Irish Premiership: Lavery nets double as Linfield beat Larne in top-two showdown

Lavery scored in either half to extend Linfield's lead at the top to six points
Lavery scored in either half to extend Linfield's lead at the top to six points

Irish Premiership leaders Linfield moved six points clear of Larne after Shayne Lavery's double lifted the Blues to a 2-1 win over the Invermen at Windsor Park.

Lavery opened the scoring with a first-half penalty following Dean Jarvis' foul on the Northern Ireland striker.

The 22-year-old added an insurance goal 18 minutes from time.

Larne captain Jeff Hughes netted a late consolation for the visitors but it was not enough to prevent a Blues win.

The result hands the momentum in the title race back to Linfield, who went into the match on the back of a three-game winless run.

While top-of-the-table encounters are often edgy, tactical battles, both teams showed plenty of attacking intent throughout a fast-paced first half.

Larne, hoping to secure a first league win at Windsor Park since 1976, were given the chance to take an lead early after a careless piece of play by Blues centre-back Jimmy Callacher.

Having gifted possession to Dylan Mottley-Henry, Callacher missed his challenge on Lee Lynch, allowing the Larne winger to drive forward and play in Mottley-Henry, whose shot was charged down well by Chris Johns.

But while Callacher's blushes were spared by his goalkeeper, there was no such reprieve for Larne's Dean Jarvis, who gave the hosts the chance to bag the opening goal when his mistimed lunge on Lavery resulted in a penalty.

Lavery stepped up and sent Conor Devlin the wrong way to put the champions ahead after 27 minutes.

But Larne, who recovered from an early Lavery goal to beat Linfield 3-1 at Inver Park in December, were not to be deterred as Jarvis nearly atoned for his part in the Blues' opener, drilling an inviting pass across the home side's goal, with Ronan Hale and Mottley-Henry both failing with their attempt to connect.

Two minutes later, Hale tested Johns with a powerful drive from distance with Lynch unable to convert the rebound while Albert Watson headed over from a corner.

Linfield were furious not to be awarded a second penalty, however, when Fuad Sule stumbled and fell into Joel Cooper following a Blues corner.

Cooper was involved again shortly after the restart when he glided past the Larne defence before spotting Stephen Fallon's near-post dash, only for the midfielder to blast wide.

Naturally, as Larne pushed for the equaliser, Linfield looked to hit the visitors on the counter, which is exactly how they put the game to bed.

Conor Pepper surged forward, and while Fallon was unable to control, Tomas Cosgrove's attempted clearance bounced off the midfielder and into the path of Lavery, who poked home via the woodwork.

Larne skipper Hughes pulled a goal back in the 89th-minute after a slick pass from Conor McKendry, but it was too little, too late for Tiernan Lynch's side as Linfield responded to Tuesday's derby defeat by Glentoran in style.

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