WATCH: Champions Larne set for Irish League title party and back-to-back crowns after Linfield draw

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Larne have all-but-mathematically retained the Gibson Cup crown after a 1-1 draw with Linfield left their official confirmation a formality at Inver Park this weekend.

Although a Linfield victory on Saturday and Larne losing to Coleraine would leave the two teams level on points, the Inver Reds’ superior goal difference – which currently stands at 17 – means they’ve effectively secured another Premiership crown.

This season’s triumph has arguably been more impressive than their maiden success last term – Tiernan Lynch’s side have won more matches, lost fewer and scored considerably more than in 2022/23 – and this point means they’ve been able to see off the challenging Blues.

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Linfield made a fast start at Windsor Park and got their deserved reward when Leroy Millar could only divert Kirk Millar’s wicked cross into his own net, but the Inver Reds weren’t behind for long as Andy Ryan converted his 35th-minute penalty – a 24th league goal of the season for the Premiership’s top marksman – after Joel Cooper was adjudged to have brought down Tomas Cosgrove by referee Tony Clarke.

Linfield’s Jordan Stewart with Larne’s Dylan Sloan during Monday evening's match at Windsor Park. Picture: Jonathan Porter / Press EyeLinfield’s Jordan Stewart with Larne’s Dylan Sloan during Monday evening's match at Windsor Park. Picture: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Linfield’s Jordan Stewart with Larne’s Dylan Sloan during Monday evening's match at Windsor Park. Picture: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Knowing victory was necessary, Blues boss David Healy opted for an attacking line-up with teenage sensation Braiden Graham handed his first league start alongside Cooper, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Chris McKee.

The 16-year-old had a huge opportunity to mark his milestone moment with a memorable goal as the hosts broke quickly through Cooper, who fed a pass into Graham’s path, but he couldn’t get his feet sorted in time to make Larne pay for an uncharacteristic defensive lapse.

Healy’s men did take the lead soon after as the two Millars had a decisive say – Kirk’s cross turned into his own net by an unfortunate Leroy at the back post with the swirling delivery looping over Rohan Ferguson’s head.

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Larne responded 14 minutes later as Ryan kept his cool to slot calmly past Chris Johns after Cooper’s slight nudge on Cosgrove who was bearing down on goal – a decision which seemed slightly harsh on first viewing.

The South Belfast outfit did have a chance to restore their lead on the stroke of half-time with another Millar cross causing trouble – this time Daniel Finlayson nodding back into McKee’s path, but the striker sent his effort over the crossbar.

Just like in the first half, Linfield came quickly out of the traps once again after the break and had an immediate chance to go in front, Millar again the source of creativity for his side whipping in a front post cross which Graham could only head wide.

Lee Bonis then picked up his 10th yellow card of the season for a foul on Chris Shields, which rules him out of Larne’s final game of the season against Coleraine this weekend.

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Larne were gifted a chance to all-but-secure the title and ease pressure heading into the final 15 minutes as Shields sold Johns short with his back pass, allowing Bonis to run through one-on-one - but his chipped attempt was brilliantly saved.

The hosts then came within inches of going in front as McKee met another Millar free-kick, only to watch as it bounced off the outside of the post.

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