Report by Peter Wilson
Photo: Bill Guiller
Larne produced an outstanding comeback from a goal down to defeat the Premiership Champions, Linfield 3-1 at Inver Park and go four points clear of the Blues at the top of the league table.
After Shayne Lavery gave Linfield a lead early on, Graham Kelly pulled the Invermen level with Marty Donnelly and Davy McDaid sealing the win for Larne in the final 15 minutes.
The game also saw fans return to Inver Park for the first time in more than two weeks and the stadium was rocking by the end of the night.
The momentum was firmly with the Invermen in the opening period of the game and in the fourth minute came their first chance with Marty Donnelly threading the ball out to Ronan Hale to the left of the area as the striker had a go from in line with the penalty spot, but his shot dipped just over the bar.
The visitors went in front on 17 minutes when Niall Quinn provided a great through-ball in behind the defence on the right-hand side. Shayne Lavery latched onto the ball, cut inside and fired into the roof of the net from 16 yards out.
Hale had a very good opportunity to equalise for the hosts on 21 when Jeff Hughes sprayed a delightful cross-field ball from just inside the Linfield half on the right. John Herron knocked the ball down inside the box to Hale at the near post and he was unlucky not to convert from four yards out.
Larne continued to go for the equaliser during the rest of the first period but struggled to break down a well-organised Linfield with Donnelly’s 25 yard free-kick to the right of goal dipping just over the bar with 12 minutes left until the break their only real chance of note.
Half-time: Larne 0 Linfield 1
Early in the second half, David Walsh palmed away a low Hughes effort 25 yards from goal.
However the Inver Reds were knocking on the door and Graham Kelly found a way in with 59 minutes gone. Kelly cut in from the left flank on to his right foot and sent a 20-yard curling effort flying into the top right, leaving Walsh with no chance.
With 69 minutes on the clock, Davy McDaid picked out Ronan Hale with a great pass in behind the Linfield rearguard on the left hand side but the number nine could only blaze over the bar from 10 yards.
Four minutes later, Marty Donnelly gave the home side the lead for the first time. Conor Devlin sent a great ball up the pitch to McDaid on the right who took the ball inside Matthew Clarke and cut the ball back to Donnelly. The winger then beat the ‘keeper with a deflected low shot from inside the box.
With seven minutes left of normal time, Fuad Sule came close to making it three as his effort struck the right post from 25 yards and went wide.
Indeed, number three arrived on 89 minutes as Davy McDaid dispatched a spot kick past Walsh – after being fouled by Mark Stafford on the byline – despite the visiting stopper getting something on it.
Full-time: Larne 3 Linfield 1
Larne:Devlin, Kelly, Watson, Robinson, Herron, Sule, Hale, McDaid, Donnelly, Cosgrove, Hughes (c)
Subs not used:C Mitchell, Scott, Lynch, A Mitchell, Wade Slater, Jarvis, McMurray
Linfield:Walsh, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Stewart (Waterworth 71’), Millar, Lavery, Clarke (Hery 79’), McClean (Doyle 79’), Mulgrew (c), Quinn
Subs not used:Larkin, Shevlin, Kearns, McGivern
Larne kick off a busy Christmas and New Year schedule away to Portadown at Shamrock Park on Saturday 19 December (3pm).