Linfield boss Healy happy to still be in the box seat following tight tussle with Cliftonville
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 0 Linfield 0
LINFIELD manager David Healy won’t be able to enjoy the title run in, but insists he has to embrace it after his side began their post-split schedule with a 0-0 draw in the top of the table clash with Cliftonville on Saturday evening.
The champions and league leaders still remain a point clear of the Reds with four games remaining and Healy is pleased to be in the box-seat rather than relying on a favour from others.
“Enjoy no, embrace – yes” admitted Healy.
“You’re always fearful of a mistake or a poor decision going against you or a wonder goal and the last thing you want to be doing, especially with the tightness as it is at the minute, is going behind somebody. Because you don’t know whether you can recover that.
“It’s out of your hands then, it’s still in our hands at the minute, which is a positive. Once it goes out your hands then you’re relying on others. It’s still in our hands at the minute and two good teams, along with ourselves, are still fighting for the big prize.”
The top two went into Saturday evening's encounter in a rich vein of form with hosts Cliftonville on an eight-game winning streak and leaders Linfield winning their last six.
Reds manager Paddy McLaughlin opted to go with the same starting 11 that began their midweek victory at Portadown as Colin Coates kept his place at the heart of the back three and Jamie McDonagh served the last of his three-game suspension.
David Healy was able to call upon talisman Christy Manzinga, who served his three-game ban, while captain Jamie Mulgrew began the game from the bench.
The Blues almost hit the front when Chris McKee slipped in Manzinga, though Luke McNicholas made himself big and the on-loan Sligo goalkeeper did just enough to deny the French striker.
Linfield keeper Chris Johns was called into action later in the half to deny Joe Gormley profiting from a Conor Pepper error and Chris Shields then threw himself in the path of Ryan Curran’s follow-up, as the half ended scoreless.
Cliftonville made the brighter start to the second period, though Joe Gormley shot over the bar from Ryan Curran’s header and after the duo combined again, Johns turned Gormley’s near post shot behind for a corner.
As the half wore on Linfield began to up the ante, with a quarter of an hour remaining substitute Jordan Stewart stung the palms of Luke McNicholas and Jamie Mulgrew hooked the follow-up wide.
Manzinga had a few sightings but was unable to make the difference, but the champions had a golden opportunity deep into injury-time from a free-kick on the edge of the area- though Jordan Stewart’s low effort was inches past the post and the sides had to settle for a point a piece at the game’s conclusion.
Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin was satisfied with the end result and didn’t feel either side would have deserved to lose.
“I don’t think any team deserved to lose such a game. It was brilliant” McLaughlin reflected.
“I’m sure to watch as a neutral, both sets of supporters stayed behind and applauded their own team off, I’m sure they loved to see the effort and quality put in. It was a high profile and high intense game, I thought there was some excellent play throughout the game. I definitely don’t think anybody deserved to lose the game, so I’m sure we’ll both settle for a point and move onto next week."
Cliftonville: McNicholas, McDermott (Lowe 90’), Addis, Coates, Turner, Ives, Gallagher, Kearns (Doherty 79’), R Curran, O’Neill (C Curran 88’), Gormley.
Linfield: Johns, Shields, Callacher, Millar (Devine 80’), Manzinga, Hall, Clarke, McKee (Stewart 67’), McClean, Fallon (Mulgrew 11’), Pepper.
Referee: Andrew Davey