Chris Johns (GK), Ben Hall, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Matthew Clarke, Stephen Fallon (Ahmed Salam 76’) , Chris Shields, Kirk Millar, Jordan Stewart, Eetu Vertainen (Ethan Devine 8’), Chris McKee (Kyle McClean 70’)
Martin Gallagher (GK), Ronan Wilson, Stephen O’Donnell, Adam Mullan, Rodney, Josh Carson, Stephen Lowry (Lewis Tosh 50’), Aaron Jarvis, Patrick Kelly, Matthew Shevlin (Curtis Allen 71’), James McLaughlin (Kirk McLaughlin 82’)
Linfield today clinched the Irish League title for the fourth year in a row for a world-record 56th championship, with the Blues now officially the world’s most successful football club.
It went to the wire as the Blues were pushed all the way by Cliftonville, but today on the last day of the season David Healy’s men got the win they needed to get over the line with a 2-0 win over Coleraine at a buzzing and colourful Windsor Park which hosted around 5,500 home fans.
With the Reds just a point behind in second, Linfield knew they simply couldn’t afford to slip up but the Blues rose to the occasion and were on top from the off. Chris Shields and Stephen Fallon quickly set the tone by getting on the ball and moving it, and then it was a case of trying to break down a Coleraine team renowned for being a tight ship.
It was just four minutes into the match before there was a talking point. Eetu Vertainen was on the ball in the Coleraine box after turning smartly and when he shifted the ball past a defender he ended up on the ground. The referee felt that there was no foul play for the defender but unfortunately, the Finnish forward on loan from St. Johnstone took an awkward landing and suffered an injury to his collarbone. This forced David Healy into an early change and a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 as Ethan Devine came on to partner Chris McKee in attack.
Chris Shields threatened early on when he met Kirk Millar’s near-post inswinging free-kick from the left, only to see his glancing header flash narrowly wide of the far post. Ben Hall also tried his luck a while later, advancing into space in the Coleraine half before firing over from 25 yards.
Although they were not at their best, Coleraine did muster a dangerous attack around the half-hour mark. The Bannsiders broke quickly after turning the ball over and former Blues winger Josh Carson was charging away in a 2v2. Knowing he was going to be caught, Carson decided to shoot from the edge of the box with his right foot and his low shot was well saved by Chris Johns down to his right.
The Blues ended the first half very strongly and ultimately it made all the difference. The champions were initially thwarted when Ethan Devine powerful header from Niall Quinn’s corner was brilliantly saved by Coleraine ‘keeper Martin Gallagher. The ball stayed alive before Ben Hall was teed up but he shot not far wide. However, he didn’t have long to wait.
The breakthrough arrived on 43 minutes in front of a lively Kop stand. Niall Quinn again put in a brilliant corner delivery and Ben Hall finally got the goal he’d been threatening for a number of weeks. It was a terrific header as he rose high and generated such power that despite a touch, the goalkeeper couldn’t keep it out. What a time for the January signing to open his Linfield account.
Linfield then added a quickfire second in stoppage time at the end of the first half. The Blues could have settled for 1-0 and wait for the half time whistle, but their courageous attacking play paid off on the stroke of half time. Chris Shields played a pass through the lines into Niall Quinn who played a terrific threaded pass into Chris McKee bursting into the box between centre back and left back before finding the far corner with a classy finish for his sixth goal of the season since joining on loan from Rangers in January.
Half Time: Linfield 2-0 Coleraine
The second half wasn’t overly eventful on the pitch but that suited Linfield nicely. Still, the Blues did come out on the front foot at the start of the second half in search of a third goal and spent a considerable amount of time with the ball in and around Coleraine’s defensive third.
Jimmy Callacher met what was another excellent Linfield set-piece delivery, this time provided by Kirk Millar, but the stalwart defender couldn’t quite get the angle and his header was wide of goal.
Coleraine were limited to potshots from distance, with Chris Johns saving from James McLaughlin and Josh Carson who both had strikes from outside the box. A better opening came when young highly-rated Coleraine attacker Patrick Kelly drove at the Linfield defence before slipping it to Matthew Shevlin in the box but the former Linfield forward fired wide from a tight angle.
Curtis Allen also had a decent chance when the ball fell kindly in the box but he volleyed over but overall, Coleraine couldn’t get back into the game and once Linfield got ahead it was fairly comfortable as Coleraine seemed set up to try and frustrate the Blues.
As the final whistle sounded, Windsor Park savoured a fantastic title success and - although we seem to say it every time – this may well be the best one yet from the five titles in six seasons under David Healy. The Blues lost a host of quality and experienced players last summer, as well as introducing a Full-Time model of training, so it was a season of transition. Many also poked fun at the Blues in January with jibes like ‘Loanfield’, but all is well that ends well and this is a superb achievement from David Healy, his staff and his squad who can now look forward to some Champions League action this summer.
Full Time: Linfield 2 – 0 Coleraine
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Ben Hall