David Jeffrey has told his Linfield players that they will have to fight to the final whistle in the last game of the season if they want to claim another championship.
The Windsor Park boss knows that every team raises their game when they face the Blues, but he is expecting a tougher fight than ever before with a third successive title — and a sixth in seven years — the aim.
“I think last year we were three points ahead at this stage, although eventually we were quite comfortable,” said Jeffrey, whose team won the league by 11 points last term.
“We are four points clear at the minute, but I don’t think we’ll have things as easy this time around.
“Last week against Portadown wasn’t going to be a title maker or a title breaker. As it turns out the status quo has been maintained and now we go to Cliftonville who will want to respond after losing to Glentoran.
“I’m expecting to have to fight tooth and nail all the way to the finish this season.
“The fact that come the split we all have to play each other again will only make it tighter.
“Every team has their own motivation, whether it’s a team fighting at the bottom of the table, those in and around the top or even a manager looking for a response after a defeat.
“As well as that it’s getting towards the latter part of the season when players are playing for contracts.
“Clubs don’t have a great deal of money to spend, so it’s those who are performing who will get rewarded.”
There are many facets to the motivation for Jeffrey’s team tomorrow.
Their two most recent trips to Cliftonville resulted in two embarrassing defeats and they won’t want to be on the end of a third.
With Portadown still very much in the title race a slip-up would put the Shamrock Park men in control of their own destiny, with a Windsor Park meeting between the top two to come after the league splits at the start of April.
“We remember very well our last league visit to Cliftonville,” said Jeffrey.
“I’d no complaints on the day, they deserved the win, they were more clinical than us and defended better than we did,” said Jeffrey.
“That will be part of our motivation for wanting to go out and get a result, aside from the title race.”
Meanwhile the Blues last night confirmed that they are on the brink of tying up a new agreement with the Irish FA over the future of Windsor Park.
The century-long lease, signed in the mid-1980s, will be replaced by a 51-year deal, which will net the Blues an annual income of £200,000.
In a statement the club said: “Linfield Football Club and its professional advisors have been working diligently for many months with the Irish FA to reach an agreement on the future use and redevelopment of Windsor Park.
“That work is very close to conclusion.
“We hope to be able to announce that agreement with the IFA and government in the very near future.”