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BLUES CELEBRATE 50th TITLE

LINFIELD'S celebrations finally got underway at Windsor Park today with a royal blue coronation. The Gibson Cup was presented with club coloured ribbons to Linfield for the fiftieth time in their 125 year history, an unparalleled achievement in local football.

Tuesday’s victory over Lisburn Distillery statistically confirmed the championship but any air-punching was notably muted, with four days elapsing before the triumphant scenes kicked off.

The obligatory pitch invasion, popped champagne and high profile local media coverage packaged a very attractive season in the Carling Premiership for the Blues.

“You just can’t begin to describe how this feels,” defender Steven Douglas said on the pitch. “In one word? Brilliant! In a few more, you can't begin to understand how good this is. Being 11 points clear of the next team and to be able to wrap it up after a few tight moments in the season is just brilliant. You can see the lads have been waiting for this, it's just Davy's way to make us wait until we can celebrate but we're doing it now."

The story of course had been wrapped up long before the teams rolled out; Noel Bailie making his 1013th appearance for Linfield among a shadow starting XI, with several key players rested ahead of Saturday’s crucial Irish Cup final.

This final showdown against Crusaders of course is what Linfield are looking towards. But to suggest that the club treated this final league match as an interlude on their anticipatory route to the double would be unfair.

“The team talk for this game was very simple,” manager Jeffrey said after the game. “It wasn’t just about picking a trophy up. We went out to get three points and to finish the league on a record total. I cannot say how pleased I am, nor how proud I am of the players.

“The pressure associated with Linfield is monumental and we’ve all experienced pressure but never like that. When we came back from pre-season last summer we had it at the very forefront of our mind. I love the pressure without a doubt. I don’t pass it onto the players either, it’s not their job to manage that.

“We met the expectations of everyone, the fans, the board and it was to get the fiftieth title in the 125th year.”

Curtis Allen, an intermittent figure in this season’s starting line-ups, scored the only goal of the game on 81 minutes. Aaron Burns had skipped past two defenders and, managing to recover an onside position Allen turned smartly at a tight angle to net from close range.

“To score on the day that we lifted the cup and to have our record points total is amazing,” the 23 year-old said. “You don’t know how much pressure there is at Linfield until you get into the club. We had a few blips along the way but we stuck together and the quality shone through.”

Portadown, placed fifth in the Premiership genuinely had little to gain from today’s fixture in terms of results.

In the first half, Allen put in a couple of speculative shots early on but little to trouble goalkeeper Aaron Hogg. It was also a good opportunity for a decent home turnout to watch Linfield’s emerging talent such as Brian McCaul, who Jeffrey described as a “tremendous” prospect, despite his misfortune with injuries. The 20 year-old demonstrated a strong ability for set play, pace and a strong left foot.

Portadown’s opportunities came predominantly from Tim Mouncey and former Monaghan defender Brian Gartland. Mouncey came close to taking the lead on 22 minutes from the edge of the area but his curling effort was just wide of the post while Gartland nearly found the net after picking up a throw in, but his outstretched leg forced the ball directly upwards, hitting the underside of the crossbar.

The match was a sour affair for Davy Armstrong however, who was substituted through injury and at the time of writing was expecting an x-ray on his ankle. The defender was on the receiving end of an innocuous but damaging tackle and was replaced by William Murphy immediately after being stretchered off the pitch. But it didn’t curtail the festivities - Armstrong collected his winner’s medal with crutches in hand and precautionary boot armour prior to an admission to outpatients.

“Davy has to go to hospital,” Jefrrey explained. “There’s conjecture whether it’s his ligaments or a fracture and his ankle has ballooned. There’s not a way in the world he will play on Saturday. He would have had as good a chance as anyone to be in with a chance and obviously all at the club are hopeful for him.”

Linfield: Addis, Armstrong, Curran, Bailie, A. Burns, Allen, Tomelty, Ervin, Mulgrew, Munster, McCaul subs Murphy (replaced Armstrong 54), B.J. Burns (not used), O'Kane (replaced McCaul 61), McAllister (not used), Kane (replaced Mulgrew 57)

Portadown: Hogg, Mackle, O'Hara, Ramsey, Mouncey, McCabe, Teggart, Tipton, Lecky, Gartland, Craig subs Miskelly (not used), Clarke (not used), Boyle (replaced Tipton 85), Haire (replaced Teggart 85), Paget (replaced McCabe 85)

By Laure James at Windsor Park