Chris Johns (GK), Mark Haughey, Mark Stafford, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Stephen Fallon, Jamie Mulgrew ©, Kirk Millar (Navid Nasseri 78’), Jordan Stewart (Andy Waterworth 69’), Joel Cooper (Christy Manzinga 78’), Shayne Lavery
Conor Mitchell (GK), Tomas Cosgrove, Albert Watson, Josh Robinson, Dean Jarvis, Jeff Hughes (c), Fuad Sule, Mark Randall (Lee Lynch 76’), John Herron, Ronan Hale (David McDaid 64’), Dylan Mottley-Henry (Johnny McMurray 23’)
Linfield suffered a rare home defeat this afternoon, inflicted on them by former player Josh Robinson who netted a late winner for Larne. Another former player, Conor Mitchell, was in inspired form in the Larne goal as The Blues’ title quest continues.
The first half was a dull enough affair despite the intentions of both teams being to play good technical football. It was often like a sparring match with both teams reluctant to over commit, understandably. Larne were also well set up defensively with a 5-3-2 shape.
Larne were the first team to threaten when they broke on the counter attack through Mark Randall who saw time and space to get a shot away from 20 yards. The former Arsenal midfielder aimed for the bottom corner but Chris Johns made a good diving save to his left.
The visitors were then forced into an early change as forward Dylan Mottley-Henry went down after a challenge and was unable to recover from it. He limped off gingerly and was replaced by striker Johnny McMurray.
A Larne corner fell kindly for Josh Robinson at close range and he looked like he was certain to score, but Stephen Fallon did superbly to do enough and stop Robinson pulling the trigger. The former Linfield defender claimed for a penalty but it was a good challenge and his appeals were waved away.
Linfield started to go up the gears as the half went on. Joel Cooper flashed a 20 yard shot wide before the best chance of the half came for Shayne Lavery, whose darting run in behind was found by Niall Quinn. He got into a good area inside the box but he fired a shot over the box and given the form he’s been in he will be disappointed not to have scored.
The last action of the half saw Mark Stafford rise well at the back post to meet a deep corner delivery by Kirk Millar but the big defender’s header flashed wide of goal.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 0 Larne
The Blues started the second half well and a top save denied them from taking the lead on 52 minutes. Kirk Millar found Joel Cooper at the back post and he headed the ball across brilliantly for Shayne Lavery who looked certain to score and didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but Larne goalkeeper Conor Mitchell somehow kept his close range header out with a block.
However, Larne took the lead on 58 minutes. A hopeful volley from Mark Randall took a deflection off Mark Stafford and Chris Johns could only parry as Ronan Hale was alert to nip in and fire home the rebound.
Linfield had another golden chance to score when Stephen Fallon nipped in after two Larne players collided and the midfielder put Shayne Lavery through on goal, but again the striker was denied by a big save by Conor Mitchell who made himself big to block with his chest.
Mark Stafford was very unfortunate when he met Kirk Millar’s corner and his header went agonisingly wide of the post and it seemed like the ball just wouldn’t go in.
Finally, on 85 minutes, Linfield found their leveller. A corner from Kirk Millar was cleared only as far as Niall Quinn who was 25 yards out. The left back took a touch and rifled a half-volley into the bottom corner – a great strike and a deserved equaliser.
Things got a bit frantic after that. A point effectively would have won the title for Linfield, but three points would have clinched it mathematically. On the other hand, Larne want to finish in the top three and both teams were going all out to try and win the game. And that’s what Larne went on to do as former Linfield defender Josh Robinson scored an 89th minute winner, poking home after Albert Watson flicked on Lee Lynch’s corner.
The Blues remain in pole position in the title race. Glentoran can no longer win it, whilst Linfield lead Coleraine by five points with two matches remaining. However, the two sides meet in their next league game on Tuesday week at the Coleraine Showgrounds. A point is what Linfield will require on the night and if they’re beaten they’ll need to go to Solitude and get a point against Cliftonville on the last day. First and foremost, though, is this Tuesday’s Irish Cup semi-final against Ballymena in Lurgan.
Man of the match selected by the ball sponsor - Chris Johns
Full Time: Linfield 1 – 2 Larne