Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorers :
Niall Quinn 70', Jimmy Callacher 90+2'
Crusaders Scorer :
Phil Lowry 86'
Linfield Yellow Card :
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Mark Haughey, Ross Larkin (Mark Stafford 63’), Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Kirk Millar (Navid Nasseri 66’), Jamie Mulgrew ©, Kyle McClean, Joel Cooper, Jordan Stewart (Andy Waterworth 79’), Shayne Lavery
Linfield Subs not used :
Alex Moore (GK), Matthew Clarke, Conor Pepper, Christy Manzinga
Crusaders Team :
Johnny Tuffey (GK), Billy Joe Burns, Chris Hegarty, Aidan Wilson, Jarlath O’Rourke, Jordan Forsythe, Philip Lowry, Declan Caddell, Paul Heatley, Adam Lecky (Jordan Owens 74’), Ben Kennedy (Jamie McGonigle 74’)
Crusaders Subs not used :
Neil Shields (GK), Robbie Weir, David Cushley, Michael Ruddy, Daniel Larmour
Linfield’s old mantra of ‘Fortune Favours The Brave’ stood them in good stead this evening as they somehow managed to leave Seaview with three points with the help of some good fortune, goal-line clearances, great saves and a dramatic injury time winner by Jimmy Callacher.
Even without what would normally have been a packed stadium, the game was a typically tense Seaview affair. Crusaders were up for it from the first whistle and put early pressure on Linfield who had to defend a series of corners. Chris Johns kicked off a strong individual performance when he had to be alert to race out quickly when Phillip Lowry slotted a through ball into the running path of Declan Caddell who was advancing beyond a high defensive line, and the goalkeeper got there first to intercept. Niall Quinn also made an important block to deny Jordan Forsythe who shot from inside the box early on.
A prime example as to why Crusaders will be scratching their heads at this result could be seen in the 28th minute of the game. The Crues worked the ball out right for Jordan Forsythe who picked out Declan Caddell in the middle and the midfielder looked certain to score as he looked to pick out the bottom corner but Chris Johns made a terrific reflex save, getting down quickly to his right. Paul Heatley looked certain to then convert the rebound, and he hammered a low shot at goal from close range only to see Ross Larkin make a wonderful goalline clearance.
There was real initial concern over Ross Larkin who suffered a nasty collision with the post but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as first feared and both Ross and the post were okay! The big defender then nearly had a chance minutes later when Mark Haughey headed Kirk Millar’s corner back across goal but Larkin couldn’t quite get on the end of it.
Two chances for Crusaders came late in the half with Paul Heatley fired a low shot a yard past the post and then Jordan Forsythe burst into the box and after controlling the ball with his chest he hooked the ball over from close range.
Half Time: Crusaders 0 – 0 Linfield
Crusaders came out of the traps quickly again the second half and Linfield had to withstand pressure. Marauding full-back Billy Joe Burns set off on a run from deep and things just seemed to open up for him to the extent that it looked that he was clean through on goal, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, the tireless Kyle McClean got back to put a vital foot in.
Burns was involved as Crusaders threatened again as he got high up the right flank and Adam Lecky spread the ball out wide. Many were anticipating a trademark cross into the box, but instead Burns showed good awareness to pull the ball back to Ben Kennedy who connected well but fired straight at Chris Johns.
Then followed another top save from Chris Johns. After a battle inside the Linfield box, the ball dropped for Paul Heatley who is no stranger to a spectacular volley. This one wasn’t far out, but the technique was good and he got real venom on it but Johns reacted brilliantly to palm the ball over his crossbar. Again, however, Crusaders will wonder how they didn’t score. From the resulting corner, Johns then saved Aidan Wilson’s header.
Stephen Baxter and his men would have feared it wasn’t going to be their night after another goalline clearance. This time Philip Lowry had time and space just inside the box and he hit the ball sweetly, only for the retreating Kyle McClean to clear off the line with a great piece of instinctive defending.
Then on 70 minutes the deadlock was broken in remarkable fashion. The fact alone that it was Linfield who drew first blood was a surprise on the basis of chances created. Even more surprising was how it happened, and even the goal scorer Niall Quinn was shocked to see his corner go directly into the net over the head of Crusaders’ newly-signed goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey with the help of a breeze in north Belfast.
The Hatchetmen rallied again in search of a leveller. Talisman Jordan Owens – not fit to start after a knock for the Crues in their midweek fixture – was introduced off the bench and he was ready to head at goal when Paul Heatley swung a cross over but just as he tensed his neck muscles, Linfield’s Mark Haughey got a crucial glancing header in ahead of him. Jamie Mulgrew also produced a great defensive header from the following corner, and soon after Jordan Forsythe fired a 25 yard free-kick just over the bar.
Crusaders did bag what was a deserved equaliser in the 86th minute. A corner by Paul Heatley was put in on top of the goalkeeper’s crowded goalmouth and Philip Lowry seemed to get the telling touch.
Both teams were pushing for a winner and Navid Nasseri had a golden chance in the 89th minute when he was teed up with time and space on the edge of the box but he was unable to hit the target.
Then came the telling sucker-punch as Linfield grabbed a dramatic winner. Ironically, it might well have been the Blues’ first shot on target, yet their second goal of the night. Joel Cooper produced some real quality to beat Billy Joe Burns before hanging up a superb cross to the back post and Jimmy Callacher – who surged up from the back as a reflection of Linfield’s desire to win the game despite withstanding so much pressure – rose so well to head the ball into the corner in the second of three additional minutes. It was just a shame that for obvious reasons, a packed away end of Linfield supporters weren’t there to see it as the stands would have erupted with jubilation.
Full Time: Crusaders 1 – 2 Linfield