COLERAINE bounced back from their League Cup Final disappointment as Shane Jennings’ first half header and a great second half defensive display earned them a 1-0 win over league leaders Linfield.
But the opening stages of the contest had something of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to them. The atmosphere was unusually flat, as was the football on show as both sides failed to create any clear openings.
The first chance of the game fell to Linfield’s Aaron Burns, who wasted a free header in the six yard box by tamely heading down where Cullen could gather easily. Coleraine suffered a blow soon after when Johnny Black was forced off, Oran Kearney and the player taking no risks with his groin injury which kept him out of action for five weeks. Paul Owens replaced him, with Ryan McIlmoyle moving to left back.
But with two minutes left before the break, The Showgrounds erupted as Alan Blayney parried Stephen Lowry’s shot and Ciaran Clarke flicked the ball on to Shane Jennings, who headed in his eighth goal of the campaign.
Coleraine expected a Linfield onslaught in the second half and the champions fired an early warning of their intentions as Peter Thompson went close. Owens shot just wide at the other end as Coleraine looked to extend their advantage.
Cullen denied Thompson from close range and then produced an excellent block to deny sub Mark McAllister after he had failed to punch the ball clear. Coleraine then lost Aaron Canning to injury and had to survive a couple of penalty appeals as Linfield attempted to turn the screw.
Michael Carvill shot just wide, while Robert Garrett missed the target with a wild shot and at the other end, Ruairi Harkin shot just wide. Deep into injury time Coleraine almost added a second, as Owens held the ball up superbly before playing the ball back to sub Michael Hegarty, but he was unable to make it a fairy-tale comeback as Blayney dived to smother the ball at his feet.
Team: Cullen, Beverland, Ogilby, Scullion, Lowry, Harkin, McIlmoyle, Canning (Watt), Jennings (Hegarty), Clarke, Black (Owens)
Unused Subs: M. Doherty, McVey
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