Linfield FC 3-5 Dundalk FC
Daniel Kearns stole Dundalk hearts with a hat-trick which fired the Lilywhites to a famous win on their Setanta Sports Cup debut as they defeated runaway Irish League leaders Linfield 5-3 at Windsor Park on Saint Valentine’s Night. The Belfast-born winger gave his side the lead just past the half-hour mark only for Peter Thompson to level from the penalty spot before half-time. Mark Quigley fired in after the break and Robert Garrett and Kearns exchanged goals in a four-minute period, before Quigley’s 25-yard cracker looked to have killed the game off at 4-2. However, substitute Curtis Allen gave Linfield a lifeline on 81 minutes, only for Kearns to seal victory and his hat-trick deep in injury-time.
Manager Ian Foster opted to give a debut to Colin Hawkins, while also making their competitive bow for Dundalk were Quigley, Jason Byrne, Greg Bolger and Keith Ward. Simon Madden again carried the captain’s armband, with Dean Bennett joining Hawkins at the heart of the defence. And the visitors started positively, forcing two corners in the opening moments. At the other end, Linfield’s first attack ended with Aaron Burns shooting into the arms of Peter Cherrie from 25-yards. On 21 minutes, Jamie Mulgrew saw his effort blocked before Cherrie proved equal to another long-range effort, this time from Billy Joe Burns. That marked the start of a period of good pressure from Linfield and they almost broke the deadlock on 27 minutes.
Garrett burst into the box from the left and teed himself up before totally mis-kicking, with Thompson’s follow-up effort blocked. Bennett then denied Thompson with a fantastic headed clearance inside the six-yard box as the striker prepared to pounce. And that miss proved costly just four minutes later as, after soaking up pressure, Dundalk broke quickly and hit the front. Quigley’s exquisite cross-field pass from inside his own half found Byrne on the left and his delivery back across the box was met by Kearns who blasted in off the inside of the post from ten-yards. Dundalk almost made it 2-0 on 35 minutes when Quigley and Byrne again combined, with the latter hitting a superb dipping effort from the left corner of the box which Blayney did brilliantly to tip over.
Byrne should have doubled the lead sixty seconds later when he found himself with just Blayney to beat, but he sliced his shot wildly wide of the target from 15-yards. Thompson then found himself in on Cherrie but Bennett produced a foot-perfect last-ditch tackle to deny the striker a chance to shoot. However, Linfield did find an equaliser before the break when Nathan Murphy was adjudged to have fouled Billy Joe Burns at the by-line inside the box, with Thompson blasting his spot-kick down the middle. Within ten minutes of the second half, Dundalk restored their lead. Ross Gaynor worked his magic down the right and his cross was picked up in the area by Quigley who turned smartly before supplying a clinical finish from ten-yards. Five minutes later and it was 2-2. Hawkins fouled Thompson as Dundalk conceded a second penalty and despite Cherrie saving superbly the rebound fell to Garrett whose effort went in off the same post as Kearns’ opener.
The goals continued to flow on 66 minutes when Dundalk took the lead for the third time. Kearns fed Quigley down the left and the young winger continued his run into the box, connecting with Quigley’s return pass to side-foot the ball beyond Blayney to the far corner from six-yards. With 15 minutes remaining, the visitors made it 4-2. From the left, Gaynor picked out Quigley in acres of space on the right 30-yards from goal, and with the ball sitting up invitingly the 25-year-old let it bounce before unleashing an unstoppable dipping shot to the top corner. However, Linfield did not lie down and they were back in it on 81 minutes when Allen headed in from close range after his initial effort hit the crossbar. In the dying moments Quigley saw his 30-yard free-kick tipped over, before Cherrie denied Allen with a brilliant stop on 91 minutes. And within seconds Dundalk secured a two-goal advantage for the second leg as, with Linfield committed in attack, Kearns latched onto the ball on the halfway line and raced towards goal before coolly slotting under Blayney.
LINFIELD FC (4-4-2): Alan Blayney; Jamie Mulgrew, Chris Casement, William Murphy (David Armstrong 71), Aaron Burns; Billy Joe Burns, Robert Garrett, Michael Gault, Nathan Hanley (Curtis Allen 75); Mark McAllister, Peter Thompson.
Goals: P Thompson (43 pen), R Garrett (62), C Allen (81).
Booked: B Burns (20), N Hanley (57).
Unused Subs: Stuart Addis (GK), Aidan O’Kane, Brian McCaul, Jim Ervin, Paul Munster.
DUNDALK FC (4-2-3-1): Peter Cherrie; Simon Madden ©, Dean Bennett, Colin Hawkins, Nathan Murphy; Greg Bolger, Keith Ward (Stephen McDonnell 85); Daniel Kearns, Mark Quigley, Ross Gaynor; Jason Byrne.
Goals: D Kearns (31, 66, 92), M Quigley (54, 75).
Booked: S Madden (25), C Hawkins (61), G Bolger (61).
Unused Subs: Paul Murphy (GK), Stephen Maher, Marc Griffin, Johnny Breen.
Referee: Stephen Weatherall (Antrim).