David Jeffrey has sounded an early warning to Cliftonville that Linfield want their title back.
The dethroned champions are smarting after seeing the Reds take their crown last weekend, when they beat the Blues 3-2 at Solitude to clinch the Gibson Cup.
And the Windsor Park boss is challenging his players to use the last two games of the campaign, at home to Ballinamallard United tomorrow and Crusaders next Saturday — to prove that they have what it takes to be part of a renewed title fight when August comes around.
“When you compare to what we've done in previous seasons, it hasn't been a good year,” said Jeffrey.
“Linfield don't accept years like this, time after time after time. You've got to make sure you go out and do something about it.
“Already we're looking to the future and you're looking for players to say we didn't have the best of seasons this year, but certainly between now and the end of the season we're looking for players to put their hand up and say I'm ready for the next challenge, because if you're not ready for the next challenge, there's no point in being at Windsor Park.”
The Blues' quest for a fourth successive league championship success never really got off the ground. By the end of September they had collected just nine points from their opening seven games and Cliftonville were already 11 points better off.
Ballinamallard stunned the Blues by beating them 3-1 at Windsor Park, in what was only their 10th game as a senior club.
Whitey Anderson’s side could still finish fourth in their debut campaign in the top flight, but to do that they must beat the Blues and Jeffrey isn’t in the mood to surrender any more points.
“We can go over this season till we're blue in the face but this season is gone,” said Jeffrey.
“We don't take defeat very well. In all my playing time here we always responded to difficult situations and in my managerial time we have similarly responded well when we've needed to.
“It's a matter of making sure we finish off the rest of the season in such a manner that we can build for and ensure that we put in a proper challenge next season.”