Linfield cannot afford to lose this one, warns Burns
Aaron Burns has admitted that Linfield will visit Seaview tomorrow with their Danske Bank Premiership hopes dangling by a thread. Defeat at the home of the champions would see the Blues fall 10 points behind Stephen Baxter's men and winger Burns accepts that would be a daunting challenge.
Linfield were held 1-1 at home to Glentoran on Boxing Day while the Crues thrashed Cliftonville 4-0 at Solitude and David Healy's side must produce fireworks on the Shore Road tomorrow to keep the race for the Gibson Cup interesting going into 2017.
Healy was critical of his players after they allowed Glentoran to snatch a point at Windsor and any off colour display against the Crues is sure to be ruthlessly exploited by the league leaders.
Crusaders haven't tasted defeat at home in the league since Portadown triumphed on the opening day of last season and their Premiership record at Seaview reads only one defeat in 38 matches and 28 games unbeaten.
In their last 40 home matches they have failed to score on only two occasions and in 30 of the games they have netted two or more goals.
Linfield will need to smash fortress Seaview if they want to add some momentum to their own title challenge and former Portadown ace Burns knows it's a 'must not lose' clash for his side.
"If the gap at the top was to go to 10 points it would take a drastic dip in form for Crusaders to allow us back into it," said Burns who netted 27 goals in the 2015/16 season.
"You'd be expecting Crusaders to lose three games and for us to win them so it would be a big ask and that's why we need to look for the win at Seaview.
"It is a difficult game but Crusaders can be beaten and the encouraging thing for us is that we have bridged the gap between the sides in recent times and there is a big incentive for us to break their impressive home league record and bring their lead at the top down to four points.
"We beat Crusaders 2-0 at Windsor Park last season and we must produce a similar performance. We know they can be beaten.
"They are a quality side and they use their pitch to their advantage but it's a challenge we will relish.
"There's always the chance they could have an off day and things click for us.
"The onus is on us to put pressure on the Crues, we cannot afford to let them build a strong lead.
"You never know what can happen in football and if we can reduce their lead it can give us more momentum. We've got to think positively."
Linfield are still licking their wounds from the Boxing Day stalemate against the Glens.
The hosts had enough chances to win the game comfortably and Burns was left frustrated when his attempts on target met the experienced hands of keeper Elliott Morris.
Healy aimed a verbal volley at his men afterwards and in his post-match reflections he used words like 'lazy' and 'capitulated' - not comments you would associate with a team going for the title.
Linfield will need to find a higher gear tomorrow as Baxter's men are flying and any uncertainty in the Blues backline will be pounced on by Gavin Whyte, Paul Heatley and Jordan Owens.
Burns, the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Player of the Month for September, admits the Glentoran draw felt like a defeat but there's still a firm belief they can dig out a brave performance in north Belfast to stun the champions.
"The Boxing Day game was one of two halves," said the 24-year-old.
"We played well in the first half but couldn't sustain that pressure and didn't create enough chances in the second half.
"I had a few opportunities to score in the first half but Elliott Morris made good saves and the disappointing thing for us is the fact we took our foot off the pedal in the second half and allowed them to get the draw.
"It was just one of those games where we couldn't finish them off and if we want to look at it positively then we did dominate the first hald and create plenty of chances.
"But the boys were very disappointed afterwards because it felt like a defeat.
"We were in control of the game but let it slip and it was a big game in front of a huge crowd.
"You are always wary of Glentoran being highly motivated and they can hurt you but it was a game we should have won.
"We created enough chances to win it but we didn't take them.
"After our dramatic late win against Ballymena United this one left us feeling flat and full of regret but we had been on a good run and we have to regroup quickly.
"We will train hard and aim to produce a big performance on Saturday."
The all-ticket clash at Seaview looks like being a sell-out.