‘We're not out of the title race yet’ is the message that Linfield captain Noel Bailie delivered to Bluemen last night.
And after lifting the Gibson Cup in each of the last three seasons, the Windsor Park captain is in no mood to concede the trophy to Belfast rivals Glentoran.
The Oval men lead the way by a point going into the final round of matches and with Linfield needing a favour from Cliftonville, they know that ultimately if Alan McDonald’s men win against the Reds there is nothing anyone connected with the Blues can do about it.
Although whether Linfield end the season with the biggest prize of all or nothing isn’t for themselves to decide, Bailie is desperate to avoid what he calls ‘the ultimate disaster’ by ensuring his team collects all three points at Crusaders this afternoon to keep the pressure on Glentoran.
Linfield manager David Jeffrey remains convinced that it will be Linfield’s name that will be engraved on the plinth of the famous trophy, but he too is only too well aware that a draw or away win is required in east-Belfast as well a victory in the north of the city for that to be the case.
It is victory on the Shore Road that Bailie is focused on.
“What the manager has said is that it would be such a disaster if the Glens don’t win and we miss out because we don’t win our game either,” said Bailie.
“That would be the ultimate disaster.
“We have a chance to get three points and keep ourselves in with a chance of winning the league.
“Yes, we need Cliftonville to do something to help us, but we’re not out of it yet and nobody at Linfield believes we are.”
Only once in the last 20 years has a team been top of the table going into the final round of matches and not been presented with the Gibson Cup at 5pm.
That was one of the most memorable days in the recent history of Northern Ireland football, when in April 1994 Glenavon, Linfield and Portadown were all locked on the same number of points heading into the climax of the campaign.
With the Ports having a vastly superior goal difference things were in their hands. A victory and they would be champions for the third time in five years.
Linfield were left to wait and hope, with Glenavon’s goal difference much better than the Blues and the only way the title was heading to Windsor Park was for the mid-Ulster rivals to draw while they beat Glentoran.
That’s what ended up happening, but not before Bailie — the only man who was involved with any of the three teams that day 15 years ago still playing — went through the mill.
“I still remember the last day of the 1994 season very well,” he said.
“We beat Glentoran to do our bit and then we just had to wait and find out what happened in the other match.
“I remember sitting down on the pitch at Windsor Park, listening to the match at Mourneview Park, which still had a couple of minutes left just wishing that the referee would blow his whistle.
“At that stage I had only won the league once and it was the most nerve wracking experience I had been through in my career at that time — although there have been a few more since. We need something like that to happen again this time and that’s what we are hoping for.”
Bailie now has seven league medals in his collection, but he is ready to clear room for another.
Whether or not that comes today the 38-year-old is ready for another season at the Blues, which would more than likely take him past 1,000 appearances for the club.
“I have missed a lot of games this season, but I feel fine and I am ready for another year,” he said.
One man who won’t get another season is Oran Kearney (pictured) after he announced his retirement due to injury at the age of 30 on Thursday night.
“The news about Oran came as a bit of a shock, but we all know he has had injury problems,” said Bailie. “He has said that he fancies a go at management and I believe he has all the attributes.”