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LONE STAR DICKSON; McGeough praises Windsor native Mark for helping Larne give the Blues a scare Linfield 1 Larne 1.

Byline: Gordon Hanna

LARNE boss Jimmy McGeough hailed Mark Dickson's Lone Ranger role and said: "He's too good for the Irish League."

And the man who is rejuvenating Larne insisted: "Why this lad isn't playing across the channel, I really don't know."

Dickson indeed was a hero on the day Larne nearly ended their long wait for a win at Windsor Park.

Statisticians reveal it was in the season 1976-77 when the Inver Park outfit last left the international stadium to celebrate a victory over the Blues.

The scoreline then was 1-0 and but for Davy Larmour's late, late show, the outcome of this encounter would have been exactly the same.

Dickson, who lives in the shadow of Windsor's North Stand, played a significant role as McGeough's great unpredictables went so close to causing a sensational upset.

He didn't get his name on the score-sheet but that didn't matter for McGeough gushed: "The lad has pace, ability and know-how.

"He was a handful for the Linfield defence, in fact he's a handful for any Irish League defence."

So it was fitting that he had a part to play in Larne's lightning start which saw them roar into a seventh minute lead which silenced the home legions.

Barry Tumilty threaded a pass to Mark Parker and when he fired in a low cross from the right, Dickson cleverly let the ball run across his body leaving Gary Wray to rifle the ball past Alan Mannus.

Expertly executed but the home fans thought it would only serve to spark the champions into action.

Indeed, Linfield twice went close with Larmour flashing a header against Alex Spackman's crossbar and then drilling a shot against the left hand post.

But as half-time drew near with the scoreline unchanged, frustration began to creep into Linfield's game.

The native's were already restless and had vented their anger by booing their team off the field at the break.

Harsh treatment considering recent performances when, even though hit by injuries, they kept their title aspirations alive with five wins on the trot.

But then that's the mentality of the Linfield breed. It's wins they want, not excuses, no matter how justified.

The inspirational Andy Hunter, the strapping defender with a goalscoring record any forward would welcome didn't appear for the second half.

He picked up a shin injury in the first half and was replaced by Stuart King.

The moment Jeffrey cited as the turning point came in the 68th minute when Michael Gault was taken down.

The midfielder was striding through into a shooting position when he was grounded by the veteran Neil Ogden.

But after referee Frankie Hiles awarded the penalty and booked Ogden, Aidan O'Kane stroked the spot kick towards the keeper's left hand post.

It was a tame effort but credit all the same to Spackman who dived full length to his left to push the ball out for his second penalty save this season.

The miss lifted Larne and frustrated the Blues even more because they couldn't make their possession count.

O'Kane further tormented Linfield by making a brilliant save to keep out a fierce shot from sub Andy Crawford.

But just when it looked as if Larne would pull it off, Larmour struck with a header with only seven minutes left.

Consolation perhaps for going so close with those earlier attempts.

McGeough has mixed emotions. He said: "Before the game I would have taken your arm off for a point.

"Yet I cannot but help feel disappointed for I feel the goal we conceded could have been prevented. It was down to slack marking on our part.

"Also I felt the foul awarded in their build-up should not have been given. Referees should either play an advantage or give the foul. You cannot expect to have it both ways but Linfield did.

"They were given the advantage then play was stopped and a free given.

"Anyhow, we surprised even ourselves by this result even though our game plan was right on the money.

"We planned to give them the respect they deserve but maybe we were too cautious. But we got into the flow of the game and the early goal helped us.

"Our idea was to keep the ball on the ground and make Linfield work for it. Also to back off them when they had the ball, make them come on to us then hit them with counter attacks.

"Generally it worked. Now we must continue to have belief in ourselves and maybe we'll become more consistent."

Jeffrey conceded: "You have to be fair to Larne, they deserved a draw. It would have been harsh had they had to leave with nothing.

"They have a useful blend of youth and experience. They work hard and were disciplined.

"And while we hit the post and the crossbar, missed a penalty and forced their goalkeeper into making a couple of great saves there's no disguising the fact this wasn't a good Linfield display.

"We knew they would come and pack their defence but we didn't get the ball into wide areas quickly enough.

"Certainly we rued the missed chances and the penalty in particular."

CAPTION(S):

THE EQUALISER: Larne keeper Alex Spackman misses his punch as Davy Larmour, No9, heads home the leveller for Linfield
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 13, 2004
Words:883
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