Linfield are still on the rise, says Stephen Lowry
Stephen Lowry insists Linfield are "moving in the right direction" even though their Premiership title dream is hanging by a thread.
The Blues have fallen eight points behind champions Crusaders with only four games left, leaving David Healy's side needing a late collapse from the Shore Road men to have any hope of clinching top spot.
It's an unlikely scenario but the picture could have been very different had Lowry's shot found the back of the net against Crusaders last weekend.
Keeper Sean O'Neill flicked the ball onto the base of the post and the visitors, despite applying significant pressure, couldn't unlock the Crues defence.
Late goals from Gavin Whyte and Jordan Forsythe fired Stephen Baxter's side within touching distance of the club's first ever back-to-back title triumph while the Blues and Lowry cursed their misfortune.
The title race isn't over yet but the Irish Cup decider against Glenavon looks like being Linfield's only shot at silverware this season. While the defeat to Crusaders represented a massive setback, the Blues have got stronger as the season has unfolded and there is optimism the Windsor Park men will be a more formidable force next campaign.
Lowry, who is delighted to be back playing after five long months in the treatment room, says his side will fight on in the title race and keep improving.
"Last week was disappointing because we have come a long way and there was nothing in the game until they grabbed the two late goals," said the midfielder who joined Linfield in 2014 just two days after his brother Philip left Windsor Park.
"The 2-0 scoreline was not reflective of the game and if I had tucked away my chance it could have changed everything.
"Sean (O'Neill) made a fantastic save but it was a missed chance and it's down to those fine margins. Had we scored then it could have been a very different outcome and this title race would still be interesting. A draw would have kept the pressure on so it's disappointing.
"Crusaders can still drop points but we have to win our games and you can't escape the feeling it has slipped away from us. But the important thing from our perspective is we are moving in the right direction under David Healy and the boys are still upbeat, knowing we are making positive strides forward.
"Back in November no-one could have predicted we would put up a fight for the title but we showed some bottle and there's a real fight for places all over the pitch ahead of the Irish Cup final."
The 29-year-old is now hungry to make up for lost time after setbacks along a frustrating road back to fitness.
"I thought at the start I might be out for six weeks but it ended up being five months," said Lowry ahead of facing his old side Coleraine at Windsor Park today.
"I got injured in the first week of November against Crusaders. I had a medial ligament tear, then swelling in the back of the knee, then a back injury.
"It's great to be back for the run-in but it's just really disappointing we slipped up in the title race. My baby daughter Eve is four months old now so I've been focused on her rather than being a frustrated spectator all the time.
"Terry Hayes (physio) did a fantastic job getting me back on the pitch and I'm very grateful to him."
A number of clubs are understood to be interested in signing Philip Lowry, who joined Portadown in January.
The former Linfield and Derry City midfielder signed until the end of the season but could be on the move again in the summer.
Crusaders, Glentoran and Ballymena United are expected to join the race for the former Northern Ireland Under-21 player's signature.