Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorers :
Jordan Stewart 12', Jamie Mulgrew 65', Kirk Millar 90+3'
Cliftonville Scorers :
Michael McCrudden 17', Conor McMenamin 72', 81', Ryan Curran 89'
Linfield Yellow Card :
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Conor Pepper, Jimmy Callacher, Mark Haughey, Niall Quinn, Kyle McClean (Stephen Fallon 65’), Jamie Mulgrew ©, Kirk Millar, Jordan Stewart, Navid Nasseri (Joel Cooper 65’), Andy Waterworth (Shayne Lavery 79’)
Linfield Subs not used :
Alex Moore (GK), Matthew Clarke, Ross Larkin, Daniel Kearns
Cliftonville Team :
Richard Brush (GK), Chris Curran ©, Jamie Harney, Garry Breen, Aaron Donnelly, Liam Bagnall, Ronan Doherty, Rory Hale, Conor McMenamin (Eoin Teggart 84’), Michael McCrudden (Daire O’Connor 78’), Ryan Curran
Linfield were on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller at Solitude this evening, losing to Cliftonville at their patch for the first time since 2017. The Blues led twice but will reflect on some generous defending which let the game slip away.
The tempo of the match was high from the first whistle and indicative of the match in store. After a bright start which saw multiple corners cleared, Linfield made the breakthrough after twelve minutes when Jamie Mulgrew burst forward in trademark fashion before slipping the ball to Jordan Stewart in an inside right position and the attacker continued his brilliant run of form with a deadly strike into the far corner past Cliftonville goalkeeper Aaron McCarey.
Cliftonville responded with an equalising goal five minutes later when Rory Hale got beyond the Linfield defender to make room for a cross which he delivered low across goal and Reds striker Michael McCrudden said thank you very much to tap home from close range.
The Blues responded well and spent much of the remainder of the first half camped in the Cliftonville half of the pitch. Threatening to add a second, Jamie Mulgrew burst forward again and slipped the ball to Navid Nasseri in a similar to fashion to how the opener was created, but when Nasseri set the ball for Jordan Stewart to fire across goal the ball went untouched.
Although Linfield dominated the first half, the final effort of the half came for Cliftonville on the break. It was another nice pattern of attacking play on the break which ended with Rory Hale back-flicking the ball for Conor McMenamin who fired into the side netting from a tight angle.
Half Time: Cliftonville 1 – 1 Linfield
The second half brought out more intent from Cliftonville as an attacking force as they started the half on the front foot. The Blues failed to deal with a corner and Conor McMenamin latched onto the ball before hammering the ball in low and after Niall Quinn’s crucial initial block Linfield eventually scrambled the ball clear. Soon after, Jimmy Callacher came up with a great individual piece of defending when Chris Curran deep delivery was header back into the danger area by Rory Hale and had Jimmy not leapt at full stretch to get a vital head to it, a Cliftonville attacker would surely have pounced to put the Reds ahead.
Then Linfield retook the lead on 65 minutes from an unlikely source. Jamie Mulgrew stepped in to make a great interception in midfield before taking on a 25 yard shot which flew past Aaron McCarey with the help of a deflection.
The Reds went up the other end and almost levelled instantly. Chris Curran whipped in an excellent delivery to Chris Curran with the Reds attacker free at the back post and his header was heading in only for Mark Haughey to head the ball off the line.
Unfortunately for Linfield, Cliftonville would find their leveller as The Blues let their lead slip again, and just like after their opener, the lead only lasted seven minutes. It was a slack goal to concede from a simple long ball which Conor McMenamin beat Conor Pepper to before bustling his way into the box and firing a shot into the corner.
And then the Reds got their noses ahead with a third on 81 minutes. Frustratingly for Linfield, it was very similar to the equaliser as they couldn’t deal with a long ball and again McMenamin took advantage by nipping in before squeeing a shot past Chris Johns who got a hand to it.
With the game tensely poised going into the final five minutes, Linfield put the pressure on as expected in search of a leveller. Stephen Fallon burst into the box and beyond Cliftonville defender Jamie Harney who was wrong side and seemed to put an arm into the back of Fallon who hit the deck but referee Raymond Crangle deemed it not strong enough contact to warrant a spotkick which would have offered Linfield a golden chance to level.
The Reds scored what proved to be the insurance goal on 89 minutes, catching Linfield on the break. Substitute Daire O’Connor take up an opportunity to run at Mark Haughey in the box before managing to squeeze a cross in which he pulled back perfectly for striker Ryan Curran to latch on to before a cool low finish to make it 4-2.
The Blues pulled one back in the third of four additional minutes and what a strike it was as Kirk Millar offered a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately for Linfield it was too little too late, but Millar’s free-kick must have been from the best bit of 30 yards out and he finessed it into the far corner – wonderful technique.
One positive for Linfield was that Joel Cooper played 25 minutes off the bench on his second Linfield debut following his January loan switch from Oxford United and showed glimpses of his undoubted quality and Linfield will look to get him back up to peak sharpness.
Full Time: Cliftonville 4 – 3 Linfield