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Linfield will never lose hope in title race: Ward

By David Mason

Linfield's Sean Ward admits there is no hiding place as his team chase down Crusaders at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.

The reigning champions have built up a seven-point cushion but with 14 games to go, Ward believes that the title race is far from a done deal.

David Healy's team will again have their championship aspirations scrutinised when they face a difficult outing against Glenavon at Mourneview Park today.

"There are no easy games in this league, we know this will be another big test," said the 33-year-old teacher.

"We have to make sure we are mentally and physically prepared for the challenge.

"Glenavon have players that can hurt you, but we also have match winners."

The Blues have mixed memories from their last visit to Lurgan. When Matthew Clarke and Roy Carroll were both dismissed after only 10 minutes, it appeared to be a damage limitation job for Healy's men.

But against all the odds, the brave nine men recovered from a two-goal deficit to nick an unlikely point, courtesy of second-half goals from Andy Waterworth and young gun Paul Smyth.

"I think we showed a lot of discipline on that occasion," said Ward. "The game was probably remembered for all the wrong reasons - decisions that went against us.

"To play for 80-odd minutes without a recognised goalkeeper and our full-back was a massive ask. But, if anything, I think it helped spur us on.

"The odds were stacked against us, particularly when Glenavon took a two-goal lead, but we showed great discipline and belief.

"We've been accused of being naive in certain games and, even though we were frustrated at what had happened, we regrouped which ultimately helped us take home a point."

Following their heroic victory over Crusaders on New Year's Eve, which cut the gap in the table to only four points, the Blues shot themselves in the foot in their following game, falling to a shock home defeat by Coleraine.

"That was disappointing, but again we had to play for an hour with only 10 men after Jimmy Callacher was sent off," said Ward.

"We had done so well at Seaview - expectation levels were high, but we just didn't turn up against Coleraine.

"They are a good side, but it was a big chance lost - that's football."

Although the Crues are still striding clear, Ward reckons the race for the title could go to the wire.

"Crusaders have proved to be the most consistent team in the league over the past two years - the league table doesn't lie," added Ward.

"Yes, it will be a tall order catching them, but we are not for giving it up.

"There will be a lot more twists and turns in the run-in over the last lot of games - there is still an awful lot of football to be played.

"The pressure is on to win every game, but it's the same for every team whether you are fighting it out at the top or the bottom.

"We have to look after ourselves. It's important we keep chipping away, so we'll be looking no further than Mourneview Park. It's crucial to pick up three points to maintain our challenge. It's time for everyone to stand up and be counted."

Jimmy Callacher comes back into the panel after missing out on last week's Irish Cup win over Glentoran, the legacy of his dismissal in the previous game.

Fixtures to come

Last night: Carrick Rangers 1 Ballinamallard United 2

Today (3.00pm): Ballymena United v Dungannon Swifts; Cliftonville  v Ards; Coleraine v Portadown; Glenavon v Linfield; Glentoran v Crusaders.

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