Carroll (GK), Haughey, Stafford, Callacher, M.Clarke, Casement (Millar 81’), Mulgrew ©, Lowry, Quinn, Burns (Stewart 76’), Waterworth (Ward 87’)
Burke (GK), Cosgrove, Ramsey, McGovern ©, Ives, S.Garrett, Curran, Winchester (McNicholl 65’), M.Donnelly (R.Lavery 65’), J.Donnelly, D.Hughes (Bonner 65’)
It was a day to remember in North Belfast as Linfield ended a five-year wait to bring the Gibson Cup back to Windsor, securing the Club’s 52nd Irish League title. The Blues showed their mettle once again to come from behind and showed no signs of nerves when so much was at stake.
The Reds took the lead on 13 minutes when Daniel Hughes wriggled free to nod into the corner from Tomas Cosgrove’s right wing cross.
Linfield almost responded within minutes when Quinn and Clarke combined before Clarke fizzed in a low cross which neither Burns or Waterworth could get on the end of.
Cliftonville almost inflicted further damage when Chris Curran connected sweetly with a left-footed volley, however Roy Carroll got down brilliantly to tip the effort around the post.
A golden chance went begging on 27 minutes when Mark Haughey’s inswinging cross was headed over by Andy Waterworth from 15 yards.
Jude Winchester curled wide with the final effort of the half as Linfield went into the break trailing and knowing they had to respond if they were to win the league.
Half Time: Cliftonville 1 – 0 Linfield
Within a minute of the restart, Linfield got the equaliser that put them back on track. Chris Casement floated in a corner which was headed towards goal by Stafford, and Waterworth eventually fired into the corner from close range.
Cometh the man, cometh the occasion, Andy Waterworth set off on his way and there was no stopping him, bursting past McGovern, holding off the defender and slotting the ball expertly into the far corner. Individual brilliance from a man who puts his heart and soul into every game he plays in the royal blue jersey.
Waterworth then earned Linfield a penalty when he turned Ramsey inside the box and the latter hauled him down. Ramsey was sent marching and Andy Waterworth, as cool as a cucumber, stepped up to slot the ball down the middle for a hat-trick.
Aaron Burns almost got in on the act when Clarke’s cross found its way through to him via Niall Quinn but Burns poked marginally wide.
Many congratulations to David Healy, his players and his management team. They could have downed tools when nine points behind Crusaders in February and kept fighting all the way. With just one defeat in 2017 and 19 wins from 20 it’s fair to say it’s a hard earned and well deserved success. Fortune most certainly favoured the brave. A special mention must go to the Linfield supporters who were like a 12th man today.
Full Time: Cliftonville 1 – 3 Linfield
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Andy Waterworth