Linfield must take the pain of the Irish League
Glens can crush Linfield’s title dream and McAlorum says Feeney’s troops always faced an uphill battle
Linfield may still be clinging to their title dream with five league games remaining but the Blues were always destined to endure a bumpy ride this season.
That's the view of Glentoran midfielder Stephen McAlorum and Eddie Patterson's side could deal the final, fatal title blow to their old enemy at the Oval tonight.
Crusaders will effectively be crowned champions for only the fifth time in their history if they win at Portadown and the Glens beat Linfield.
A nine-points advantage and vastly superior goal difference (plus 26) leaves the Crues tantalisingly close to the promised land.
For the Blues to have any chance of staging a sensational comeback they would need Baxter's side to lose at least three of their last five games, but they have lost only four all season.
Warren Feeney's side were due to tackle the league leaders on Saturday but they were denied the chance to reduce the gap to six points when Windsor Park was deemed unsafe because of the crumbling West Stand.
Some observers may look on that unfortunate incident as a metaphor for Linfield's season as their title hopes also appear to be fading fast.
The harsh reality is that Linfield were always destined to have a roller coaster campaign and, given the wind of change that has struck Windsor, in the last year they were never going to travel a smooth road.
Feeney was handed his first managerial role in this fiercely competitive environment and a host of new faces arrived at the club while experienced performers left, including skipper Michael Gault.
It has taken Crusaders 10 years to build a squad capable of winning a championship from their first ever taste of relegation in 2005 and while Linfield fans won't have the patience to wait that long since their last title triumph in 2012, the squad is still in rebuilding mode.
McAlorum says Crusaders are worthy winners and he's not surprised by Linfield's troubles this season.
"The league table does not lie and Crusaders are there on merit," said the Glens ace.
"They are strong all over the park and it takes a massive squad effort to win the league.
"You have Gavin Whyte and Paul Heatley on the wings while Jordan Owens has been on fire, ably assisted by Diarmuid O'Carroll, and the boys at the back are also experienced and reliable.
"The Crues have been building towards this point for 10 years and it's been a long process. You need to have a strong squad to challenge for the league title and that means quality players ready to step up when injuries and suspensions arise.
"Glentoran also have title aspirations in the next few years, but we need more squad depth.
"I felt after the Irish Cup win in 2013 that we could go on and challenge for a title, but we had to keep an experienced squad together and too many left to go to rivals.
"Linfield are finding out like the rest of us that title- winning teams don't appear within a few weeks or months."
No doubt Glens fans are licking their lips at the prospect of finishing off the Blues' title dream this evening.
There is also the chance of Patterson's men securing a Europa League spot, either by winning the Irish Cup or through a strong finish to their league campaign.
"Games against Linfield are always massive and I think most people have come to the conclusion that the title race is over," added McAlorum.
"Warren Feeney even said himself that he expected Crusaders to go on and finish the job as nine points is too big a gap at this stage.
"But the race for European places is tight and with the top teams playing each other there is a lot at stake.
"The boys have kept going and wanted to pick up as many points as possible.
"European football would be a big prize for everyone but you have to earn that place.
"I think it was right we didn't set too many ambitious targets and making the top six was our number one goal.
"Other clubs may have stronger squads but that doesn't mean we cannot be successful. We have an Irish Cup decider against Portadown to look forward to and it will be another special day for everyone."