Chris Johns (GK), Trai Hume, Jimmy Callacher, Sam Roscoe, Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Jamie Mulgrew ©, Ahmed Salam (Stephen Fallon 61’), Jordan Stewart, Kirk Millar, Christy Manzinga (Matt Green 90’)
David Walsh, Michael Newberry, Martin Donnelly, Andrew Clarke, Callum Marshall
Declan Dunne (GK), Conor McDermott (Paul O’Neill 53’), Jonathan Addis, Luke Turner, Levi Ives (Colin Coates 90’), Kris Lowe, Aaron Donnelly, Chris Curran ©, Ryan Curran, Jamie McDonagh (Daniel Kearns 68’), Joe Gormley
Linfield were determined not to lose further ground in the title race as a second half Jordan Stewart header delivered a deserved three points against league leaders Cliftonville at Windsor Park this afternoon.
The Blues started on the front foot and deserved an early opener which wasn’t forthcoming. Christy Manzinga had threatened in the opening minutes when he was just beaten to Jordan Stewart’s ball over the top by an alert goalkeeper. The striker then had a glorious chance after ten minutes when he raced through onto a loose backpass and when under pressure from a backtracking defender behind him, Manzinga shot from the edge of the box and although he lifted his shot over the ‘keeper, the ball flashed just over the crossbar.
Manzinga was involved in another talking point just three minutes later. After turning brilliantly from deep and charging at speed into the Cliftonville box, Manzinga went down as a Cliftonville defender stuck a foot out, and the referee waved play on despite Linfield penalty appeals.
Amidst a relentless Linfield spell of knocking on the door, Man of the Match Jamie Mulgrew was unlucky when his 15 yard shot was cleared off the line after Kirk Millar’s low cross fell kindly. Soon after, Ahmed Salam found Christy Manzinga in the box but he was denied by a vital tackle by Reds defender Jonathan Addis.
The woodwork then denied Linfield who just couldn’t seem to find an opener. Jimmy Callacher rose powerfully to meet a corner from Kirk Millar and his header crashed back off the crossbar. Millar then had a goalward shot blocked, followed by a 20 yard volley just over from Mulgrew.
League leaders Cliftonville started to grow into it towards the end of the first half. In their first dangerous attack, Jonathan Addis spread the ball out wide right to Jamie McDonagh who delivered a dangerous cross which was headed behind by Jimmy Callacher. The resultant corner was worked short to Levi Ives who delivered and Jonathan Addis attacked it, heading over from close range.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 0 Cliftonville
The breakthrough came four minutes into the second half. Hull City loanee Ahmed Salam will receive a lot of plaudits for the Linfield opener which proved to be the winner. Having been mostly restricted to playing in cup fixtures and league substitute appearances this season, Salam certainly took his big chance as he shifted half a yard to whip in a pinpoint cross for Jordan Stewart to head in from close range at the Railway End. It continues an ironic trend of Stewart – usually the smallest man of the pitch – popping up with headed goals and for Salam it capped a positive performance.
A Cliftonville corner presented an opportunity for Linfield to make it 2-0, but it was passed up. The ball fell kindly for Christy Manzinga on the edge of his own box and he charged forward in a 2v1 scenario on the counter-attack with Jordan Stewart to his left. However, Manzinga’s pass was too weak for Stewart and the Cliftonville defender pounced.
Manzinga had another promising scenario when Mulgrew reversed the ball to him inside the box but he took a shot on from an improbable angle when he should have looked to try and pick out Jordan Stewart or Kirk Millar in the middle and the shot was easily saved.
The striker missed another glorious chance a minute later. Matthew Clarke couldn’t have done any more as he fizzed a low cross right across goal at pace to Christy Manzinga who looked certain to convert from close range, but he didn’t get good contact and the ball seemed to hit him and bounce into the arms of the goalkeeper.
Cliftonville looked to apply late pressure in search of a late equaliser. Chris Johns had to be alert and quickly off his line twice to make important interceptions and a series of corners were adequately dealt with. The big chance for Paddy McLaughlin’s men came on 84 minutes when captain Chris Curran dug out a cross from the byline which was met by Paul O’Neill whose header from close range flashed wide of the far post.
There was also a nervy moment for Linfield in the dying moments when the Reds had a central free-kick just 20 yards out following a foul from Callacher, but Mulgrew made an important block after the ball was teed off to Cliftonville talisman Joe Gormley.
The Blues held on for a valuable three points which moves them within six points of Cliftonville whilst having a game in hand still to play. It also ended a run of three games without a win. A deserved three points but could have been much more comfortable had Linfield's final ball been more precise.
Full Time: Linfield 1 – 0 Cliftonville
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Jamie Mulgrew