Warrenpoint Town boss Stephen McDonnell admits his team’s performance against Linfield at Windsor Park on Saturday has set the bar for the rest of the season.
The Danske Bank Premiership newcomers came within seconds of an historic first ever win over the Blues.
They were hanging on – desperately at times – to a first half Simon Kelly spot kick, awarded after striker Alan O’Sullivan has been hauled down by Matthew Clarke inside the box.
And, although they stood up to a Linfield onslaught for the remaining 72 minutes, battling Town caved in right at the finish – the 96th MINUTE to be precise.
Kirk Millar whipped in another great cross from the right and brave Andy Waterworth dived to head home. The big striker sustained a bad facial injury in the process – one that later required hospital treatment.
“People had us written off even before a ball was kicked – we were supposed to get beaten four or five nil, especially as they (Linfield) beat so easily earlier in the season at our place,” said McDonnell.
“Since that game, we’ve had a dramatic turnaround. We treat all our opponents with respect but try to come up with ideas how to get a result in every game.
“Our poor start to the season was well documented, but a lot of people didn’t understand because we had 13 or 14 new players at the club, a brand new coaching staff coupled with new ideas.
“Our six weeks pre-season wasn’t enough time to get everyone pulling together. It took us 12 weeks to get most of our ideas across – and we are still not there. We are a work in progress.
“This performance has set the standard – it’s a reference. In my opinion, we held our own against the best club and the best team in the league. We left with one point. It should have been three – that’s a fact.”
McDonnell also hailed the contribution of goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, who produced a number of magnificent saves. He added: “I thought our goalkeeper’s display deserved a clean sheet – and he deserved to be man of the match,” he added. “I feel he’s the best goalkeeper in the league . . . he’s got pedigree and class. He’s still young – he’s got everything on his side.
“We have to enjoy having him in the team at this moment in time because I don’t think we’ll have him for too much longer, especially after a performance like that.”
Linfield chief David Healy admitted it would have been a travesty if his team hadn’t got something from a game they totally dominated.
“You always fear the goal wouldn’t come,” admitted Healy. “Especially, when we were putting so many balls into the box and not getting any benefit. The boys began snatching at chances. Windsor Park can be a tough enough place to play, more so when you are chasing the game. But they lads kept going. We’ll know in May how big a point it was for us. Andy scored with probably the most difficult of chances he had all day. That’s the most frustrating thing because there were other easy chances that we didn’t capitalise on.
“He showed a lot of bravery, putting his head in there and took a bad blow to the face and was taken to hospital.“On another day we could have won four or five, based on the chances we created.”
Healy also revealed that midfielder Daniel Kearns will be out for the next two months.
“Daniel took a heavy challenge last week at Dungannon,” he added. “He’s going to be out for possibly eight weeks. It’s a big blow for us. It’s an ankle injury.”
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Callacher, Waterworth, O’Connor, Cooper (Stewart 70), Millar, Clarke (Reynolds 86), Mulgrew, Mitchell (Robinson 25), Quinn; Unused subs: Doyle, Fallon, Garrett, Deane.
WARRENPOINT TOWN: McCarey, Hughes, Moan (Foster 4, Donnelly 76), Reilly, Kelly, McGrandles, O’Sullivan, McCaffrey (Wallace 52), Lynch, Watters, Norton; Unused subs: Griffin, Lynch, Halfpenny, Turker.
REFEREE: Tim Marshall.