Linfield 2, Glenavon 3
Linfield’s Danske Bank Premiership title defence finally hit the buffers following another Windsor Park horror show.
David Healy’s boys dropped to fifth place in the league table, now an alarming 18 points behind leaders Crusaders and, on the evidence of the feeble performance, there is little prospect of the out-going champions climbing any higher.
Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon displayed a refreshing attacking brand of football and fully deserved to go back down the road with the three points, which helped keep them on the tails of the top two.
The score line would suggest it was a tight, closely fought affair. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Goals from Simon Kelly, Andrew Mitchell and Marc Griffin cancelled out an early strike from Blues new boy Kurtis Byrne.
Although Andy Waterworth pulled one back with practically the last kick, it failed to paper over the cracks - the visitors should have been well out of sight by that stage.
A mixture of some fine goalkeeping by Roy Carroll and wasteful finishing at times, prevented the home team from suffering an embarrassing defeat in front of their frustrated home fans.
Those supporters did acknowledge the fact that their team was second best over the 90 minutes by applauding Hamilton’s troops off at the finish.
They may not be in the mix for the title at the end of the campaign, but Glenavon can certainly feel confident of going on to claim a lucrative European slot.
Strangely, it started so well for the ailing Blues. Johnny Tuffey punched clear a Kirk Millar – the best home player on view – corner kick and Byrne produced a sweet volley from the edge of the box that arrowed into the bottom corner, after only three minutes.
But Glenavon were level within five minutes. Bobby Burns’ corner kick was powered home by the head of big defender Kelly, although goalkeeper Carroll must shoulder the blame because he totally missed the flight of the ball.
The visitors led for the first time four minutes after the break when defender Josh Robinson and Carroll got themselves into a horrible muddle in trying to clear a cross from the impressive Stephen Murray, leaving Mitchell with a simple tap in.
Now in total control, the visitors struck again 16 minutes from he finish. New boy Murray – he was signed from Warrenpoint Town a few weeks back – took off on a blistering run down the left channel, leaving Robinson trailing hopelessly in his wake.
When he unselfishly cut the ball back to Griffin, the substitute wasted no time in stabbing past Carroll.
It certainly could have been worse for Linfield. Carroll produced two outstanding pieces of work to keep out efforts from Murray and Burns, while silky Mark Sykes blasted a great effort just over the top.
The Blues did produce a late surge with Achille Campion forcing Tuffey into a smart save before Waterworth rammed home a Stephen Lowry pass with practically the last kick. It only flattered the home team. The reality is, they were a well beaten side – and their long suffering fans knew it at the finish. Out of the three trophies won last season, the Irish Cup is now their only tangible means of lifting silverware this season. How times have changed.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson, Haughey, Lowry, Millar, Byrne (Stewart 69), Clarke, Garrett (Fallon 69), Campion, Strain (Waterworth 54); Unused subs: Mitchell, Quinn.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Burns (McGrory 89), Kelly, Marshall, Mitchell (Griffin 78), Sykes, Marron, Clingan, Murray (Cooper 86), Singleton; Unused subs: Foley, Lindsay.
REFEREE: Tim Marshall.