Danske Bank Premiership

Linfield beat the champions to stay three points clear of Ballymena United at the top. Barry Gray leaves the Reds after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Dungannon Swifts, and Ards continue to hang on by a lifeline as Newry City couldn’t get all three points at the Oval.

The fans came out to see this one. A top of the table battle at Seaview. League leaders Linfield, with the best defence only conceding 15 all season came to North Belfast to put their mark on this one with a 1-0 win over the champions Crusaders.

The Crues have only themselves to blame this season. I have had my honest say on the things that seem to be wrong with a few unhappy reactions from some.

26 games played with only three occasions where the back four and goalkeeper line-up has remained the same in the subsequent game. 23 times the whole back department has been changed around like a jigsaw! Does this explain the 36 goals against? In the words of the legend that is Liam Beckett: “it’s about consistency at the back”. Yes, I get it, injuries, suspensions and ‘weddings.’ But this is a problem that needs to be stopped soon.

Crusaders are not ‘entitled’ to walk into Europe and claim the much-needed money every season. With high spending Larne coming up they will be looking to get in on the European purse as well.

The all-important goal came from Jordan Stewart. This might have been due to another change at the back for Crues where Michael Ruddy came in, and to be fair Ruddy and Ger Doherty have not had much game time together. Wherever the mix up came from, it allowed Jordan Stewart to run onto a long ball, and coolly lift it over Ger Doherty. A great finish from the Blues’ little midfield star.

To Mourneview, and Ballymena United were looking to keep the pressure on Linfield, and that they did with a 2-0 win against Glenavon. After a wonderful start to the season what has really gone wrong in Lurgan?

Kris Lindsay has moved on, who I am sure was a great motivator behind the scenes and Mark Sykes has moved on to Oxford United. This is now six games in the league without a win for the Lurgan Blues. Things are not looking good. After this win, the Sky Blues are now the league’s top scorers on 55. What a season they are having.

The first can only be blamed on the Glenavon goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey. He made a total meal to parry the ball into the feet of Adam Lecky who to be fair, couldn’t have missed even if he was looking the wrong way.

Just to get this right you have to take your hat off to the Sky Blues for the build-up play. The passing, movement and pure work was a joy to behold and any wonder the Sky Blues fans are enjoying themselves at the minute.

Number two came from for me, the Sky Blues player of the season so far – Jude Winchester. He picked up a through ball from Lecky to finish past Tuffey.

The recent games are taking its toll and it showed today in the technical area of the Lurgan Blues. Coach Paul Millar was sent to the stands and manager Gary Hamilton was lucky not to follow. Seems that referees now have a degree in how to take foul-mouthed abuse.

Barry Gray has gone. This 3-1 defeat for Cliftonville away to Dungannon Swifts was the last straw for Gray. Personally, he should have walked after the terrible start to the season. The moment he lost the changing room must have been the game where they lost in injury time back in September to Warrenpoint Town.

The home form has kept them safe but it seems Gray just was not able to control a very ‘ego-heavy’ changing room. This win for Swifts is now three great performances in a row and pushed them eight points away from the play-off position.

The first came from the foot of ex-Reds striker Daniel Hughes. He raced onto a through ball and finished. Questions were asked by the Reds about whether Paul McElroy was in an offside position? Yes, he was, but he never touched the ball and he definitely did not interfere with play. The Reds got themselves a lifeline when defender Jamie Harney got his head onto a cross to finish. But it was short-lived.

It was over to that man Hughes to finish off Cliftonville and Gray. He got his second and the Swifts’ second when he latched onto a long ball form Oisin Smyth to control and finish past Richard Brush. Brush was not helped out by some lacklustre defending from the Reds and players complaining once again of offside.

Hughes rounded up the scoring and then collected the match ball with the third and his hat-trick. McElroy delivered a pinpoint ball to the head of Hughes and the rest is history.

Warrenpoint pushed themselves further away from the relegation zone with a 4-0 win over Institute. Stute need to get their house in order. If they are looking to offload Michael McCrudden, it seems they are holding out for money from the highest bidder. That shows they have no desire to push on this season.

‘Point made light work of Stute and were quickly off the mark through Alan O’Sullivan. He got onto a cross from Ciaran O’Connor to head home. It was the same combination that made it two; O’Connor this time playing to O’Sullivan again and with one touch he then finished.

Things went from bad to worse for Stute. They won a penalty and with McCrudden suspended Joe McCready stepped up and missed. ‘Point went up the other end and got their third through new signing from Drogheda United, Lee Duffy. ‘Point saved the best for last and it was Duffy that got it. Some wonderful build-up play by the ‘Point and it got the finish it deserved.

Gary Smyth took charge of his first home game for the Glentoran and registered a win against lowly Newry City running out 2-1 winners. The day didn’t start the way it was meant to. Some really indecisive defending saw the ball fall to Jamie Walker who took aim and fired the shot high into the top corner to give City the lead.

The Glens came out in the second half like a new team and got their rewards. A strong Robbie McDaid run and cross was finished off for his first goal for the Glens for Darren Murray. The Glens took all three points when a goalmouth scramble ended up with City defender Darren King turning the ball into his own net.

So, the weekend got off and running on Friday night when Coleraine made the long journey to the North Down seaside to take on bottom of the table Ards. It was ‘smash and grab’ for the Bannsiders who came away with all three points after a 2-1 win.

So it was in with the new for the Bannsiders to get the first of the evening. Jamie Glackin (signed from Crusaders) found Ben Doherty (signed from Derry City) who fired home to give the Bannsiders the lead. Glackin was to turn villain after losing the ball to Michael Kerr, who set up Gareth Tommons. The ex-Bannsiders player did the rest to finish.

The winner came right at the death when Josh Carson ran onto the ball to finish low and hard past Samuel Johnston. A bitter pill to swallow for Ards as they had chances to kill this game off but just didn’t take them.

Player of the weekend

Daniel Hughes: A number of players could have taken this. Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew for his dominant display in the middle of the park. Ciaran O’Connor for a truly sublime performance for the Point, but my call of the weekend goes to Hughes. His three goals against his old employers just get him over the line. Great work rate great finishing and a wonderful desire. All three goals were well deserved.

Danske Bank Premiership