IRISH LEAGUE: Linfield stay in title hunt with home victory against Carrick Rangers

Linfield's Mark Stafford celebrates scoring against Carrick
Linfield's Mark Stafford celebrates scoring against Carrick

Linfield 2 Carrick Rangers 0

Andy Waterworth bagged his 23rd goal of the season at Windsor Park to keep Linfield in the Danske Premiership title hunt

Big defender Mark Stafford got the Blues off to the best possible start before Waterworth struck which meant David Healy’s men picked up maximum points over the month of January

Healy made only one change from the team that demolished Ballymena United last week, reinstating Jamie Mulgrew, who completed a one game ban, for midfielder David Kee.

With Adam Salley ineligible due to the fact he is on loan from the Blues, Carrick boss Gary Haveron was forced to reshuffle the side that claimed a creditable 2-1 home win over Coleraine. He drafted in Joe McNeill, Ben Roy and Ben Roy for Salley, Andrew Doyle and Aaron Traynor.

Linfield roared from the traps and were in front on six minutes. Kirk Millar’s cross form the left was powered past Brian Neeson by the head of Stafford.

In fact the game could well have been over by 11 minutes. Paul Smyth could only fire against the body of Neeson when it seemed easier to score before Ross Gaylor lashed another wonderful Millar cross over the top from point blank range.

But the Blues did strike again on 27 minutes. Mulgrew sent Gaynor hurtling down the left and when his cross came in, Waterworth poked home from six yards.

And, it could have bee worse for Carrick. Jimmy Callacher was unlucky to see his 43 minute head clip the base of the post for a pin-point cross from Gaynor.

Carrick a penalty appeal saved away only seconds into the second half when Roy’s shot appeared to strike the hand of Callacher, but referee Mervyn Smyth wasn’t impressed.

The game erupted for all the wrong reasons on 62 minutes when Conor McCloskey went in late on Stafford which led to a free-for-all involving almost every players on the pitch. But when the dust settled, it was only McCloskey’s name that entered the book of Mr Smyth.

Linfield missed another glorious chance five minutes later when Mulgrew’s trickery opened up the Rangers defence, leaving Gaynor with an open goal, but he could only fire against the legs of Neeson.

Linfield: Ross Glendinning Stafford, Callacher, Waterworth, Millar (Fallon 91), Ward, Clarke, Mulgrew, Reece Glendinning, Gaynor (Burns 81), Smyth (McLelland 77).

Subs not used: Bates, Kee..

Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Surgenor, Harmon, McNeill, Cherr (Kelly 32)y, Chines, Roy (Mackie 69, McCloskey, McKeown, Johnston (Kane 82), Taggart.

Subs not used: McCaul, Wright..

Referee: M Smyth (Belfast).