Ward's maiden strike keeps Linfield out in front
LINFIELD defender Seán Ward shrugged off the back slaps and high fives, claiming the “points were more important” after his goal took Linfield’s winning start to the season to an impressive six games.
The former Glentoran man struck from distance in the second half against a gritty Ballinamallard United side. With Cliftonville losing the north Belfast derby to Crusaders, there is now a five-point gap between the Blues and both of their Belfast rivals at this early stage in the race for the title.
Crusaders have moved up to second, ahead of the Reds on goal difference. Striker Jordan Owens scored that game’s only goal with a header from a Richard Clarke corner after seven minutes. Cliftonville were disappointed not to have been awarded a penalty late on, but referee Ian McNabb decided Stephen Garrett had not been fouled by Billy Joe Burns.
Linfield defender Ward, meanwhile, was delighted to get on the scoresheet at Ferney Park.
“I was aiming for the top corner and was a bit disappointed it didn’t go there,” laughed Ward.
“Seriously, I was just thrilled to see it hit the net. I don’t score too often. Even in my junior days, playing as a kid, I wasn’t in the limelight too often. But I don’t mind that. If I am in the limelight, it’s usually because I make a mistake at the back. So it’s nice to get the vital goal that earned us three points.”
It was the first time this free-scoring Linfield machine failed to function properly, until Ward surged forward with his party piece.
He added: “It was a tough game. Fair play to Ballinamallard, they restricted us to very few chances.
“They had a good shape. ‘Whitey’ [Anderson] had them well drilled and they made things difficult for us. I’m just delighted that, eventually, I’ve managed to score for Linfield. When things were not going well for us, the lads dug deep and they have to be commended for that.”
Ward admitted keeping a clean sheet gave him as much pleasure as scoring the winner, adding: “We were hard to break down. I think that was reflected in the fact that Ross [Glendinning] didn’t have a lot to do.
“It’s always nice to score, but I take great pride in keeping clean sheets... it means we are doing our job at the back. We have managed to go on an outstanding unbeaten run. We faced the pressure of going for our sixth straight success when we really should have been focusing on winning a game of football.
“I know it’s very, very early days, but it’s great to be top of the league. The boss has been vocal on how pleased he is with the boys in the changing room and how delighted he is with the attitude of players, but I think it’s magnificent that everyone is contributing this season. Even the boys on the bench. When they come on, they make a really big impact.
“We have an outstanding squad and it’s great we are all pulling in the same direction, which is a massive benefit for the club.”
Mallards boss ‘Whitey’ Anderson felt his team’s efforts deserved more.
“It is very frustrating,” he said.
“I thought, over the 90 minutes, we deserved a draw. We were done by one lapse in concentration. Ward drove forward and we allowed him to go. Unfortunately, the ball finished in the net. Other than that, I couldn’t fault the boys.”