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Season review: Northern Ireland

Published: Friday 13 May 2011, 11.20CET
Linfield FC marked their 125th anniversary in spectacular style, clinching their 50th league championship and throwing a fifth domestic double in six seasons into the bargain.
by Darren Fullerton
from Belfast
Season review: Northern Ireland
David Jeffrey said he was "drained" after leading Linfield to their 50th title ©Sportsfile

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Published: Friday 13 May 2011, 11.20CET

Season review: Northern Ireland

Linfield FC marked their 125th anniversary in spectacular style, clinching their 50th league championship and throwing a fifth domestic double in six seasons into the bargain.

It was a historic season of celebration for Linfield FC as the Belfast outfit secured a domestic double on the club's 125th anniversary. The Blues won the league championship for a record 50th time, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed Crusaders FC, as manager David Jeffrey won the eighth title of his successful 14-year reign. Linfield's 2-1 triumph against Crusaders in the Northern Irish Cup final made it five doubles in the last six seasons for the Windsor Park team.

Champions: Linfield FC
Linfield survived a determined fightback from second-placed Crusaders in the second half of the season to secure a 50th title in the Northern Irish league. In early January, the Blues boasted a seemingly insurmountable 12-point lead at the top. However, Crusaders drew level on points in March following a remarkable run of ten straight wins that coincided with some faltering form from Linfield. The Windsor Park giants were under pressure but responded with a sequence of eight consecutive victories of their own in the run-in - including a vital 1-0 success over the Crues on 1 April. Linfield ended the league season with 20 clean sheets and 26 wins from 38 games, registering only five losses. Crusaders celebrated finishing in the top-two for the first time since the club won the title in 1997, while Glentoran FC finished third, a distant 19 points off the top.

Cup final: Linfield FC 2-1 Crusaders FC
Linfield completed the double by beating Crusaders 2-1 in the Northern Irish Cup final. It was the club's 41st success in the blue riband competition and the fifth time they have lifted the trophy in the past six years. Declan Caddell fired Crusaders into a 1-0 lead with a stunning strike early in the second half. But Peter Thompson equalised with a 78th-minute header before Mark McAllister bundled in the winner three minutes from time. It was Thompson's 28th goal in 29 Northern Irish Cup ties for Linfield – and his sixth in five cup finals for the Blues. Remarkably, the 27-year-old, who became the first player to score in four post-war finals, has never experienced defeat in the Northern Irish Cup for Linfield.

European places
Linfield FC – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
Crusaders FC – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
Glentoran FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Cliftonville FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round

Player of the year: Stuart Dallas (Crusaders FC)
Crusaders winger Stuart Dallas celebrated a memorable double, winning both the Northern Ireland football writers' player of the year and the young player of the year awards. It was only the second time in the history of the Northern Irish League that a player had received both honours – the only previous double-winner being Bangor midfielder Paul Byrne in 1993. The achievement was all the more remarkable given the 20-year-old was making his top-flight debut this season.

One to watch: Stuart Dallas (Crusaders FC)
Given that Dallas only turned 20 in April, there is much more to come from this pacy winger, who notched 18 goals for Crusaders. He was one of Stephen Baxter's stellar performers as the Seaview club secured second place in the league. Needless to say, numerous full-time clubs in England and Scotland are monitoring the former Coagh United FC player.

Surprise package: Lisburn Distillery FC
Manager Tommy Wright led Lisburn Distillery to a memorable campaign of success and silverware. The Whites, who were threatened with closure last season due to financial problems, defied the odds to secure a top-six finish in the 12-club Premiership. The Ballyskeagh outfit also celebrated their first senior trophy in 18 years when winning the Northern Irish League Cup in April, beating Portadown FC 2-1 in the final.

Leading scorer: Peter Thompson (Linfield) 23

Relegated: Newry City FC

Promoted: Carrick Rangers FC

Number: 2,061
The combined number of appearances made by long serving duo Noel Bailie and Glenn Ferguson, both of whom retired at the end of the season. Bailie, 40, made 1,013 appearances in a 22-year career at Linfield, while 41-year-old Lisburn Distillery striker Ferguson, who also played for Ards FC, Glenavon FC and Linfield FC, hung up his boots with a career tally of 563 goals in 1,048 appearances.

Quote
"I am delighted to secure a league and cup double on the club's 125th anniversary, but I am knackered; I am drained. I enjoy pressure in football, but there is a limit. I have never felt pressure like [I felt] this season. I am ecstatic we were able to deliver such success in such a landmark year for the club."
David Jeffrey looks forward to a summer holiday after a tense campaign as Linfield manager.

Last updated: 13/07/11 11.27CET

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