Blayney buoyed by Linfield revival
Alan Blayney is determined to put Cliftonville on red alert as the halfway stage of the Dankse Bank Premiership title race looms.
And with Linfield’s revival well and truly under way the Blues’ goalkeeper isn’t ready to let their hard work over the last three weeks go to waste on one afternoon.
After a stuttering start to the defence of their crown David Jeffrey’s champions have clawed their way into the top half of the table and once Linfield get on the march they are usually hard to stop.
Add that to the fact that Cliftonville are winning points as well as admirers for the quality of their football and their finishing and it makes for a blockbuster when the league leaders meet the favourites at Solitude today.
“People are talking up Saturday’s game as ‘must-win’ for Linfield and, although I think it’s maybe a bit too early in the season to be using terms like that, it’s a game we definitely don’t want to lose,” said Blayney.
“We’re nine points behind Cliftonville and we don’t want that to increase.
“The opportunity is there for us to cut their lead over us to six points and it’s a chance that we want to take.
“We’re playing well again, we’ve been scoring goals — it was no surprise that we went out and scored six against Ballymena United the other night because I felt it was coming — and we’re feeling really confident.”
Blayney revealed that boss Jeffrey has kept his cool all along, despite the bumpy start and that has played a part in helping the players right the wrongs.
“David didn’t like the situation we were in anymore than anyone else, but he has big shoulders, he has been in this situation before and he kept the pressure off us,” said Blayney.
“Yes there is always pressure at Linfield and it can intensify when you lose games, but we never felt under any extra pressure and I think that was down to the manager and the fans.
“We stayed patient, the fans patience has been great, but they’ve been able to see all the things that we can see.
“The quality in the squad is still there and it’s coming through now.”
Since going through a run of three league games without victory the Blues have won back-to-back matches in the Premiership and progressed to the final of the County Antrim Shield and semi-finals of the IRN-BRU League Cup in the last fortnight.
And the biggest thrill for Blayney is that at the end of each of those games the names of Portadown, Crusaders, Donegal Celtic and Ballymena United were followed by the word nil.
“I haven’t played particularly well so far this season and I’ve put that down as one of the reasons why we haven’t been in good form,” said Blayney.
“We weren’t scoring goals, we weren’t defending well and I wasn’t at my best, so if you put all that together it makes things very tough.
“We had a slow start to the season and we didn’t turn it around as quickly as we would have liked.
“It wasn’t just the fault of the strikers for missing chances, we weren’t protecting our own goal well enough.
“We’ve started to put things right and take our chances.
“Over the last few games I feel like I’m back to my old self and keeping clean sheets is important to me.
“The more we can do that the more points we’ll pick up and we can start climbing the league.”
Although they have threatened consistently over the last few seasons, Cliftonville have missed out on the major honours since winning the league in 1998.
And that’s why Linfield can expect a real ding-dong battle at Solitude tomorrow, with manager Tommy Breslin and his players determined to shake-off any ‘nearly-men’ tag that might come their way.
The Blues, however, know how tough it is to win in north Belfast, having conceded 10 goals in two trips to Solitude last October.
“We were embarrassed up there on two occasions about this time last year when we let ourselves down,” said Blayney.
“It’s a difficult place to go because they are a good team with quite a few players who can cause problems — and especially on the artificial pitch.
“It’s difficult to get used to because we train on grass, other than Seaview everywhere else we play is on grass and it’s a different situation.
“It’s not ideal, but one we have to adapt to.”