Linfield v Cliftonville: Now we'll see who's best
David Jeffrey's Linfield want to give him title send off
David Jeffrey has revealed how his Linfield players have made his job easier and more enjoyable since he announced he was stepping down as manager at the end of the season.
As he approaches tomorrow's massive showdown with Cliftonville at WIndsor Park, which could go a long way to deciding the Premiership title, Jeffrey is clear that his focus is simply on delivering another league success for the club.
The motivation for the players, however, is to win it for their manager.
The Blues have won six successive league games since Jeffrey made public his decision to quit, six weeks ago.
Contrast that to a run which saw them collect just two points out of nine, as well as being knocked out of the Irish Cup, in the weeks before that and the evidence that giving their boss the perfect send-off by claiming a 10th championship under his management is the driving force in the dressing room is there for all to see.
"There has been no change as far as the work-rate, commitment or attitude of the players is concerned" said Jeffrey.
"What I have seen though is training sessions that are as intense as ever during my time at Linfield.
"I also find myself having to say less than at any other time. The players are really self driven and self motivated and that level of intensity has been incredible. They are really pushing themselves and pushing each other.
"Working with the players on the training ground is something I have always loved and it's become even more enjoyable.
"They have really grasped the challenge before them.
"Remember that we started off by taking two points from the first four games and the response has been fantastic."
The Blues are now two points clear at the top of the Premiership table, with the carrot of making that five with just four games remaining if they can beat Clitonville.
That, however, is something that they haven't managed in the league since New Year's Day 2013.
"We are in a fantastic position. It hasn't been a surprise, but I didn't expect to be where we are right now," said Jeffrey.
"Cliftonville are a team that has been built over a period of time. They were the stand-out team of last season and they deserved their tremendous success through their power, strength and the very good football that they played.
"They have then added to an already strong squad, which is the same process that we had when we had our great success.
"They have been together and have the experience of winning together, whereas we are a squad that is progressing and developing as a new team.
"We still have to see how far we have come as a group and Saturday will give us a good measure of that.
"Beating Cliftonville is a massive task. They are the reigning champions and they very much want to win the league and go down in history as the first Cliftonville team to retain the title. That is a massive driver for them."
Tommy Breslin believes Cliftonville are still top team
Tommy Breslin has stoked the fire ahead of tomorrow's potential title decider by declaring 'I have the best team.'
And the Cliftonville manager is challenging his players to go out and prove it by beating Linfield before going on to win a second successive Premiership title.
Victory will move the Reds into the driving seat with just four games to go, but Breslin knows that defeat, in what could be a pivotal game at Windsor Park, may well end their hopes of making history – even if it is not an out-and-out title decider.
"The league won't be won on Saturday, but it could be lost if we lose the game," said Breslin.
"We have a good record against Linfield and we will go to Windsor Park with no fear.
"We have already won there this season and we are capable of doing it again. We'll be giving it our best shot, that's for sure.
"I am obviously biased, but I believe that my players are the best team in the league. It may not be reflected in the league table as things stand, but I do believe that on our day, with the football that we play, we are the best team.
"It's up to the players to go and show that on the pitch. If they focus on their own jobs then I am confident that they won't freeze."
The situation at the top of the Premiership, with Linfield two points ahead, is such that both teams have the title in their own hands with five games remaining – although only one of them will be able to say that at 5pm tomorrow.
Breslin is determined it will be his team.
"Of course we've thought about the permutations and the best case scenario is that it's a must-win game for us," said Breslin.
"After that you just don't want to lose it. If we do it will make things very difficult for us and Linfield would have to slip up more than once in their last four games to give us a chance.
"We haven't even contemplated that though because we are focused on trying to win the game."
Five more wins for a team that had won six-in-a-row before last Saturday's scoreless draw at Glentoran, isn't an impossible task and not only would that see the Reds retain the title, it would also mean a place in the club's history for the current group of players.
"It would be massive for the club if we were to win the league again," said Breslin.
"The incentive for us is to become the first Cliftonville team to retain a league title and that would be fantastic for these players.
"I will be reminding them before they play Linfield just what a win could mean for the club.
"It's different from last year when we won the league with four games to go. This is a different test for the players and they have to show their mettle and character."