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Linfield hoping to ‘Spike’ Ballymena United

By Colin Millar

Due to the Christmas period, two weeks and three matches have passed since my previous column.

The Blues have endured a spell of indifferent form in that period with a draw at home to basement club Lisburn Distillery, defeat at bitter rivals Glentoran on Boxing Day, followed by a 2-0 triumph over Glenavon at Windsor Park.

Linfield remain five points clear of closest challengers Portadown at the top of the table, although the Mid Ulster club have a game in hand.

The Blues suffered a blow before the match against the Whites – learning that goalkeeper Alan Blayney would be ruled out of the festive fixtures with a knee injury, so reserve goalkeeper Stuart Addis would step in.

However, they were boosted by the return of Peter Thompson, who had been out of action for over three months due to a long running kidney issue, for which he has since undergone successful surgery. This allowed him to start on the bench.

The game itself could have gone either way as the visitors from Ballyskeagh put up a resolute display which defied their position in the league table.

They took a surprise, but deserved, lead after 14 minutes when Mark Cooling calmly slotted away a penalty in the corner of the net.

This was cancelled out on the hour mark by an equaliser from, who else but, Peter Thompson.

The front man had only been on the pitch for five minutes before smashing the ball into the net from close range.

It ended 1-1, and despite some questionable decisions the Whites were good value for their point.

Linfield did maintain their lead at the top of the table thanks to a slip up from Portadown, who conceded a last minute equaliser to merely draw 2-2 at Carrick Rangers.

The match on Boxing Day will not live long in the memory of the 5,300 people in attendance.

A disgracefully low ticket allocation for which both sides sold out, despite this leaving huge gaps in both stands and terraces.

Linfield manager David Jeffrey described the health and safety regulations as ‘draconian’.

It was a poor affair, with the Blues dominating possession for large spells but could create little more than half chances. Glentoran only created one major opportunity the whole match, and took it.

Carson produced a piece of trickery on the left before delivering an excellent ball to the head of Darren Boyce who headed the ball beyond the reach of Stuart Addis. The away side huffed and puffed for a leveller but to no avail.

This meant that Glentoran made it three wins out of three in matches against Linfield this season, which covers up much bigger problems for the club.

The Boxing Day result was their sole victory in their last six games, which most recently included a 2-1 defeat at Dungannon Swifts.

This will be of little comfort to Linfield though, who needed to once again bounce back from the disappointment of derby day defeat.

Cliftonville had failed to capitalise on the slip up by the Blues by falling to a 3-2 defeat in the North Belfast derby match against Crusaders.

Portadown had cranked up the pressure by defeating Glenavon 2-0, and it was the Lurgan Blues that Linfield would have to defeat to ensure they maintained a comfortable cushion at the top of the table.

Despite a dull first half in which neither side could create any clear-cut opportunities; the game changed with the arrival of Linfield substitute Aaron Burns. His creativity and energy gave the champions the spark they needed to finally break the visitors’ resistance.

It was just after the hour mark when Linfield took the lead – the ball rebounded to Peter Thompson in the box and he gobbled up his second goal in three games with an emphatic finish past O’Hare.

The game was put to bed in the 88th minute. Ervin’s through ball was excellently controlled and calmly finished by substitute Rory Patterson to seal all three points and ensure that Linfield would go into 2012 with a five-point cushion at the top of the table.

After the match it was announced that defender Kris Lindsay and midfielder Brian McCaul would move to Glenavon from Linfield on loan for the remainder of the season.

Next up for the Blues is a tricky away trip to Ballymena United who have recently announced that Linfield legend Glenn Ferguson will be their new manager, and he will be desperate to get his management career off to a winning start against his former employers.

A prosperous New Year to all readers.


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