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Healy: Crues have an edge over Linfield

By Graham Luney

David Healy has kicked off the mind games ahead of today's massive Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final clash at Seaview by saying Crusaders are favourites to make the semi-finals.

The Blues are unbeaten in four games against Stephen Baxter's side this season and also won the last two showdowns - a Premiership scrap at Seaview on New Year's Eve and last month's County Antrim Shield decider - but Linfield chief Healy feels his boys are underdogs in today's battle.

Healy points to the fact that the Crues are back-to-back league champions and currently sit top of the Premiership standings by seven points to add weight to his argument.

"Psychologically, they (Crusaders) should go into the game as favourites," said Northern Ireland's record goalscorer.

"We know that we are capable of matching them, but they are the champions; they are at the top of the table and they have home advantage."

Today’s showdown on the Shore Road has a do or die feel to it for Linfield as that seven-point lead in the title race will be difficult to wipe out.

The Blues haven’t won the league championship or Irish Cup since 2012 and last season’s defeat to Glenavon in the May showpiece still rankles.

But the Windsor Park side are on a nine-match unbeaten run and there’s no fear factor when the time comes to deliver against the champions.

The Blues have proved they are a match for Baxter’s team, having battled out two scoreless draws before claiming a 2-1 win on the Shore Road on New Year’s Eve when they had to play out the final half hour without dismissed skipper Jamie Mulgrew.

They then celebrated a County Antrim Shield final success last month following an impressive 3-1 victory.

But Healy countered: “They are still top of the league. We’ll have to go down there and do what we did the last time — whether it’s with 11 men or 10 men.

“It’s a game we are relishing and it’s one that everyone should look forward to — supporters, press and anyone associated with Irish League football.

“The top two teams in the league will be going at it again in the quarter-final of the Irish Cup. It should be a cracking game.”

Healy is hoping that Northern Ireland international keeper Roy Carroll passes a late fitness test — he missed last week’s Big Two derby win against rivals Glentoran at The Oval due to injury.

“Young Alex Moore stepped in for his debut — and the 18-year-old excelled,” Healy said.

“If Roy had played last week, it would have made him an even bigger doubt for the Seaview game.

“He has been carrying an injury, so there was no point risking him.

“I spoke with the doctor and to our physio Terry Hayes, and we didn’t want to possibly aggravate the problem.

“Ideally, I would have liked him on board for the Big Two game, but he has many years of experience and he knew he wasn’t right.”

And, with tongue firmly in his cheek, Healy said: “After Alex’s performance at The Oval, Roy may find it a struggle to get back into the team!”

Linfield were without their usual big support last week as the Linfield Supporters Trust had called for a boycott in a response to an alleged complaint made by a Glentoran source to the PSNI about the playing of ‘sectarian tunes’ when the teams met at Windsor Park on Boxing Day.

It meant that less than half of the expected Blues faithful made the journey across town, but Healy’s side will be roared on by a huge away support today, with all tickets sold out.

“The fans have been brilliant this season and I know they’ll be back to pack out Seaview,” he added.

“They had their reasons to stay away from last week’s game but I know they’ll be out in big numbers for this match, which is undoubtedly our biggest match of the season.

“Hopefully we can give them something to celebrate.”

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