Linfield see off spirited Annagh United
David Healy’s Linfield punched their ticket to the second round of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup - but they had to work for their 2-0 success against a battling Annagh United at Windsor Park.
Ciaran McGurgan’s boys were crowned Premier Intermediate League champions after the Covid-19-disrupted 2019-20 campaign was halted in March and they hadn’t played a league game since then.
Incredibly, this was their first league match in 416 days.
But they ran themselves ragged on the lush surface at the international arena and can certainly hold their heads high on a job well done.
Second-half goals from Andy Waterworth and Shayne Lavery – the latter’s 23rd of the season – finally downed brave United.
Following their disappointing result at Glenavon at the weekend – when a 3-2 defeat meant the Blues’ lead at the top of the Premiership table was cut to only seven points – Healy decided to reshuffle his pack, handing starting shirts to Conor Pepper, Michael Newbury, Niall Quinn, Jamie Mulgrew, Navid Nasseri, Christy Manzinga and Waterworth.
Although the Blues bossed possession in the opening 45 minutes, they rarely tested goalkeeper Eoin Hughes.
Manzinga did manage to trick his way past Owen McConville on the left after eight minutes, but his low shot was easily saved by Hughes at the near post.
Healy’s boys huffed and puffed, but the longer the game went on the more their visitors grew in confidence.
Kirk Millar, tried his luck with a shot from distance and with Hughes at full stretch the ball fizzed past the post.
Incredibly, it was Annagh who carved out the best opening of the half when Craig Taylor’s monster throw-in from the left was met by the head of big defender Stephen Acheson and the former’s effort forced Chris Johns into a fantastic one-handed save.
Healy’s team had another escape early after the restart from a Taylor throw-in that wasn’t dealt with by Johns but when Ruari McDonald back-flicked the ball into the six-yard box, there were no takers in the middle.
Linfield broke the deadlock on 53 minutes, but it was a gift from Annagh substitute Jackson Holmes, whose wayward pass was picked up by Waterworth, who sent Millar clear on the right and when he cut the ball back the striker made no mistake from eight yards with a low shot.
Not to be deterred, the visitors called on the long throw-in process once more but this time Acheson’s header, following another Taylor delivery, flashed over the top.
Nasseri should have had Linfield out of sight just after the hour when he roared through the middle with only Hughes to beat, but the shot-stopper managed to get a boot to deflect clear.
Blues substitute Lavery almost grabbed a second 10 minutes from time.
After a defence-splitting 50-yard dash, his low shot crashed off the base of the post with Hughes beaten.
But Lavery duly snuffed out the gutsy United challenge on 85 minutes when he expertly tucked away a great pass from Cammy Palmer.
LINFIELD: Johns, Pepper, Newberry, Callacher, Quinn, Mulgrew, Nasseri (Stewart, 63), Millar, Cooper (Palmer, 79), Manzinga (Lavery, 63), Waterworth.
Subs (not used): Moore, Clarke, Haughey, Fallon.
ANNAGH UNITED: Hughes, McConville, McCaffrey, Upton, Acheson, Henderson, McDonald, Jordan (Holmes, 46), McCormack, Duffin (McCordick, 82), Taylor (Stewart, 90).
Subs (not used): Eagle, Kerr, Campbell, Woods, McCullins, Gordon.
REFEREE: Christopher Morrison.
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