Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorers :
Jimmy Callacher 34', Ethan Devine 70'
Crusaders Scorer :
Jordan Forsythe 45'
Linfield Yellow Cards :
Eetu Vertainen, Jimmy Callacher
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Ben Hall, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew (C), Chris Shields, Jake Hastie (Ethan Devine 63’), Kirk Millar (Ahmed Salam 89’), Jordan Stewart, Eetu Vertainen (Kyle McClean 80’)
Linfield Subs not used :
David Walsh, Sam Roscoe, Kieron Evans, Chris McKee
Crusaders Team :
Jonathan Tuffey (GK), Lewis Patterson (Ross Clarke 80’), Joshua Robinson (Daniel Larmour 60’), Chris Hegarty, Aidan Wilson, Jordan Forsythe, Declan Caddell ©, Jude Winchester (Phillip Lowry 70’), Brandon Doyle (Billly Joe Burns 80’), Jordan Owens (Adam Lecky 70’), Jonathan McMurray
Crusaders Subs not used :
Neil Shields (GK), Robbie Weir
Linfield picked up a huge three points in North Belfast this evening to preserve their one-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership thanks to a Devine intervention as Ethan Devine came off the bench to net a crucial winner.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter – who was overseeing his 851st match as manager of the Seaview club - rung the changes with only three survivors from their 4-1 win away to Coleraine at the weekend, with Jonathan Tuffey, Joshua Robinson and Jude Winchester all retaining their places in the team.
A lovely first-time ball from Jordan Stewart found Jake Hastie bursting in at the left side of the box but the winger’s fierce volley flashed over. Hastie also made another good run down the left to be found by Millar and when Hastie pulled back for Vertainen on the edge of the box the Finnish striker’s shot was importantly blocked by Robinson.
The Crues had a great chance after 17 minutes and probably should have gone ahead. Brandon Doyle delivered a great corner and Crusaders’ legendary forward Jordan Owens had a free header from six yards but he didn’t connect with the ball when he rose in an attempt to head at goal. Declan Caddell also had a good chance to volley at goal from a clever pass from McMurray but he also failed to get the desired contact and his shot rolled harmlessly wide of goal.
After an intense spell of pressure the Blues got the goal to take the lead while they were on top. It came from a free-kick out right, delivered by Niall Quinn towards the back post for Jimmy Callacher who rose highest to head the ball down into the far corner for what was remarkably his first league goal of the season (and Linfield’s 100th goal of the season).
Eetu Vertainen showed great feet to beat a number of men and his threaded pass very nearly put Jake Hastie through on goal with unselfish play when he could have shot but backtracking Crues midfielder Declan Caddell put in a brilliant last-ditch tackle.
Crusaders then showed resilience to hit back with a leveller on the stroke of half time. The Blues didn’t learn from their early scare and this time they were punished as Brandon Doyle put in another great delivery for Jordan Forsythe to head in at the front post. Chris Johns got a hand to it but the power beat him. The Blues will also be disappointed to give away such a cheap corner initially.
Half Time: Crusaders 1-1 Linfield
The Blues were a lick of paint away from retaking the lead nine minutes into the second half. Jamie Mulgrew played a great pass out the right to Kirk Millar in a bit of space and the winger’s cross was inch-perfect for Eetu Vertainen in the middle, but the on-loan St. Johnstone man’s header struck the inside of the post and was cleared.
In a cagey second half, the decisive moment in the game arrived on 70 minutes. Just seven minutes after coming on as a substitute, it was another case of Devine intervention! Blues forward Ethan Devine, who signed from Knockbreda in January, continued his remarkable trend of scoring crucial late goals in big matches. For the first time, he scored a goal with his feet. Chris Shields started the move when he got the ball off Callacher for a quick free-kick before slipping it into Matthew Clarke who timed his spring in off the byline to perfection, getting the ball and slipping a ball through to Devine with the perfect weight of pass and the 21 year-old forward finished brilliantly before the onrushing Tuffey. Devine didn’t have much of the net to aim at but he found it brilliantly.
Crusaders, as expected, made changes and introduced players from a strong substitute bench and applied pressure. Not only was Ethan Devine the matchwinner, he also helped his team considerably by holding up the ball up to relieve pressure. Although the Blues found themselves very deep at times, it is a credit to the team as a unit that Chris Johns had no further saves to make. Every player was up for the fight to hold on for a huge three points at Seaview.
The penultimate game of the season on Saturday is another huge one for Linfield with their slender one point lead at the top of the table as the Blues welcome Larne to Windsor Park.
Full Time: Crusaders 1 – 2 Linfield