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Belfast Live
Lauren McCann

Michael Gault full of praise for Linfield Swifts after gutsy Big Two win

A first half flurry of goals ensured that second placed Linfield Swifts stretched their unbeaten run in the NIFL U20 Premiership to seven games as they overcame rivals Glentoran II 3-2 on Monday night at Ashfield.

Boosted by the appearance of some first team stars, the Blues went ahead on 23 minutes through summer signing Andrew Clarke before Ross Boyd swiftly doubled their lead four minutes later. Chris McKee added a third from the spot on 29 minutes before Bailey Locke pulled one back for the Glens before half-time.

Mal Smith then reduced the deficit further with 14 minutes remaining, but Linfield held on for the victory which moved them level with leaders Crusaders, having played a game less than the North Belfast club.

Read more: Carl Frampton accepts David Healy nomination for Linfield challenge

Boss Michael Gault was pleased that Linfield were able to lay down a marker against their nearest rivals, albeit with the help of some first team regulars making their way back to full fitness.

He said: "I'm delighted to get the win against our biggest rivals. Even if it is the U20 Development League it's always good to pick up three points against Glentoran and get some first teamers valuable game time.

"So, all in all it was a good night."

Glentoran's Conor Haughey under pressure from Linfield Swifts' Diego Jose McGann. (Bill Smyth)

The former Blues star reserved particular acclaim for Linfield's exciting front three, after two of them got on the scoresheet, but he was also glad that his side could hold onto their slender lead in the latter stages of the game.

"We have boys like Andy Clarke, Ethan Devine and Chris McKee up front which made it a lot easier for us," Gault added.

"It was just about getting the ball into the final third and those boys did the rest, they were very clinical. Obviously, we would have liked to get a few more goals but fair play to Glentoran they came back into it, got a goal just before half time and put pressure on.

"Then they got the second goal, but we held out well, so I was pleased."

Gault concedes that the nature of the U20 league means that it is hard to build consistently but has been grateful that a settled side has allowed Linfield to slowly do so, as well as hailing the influence of senior boss David Healy on his players.

"We've been chopping and changing with a lot of first teamers dropping down and some of our younger players over on trial across the water, so it has been hard," he said.

"But I think the last seven or eight games we have had a settled squad with a core group of boys who know their roles, so it has been a good help to get consistency.

"We have a good set up with the coaching staff and David Healy is down at all the training sessions and our matches that he can attend and he's only too happy to help. He is in the changing room at half time and full time so he's no stranger to helping us and our boys."

Gault also hopes that Linfield can continue their recent good form as success will breed confidence in his players aiming to break through to the first team.

However, he maintained that his main remit was to ensure players are ready for first team action when called upon and will therefore sacrifice success at this level to do so.

He said: "We have to be up there challenging. It doesn't matter if you're Linfield's first team or the Under 8s you always want to try and win the league.

"If we don't win it won't be the end of the world as it is all about the first team and developing players so if we do stay towards the top, it would be nice, but it is not our main aim, that is development. In saying that, there is no better way to develop them than by being successful and winning things as you can't beat that winning sensation."

Meanwhile, Glentoran manager Norman Kelly was disappointed that a sloppy start cost his side in the end but was proud of how they reacted in the second period.

"It was a 10-minute spell that we conceded the three goals after starting well and they were slack goals, a lack of concentration then the penalty, but I was happy with the character and the way they got themselves back in the game, they showed they had a fight," he said.

"I thought the second half we pushed on got it back to 3-2 and looked the team most likely to score. I thought there was a couple of excellent performances from the young boys with Conor Haughey and Casey Smith, so there were some positives to take out of a disappointing result."

When asked about his team's inconsistent start to the season, which has seen them win five and lose five so far, Smith, echoed Gault's sentiments on the constant change of player availability game to game making it difficult to build momentum.

"I had five players away with the Northern Ireland U17 team, so they weren't available, and it's happened a few times this season. I accept that and know from one week to the next I will have a different team with young boys coming in and then some older ones dropping down to get game time," he added.

"We do have a great focus on the younger ones coming through, we regularly have 15 and 16-year olds in our squad so my goal is to give these boys the opportunity to play at a good level."

Glentoran's Bailey Locke after pulling a goal back against Linfield Swifts. (Bill Smyth)

Elsewhere, there were plenty of goals in the other four games this week with leaders Crusaders Reserves suffering their second consecutive defeat as they were beaten 3-2 by Glenavon Reserves at Mourneview Park.

Goals from Matthew Snoddy, against his former club, Josh Doyle and Jamie Doran sealed the win for the Lurgan Blues, with Corrie Burns responding for Crusaders, as Dan Burn also scored an own goal.

Portadown Reserves once again impressed as they followed up last week’s thumping win over Ballymena by thrashing bottom side Newry Reserves 7-0 at the Showgrounds.

Zach Cowan was on the scoresheet for the second game in a row, with Kyle Watterson and James McAlister also finding the net and Gledis Cakaj and Igor Ruthowski both netting braces. Aaron McNeill’s side are now five games unbeaten in the league, whilst Newry have yet to pick up a point so far.

Carrick Reserves then edged Dungannon Reserves 4-3 at Stangmore Park as they got back to winning ways following two successive defeats.


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