Linfield's failure to beat the big rivals was key: Sean Ward
Sean Ward says Linfield will need to stand up and be counted in the big games if they want to win the Danske Bank Premiership title again.
Warren Feeney hoped to guide the Blues to the league title in his debut season as boss but Crusaders spoiled the party and ended 18 years of hurt at Seaview.
The sides will meet at The Oval tonight (7.45pm) with Linfield performing a guard of honour for the newly crowned champions.
With Glentoran’s ground suddenly becoming a home venue for the Blues after major damage was discovered to Windsor Park’s Kop Stand, Linfield’s season is ending in bizarre and disappointing fashion.
There was uplifting news last night, however, when it emerged that Ballinamallard United duo Mark Stafford and David Kee will be joining Linfield.
The Blues have also qualified for the Europa League and they can secure a runner-up finish tonight but another season without a major piece of silverware leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Ward admits the Crues deserve their day in the sun but he knows Linfield have to start delivering in the titanic battles if they want to stay afloat in championship races.
“I think the big improvement we have to make is beating the teams that are around us at the top of the table,” said the former Glentoran favourite.
“Our record against the bottom six is quite good but we have let ourselves down in the bigger matches and if you want to win the title you have to take points off your big rivals. That means the more experienced players have to show their strengths and the younger players must also listen to their advice and perform. Ideally you want to hit the ground running in the league, regardless of how you perform in Europe, but the club is rebuilding and the manager has already stated he wants to bring top players to the club and improve the squad rather than let boys leave.
“Winning league titles is what Linfield are about and that’s why we are all disappointed.
“I felt that, just like last season, we could get there but we have fallen short and will come back better focused and stronger next season.”
Just to prove Ward’s analysis, Linfield have taken only one point out of a possible nine against Crusaders to date this season.
“The team that finishes top of the table deserves to be there,” added Ward.
“They can be physical and direct but you have to play to your strengths and they have a striker in Jordan Owens who plays a significant role for them.
“If Jordan had the pace of Andy Waterworth the ball might go behind a bit more.
“They also have two exciting wingers in (Paul) Heatley and (Gavin) Whyte and there’s no doubt Crusaders are worthy champions. From our perspective we are just very disappointed we didn’t win a trophy.”
Crusaders defender Nathan Hanley has come up with the perfect remedy for his team-mates who are recovering from an intense title race.
Hanley has set up the Jordanstown Cryospa service in Whiteabbey, helping injury prevention, rehabilitation and recovery.
The Shore Road business kicked off yesterday with a 50% offer on opening week.