Belfast Telegraph

Blues are back in the title groove

CARVILL AND CO. HAVE LEARNED LESSONS FROM LAST SEASON'S TROPHYLESS PAIN

By Graham Luney

Michael Carvill believes the current Linfield team is a very different animal to the one that looked weak and frightened a year ago.

The Blues are six points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership going into 2014, raising hopes they could land their 52nd league title.

It was a very different story last season when David Jeffrey's side finished a massive 29 points adrift of champions Cliftonville.

The Windsor Park trophy cabinet remained empty, but the manager and his new group of players are now where they want to be.

Alarm bells were ringing again when the Blues slumped to the bottom of the league after the opening four games, but the players dug deep to climb out of that dark hole.

The future now appears to be much brighter and spirits couldn't be much higher after the 2-1 win at Glentoran on Boxing Day.

Jeffrey has a stronger panel to chose from, but Carvill feels the current side has the mental strength to go the distance.

"I think we have learned from last season and used that experience to put in a stronger challenge," said the winger.

"It was a real learning curve for us and sometimes you need to go through these tough periods to emerge stronger and more determined.

"I think we are a lot stronger mentally this time round and ready for the race.

"We were weak and it showed last season when we fell way off the pace. Of course we are just into the second half of the season and we are not the finished article, but we have given ourselves a better chance of challenging for the title."

Jeffrey and his players were keen to get the job done against top sides following criticism of their failure to topple the big boys.

Second half goals from Andy Waterworth and Aaron Burns inflicted the damage against the Glens, with David Scullion netting a late consolation.

"It was important for us to get a positive result against a top quality side," added Carvill.

"A few critics have been commenting about how we haven't beaten enough of the top sides in the league or the teams around us, but then we played well against Portadown to get the win and followed it up on Boxing Day at The Oval.

"The main thing for us is that we are playing well and looking strong, but there's a lot of hard work that still needs to be done."

Jamie Mulgrew produced a masterclass in midfield, but Carvill was keen to highlight the contribution of his sidekick too.

He said: "Jamie did very well but I thought Philip Lowry (pictured) also deserves huge praise.

"He was up and down the pitch making tackles and distributing the ball effectively.

"He's got a licence to drive on through the middle of the park and with such a strong back four he can get forward and make things happen.

"You need someone who can get the ball down and start spraying it around and Philip is great at that.

"Although the Glens scored late on I never felt we would lose the game. I never felt we were under huge pressure or under siege in any way.

"I was pleased for Andy Waterworth as well because he has taken a lot of stick, which is part and parcel of the game. I'm sure he enjoyed the goal and more importantly, the victory."

Another man who impressed Carvill was defender Mark Haughey who has overcome his injury nightmare to slot seamlessly into the Blues rearguard.

"Mark has really impressed and he's the type of competitor every teams needs to have," added Carvill.

"If there is a high ball coming into the area you know he will deal with it and I'm delighted his injury problems are behind him and he can now enjoy a good run in the team."

Carvill now faces challenges on several fronts. Not only does he have the title threat posed by Cliftonville and Crusaders on his mind, the former Northern Ireland under-21 international faces a real fight to keep his place in the side following the arrival of Ivan Sproule.

He added: "No-one will be getting carried away as last season's heartache is uppermost in our minds and Crusaders and Cliftonville, are still going strong.

"The aim now is to make the lead healthier rather than be content with a six-point advantage.

"The games are going to get even tougher when there is so much at stake later in the season.

"I've been happy with most parts of my game but not my goal-scoring contribution.

"I've only scored four goals this season and I need to improve that. I should be hitting double figures.

"I'm enjoying the challenge and now Ivan Sproule will be keen to shine on the wings. His arrival is great news for me because I always feel there should be a pressure on you to perform.

"If you don't accept there should be competition for places in the team then you are cheating yourself.

"You need to stay sharp and effective and I think Ivan is a great signing for the club."

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