Belfast Telegraph

Linfield boss David Healy excited about return to dugout for the final push

Coleraine 1 Linfield 5

By Alex Mills

David Healy's timing is simply perfect.

The Linfield manager has agonisingly watched his team claw their way back into the Premiership title race over the past six weeks from afar as he served a lengthy touchline ban.

But on the day the Blues took over at the summit for the first time this season, Healy's suspension ended - and he'll be back in the dugout for the final, and most crucial, match of the season at Cliftonville next week.

Saturday, April 22, however, will always have a special place in Healy's heart. It was the day the Blues bared their title teeth - and the day the pressure finally took its toll on Crusaders, who have led the way from day one.

Things looked far from rosy when James McLaughlin headed Coleraine into a second half lead, but it only helped light the fuse as the Blues turned up the heat with double strikes from Aaron Burns and Andy Waterworth and a goal from Paul Smyth.

Linfield could even afford the luxury of missing a penalty when Smyth was denied by Chris Johns and, when news of Crusaders' demise at Ballymena leaked through, the Linfield fans invaded the pitch to acclaim their heroes, even though the title has yet to be secured

"I've kicked every ball from the directors' box in recent weeks," beamed Healy.

"But I'll be back in the dugout next week on my best behavour - my suspension is over. I've actually enjoyed sitting in the stand.

"Although I'm in constant contact with the staff, sometimes it gives you a better insight into the players. You can see more from above. When I was at Rangers, Walter Smith used to watch the first 25 minutes from the stand before going to the dugout. He'd seen what way the game was panning out.

"But I'll be back on the touchline next week. It's a game we should all relish as a club and a team. I'll be telling the players to pump out their chest because it's a big chance for them."

Healy praised his team's dedication and tenacity and believes they have proved the doubters wrong.

He added: "We've been written off quite a few times. The players have had their mentality questioned. Questions have been asked of me since taking over the job.

"Personally, I get high on that, I get excited. Yes, I get annoyed and infuriated with some of the things that are said, but I use that as an incentive.

"The players have worked hard from day one this season. Not me, not the staff, not the supporters. The players have earned the right of giving themselves the chance of winning the league title."

All roads now lead to Solitude, but Healy will certainly not become carried away.

"We'll be keeping our feet on the ground - we've won nothing yet," he added.

"The crowd spilled on to the pitch at the finish to celebrate the win simply because they were excited because we haven't been in this sort of situation for some years.

"The title race hasn't come this far of late. That's why we've been questioned if we had the bottle for it. I think the players proved that with their performance.

"Cliftonville will be shown immense respect - it's a club of great tradition. I would imagine that they will not want us swanning about their place with the league title next week. But we'll go there and we'll be professional, as we have been all this season. Hopefully, it's a big day for this club."

COLERAINE: Johns, Mullan, Harkin, Douglas, Ogilby, McCauley, McCafferty, McLaughlin, McConaghie, Parkhill, Allan. Unused subs: Kane, Edgar, McGonigle, Doherty, Whiteside.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Casement, Haughey (Stafford, 77 mins), Callacher, Clarke, Smyth, Lowry, Mulgrew (Ward, 84 mins), Quinn, Burns (Millar, 81 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Carson, Strain.

Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)

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