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Clinching a European spot is the only spur Bannsiders need, maintains McGonigle

By Alex Mills

Coleraine's Jamie McGonigle admits he is not concerned about the race for the Danske Bank Premiership title as he's more focused on earning his team a place in the Europa League.

The 21-year-old striker is relishing the prospect of Linfield coming to the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds tomorrow, determined to get his team over the line and catapult the Bannsiders into Europe.

Oran Kearney's boys suffered their first defeat since Boxing Day - after which they had a fantastic run of 18 unbeaten games - when they were bettered by title holders Crusaders at Seaview on Tuesday.

However, with only two fixtures remaining, they are big favourites to nudge Cliftonville out of the reckoning for the lucrative third spot in the league table.

They approach their final two outings - both home games, against David Healy's Blues and a rip-roaring derby with Ballymena United - in the best possible shape, in spite of that setback in midweek.

And, with the Irish Cup final looming - also against Linfield - early next month, McGonigle has warned that his boys will not be taking their foot off the gas.

"The boss (Oran Kearney) has told us we are still not there in terms of European qualification, so we still have everything to play for," he said.

"There are six points in it, but I think we have plus nine of a goal difference, so that gives us a nice little advantage.

"Obviously we'll be going for the win against Linfield - as we always do - but one point would be good enough to get us into Europe. If Cliftonville lose, regardless of what way our result goes, we'll be in Europe, which would be a massive achievement for the club in terms of financial rewards."

McGonigle, like a posse of his Coleraine team-mates, has really come of age this season, and believes they can bounce back following the midweek result in Belfast.

"It was our first loss in 18 matches," he said. "Crusaders are champions for a reason. They made it very difficult for us. You can see why they've been league champions for the last few seasons. They just keep going and going. Now we face the possibility of doing Crusaders a favour, but from our point of view we are just trying to nail down our place in the Europa League.

"We'll not be thinking about how it will affect the title race - we didn't think that way at Seaview in midweek. We want to try and get three points from every game, and it will be the same against Linfield."

The Bannsiders will again be without influential front man Eoin Bradley, who must sit out the second leg of a two-match ban, while the injured Brad Lyons will also not feature.

McGonigle added: "Skinner (Bradley) is a big player for us and we miss him. But he'll be back for the final game of the campaign against Ballymena.

"James McLaughlin came into the team and did really well against the Crues. His goal was fantastic, a possible goal of the season contender."

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