David Healy frustrated by Linfield's draw at Glentoran

Larne still on top despite loss to Crusaders

Linfield's Michael Newberry is left with his head in his hands after another missed chance at the Oval on Saturday (David Maginnis/David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

WITH Larne losing 1-0 at Crusaders on Saturday afternoon, the stage was set for Linfield to capitalise on their title rivals’ slip-up and ascend to the Irish League summit.

As it is, however, Larne are still top of the table by a point as the Blues were held to a 0-0 draw by old rivals Glentoran at the Oval on Saturday night, and manager David Healy was left to rue what he considered his side’s lack of ruthlessness.

“There are always going to be twists and turns,” said Healy afterwards.

“We knew the situation coming into our game, so we were disappointed not to capitalise but I can’t fault the players. We are still in there fighting and battling.

“Overall, the game wasn’t very good, the pitch wasn’t very good and the conditions weren’t conducive to playing good football.

“That limited both us and Glentoran but I thought we did enough towards the end of the game and we had the best chances. We didn’t capitalise on that and looked a wee bit shy in front of goal.”

Earlier in the day, Stewart Nixon’s late second-half strike gave the Crues victory at Inver Park. Larne’s reverse at the hands of Stephen Baxter’s side represented their first home defeat since November 2022 and ended their 24-match unbeaten run in the top flight.

Further back in the table, Cliftonville’s 2-2 draw at Coleraine was enough to secure European football for the Reds next season as they are now guaranteed at least third spot.

It should have been an even better day for the Reds as they led 2-0 at the interval after Paddy Burns’ 23rd-minute strike was soon followed by a Rory Hale goal. However, Matthew Shevlin pulled back a goal for the Bannsiders just after the hour mark and a late goalkeeping error in the gale-force conditions by David Odumosu as he fumbled a tame-looking cross by Jamie Glackin into his own net allowed the home side to level on 88 minutes.

Ballymena United took a huge step towards Premiership safety with a hard-earned 3-2 victory over Loughgall at Lakeview Park.

Fraser Taylor and Alex Gawne both scored within the opening five minutes for the visitors, with Ryan Waide and Nathaniel Ferris responding for Loughgall early in the second-half. But a penalty from Steven McCullough earned the first league win of 2024 for Jim Ervin’s side.

After the game, the United manager admitted he was relieved to hear the final whistle: “It was nervy, it wasn’t good for the heart,” he said.

“We talked about getting started really early, but I didn’t think we would start as early as we did, being two up inside five minutes.

“Conditions were obviously horrendous, but we took advantage of the wind at our backs in the first-half, and in fairness to them [Loughgall] they took advantage of it in the second-half, pulling two quick goals back.

“Overall though, I think we deserved it, we haven’t had much luck this year, but we got the penalty and Stevie tucked it away.”

With Newry City losing 3-2 at Glenavon, it was a good day all round for Ballymena, but Ervin wasn’t exactly popping the champagne corks on the final whistle: “It’s not good enough that this was our first win of the year,” he added.

“We used the break to do some extra training and analysis last week, and really try to get ourselves in the right frame of mind,” he continued.

“Newry obviously lost today at Glenavon, so we have got ourselves a five-point cushion now, but we will be back on Tuesday night getting ready for Carrick next Saturday.

“The challenge to the players now is to use this as a springboard going forwards. All we can do is look after ourselves and finish the season as strong as possible.”