Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorers :
Jimmy Callacher 10', Chris Shields 56' (P)
Linfield Yellow Cards :
Eetu Vertainen, Chris Shields
Cliftonville Yellow Card :
Cliftonville Red Card :
Rory Hale 89'
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Daniel Finlayson, Jimmy Callacher, Sam Roscoe, Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Stephen Fallon (Kyle McClean 45’), Jamie Mulgrew © (Niall Quinn 80’), Kirk Millar (Max Haygarth 90’), Joel Cooper, Eetu Vertainen (Ethan Devine 65’)
Linfield Subs not used :
David Walsh (GK), Conor Pepper, Andrew Clarke
Cliftonville Team :
Nathan Gartside (GK), Luke Turner, Colin Coates (c), Odhran Casey (Jonathan Addis 74’), Jamie McDonagh, Chris Gallagher, Ronan Doherty (Donal Rocks 62’), Rory Hale, Sean Moore, David Parkhouse (Levi Ives 62’), Joe Gormley
Victory for Linfield away to Cliftonville at Solitude this evening in their 60th and final match of the season secured second place and automatic qualification to next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League Qualifiers for the Blues.
The Blues took the lead ten minutes into the match. Having threatened from several corners in the first half, this was the one that counted. Kirk Millar whipped in an excellent corner delivery which was met by Jimmy Callacher who got in between two Cliftonville defenders to head the ball into the corner for his second goal of the season.
With the Blues well on top, it took a number of saves from Reds ‘keeper Nathan Gartside to keep the score at 1-0. Danger loomed for Cliftonville when Eetu Vertainen got into space inside the box, and with his teammates marked he opted to go alone with a shot at a tight angle which was blocked by the ‘keeper.
Gartside then made two good stops in quick succession to deny the Blues again when Jamie Mulgrew threaded a pass through to Joel Cooper whose shot from inside the box was well saved by the ‘keeper’s outstretched leg. Kirk Millar then retrieved the ball, cut in on his left foot and saw a shot well pushed over the crossbar.
Cliftonville’s only real chance of the first half was a good one. It came on the half-hour mark when Jamie McDonagh teed up Chris Gallagher who whipped in an inswinging cross from which the unmarked David Parkhouse sent a glancing header just wide of the far post.
Towards the end of the half, Linfield’s Jimmy Callacher met another Kirk Millar corner delivery, but this time he headed wide of the post. Stephen Fallon also threatened when Joel Cooper showed class and determination to beat several players before cutting the ball back to the midfielder, however his goalward shot was blocked by Colin Coates. Fallon then had to be withdrawn at half-time due to an injury.
Half Time: Cliftonville 0 – 1 Linfield
The Blues remained positive in their play despite having a one-goal lead and they had the chance to double their advantage when the referee awarded a penalty ten minutes into the second half. There were few complaints from Cliftonville as Luke Turner brought down Eetu Vertainen whose touch sucked the defender in. Chris Shields stepped up and produced an excellent penalty, low into the bottom left corner for his eighth goal of the season.
Finnish forward Vertainen was again fouled seven minutes later, this time 25 yards out, leading to a free-kick which was well struck by Kyle McClean whose effort flashed just over the crossbar.
Matthew Clarke had two chances in the space of three minutes, firstly heading over the crossbar when picked out by Kirk Millar’s excellent cross to the back post, and secondly drawing a good diving save from the ‘keeper with a low, driven strike after being picked out on the left by Joel Cooper.
With the game over as a contest, a moment of madness saw Cliftonville end the match with ten men. Rory Hale received a straight red card with just a minute remaining due to his rash and reckless tackle of Linfield midfielder Kyle McClean. The Reds’ midfielder will now be suspended for his team’s European play-off fixture(s).
Full Time: Cliftonville 0 – 2 Linfield