Chris Johns (GK), Conor Pepper, Mark Haughey, Jimmy Callacher, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew © (Bastien Hery 45’), Kyle McClean, Niall Quinn, Kirk Millar, Jordan Stewart (Navid Nasseri 68’), Andy Waterworth (Shayne Lavery 80’)
Linfield’s first league visit to Shamrock Park in Portadown for four years brought exactly the type of hard-fought battle that was anticipated, but thanks to goals from Kirk Millar and Andy Waterworth, the Blues took the three points after an eventful 90 minutes to make it four wins from four league games.
Newly-promoted Portadown could have and probably should have taken the lead after ten minutes when they took a short corner to the unmarked Chris Crane who put in a superb cross for captain Luke Wilson who fired against the post with a free header and fortunately for Linfield, the ball then rolled into the arms of Chris Johns. It was a stroke of good fortune as the Blues switched off at the corner.
Linfield’s first chance fell for Andy Waterworth who was picked out in the box by a lobbed pass by Matthew Clarke. The striker took the ball down on his chest and it sat up nicely for a volley but his attempted lob went over the bar. It was a chance, but by no means an easy one to execute.
The game’s opening goal came on 24 minutes when a cross was punched out by Ports goalkeeper Ben Pierce, but only as far as Kyle McClean on the edge of the box and he showed composure and vision to tee up Kirk Millar who was in a more central position on the edge of the box. Millar shot with the outside of his foot as he tried to bend a shot in and it took a big deflection off defender Chris Crane which gave the goalkeeper no chance.
Portadown looked lively and had a few further half chances. Linfield tried a free-kick routine which was a good idea but not executed as hoped which allowed Portadown to break before Lee Bonis fired wide. Chris Crane also put in another great cross as fellow full-back Greg Hall met it well at the back post but he headed it just wide. Going in at the break Matthew Tipton would have been happy enough. The Portadown goalkeeper had little to do up to then and both teams were knocking the ball about nicely.
Half Time: Portadown 0 – 1 Linfield
The Blues had been boosted by the return of captain Jamie Mulgrew after a few weeks out injured but he was unable to carry on after half time and had to be replaced by Bastien Hery.
Linfield started the second half well but couldn’t find a second. Jordan Stewart forced a smart save from Ben Pierce with a dipping strike from 20 yards and almost provided good opportunities soon after. However, it was Portadown who would make the net bustle. It was a well worked equaliser on 53 minutes as the ball was shifted left to Chris Lavery and his cross was superb, with a header to match from Lee Bonis who found the corner.
Portadown’s tails were up before a dramatic few minutes in the game. The Ports were reduced to ten men when Chris Crane cynically brought down Niall Quinn who’d beaten him on the edge of the box. Crane received his second yellow, having been booked in the first half for a similar challenge on Conor Pepper.
And then just a minute later, Linfield were reduced to ten men! A bit of a scuffle broke out in the middle of the pitch involving a number of players before Bastien Hery pushed opposing midfielder George Tipton in the back of the head and was subsequently sent off. Having the substitute sent off was far from ideal, especially after Mulgrew’s knock and Stephen Fallon’s suspension. Kyle McClean, however, continues to shine in midfield; superb yet again.
Linfield went to a 4-4-1 with Niall Quinn slotting into the middle and Jordan Stewart going out left and David Healy’s adaptation in game paid dividends as the ball was switched out right to Kirk Millar and his execution and vision was on the money as he picked out Andy Waterworth in the middle and the striker finished brilliantly, first time on his left foot, roof of the net.
The striker also had a penalty appeal turned away soon after and had it been given, it could have made the closing stages a lot more comfortable for Linfield. Waterworth surged into the box and appeared to beat a defender to the ball before going down but his appeals were turned down under a challenge.
Substitute Navid Nasseri was so unlucky on two separate occasions not to score. Twice, he cut inside the box and when he looked certain to score, Ports defenders produced two great blocks to keep it out. Shortly after, Kirk Millar curled a neat effort on his left foot against the post.
The last ten minutes were not good for the ticker as Portadown piled on the pressure and goodness only knows how they didn’t score on two separate occasions. A deep free-kick came in and Patrick McNally rose well at the back post and looked certain to score, but Chris Johns appeared to get a hand to it before Mark Haughey cleared off the line. In the closing moments, the ball dropped five yards from Linfield’s goal and someone in a line of Linfield shirts produced a great block before Lee Bonis scuffed his shot wide.
Full Time: Portadown 1 – 2 Linfield