Chris McKee 17', Ethan Devine 31', 48', Joel Cooper 48', Kirk Millar 51'
Chris Johns (GK), Daniel Finlayson, Jimmy Callacher, Sam Roscoe, Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Jamie Mulgrew © (Kyle McClean 87’), Kirk Millar (Rhys Annett 72’), Joel Cooper (Max Haygarth 87’), Ethan Devine, Chris McKee (Braiden Graham 76’)
Declan Dunne (GK), Ethan McGee, Mayowa Animasahun, Dean Curry, Cahal McGinty, Caolan Marron (Joe McCready 60'), James Knowles, Ryan Mayse © (Corey Smith 86'), Joe Moore (Steven Scott 60'), Ben Cushnie (Gerardo Bruna 61'), Jordan Jenkins (Padraig Lynch 86')
Five-star Linfield put on a show for their large travelling support in their 5-0 victory over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park in tonight’s final pre-split Premiership fixture.
The Blues were in unforgiving mood in front of goal, spearheaded by young strike duo Chris McKee and Ethan Devine, in place of Kyle Lafferty who missed out through illness.
It was a big night for young forward Braiden Graham, who became Linfield’s youngest ever player at 15 years and 137 days old when he was substituted on with fifteen minutes remaining, and he showed some nice touches whilst playing with courage.
The match had a high tempo from the off, and the home side had a good opportunity within the first 90 seconds. Pacey winger Joe Moore burst through the middle to put opposite winger Ben Cushnie through on goal, but his shot across goal flashed just wide of the far post.
The Swifts had another good opportunity on 14 minutes. Along with Cushnie’s opportunity, they will look back and wonder if the complexion of the match might have been different had they taken either of their two early opportunities. On this occasion, Linfield lost the ball on the edge of their own box but Ryan Mayse could only fire straight at Chris Johns with a free shot.
The Blues then opened the scoring three minutes later. The ball was played into Ethan Devine in the box and as he was challenged by Dean Curry, the ball fell into the path of the instinctive Chris McKee who tucked the ball into the far corner with a left-footed shot inside the box.
Linfield almost doubled their lead a while later with an excellent passage of play, started by a very neat one-two between Matthew Clarke and Chris Shields down the left channel. This allowed Clarke time to deliver a cross which he hung up to the back post and Ethan Devine came sliding in with desire, and he was unlucky to see his low shot on the volley flash wide.
However, the striker then got his goal just a minute later. Kirk Millar assisted the goal with class as he brilliantly flicked the ball beyond the back four to put Devine through on goal and he hammered in his fifth goal of the season.
Dungannon Swifts almost pulled a goal back three minutes before the interval, when Jordan Jenkins found himself 1v1 with a Linfield defender inside the box and he managed to get a shot off, only to be denied by Chris Johns who made a reaction save with his leg.
Dean Shiels’ men then had a penalty appeal turned away on the stroke of half-time, when young winger Ben Cushnie went down inside the box. The referee was well-positioned and saw no wrongdoing. Jamie Mulgrew was the Linfield player closest to Cushnie. Dungannon Swifts’ James Knowles was booked for something he said in the aftermath.
Half Time: Dungannon Swifts 0 – 2 Linfield
Then came a Linfield blitz with three goals inside the first six minutes of the second half. Joel Cooper made it 3-0 on 47 minutes with his sixth goal in four matches as he cut in from the right before hitting an arrowed shot into the far corner from the edge of the box.
Ethan Devine then netted his second and Linfield’s fourth a minute later for his sixth goal of the season. After Chris Shields won the ball high up the pitch, Joel Cooper’s attempted threaded pass for Kirk Millar was cut out by defender Animasahun, who inadvertently poked the ball into Ethan Devine’s path in the process and the striker slotted the ball in low into the net. This was Linfield's 100th goal of the season.
The fifth and final goal came on 51 minutes and it was the goal of the night. The excellent Kirk Millar replicated a goal he scored from the exact same position and the exact same ground last season, as he bent a brilliant curling strike into the top corner from outside the box.
It was almost six when Kirk Millar’s corner delivery found its way through to Jimmy Callacher who stole a march at the back post, but he volleyed wide from close range. The fact that the ball took a touch on its way meant it came quickly at Callacher and was a more difficult chance than it looked, though he will still have been disappointed not to score.
The woodwork denied Kirk Millar a second goal on the end of a brilliant counter attack. Joel Cooper raced away and bent a pass around to Millar whose curling shot from inside the box came back off the base of the post.
There was almost a goalscoring debut for 18-year-old Rhys Annett who signed from Dundela in January. The second half substitute was unlucky to see his 20-yard drive flash just over the crossbar.
This win puts Linfield four points off League leaders Larne who play their game in hand away to Coleraine tomorrow, before the post-split fixtures will be announced.
Full Time: Dungannon Swifts 0 – 5 Linfield