Belfast Telegraph

Linfield boss Feeney well aware of slim margin for error

By Stuart McKinley

Warren Feeney has admitted that the standard of the Irish League has caught him a little bit by surprise.

And that's why the Linfield manager won't allow his players to take the challenge of Ballinamallard United lightly tonight.

The trip to Ferney Park has become a vital game for the Blues if they are to take possession of the Gibson Cup at the end of April.

Even victories in their two matches in hand - against the Mallards this evening and at home to defending champions Cliftonville in a fortnight - won't take Linfield above current Danske Bank Premiership leaders Crusaders, who are seven points better off.

Feeney isn't quite relying on favours at this stage, as the Blues still have to meet Crusaders in the post-split fixtures, but he can rest assured that given what has already happened this season, with the strength of every team meaning that unpredictable results are the norm, the Crues are almost certain to drop points.

"The level of the league is very good and although I have always followed it during my time in England and I know the players, the standard is higher than I expected," said Feeney.

"There is maybe an expectation that Linfield will run away with the league every year, but it doesn't work like that - you only have to look at the fact that Cliftonville have won it the last two years.

"This season there are four or five teams who have all got a chance of winning the league and there isn't another league in Europe that is like that.

"You have to be focused every week, you can't go into any match thinking that you are going to get the three points without earning them or you'll end up with egg on your face."

That is something that Feeney has learned very quickly, with the Blues dropping points at Institute, as well as at home to Glenavon, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Coleraine at the once fortress-like Windsor Park.

They have also been run close by Warrenpoint Town on more than one occasion - all of which shows that the gap between top and bottom can be non-existent on any particular day.

Not that what other teams are doing concerns Feeney, who, like Frank Sinatra, will continue to do things his way.

"Cliftonville won seven or eight in a row earlier in the season, we won six in a row and were unbeaten in nine. Crusaders have won their last seven, but nobody has pulled away and for a few months the lead was changing every week," said Feeney.

"People have questioned us and questioned me, with a lot of talk about rookie this and that, but I am pleased with how things are going.

"Of course I would like to be sitting 10 points clear at the top of the table, but two weeks ago, when we'd all played the same number of matches, we were a point off the top with 13 matches to go and I'm happy with that - it's not bad for a rookie manager."

After adding former Northern Ireland international Grant McCann and 21-year-old Glenn Belezika on loan from Stockport, who are both in line to make their debuts tonight, Feeney will work right until the transfer deadline on other targets as he tries to beef up his squad for the run in.

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