Linfield captain Michael Gault is adamant that the Blues will not allow off-field events to take their focus away from winning a third successive Carling Premiership title, after the Windsor Park club’s name hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Incidents outside the Brandywell after Linfield were knocked out of the Setanta Sports Cup by Derry City on Tuesday night have thrown the Blues’ further participation in the cross-border competition into doubt — seven years after they won the inaugural tournament.
And Gault will accept the decision of the club’s board if they decide against future participation in the tournament.
“I can see why there might be some people starting to talk about us pulling out of the Setanta Cup,” said Gault.
“Our fans make a big effort to go to the games and support us — the matches are always all-ticket, they have to get bused in and out everywhere they go and there are obstacles put in their way.
“My dad used to go away all the time, but he doesn’t go as often any more and a lot of the things that are put in place are unfair on Linfield supporters,” he said.
“As far as playing in the Setanta Cup is concerned it’s a step up for us, but it’s a good competition and one I’ve enjoyed playing in because you get the opportunity to play a bit more football.
“If the club decides to pull out then I would understand. It’s not down to me or any of the other players — I don’t know whether we’d be consulted.
“If the club says we’re going to stick with it, we’d he happy to play on, but I could understand if things go the other way because it has been difficult for our supporters.”
And now manager David Jeffrey and his players are facing a Saturday off next weekend as the Irish Cup wrangle over Ballymena United midfielder Alan Davidson’s eligibility rolls on.
With the Irish FA attempting to set up an independent arbitration panel to decide whether or not he should have played in the quarter-final victory over Newry City, the Blues have been forced to wait on the outcome of that before they find out who they will face in the last four — let alone when.
“We have to look at the bigger picture and not allow things that go on outside of the club to be a distraction to us,” said Gault, ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Lisburn Distillery.
“We’ve had distractions before and we’ve stayed focused.
“Over the last couple of seasons we’ve had a lot of matches postponed because of snow and that leads to a backlog of fixtures, but all we could do was get on with it.
“It’s not ideal when you’ve a Saturday off at this stage of the season, especially when you think you’re looking ahead to a semi-final and then your plans are disrupted through no fault of your own. It is a distraction for players, but we can’t think about that. We just have to play our matches when we’re told to.
“There was talk of maybe rearranging a league match, but I don’t know if that’s a possibility.
“The manager might call us into a meeting and advise us how to keep focused, but we know that we have a job to do in trying to win the league again and that’s what we have to think about.”
Linfield boast a 12-point lead at the top of the table, thanks to Portadown and Cliftonville dropping points along the way, with the Blues beating everyone bar the Shamrock Park men since Boxing Day. Seven more points from their final six games will see the Gibson Cup at Windsor Park for the 51st time. Linfield aren’t in the habit of blowing league titles and only a fool would bet against them now.
Having led since the start of the season they will deservedly sit on top of the pile when the inevitable is confirmed, sometime next month.
“We’re in a good position because of the form that we’ve been in since the start of the season,” said Gault.
“We still need to pick up points in our remaining games in order to get over the line and the teams that we come up against will be doing their utmost to stop us so we have to stay strong.”