal again, as Harkin’s driven shot flew straight into Roy Carroll’s arms.
Linfield were reduced to ten men on 77 minutes, just when they were looking comfortable. Michael O’Connor had only been on the pitch for five minutes before being dismissed for two cheap yellow cards, including a second for reacting to Damien McNulty off the ball.
The red card gave Cliftonville and their fans renewed optimism and substitute Ryan Curran had a good strike well saved on 83 minutes. The winger cut inside before unleashing a powerful strike but Roy Carroll dived expertly to push it away.
Man of the Match - Jordan Stewart
Full Time: Cliftonville 0 – 2 Linfield