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My old Windsor Park pals still a real threat as title race clicks up a gear, maintains Ervin

By Graham Luney

Jim Ervin believes his old club Linfield aren't out of the Danske Bank Premiership title picture.

Ervin and his Ballymena United team-mates can do David Healy's side a massive favour by snatching a victory against Crusaders at Seaview this afternoon.

Stephen Baxter's champions boast a seven-point lead at the summit but with 33 points still up for grabs, nothing can be taking for granted.

Both title-chasers face next Saturday's League Cup finalists with David Jeffrey's troops in north Belfast and Carrick Rangers hosting Linfield. Players will be looking to impress and claim a starting role in next week's televised showdown at Seaview and Ervin, who spent nine years at Windsor Park, knows that league championships are hard earned.

And the spotlight will be on the Crues today to see how they react to Tuesday's County Antrim Shield final loss to the Blues.

"Anything can happen," said Sky Blues skipper Ervin. "Linfield beat Crusaders at Seaview but lost their next match at home to Coleraine.

"The Crues have done what champions do and get victories when they haven't been at their best. You have got to give them credit. It's the mark of champions when you score last-minute goals and dig out wins.

"They aren't champions two years in a row for nothing and now they are seven points clear. Will there be twists and turns? I think so, but who knows in what direction. The special thing about this league is that anyone is capable of beating anyone."

The last time Ervin and his comrades left Seaview they had their tails firmly between their legs after suffering a 6-0 thrashing on the opening day but they did win 2-1 at the Showgrounds in October - despite the defender's own goal! "We are expecting a wounded animal fired up and ready to go," said Ervin.

"We will not read too much into the Shield final. It was a one-off game in which anything could have happened and the games between those sides have been tight.

"Crusaders always bounce back so we know what to expect.

"They want to keep their seven-point lead and as the home side they will throw everything at us. It's how we perform and deal with that that is important. We will go there full of confidence as we are on a good run.

"They hammered us at the start of the season and looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We needed a kick up the backside and we have gone from strength to strength. We are where we are but that's due to hard work.

"We are all professional and you give your all in every game, the League Cup final will take care of itself. You can never look ahead, even to that game. It will affect our performance at Seaview if we are thinking of that."

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