Belfast Telegraph

Mark Stafford is hungry to end Linfield trophy famine

By Stuart McKinley

Mark Stafford admits that he can already feel the weight of expectation at Linfield as the Blues battle to end a three-season run without a major trophy.

And the man who joined the club from Ballinamallard United in the summer wouldn't have it any other way.

After going on an amazing run of winning of six league and cup doubles in seven seasons between 2007 and 2012, Linfield's only silverware in the last three years came when they won the County Antrim Shield 18 months ago, with Warren Feeney unable to change that in his short spell as manager before he left for Newport County last week.

The JBE League Cup will be the next prize handed over and Stafford - who faces his old club in tonight's third round tie at Windsor Park - is just as hungry to end the trophy famine as the team mates who have been around long enough to boast a medal collection.

"I've only been here a few months, but I know that the players who have been at the club longer than me feel they have a bit of a point to prove," said Stafford.

"The club hasn't won anything in a few years now. Players like myself and David Kee have been brought in to improve the squad and it is far too long since the club won a trophy.

"It's not something that has been drummed into us since we signed, but it is talked about and when you play in the Irish League you do know the statistics and it is something that I want to change."

Stafford captained Ballinamallard as they rose from intermediate football to establish themselves in the top flight of Northern Ireland domestic football.

The 28-year-old can feel the contrast between battling to make sure Fermanagh stays on the local football map and fighting for silverware and is relishing that challenge of having to play at the top of his game every week.

"Playing for Linfield is very different to playing for Ballinamallard," said Stafford.

"Every time I run out at Windsor Park I can feel the passion of the fans and I love it.

"You can feel the pressure and expectation too.

"Those fans live Linfield every day of their lives, they expect you to give 100% every week and you don't want to let them down.

"It sounds a bit cheesy, but it is a privilege to play for Linfield and play at Windsor Park every week - particularly the way it is now, it looks fantastic."

Stafford admits that Feeney's departure came as a shock to the players, but he won't allow it to be used an excuse for underperforming.

"We dropped points in the last two games and we haven't been at our best," he said.

"We had to deal with a big game last Saturday against Glentoran and now another one in the League Cup, so we have to focus on that and not worry about the managerial side of things, other than giving our all for Andy Todd and Alfie Wylie while they are in charge."

Meanwhile, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter will shuffle his pack but still field a formidable side as they take on Championship Institute at Seaview and he is looking forward to watching squad players stake a claim for more regular first team action.

"I want the players who haven't been playing as much football as they would like to get game time," said Baxter.

"The likes of Stephen O'Flynn, Barry Molloy, David Magowan and Richard Vauls come into my thinking.

"The guys need to be ready to play and I look forward to these games to see these players and how they are progressing," the Crues boss added.

Belfast Telegraph


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