Fail to win and Linfield title dream is ended: Waterworth
Andy Waterworth has warned his Linfield team-mates that it's win or bust for them in Saturday's title showdown with Crusaders.
The Blues trail the champions by four points with only five matches remaining and whatever happens at Windsor Park this weekend, the title will remain out of their hands.
But the opportunity to slash Crusaders' lead to one point has emerged and David Healy's men, on a high after progressing to the Tennent's Irish Cup final, are hungry to break the league leaders' spirit.
Linfield remain unbeaten against Stephen Baxter's side this season and have won three of the five fixtures between the Premiership giants, including victories in the County Antrim Shield final and Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final, but all that is history now and the Blues feel this weekend's titanic tussle is a must-win fixture.
Waterworth says if the Linfield players walk off the Windsor Park pitch without that winning feeling on Saturday, their title dream will be crushed.
"I think it's vitally important we win the game, no other result will suit us," said the striker who helped Glentoran win the title in 2009.
"We have to forget about accepting a point, we really have to go for it. Crusaders have the advantage in this title race and we have to close the gap.
"The title is already out of our hands and we cannot afford to slip further away. Whatever happens it's going to be a big ask for us but we need to win the game to have any realistic hopes of finishing top.
"The games after the split are hard and testing so you have the feeling that points will be dropped. There's not a lot between the sides but it's up to ourselves to make the title race interesting.
"We've done really well to put Crusaders under some pressure but they remain firm favourites. If they win their games they will be champions but there's still a lot of football to be played."
Linfield need the victory more than the Crues but Waterworth doesn't expect the Shore Road side to adopt a cautious approach. The top two are, by some distance, the league's top scorers and tossing away that attacking philosophy now would backfire.
Crusaders know an away victory would virtually seal a third consecutive title success and with that prize on offer, Waterworth expects the Hatchetmen to go on the offensive.
"I think they will go all out attack against us because I don't believe this Crusaders team can play any other way," he added.
"People might suggest they will be more defensive minded and settle for a draw but I don't believe that is in their make-up.
"They have attacked teams, scored goals and won many football matches so I don't expect them to throw away that attacking philosophy just for this game and when you look at the attacking players they have like Jordan Owens and David Cushley, it's impossible to imagine them sitting back and inviting us on.
"I think if we can win the game and bring the gap down to one point it will make the race very exciting. Obviously Crusaders don't want that to happen but I think it would be great for the league and you could have a scenario where it swings one way to the next, not just after every match but even during the games as well. We have shown great mental strength and hopefully that continues."
- Northern Ireland women fell to a 3-1 defeat in Wales yesterday with Rachel Furness on target wth a penalty. The sides will meet again in Ystrad Mynach tomorrow (11am).
- Limavady United will take on Linfield Swifts in the final of the Intermediate Cup after seeing off Hanover FC 5-2 in the semi-finals. In an IFA Junior Cup semi-final, Hill Street defeated Ahoghill Thistle in a penalty shoot-out after the game finished 1-1. They will face Enniskillen Rangers in the decider.