Linfield's black November turned us into a real force: Mark Haughey
Linfield defender Mark Haughey has lifted the lid on how the Blues' black November galvanised the squad.
And while Crusaders are expected to clinch the Danske Bank Premiership title across the city tonight, Haughey is determined that he and his team-mates will force the defending champions to take full points against Cliftonville by winning a Big Two battle that he claims will mean as much as ever - despite the fact that it will have little impact on the season overall.
Four successive defeats last November left the Windsor Park men playing catch-up in the title race and ultimately left them with too much to do over the month that followed.
There have been key positives pulled from that wreckage, however, which Haughey believes have made Linfield stronger.
"When people talk about Linfield and how our season has gone they look at the losing run through November and how costly that has been for us," said Haughey.
"Off the back of that though, since the start of December our form has been great.
"We have lost less than a handful of games and in that time we have been the most consistent and in-form team in the league.
"As well as that it has made us closer as a squad, we've grown from that and we are better off having come through that."
The changing face of Irish League football is reflected in the fact that there will be a lot more focus on the north-Belfast derby at Solitude this evening than on the battle at The Oval.
That has been the case for a while now, with the Gibson Cup now set to spend a fourth successive season adorning a shelf in the north of the city.
As far as Haughey is concerned, the intensity of a Big Two contest hasn't lessened and although Linfield are gearing up for an Irish Cup appearance against Glenavon next month, beating their traditional rivals is key for Blues fans.
"When it comes to a Big Two game it doesn't matter what stage of the season we're at, where the teams are in the league or if it has a bearing on the league or cup, it's still a big game and one that both teams desperately want to win," said Haughey, who scored Linfield's winner at The Oval this time last year.
"There is no way the fans of either team would accept anything else.
"There is always a good atmosphere and two teams who will be up for the game and we will be going in wanting to win it.
"At Linfield you are expected to win every game, no matter who it is against anyway."
Without officially conceding the title to Crusaders, Linfield manager David Healy's actions spoke louder than words when he named Jamie Mulgrew and Ross Gaynor on the bench and left first-choice goalkeeper Ross Glendinning and captain Andy Waterworth out of the match-day squad altogether for Saturday's 3-0 win over Coleraine.
Haughey believes that victory was a big sign of what Linfield are capable of in the coming seasons.
"The main thing on Saturday was that we secured second place and I think the result showed that no matter what team the manager selects, we have a squad that is capable of getting the job done against anyone," he said.
"We've guaranteed ourselves second place and now we've the Irish Cup final to look forward to as well.
"It's important that we have a good build up to that over the next couple of weeks."