THE flagging embers of this season’s Carling Premiership race were stoked once again last night as Linfield’s title charge was stalled at the Showgrounds.
Shane Jennings’ first half header sealed maximum points for Coleraine on the Ballycastle Road.
The result – coupled with Portadown’s win at Ballymena United – sees Linfield’s lead at the top cut to four points.
Coleraine’s victory also guarantees them a top-six finish this season.
It was an impressive response from the Bannsiders – three days after the dejection of losing the League Cup to Crusaders.
For Linfield it was a first defeat since losing to Glentoran on Boxing Day.
The Blues had been threatening to run away with the title after surging into a seven-point lead at the top.
But now Coleraine – a side they had already beaten twice this season – have reignited the race for the Gibson Cup.
Jennings helped claim the win with a decisive headed finish in the 42nd minute.
Stephen Lowry’s initial shot was saved by Alan Blayney, but when the ball was headed back across goal by David Scullion up popped Jennings to nod home from close range.
It was the striker’s eighth goal of the season and his first since October.
Chances were at a premium during the first half as both teams struggled with the tricky underfoot conditions.
The uneven bounce almost caught out Gavin Cullen in the ninth minute, the Coleraine goalkeeper taking an air-swing at a back pass and almost allowing Philip Lowry a clear run on goal.
If the first half was lacklustre and drab, the second sparked some life into the clash on the Ballycastle Road.
Linfield almost restored parity six minutes after the restart but Peter Thompson could only guide Michael Carvill’s low cross over the bar.
Two minutes later Coleraine substitute Paul Owens scuffed a shot just wide of the post.
At the other end Cullen was called into evasive action to block Mark McAllister’s shot after the home defence failed to clear Michael Gault’s cross.
Carvill then tried his luck from the right edge of the box with a low drive that drifted past Cullen’s post.
Linfield substitute Robert Garrett sent a dipping effort just over the crossbar in the 69th minute as the champions sought a response.
McAllister then squandered a free header from eight yards after Gault flicked on Douglas’ long throw.
Michael Hegarty almost sealed the points in injury time but was denied by Blayney.
AndColeraine had done enough to seal the win and keep the battle for the titlea alive.
COLERAINE: Cullen, Beverland, Ogilby, Scullion, Lowry, Harkin, McIlmoyle, Canning (Watt 56), Jennings (Hegarty87), Clarke, Black (Owens 37).
Subs not used: Doherty, McVey.
LINFIELD: Blayney, Douglas (Fordyce 83), Gault, Murphy, Lowry (Garrett 62), Thompson, Carvill, BJ Burns, A. Burns (McAllister 46), Mulgrew, Watson.
Subs not used: Armstrong, Ervin.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon).