Chris Johns (GK), Ross Larkin, Mark Stafford, Matthew Clarke, Kirk Millar (Niall Quinn 73’), Jamie Mulgrew ©, Stephen Fallon, Navid Nasseri, Joel Cooper, Jordan Stewart (Christy Manzinga 65’), Shayne Lavery (Andy Waterworth 65’)
Jacob Carney (GK), Greg Hall, Paul Finnegan, Nathan Kerr, Kevin Healy, Ben Tilney, Barney McKeown, Oisin Conalty, Sam Warde (George Tipton 66’), Ben Guy (Ruairi Croskery 73’), Lee Bonis (Stephen Murray 47’)
A Shayne Lavery hat-trick helped steer Linfield to a comfortable 3-0 win over Portadown in the Danske Bank Premiership at a very rainy Windsor Park this evening.
The Blues – playing an attacking 3-4-2-1 - took the lead after 14 minutes. As has been so often the case recently, Jordan Stewart was involved as he showed great footwork to make way for a lofted cross which he duly delivered on the money for Shayne Lavery to head home from ten yards out.
The striker was very much the danger man for Linfield and he was almost found by Stephen Fallon’s threaded pass following a surging run out from the back again by Ross Larkin, but the goalkeeper made an alert interception. Lavery also showed good movement in the middle and when Navid Nasseri got a cross in from the left it was just over the striker’s head slightly, otherwise it would have been a carbon copy of the opening goal.
Mark Stafford – making just his sixth appearance of the season – was very unlucky not to score for Linfield. No stranger to a set-piece goal, the big defender attacked Kirk Millar’s corner purposefully with a diving header which struck the crossbar.
Navid Nasseri should have put Linfield two up with a golden opportunity. Shayne Lavery raced onto a loose backpass before turning and squaring the ball for Nasseri who was about ten yards out but he sidefooted a shot wide of goal.
Thankfully for Linfield, the second goal arrived three minutes before half time. It wasn’t a massive surprise that it came from Lavery who led the line so well in his 65 minutes on the pitch. It was a good goal as Lavery ran at the Portadown backline before curling a right footed shot which took a nick off a Portadown defender to loop into the far top corner from just inside the box.
Shortly after the second goal and just before the interval, Linfield had a penalty shout waved away when Shayne Lavery ran at the back line and he looked like getting a shot away before Paul Finnegan went to ground with a tackle, but in hindsight it looked a great tackle as he got the ball.
Half Time: Linfield 2 – 0 Portadown
Kirk Millar threatened twice amidst a lively start to the second half by David Healy’s team. Firstly, Cooper passed to Nasseri who played the ball onto Fallon and he teed up Millar for a shot which flew just over from the edge of the box. Soon after, the right winger stormed down the pitch before cutting inside and after a few stepovers he fired wide with his left foot from inside the box.
Jordan Stewart almost continued his fine goalscoring form after a neat move as Joel Cooper – who was making his first start since his January loan switch from Oxford United – played the ball out right to Kirk Millar and the winger put in a great cross for Jordan Stewart whose close range shot struck the crossbar.
The Blues made it three on 59 minutes. Shayne Lavery spread the ball out right to Kirk Millar who returned the favour with a nice reversed pass and Shayne Lavery had a lot shot well saved before Joel Cooper’s follow-up was headed off the line and then it was a case of third time lucky as Shayne Lavery fired the ball in from close range to clinch his hat-trick.
Shayne Lavery almost added a fourth with his last touch of the game before being substituted after a good night’s work. Kirk Millar put in a delightful cross which Lavery beat the goalkeeper to in the air but was unfortunate as his header dropped the wrong side of the post.
With Linfield 3-0 up and comfortable it was a further opportunity for David Healy to rotate his squad and that allowed Christy Manzinga to get 25 minutes in his legs and he’ll hope that’s just the start after a frustrating season to date with injuries and suspension. Similarly, Joel Cooper will have benefited from playing the full 90 minutes.
Manzinga looked lively upon his introduction and immediately went on a solo run down the left with plenty of pace and purpose before eventually being smothered out of it by the goalkeeper. Cooper also went close after a trademark run from deep before seeing his low drive well saved by Portadown goalkeeper Jacob Carney who is on loan from Manchester United.
Cooper also put in a good cross from deep for Andy Waterworth whose header was saved and Niall Quinn also drew a good save from the goalkeeper with a 20 yard free-kick late on which was pushed away at full stretch.
It was a strong Linfield performance, dominating the ball and not giving Portadown any real chances despite no less than six changes to the team which lost 4-3 away to Cliftonville last week and that will give David Healy a positive selection headache ahead of a very tough trip to Seaview to take on title challengers Crusaders this Saturday evening.
Full Time: Linfield 3 – 0 Portadown