Cliftonville 0– 2 Linfield
LINFIELD ran out 2-0 winners over a much-changed Cliftonville side in last league game of the regulation season at Solitude on Saturday evening.
Goals in each half from Christy Manzinga and Andy Waterworth gave David Healy’s newly crowned Champion’s victory on the day they collected the Gibson Cup, but the hosts attention lay very much on the play-off semi-final on Tuesday evening and that was reflected in the team selection.
Despite defeat Paddy McLaughlin took a lot of positives from the game, including the performance of a few younger prospects.
“There was plenty of positives,” McLaughlin reflected.
“We’ve sat the boys out from last Tuesday for this Tuesday’s game against Crusaders and now they’ll come into the game fresh. No injuries picked up and no suspensions and we’ve given a couple of the young boys some game time, which gives them a lot of confidence going into next season.
“They’re the future of the club and they proved there today they are more than capable of coming in, if not coming in to challenge for first team regular position from pre-season on. Decky Dunne was excellent in nets and Stephen McGuinness was also excellent. Odhran Casey playing in centre-half was superb right throughout the match.
“There were a lot of positives and game time for the rest of the lads and the senior players that haven’t been playing regular and we didn’t pick up any injuries, which was important.”
McLaughlin made nine changes from the side that drew with Crusaders last week with the rematch this coming Tuesday in mind.
Only Chris Curran and Seanan Foster kept their places in the starting 11 with Stephen McGuinness being drafted in for his debut and Joe Gormley taking his place on the bench for the first time since breaking his elbow back in January.
Linfield threatened first when Ryan O’Reilly’s attempted clearance was charged down, and the ball fell kindly to Christy Manzinga who shot straight at Declan Dunne who did well and made himself big.
Ronan Doherty then charged forward and cut the ball back for Paul O’Neill who slammed his shot into the side netting.
Navid Nasseri should have done better from a cut-back from Cameron Palmer that he blasted over the bar, then Dunne was forced to turn a stinging Manzinga effort behind for a corner.
The chances continued to fall for the Blues with Palmer feeding Jordan Stewart who lobbed the ball over the angle of post and crossbar.
On the half hour mark, Stephen McGuinness’ pass was chested down for Ryan Curran whose deflected looping shot was gathered by Chris Johns.
Matthew Clarke could only find the side netting from a free-kick on the edge of the area and Ronan Doherty delivered a telling cross which evaded Paul O’Neill in the box.
The deadlock was broken on the stroke of half time: Andrew Waterworth raced through and had the presence of mind to the slip the ball across to Christy Manzinga for a tap-in to make it 1-0 at the break.
Manzinga thought he had doubled his and Linfield’s tally early in the second half when he touched home on the goal line, but the offside flag cut short the celebrations.
Paddy McLaughlin introduced Joe Gormley from the bench on the hour mark and his introduction almost led to a 67thminute equaliser.
Jimmy Callacher wasn’t on the same wavelength as ’keeper Chris Johns which led to Gormley racing onto the ball and into the area, but Johns was able to parry his low driven shot and then keep out the follow-up effort from Barry Coffey.
Callacher headed over from a corner for the Blues and Manzinga shot over the bar with Michael McCrudden snatching at a sighting at the other end.
Linfield wrapped up all three-points with little over 10 minutes remaining. Matthew Clarke provided a pinpoint cross from the right and Andrew Waterworth swept it past Dunne to make it 2-0 on his final appearance for the Blues.
Christy Manzinga missed a glorious chance to make it three but flashed it past the post and in the end the Champions ran out 2-0 winners.
CLIFTONVILLE: Dunne, Foster (Lowe 78), O’Reilly, Casey, McGuinness, C Curran, Doherty, Coffey, Kearns (McCrudden 46), R Curran (Gormley 60), O’Neill.
LINFIELD: Johns, Larkin (Stafford 81), Newberry, Callacher, Waterworth (Lavery 83), Manzinga, Stewart, Nasseri, Clarke, Mulgrew (Haughey 81), Palmer.
REFEREE: Ian McNabb