After passing their biggest test of the season so far at Coleraine the previous week, the tests got tougher for Linfield as they faced a Portadown side sitting in third, just three points behind them, and who ended their trophy ambitions in League and Cup last season.
As well as maintaining their perfect start to the season, this match offered Linfield a chance to pull clear at the top, with Cliftonville (level on points) not playing until Sunday, Crusaders already five points behind, and Glenavon’s draw on Friday night meant they were also five points behind Linfield with a game more played, as well as this match representing a chance to go six clear of Portadown.
Linfield began with some good passing, but it was Portadown who had the first moment of note in the game, when a Gary Twigg header was saved.
Most of Portadown’s action in the first-half was fouling, everytime Linfield were running with the ball. In most cases, the victim was Jamie Mulgrew. They were rewarded by a referee who was quick to blow rather than play advantage. A yellow card was a small price to play to break up a Linfield attack.
Guy Bates was getting into good position, but it wasn’t really happening for Linfield in an attacking sense, with both Kirk Millar and Mark Haughey hitting the woodwork. You got a feeling that if Linfield persisted, their luck would change.
There were nervous moments defensively for Linfield, as Darren Murray was able to break through and fire a shot straight at Glendenning.
A flurry of Portadown corners gave Linfield some moments of worry, but they were able to clear the danger.
It looked like a game where the first goal would be so vital. Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out when Portadown were having good attacking play.
It wasn’t all Portadown, as Kirk Millar have a clear shot at goal from the edge of the box, but he fired over when a low shot would have seen a goal.
0-0 at half-time, Linfield fans applauded their team off. They knew that if they kept it up, and got the first goal, their team would get the three points.
Eight minutes into the second-half, Linfield got that goal, when Guy Bates found space in the penalty area. A shot looked like the best option, but he managed to find Matthew Clarke out left, whose cross found the unmarked Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close range.
Soon after, it was 2-0, and again it was Guy Bates involved in it. His defence splitting pass found Jamie Mulgrew through on goal. It deserved a goal, but his effort was saved by Billy Brennan. Instead of settling for a corner, Mulgrew chased the ball and pulled it back for Waterworth to head home.
Linfield might not have scored from the resulting corner and Portadown might have been able to sneak a point with the game still up for grabs in the final moments.
At 2-0, the game was over and there was no way Portadown were coming back. It’s those small margins and going that wee bit further that could make all the difference come April.
To add some icing on the result was a third goal from Guy Bates, his first domestic goal for Linfield.
His lack of goals wasn’t a concern anyway. He had two assists today, three against Coleraine and one against Carrick. If he doesn’t score, he’ll set one up.
Not unexpectedly, the game died down with the score at 3-0, with Linfield almost creating some chances but the final pass was either too long or cut out by Portadown.
Portadown had the last attacking moment of the game with a Darren Murray free-kick. It flew over the bar and landed on one of the balconies in the Railway Stand.
Up next for Linfield, was a League Cup tie against Glebe Rangers which saw a 5-0 win, a combination of youngsters, players returning from injury and players needing minutes taking the field made it a very productive night. Ards away in the next round please.
League trips to Ballinamallard and Crusaders are up next. Two wins there will see us at least eight points clear of Crusaders and land a right hook on a title rival early on in the season.
No offence to Portadown, but it’s been a while since Linfield did that.