Linfield move top as Chris Shields penalty seals win over 10-man Larne

Defending Premiership champions Linfield were left sitting pretty in top spot as Chris Shields’ penalty kick secured a vital victory over 10-man Larne.

A first win at Inver Park since 2007 left Linfield holding the upper hand following a night of drama centred around a red card and penalty kick.

Blues goalkeeper Chris Johns was involved within the opening minute by getting behind David McDaid’s shot from distance before a fortunate deflection cut out the threat off the rebound.

Ben Doherty attempted to steer home a curling long-range left-foot effort on seven minutes following good work by Mark Randall as Larne worked hard in search of the upper hand.

Chris Shields (right) celebrates scoring from the penalty spot in Linfield's win over Larne. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Another Larne sight of goal was carved out on 12 minutes when Randall found Tomas Cosgrove wide on the right and the low cross arrived for Ronan Hale at the far post but Johns was on hand to get behind the subsequent shot.

However, Christy Manzinga’s power and pace along the Linfield frontline offered evidence of the defending champions’ attacking threat

And the striker - linking up with Linfield’s other leading name across the first half in Shields - helped to break the deadlock on 28 minutes.

Shields displayed strength and skill to move forward from midfield and pick out Manzinga’s run - with referee Raymond Crangle ultimately delivering a red card to Kofi Balmer for what he considered contact preventing a goalscoring opportunity as the Larne defender came cross the run of the Linfield striker.

The double blow of a red card and penalty kick left Larne on the backfoot as Shields stepped up to strike home from the spot.

Superb tracking by Cosgrove stopped Linfield from increasing the advantage on 35 minutes when he followed Stephen Fallon’s run into the danger zone and put the Linfield player under pressure, leading to a sliding connection to Manzinga’s cross bouncing off the crossbar from a few yards.

Larne, although rattled in the early moments after suffering the red card and penalty, regrouped for the latter period of the first half and a clever turn by Hale created space but he fired wide.

Linfield almost added number two after the interval with a flowing move kicked off by goalkeeper Johns, with Jordan Stewart then flicking the ball wide into the path of Trai Hume and he slipped a pass down the right flank for Manzinga to whip over from wide. The supporting Ahmed Salam met with a crisp goalbound volley but Larne had numbers in place to block the attempt.

Larne, sitting both a player and goal down, had a chance to level from set-piece play on 69 minutes when Doherty’s free-kick was met by Albert Watson at the back post. Watson, who had been introduced as a first-half replacement for the injured Cian Bolger, was unable to direct goalwards due to the presence of Jimmy Callacher.

An injury-time break almost led to a second Linfield goal but Kyle McClean failed to convert Manzinga’s pass.

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