It was a night to remember for Linfield, as they beat league champions Glentoran to claim the Premiership League Cup at Solitude.
Glentoran, who had won the competition in each of the last 7 years, were aiming to secure the league and cup double to round off another successful season. As such they named a virtually full strength team, with influential trio Demi Vance, Gail Macklin and captain Nadene Caldwell all taking to the field.
It was no surprise then that Glentoran started the stronger team, with Vance looking especially dangerous from her position on the left hand side. She created the real first opening on 9 minutes, when she hit a pin perfect cross onto the head of Katrina Montgomery, but she could only steer her header wide from 12 yards.
A few minutes later Glentoran almost took the lead when left back Jessica Foy hit in a 40 yard free kick that sailed over the head of centre back and Northern Ireland regular Ashley Hutton, and bounced over the goalkeeper Nicole Adams, who done very well to backtrack and tip the ball over the bar. The resulting corner seen defender Catherine Sheridan have a clear sight of goal with a practically free header, but she couldn't keep it down.
Glentoran Stalwart Kelly Baillie had the next effort when she hit a good free kick that required a diving save from Adams. The Glens really should have taken the lead on 20 minutes when Macklin and Vance produced some great play along the byline that enabled Vance to cut the ball back to Montgomery, but her sidefooted effort went straight into the arms of Adams.
Vance used her skill and agile dribbling ability to carve out one or two oppertunites for herself, twice hitting shots from just outside the box that were caught comfortably by the keeper.
Linfield, who were defending very well and forcing Glentoran into long range efforts, were also showing that they were capable of causing one or two problems themselves and they had a clear sight of goal on 34 min, when Northern Ireland international left midfielder Kirsty McGuiness beat her marker and squared the ball to midfielder Lynsey Corry, but she couldn't get her shot off quick enough, and it was blocked.
Three minutes after this, after some more good passing play from Glentoran, Macklin found the net but her calm, collected finish, was ruled out for offside, as the linesman correctly had the flag up for offside. This was followed up by further long range efforts from Vance and Ballie.
The Glentoran management must have been wondering if they would be made to pay for their failure to find the net despite controlling the vast majority of this game. Their fears were confirmed on the stroke of half time, when McGuiness, who had been at the centre of all Linfields positive attacking play, picked the ball up and showed her international pedigree by beating a defender and rifling a shot into the net from a wide position to give her team a slighly surprising 1-0 lead at the break.
The first period of the second half was a very even affair, with both defences on top. Linfields back four managed to sucessfully keep Glentorans attack at bay, and restricted them to very few oppertunities, none of which resulted in a shot on target.
The first incident of note in the second period was a shout for a penalty on 68 minutes, when Vance, now operating out on the right, got the ball, turned her marker and was taken down by the keeper. However the Referee judged that the keeper got a touch on the ball, making it a very, very good save. Video replays later showed that this was in fact the correct decision
Glentoran, now showing a sense of urgency, kept dominating possession, but were still unable to do anything of note with the ball thanks to the dogged determination of Linfields defence and midfield to make tackles and chase down every last ball.
Linfield were still dangerous on the counter, and some good play resulted in them winning a corner on 82 minutes which was swung in by McGuinness. The ball seemed to take a minor deflection off Hutton before sailing into the top corner to increase their lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
There was only more real chance in the match, when a Sarah Venney corner was flicked on by McGuinness and required a clearance off the line by Foy to prevent a third goal, and as such the game finished with a 2-0 win for linfield.
Glentoran will feel hard done by, as they didn't play badly at all and created some good goalscoring opportunities. They were definitely the better attacking team in the first two thirds of the pitch, but were made to pay for not taking any of their chances by some quality play from Linfield when it mattered.
While McGuinness will rightly grab the headlines from this game, the victory was build on a rock solid defensive display from Hutton and her centre back partner Sarah Haddock, who was absolutely outstanding all game. There were also notable performances from keeper Nicole Adams, whos reactions and handling were top class all night and right back Chelsea Myles.
Manager Ryan McConville was understandably delighted with his team. “We scored the first goal against the run of play, before that Glentoran had the upper hand, but we made it very difficult for them. We were brilliant all over the pitch and everybody performed really well tonight.” McConville has been in charge of the last 15 months and has brought a measure of success to Linfield, he has been to 6 finals and won 5 trophies, and seen his team challenge Glentoran for the title, and finish above Crusaders this season.
Report and Photos by Ben Hanna