David Healy’s subtle but satisfied fist pump on the final whistle highlighted the value of the three points Linfield secured at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Tuesday night
There’s still a long way to go and the Blues lie just a point clear of Cliftonville and three above Big Two rivals Glentoran with eight games to play in a fascinating title race.
But a 2-0 win on a mire of a pitch after going down to 10 men following Christy Manzinga’s first-half red card bore all the hallmarks of a notable result at this stage of the season.
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At the end of a gruelling campaign, there are games managers reflect on as defining results and this, despite its distinct lack of fluidity and finesse, felt like one of those games.
“It was a big three points, especially after going down to 10 men,” said Healy.
“Sometimes when you go down to 10 men, you can go into your shell, but from a strange point of view, I think it galvanised us a little bit.
“We didn’t give up too many opportunities when we went down to 10, we held our shape and the players should take immense credit for the way they managed the game.
“I thought we were very professional, certainly in the second half.”
A Steven McCullough own goal had the Blues ahead in the 35th minute, but four minutes later top goalscorer Manzinga was sent packing for his part in an apparent off-the-ball incident.
The Frenchman bundled Ballymena defender Caolan Loughran to the ground and despite the player’s protestations, referee Shane Andrews produced a red card.
Manzinga, who has scored 20 goals this season, can expect a lengthy ban given he was also red carded in a 0-0 draw at Glenavon back in September.
“I didn’t really see it and I’ve only had a quick look at it,” said Healy of the 39th minute incident.
“You’re always disappointed to lose a player of the calibre of Christy, not only for tonight’s game but the foreseeable future and the games he’s going to be suspended for.
“It’ll probably be four (games he’ll miss) because he was sent off before this season, but it’ll be interesting to see the footage.
“It’s always disappointing to lose a player but we’ll assess it and see what happens moving forward.”
David Healy watches on as Christy Manzinga is set off
(Image: INPHO/Matt Mackey)
A Chris Shields penalty in the 73rd minute sealed the points for Linfield who have bounced back from a Big Two derby defeat at Glentoran on February 11 with three gritty wins, two of them on the road.
Maximum points have been secured against Portadown (1-0), Carrick Rangers (2-1) and now Ballymena to keep the Blues at the summit ahead of Friday’s home clash with Crusaders.
“When I spoke to the press after we lost at the Oval, I said we had six games before the split and that we wanted to maximise the points we got from those six games,” said Healy.
“That’s three wins from three and we have another three games left now before the split. We’ve got two home games against Crusaders and Dungannon before we travel to Warrenpoint.
“It’s important for us to try and maximise the points available to us before we go into the split because when we do, there are so many good teams and different scenarios.
“Everybody is fighting for something and we’re no different.”
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