Linfield boss David Healy hailed the character of his team following their thrilling Big Two 4-2 win over rivals Glentoran at Windsor Park on Monday night.
The victory not only extended the Blues unbeaten run to 12 games, but shot them six points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
However, they had to show all their powers of recovery after surrendering a two goal lead. Jordan Stewart shot the in front before Calum Birney fired into his own net.
The Glens came back off the ropes with strikes from Curtis Allen and Robbie McDaid, before Healy’s boys killed the game with goals from Chris Casement and Michael O’Connor.
“I’m delighted with the win,” beamed Healy. “We nailed it in the first half. We warned the players at half-time about complacency, but within 10 minutes of the second half we undid all the good work. It was down to a lack of concentration.
“We conceded two soft goals, which they didn’t have to work hard to get. We knew there was always going to be a Glentoran response, having a manager like Gary Smyth.
“But credit to our players. They showed great character when the heat was on. There were a few anxious people in the stadium when Glentoran levelled. It would have been easy to go under, but they didn’t
“Some of the stuff we played late on in the game was top drawer. Everyone played a part, even the substitutes that came on in the second half. It wasn’t an easy call to leave out Michael O’Connor who scored a couple of big goals for us at Newry City last week. But he came on with a right attitude and the right response.
“We showed really class in the first half, but the character we showed in the second half pleased me even more.”
Healy admitted he was devastated with the news that Roy Carroll’s career may be over after the 41-year-old suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a recent game against Crusaders.
“It’s a hard one to call at the minute . . . we just got the news earlier today and I was totally shocked,” he added. “I’m really disappointed for him. It a difficult one to get your head around, especially at this stage of his career and his life.
“As a club we’ll make sure we do the best for him. He is a massive player for this football club. It’s too early to make a call on the injury. It’s a tough injury to take for any player.”
Glentoran boss Gary Smyth admitted his boys deserve credit for battling their way back into the game after being totally outplayed.
“We were not at it in the first half,” he said. “But we certainly give it a go after the break. We had a talk and I asked the boys for a response because we were on our way to being embarrassing beaten.
“Two goals in three minutes had us right back into it. But the third goal killed us. We were exhausted over the last 15 or 20 minutes . . . we lost our energy levels. But I can’t fault the boys because they showed great battling qualities which just wasn’t enough.”