COOPER HEADS BLUES INTO POLE POSITION
Linfield moved to the top of the Sports Direct Premiership following a tense victory over Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
The Blues almost seized the advantage early in the game when Jamie Mulgrew pounced on an errant pass from Nathan Gartside, only for the Reds keeper to make amends to save the subsequent shot.
Linfield threatened again midway through the first half with Kyle McClean having a go from the edge of the area with his effort deflecting behind for a corner.
At the other end only a timely Matthew Clarke block prevented Ronan Doherty from finding the net, with the Reds coming close again through a 35-yard Rory Hale effort that Chris Johns just about turned over after scrambling back onto his goalline.
The deadlock was broken in Linfield's favour moments from the break when Chris McKee bagged his fourth goal of the season after being released by Joel Cooper to make no mistake from inside the box.
David Healy's side might have doubled their advantage six minutes after the interval when Kirk Millar produced a reaction save from Gartside while, from the resulting corner, Daniel Finlayson was thwarted from the visiting keeper.
Gartside was then called into action once more around ten minutes after that to keep out a thunderous left-foot strike from Cooper as the Blues looked to stretch their lead.
Linfield came within a whisker moving further ahead once more midway through the second half when Finlayson nodded a Matthew Clarke against the crossbar with Jack Scott denied on the follow up by a clearance of the line.
However Cliftonville levelled with just over ten minutes remaining courtesy of a Luke Turner touch over the line after a bit of a scramble in the box as Finlayson tried to clear a Ronan Doherty goalbound effort.
But, just three minutes after that, Linfield regained the lead following a Clarke cross onto the back post that Cooper did well to meet and nod past Gartside into the net.
Chris Shields might have added a third in stoppage time after dispossessing Kris Lowe only to fire straight at Gartside from close range.
Linfield: Johns, Finlayson, Shields, Scott, Millar, McClean, Cooper, Hall, Clarke, McKee, Mulgrew subs Walsh, Newberry, McBrien, Robertson, McKay, Archer, McStravick
Cliftonville: Gartside, Stewart, Addis, Gallagher, Hale, Lowe, Robinson, Doherty, Casey, Turner, Wilson subs Odumosu, Pepper, Curran, McDonagh, Storey, McGuinness, Berry