Belfast Telegraph

Healy is urging Blues to turn up title heat

By Stuart McKinley

Focus. That's the watchword for David Healy as the Danske Bank Premiership title race enters a crucial stage.

As February begins, the marathon battle for the Gibson Cup is two thirds of the way round the track and whoever possesses the sprint finish will be getting ready to kick for home when the league splits at the end of next month.

Before then it's all about stacking up the points, staying in the race and being ready to make your move.

For Healy, whose Linfield team is nine points behind current leaders and defending champions Crusaders, there is also a need for patience and tunnel vision.

The Blues have been in superb form since the beginning of December, with an unbeaten run of seven games in the league - which includes five straight victories.

Nineteen points have been collected out of the last 21 available, but Linfield have only managed to get three points closer to the Crues, by virtue of their New Year's Day win over the Shore Road men.

The Crues' late win at Portadown 10 days ago means they have an identical record to Linfield in their last seven games.

Doing so well and having little impression on the gap to the top could lead to frustration for the Blues, but with his team facing Dungannon Swifts at Windsor Park tonight, Healy sees the chance to close in on Stephen Baxter's men.

The focus for Healy, however, is inward as he concentrates on what he can control and with Linfield's current form being the best in the league - and with an Irish Cup quarter-final up for grabs when they face Armagh City on Saturday - there is no reason for him to change that approach.

"The players are aware of results and everything that goes on around them, but one thing that we can't do is affect results outside of Windsor Park," said Healy.

"We've got to look after ourselves and make sure we do our jobs properly and then hopefully when teams do drop points we've done our job properly.

"If we do our job right on Tuesday and on Saturday, I see no reason why we shouldn't get three points and hopefully through to the next round of the Irish Cup."

Healy has been the busiest manager in the country this month, bringing Ross Gaynor, Michael McClellan, Stephen Fallon, Gary Lavery and Ruari Croskery to the club during the transfer window - the latter four are all with an eye on the future with McClellan the oldest of the quartet at 23-years-old.

As for the present, Healy will be putting his faith in the established players, of whom Jimmy Callacher, Jamie Mulgrew, Kirk Millar and Stephen Lowry have recently signed contract extensions until the summer of 2018.

"When you come in it's difficult, you have to assess the players that you have here," said Healy.

"A lot of the players have done well and a lot of the players have re-signed.

"There are other players we've looked at and had a sniff at.

"January is a difficult time to get anyone out of their clubs. Clubs in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England they don't want to lose their best players in January. Sometimes it's a difficult period, but we have tried."

Leaving Windsor Park is defender Chris Hegarty. He has joined Dungannon Swifts on loan - although he won't be able to play in tonight's game.

The move leaves the former Rangers man's future up in the air as his contract with the Blues expires in the summer.

Swifts boss Rodney McAree hadn't planned to strike any late deals, but the opportunity to bring Hegarty to his hometown club was too good to turn down.

McAree said: "A couple of months ago I was probably thinking that January couldn't come quickly enough, but the players have stepped up and got some good results, so I didn't feel the need to do much business."

Belfast Telegraph


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