Peter Thompson has warned his Linfield team-mates that “the hard work starts now.”
Most observers believe that Linfield’s name should already be carved on the Gibson Cup as the defending champions chase an incredible 50th championship.
A 2-1 midweek win over the old enemy Glentoran at Windsor Park has given David Jeffrey’s charges a commanding eight-point lead at the summit of the Carling Premiership.
The phrases ‘home and hosed’ and ‘all over the bar the shouting’ spring to mind, but not surprisingly, Jeffrey has banned title talk in the dressing room.
The Linfield boss is too long in the tooth to take anything for granted and he knows that if his players start believing they are close to the glittering prize they will see it whipped from under their noses.
Glentoran boss Scott Young believes that the ‘Big Two’ aren’t as formidable as they used to be and regardless of whether you agree with him or not, there is no doubt that the two most successful teams in the league have lost their fear factor to a certain extent.
Even basement battlers Donegal Celtic knew they could conquer Linfield and they did just that.
Another side who embarrassed the champions earlier this season was Cliftonville — where Linfield visit this afternoon.
The Reds won 3-1 on their own patch last month, just when fans expected the Windsor Park men to come out fighting after their County Antrim Shield final shocker against Glentoran.
Northern Ireland international Thompson, who struck the early blow against the Glens this week, knows the hard work lies ahead.
“We have a job to do and it is nowhere near to being done,” said Thompson. “Yes, we won a massive game this week, but we have to build on that and keep the momentum going.
“Two or three defeats could see Glentoran catch up on us and then it’s all to play for again. If you look too far ahead in football the game comes back to bite you.
“There is still a long way to go and a lot of football to be played. There is at least a third of the season to go and the hard work starts now.
“The fans expect us to win titles, but it’s never easy and we are going to have a lot of huge tests in the weeks ahead.”
Thompson played in the Solitude shocker and he knows the north-Belfast side will be fired up to floor their cross-city rivals again.
“Cliftonville have been challenging for the major trophies and at the top of the table so we know what to expect from them,” he said.
“We know we have to perform to get anything because you are always guaranteed a real battle at Solitude. They will fancy their chances of beating us again and they won’t lack self-belief.”
Even though no-one from Windsor Park will say the title race is over, the Blues’ eight-points lead is an ominous sign for the rest of the chasing pack.
And to rub salt into their wounds, Jeffrey and his men know what it takes to get over the line.
“Last season a few of the players had to win their first title and prove they could do it,” added Thompson. “Now they have that experience and it should help us in the run-in. Now that they are winners, they will have the hunger to win more trophies, which is what this club is all about.”