21st December 2021
Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorer :
Christy Manzinga 76'
Linfield Yellow Cards :
Michael Newberry, Cameron Palmer
Ballymena United Yellow Cards :
Ross Redman, Douglas Wilson, Kenneth Kane
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Trai Hume, Michael Newberry, Jimmy Callacher (C), Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Kyle McClean (Cameron Palmer 67’), Ahmed Salam, Jordan Stewart, Martin Donnelly (Jamie Mulgrew 67’), Christy Manzinga (Andrew Clarke 77’)
Linfield Subs not used :
David Walsh, Sam Roscoe, Joshua Archer, Adam Carroll
Ballymena United Team :
Jordan Williamson (GK), Andy McGrory (Daniel Bramall 88’), Christopher Rodgers (Sean Graham 77’), Douglas Wilson, Ross Redman, Steven McCullough, Leroy Millar, Brendan Barr, Kenneth Kane (Ryan Waide 77’), Paul McElroy, David Parkhouse
Ballymena United Subs not used :
Samuel Johnston (GK), Lee Chapman, Jack Henderson, Jonte Smith
Linfield tonight returned to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership as the season reached the halfway stage with a deserved 1-0 victory over Ballymena United at Windsor Park as Christy Manzinga’s eventual breakthrough goal made the difference.
In the fourth minute came the first effort of the game as Christy Manzinga was found by Michael Newberry’s accurate ball over the top into the channel and the striker teed up the supporting Matthew Clarke whose low shot from the left was saved by the goalkeeper. Clarke also threatened a few minutes later when he was picked out in the box by Jordan Stewart but this time the left back’s shot was well blocked by Chris Rodgers.
Ballymena’s first chance came after 16 minutes when overlapping full-back Ross Redman picked out Paul McElroy in the box and the ball sat up perfectly for a half-volley, however the United forward scuffed his effort over the bar.
Martin Donnelly forced a good save from visiting goalkeeper Jordan Williamson a minute later. Ahmed Salam created the chance when he beat a man out right before teeing up Donnelly whose low shot from 20 yards was tipped away from goal when it was heading for the corner.
A superb last ditch challenge from Ballymena’s Steven McCullough then denied the Blues after Michael Newberry won the ball high up the pitch before looking to slide the ball through to the surging Trai Hume inside the box, but McCullough put in a great sliding tackle as Hume went to pull the trigger.
There were two big appeals within a minute. Christy Manzinga beat several men before going down inside the box but the defender who put a foot out – Douglas Wilson - was adjudged to have won the ball. There was an opportunity a moment later for United to break as striker Kenneth Kane to use his pace and run beyond Kyle McClean who was the last man. Kane ultimately took a heavy touch and Chris Johns did well to pounce but United felt that McClean pulled the striker back which, if was the case, would have resulted in a red card for McClean and a free-kick on the edge of the box.
The Blues had their best opportunity of the first half right at the end of it when Ahmed Salam weighted a pass brilliantly to send Christy Manzinga in behind the United backline but his strike was well blocked by the goalkeeper.
Half Time: Linfield 0-0 Ballymena United
United were agonisingly close to scoring within 30 seconds of the restart and were only denied by a miraculous piece of defending. A ball down the inside right channel was met by an unusual attempted clearance by Michael Newberry who kicked it up and backwards into his own box. David Parkhouse nipped in between Callacher and Johns to flick it over the goalkeeper for McElroy who looked certain to score from close range but somehow, Trai Hume threw himself at it to make a diving block.
David Jeffrey’s men were desperately unlucky again not to take the lead on 49 minutes when David Parkhouse cut the ball back to Kenny Kane who struck the ball so sweetly from the left, around 20 yards out,only to see it crash back off the post with a helpless Chris Johns beaten. Millimetres to the right and it probably would have went in off the inside of the post.
Linfield also wondered how they hadn’t scored a minute later amidst a mad start to the second half. Christy Manzinga played a great pass to Matthew Clarke who got beyond the full-back inside the box before squaring it to Jordan Stewart two yards out but just as he looked certain to score, his shot was blocked.
The Blues were battering the door down for much of the half, going close a number of times. Michael Newberry and Jimmy Callacher both somehow failed to connect on a corner delivery from Ahmed Salaam, who also threatened twice with two fierce strikes from the edge of the box, both well saved. On many occasions the Linfield support were frustrated as they felt their team were too shy to ‘have a rattle’ at goal and instead were very particular in their attacking approach play.
The breakthrough finally arrived, at long last, on 77 minutes. Trai Hume played an inch-perfect threaded pass into Christy Manzinga who timed his run to perfection in behind the backline and when faced with an onrushing goalkeeper he finished coolly and superbly, clipping the ball over the ‘keeper and into the net. David Healy will hope it hasn’t come at a cost as the striker was caught in the process and limped off straight after the goal which was his 17th of the season.
David Jeffrey’s men – who’d won four of their last five league matches – regrouped and mounted intense late pressure as Linfield couldn’t get a foot on the ball to manage the game. Chris Johns tipped Ross Redman’s inswinging free-kick away from a crowded area before claiming the resultant corner from a crowded box. Johns also showed assured hands to catch a header from Ryan Waide who met a dangerous cross from Steven McCullough in what was a good late opportunity to draw level.
The final chance for United in stoppage time saw Linfield camped in their own box as the Blues sat off midfielder Brendan Barr, the on loan Derry City youngster whose first shot was blocked before he stormed onto the rebound only to lose his composure and he’ll be disappointed to have hammered over the bar from the edge of the box.
All focus for Linfield now turns to the Boxing Day fixture against Glentoran which is scheduled for Monday 27th this year, subject to the anticipated announcement around potential tightened covid restrictions by the NI Executive. The Blues will be glad to have Cameron Palmer, Jamie Mulgrew and Sam Roscoe all back available as they returned to the squad tonight following various injuries.
Full Time: Linfield 1 – 0 Ballymena United
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Christy Manzinga