Chris Johns (GK), Michael Newberry (Ross Larkin 66’), Mark Haughey, Jimmy Callacher, Matthew Clarke, Cammy Palmer, Niall Quinn, Kirk Millar, Navid Nasseri (Christy Manzinga 74’), Jordan Stewart, Andy Waterworth
Alex Moore, Conor Pepper, Joshua Archer, Ewan McCoubrey, Jack Montgomery
Jacob Carney (GK), Nathan Kerr, Greg Hall, Adam McCallum (Ben Guy 90'), Ben Tilney, Chris Lavery (Barney McKeown 84'), George Tipton (Ruairi Croskery 84'), Luke Wilson (C), Stephen Teggart, Lee Bonis, Adam Salley
Linfield had to dig deep to record a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Portadown at a windy Shamrock Park this afternoon.
The decisive goal came after ten minutes. Portadown should have cleared their lines from a Kirk Millar corner but defender Ben Tilney got it wrong as he headed the ball back into the danger zone. Then there was a goalmouth scramble with Mark Haughey and Andy Waterworth trying to convert before Jordan Stewart blasted the ball in from close range.
The Blues had been unlucky not to take the lead a few minutes before that, when Andy Waterworth got a glancing header on a corner from Kirk Millar, only to see his shot hooked off the line by defender Nathan Kerr with a helpless goalkeeper watching on.
Talented attacker Jordan Stewart was again involved as David Healy’s men almost doubled their lead just four minutes after the opener. Stewart led the counter-attack, slipping the ball to Navid Nasseri who beat full-back Ben Tilney before teeing up Andy Waterworth who was denied by a good save at close range but the Ports’ on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Jacob Carney.
Just as was the case against Carrick Rangers a few weeks ago, Jordan Stewart was very unlucky not to score a spectacular goal as he attempt to chip a goalkeeper who was hardly even off his line and he saw his effort land on the roof of the net from 25 yards.
A neat move called the home goalkeeper into action again when Navid Nasseri switched the play to Matthew Clarke and the left back put in a good cross, with Andy Waterworth getting across the front to meet it with a header which Carney was able to grasp.
Then came a moment of controversy nine minutes before the break. Michael Newberry got up the pitch from right back and put in a great cross for Andy Waterworth to head in what would and should have been Linfield’s second goal. However, the linesman adjudged the ball to have gone out of play as Newberry went to cross it, and The Blues can feel hard done by. A second goal would have made a very difficult second half a bit easier to navigate.
Although Linfield dominated the first half, Portadown did have chances of their own. Stephen Taggart forced a good low save out of Chris Johns with a 25 yard drive early on. Taggart also led a Ports counter and slipped it to Adam Salley as the strike drove into the box before hitting the side netting with a strong shot.
The Ports also caused a bit of brief panic in the Linfield defence with a corner which wasn’t fully dealt with and Adam McCallum had an awkward header pushed out from under the crossbar by Chris Johns, who also had to be alert late in the half when Lee Bonis smartly flicked Adam Salley’s low cross goalwards and the goalkeeper pushed it around the post.
Half Time: Portadown 0 – 1 Linfield
The second half was a tough battle with Linfield playing against a strong breeze. Some hesitant defending presented it a good opportunity for Portadown as Ben Tilney got the ball in a good position in the box but the reliable Jimmy Callacher critically cut out his pull-back which was going to tee up striker Lee Bonis.
It became a very physical encounter and picking up second balls was key. There was little Linfield could do when Lee Bonis took up a good position to be picked up by a Stephen Taggart cross and the striker controlled the ball with his chest before volleying not far wide.
When Linfield visited Shamrock Park earlier in the season, Andy Waterworth scored the winner after being picked out by a Kirk Millar cross and an identical goal was nearly scored in this game. It would have given The Blues a bit of insurance but Waterworth was just short of getting on the end of it after the excellent-as-ever Cammy Palmer started the move with a great tackle and pass.
Linfield received a boost by the return from injury of Christy Manzinga and he was introduced with around 15 minutes to go. The striker showed good movement and looked a threat running in behind which helped Linfield relieve more pressure in the closing stages.
The second goal just would not come. Ross Larkin was next to threaten and he did everything right, getting a diving header onto Kirk Millar’s free-kick delivery, only to see Jacob Carney make a great save down low to his left.
Mark Haughey then went close when he was picked out by a wicked Niall Quinn free-kick delivery from wide right, but the big defender saw his header go just over and given the pace and close proximity of the free-kick, it was a hard one to get over.
As you’d expect, Portadown applied some late pressure with a few late set-piece deliveries but Linfield stood tall. David Healy spoke ahead of Linfield’s previous trip to Shamrock Park about picking players ‘for the trenches’ and his players certainly showed great battling qualities in tough conditions to get an important win on the road. A rarity nowadays, Linfield now have a week to prepare for the next game, with a rare Tuesday without a game. This will give the squad a bit of respite after eight games in a month. 16 year-old Ewan McCoubrey and Jack Montgomery - who turned 17 last week - both had a day to remember as they were called up from the Swifts to make the bench alongside Joshua Archer.
Full Time: Portadown 0 – 1 Linfield