Fans are in for a thrilling title climax, says Linfield's Chris Casement
Chris Casement says he wouldn't be surprised if the title race came to a thrilling conclusion on the last day of the Danske Bank Premiership season. Casement was back on the big stage for Linfield on Saturday, answering David Healy's call after Mark Stafford suffered a groin injury.
The former Portadown defender has needed to be patient while waiting for his chance this campaign and he rose to the challenge in the crucial 1-0 victory over Crusaders.
The 29-year-old right-back, who is five games away from his 100th appearance for the Blues, slotted into a resolute Linfield backline that shut out the Crues and reduced their lead at the top to just one point with four games remaining. Stephen Baxter's men are now feeling the heat ahead of their trip to Cliftonville on Saturday while Linfield are on the road to Ballymena United.
There is no margin for error for either side and Casement says the title race may not be decided until the final day when Crusaders entertain Glenavon and Linfield are also in north Belfast, taking on Cliftonville.
"Anything can happen now with 12 points to play for and I wouldn't be surprised if it went down to the last game," said Casement, who won one Northern Ireland cap in 2009.
"You have to prepare yourself for every possibility and I hope that it doesn't happen but it may be the case. Last-day drama is probably the worst-case scenario for both teams but you have two quality sides going for the title and if we can both win our next few matches it will be an exciting finish.
"There are no easy games now we are after the split and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. We cannot affect their results but we've done what we can to put them under pressure and we will continue to do that by taking maximum points in matches."
The former Ipswich Town youngster admitted he felt he had a point to prove when asked to keep the Blues' title challenge on track against the Crues.
"At a club like Linfield, there are two or three players fighting for every position and we have also had the strongest defence this season, playing very well on a consistent basis," said Casement.
"I've been fit all season but I've needed to be patient and wait for an opportunity to arise. When Mark Stafford picked up an injury the door opened for me and I was delighted to be involved in such a big game.
"We have not lost many games, just three in the league all season, and it's about the team rather than any individual. It's not about you, we have a close knit bunch of boys who buy into that team mentality.
"If anything, I was more hungry and determined to prove a point. From one to 11 and the boys who came on we produced a great performance and I felt we were deserved winners, in fact we could have scored two or three goals in the first half."
Linfield's legendary former manager and skipper David Jeffrey will not be offering any favours to his old employers when the Blues take on United at the Showgrounds this weekend.
"David is doing an unbelievable job and I'm expecting a very difficult game but it's nice for us to be in the mix with only a point in it," added Casement.
"Crusaders are a good side and I am sure they will react but we have a massive game against Ballymena United and that will be a huge test for us. David Jeffrey will have his side pumped up and they have made great strides this year by making the top six and winning the League Cup.
"The Crusaders game is history now and it's all about repeating that intensity and hunger against Ballymena United.
"All we can do is our own jobs and win the matches. The title is still in Crusaders' hands but we will concentrate on winning each game and not looking ahead."
Casement played 85 minutes of Saturday's game and was given a warm reception when he made way for Sean Ward, firstly by the fans and then by Healy who later said: "I was really pleased with Chris and he certainly didn't let anyone down.
"He has come back to the club and sometimes been given a tough time from the terraces which you expect but I was chuffed for him. He has been in and out of the team but fair play to him, I was delighted for him."