Irish Premiership: In-form Shayne Lavery hits winner as Linfield stretch lead with victory over Crusaders

Joel Cooper
Cooper levelled for Linfield with a classy goal

Linfield came from behind to secure a 2-1 win over Crusaders and stretch their lead at the top of the Irish Premiership to 11 points.

In-form Shayne Lavery capitalised on a Paul Heatley mistake to smash home the winner on 66 minutes.

Crusaders had taken an early lead through a Ross Clarke wonder goal but Joel Cooper equalised soon after the break.

The Blues have played three games more than second-placed Coleraine.

The Bannsiders are at home to Carrick Rangers on Saturday and will be looking to respond after the title holders recovered well from going behind to display patience to earn what was an important three points.

Tempers flared in injury time at Seaview as a clash between Jarlath O'Rourke and Lavery in the corner led to players from both sides getting involved in a melee, but referee Raymond Crangle took no action.

Home substitute Jamie McGonigle had just fired wide but could not prevent Stephen Baxter's men suffering their fifth defeat in six home matches.

Ross Clarke
Clarke's opener against his former club was a thunderous angled strike

After a cagey start to the match, Clarke's stunning opening goal arrived in the 16th minute when Adam Lecky sprayed the ball wide to him after good hold-up play.

Clarke drove forward and cut inside Niall Quinn before unleashing an outstanding left-foot drive from outside the corner of the box which flew past Chris Johns and into the top corner.

There was no immediate response from the title holders but they did come close twice around the half-hour mark, with Kirk Millar just wide of the far post with an in-swinging free-kick before Cooper's angled drive went over the crossbar.

The hosts almost doubled their lead before the half-time but Jordan Forsythe headed just wide from a well-delivered Clarke cross.

Linfield began the second half in commanding fashion and levelled on 53 minutes when Cooper controlled a long pass with a sublime touch before standing up two defenders, shifting on to his left foot and drilling low past Jonny Tuffey.

They took the lead 13 minutes later when Heatley failed to control a corner at the back post and Lavery pounced to fire home from close range for his 19th goal of the season.

The Northern Ireland international then hit the post with a cross and forced an excellent save from Tuffey as the Blues ran out deserved winners.

Linfield manager David Healy said: "I said before the game how much of a challenge it is when you play Crusaders so credit to the players. We didn't get going in the first half, looked a bit leggy but we regrouped and steamrollered them in the second half.

"These Friday night games are a challenge but for us to give that sort of performance and come away with the three points is incredible. Tonight probably wasn't Shayne Lavery's best game but he was alive in the box and got his goal."

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