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Only victory will keep Blues' glory bid alive: Healy

By Adrian Rutherford

David Healy has a very simple message for his men - beat Crusaders at Windsor Park tomorrow or Linfield's title challenge will be over. A victory for the Crues will take them seven points clear with just four games remaining.

But a Linfield win would cut the gap to just a point, and set up one of the closest finishes for years.

Healy has warned that anything other than three points will end the Blues' title dream.

"I've stated for weeks and weeks now that Crusaders are still huge favourites to win the league," he said.

"They are four points clear and they haven't lost that many games.

"We need to beat them on Saturday. If we don't beat them the league's over, if we draw the league is over, so we need to win.

"We will do everything we can come Saturday."

The Blues enter the game on the back of their best run since Healy took the job 18 months ago.

They are unbeaten in their last 14 games, winning 13 of them.

The Crues, meanwhile, lost to Coleraine in their last game, handing Linfield a glimmer of hope in the title race.

Healy admits Stephen Baxter's side are unlikely to drop many more points, making victory essential.

"Mathematically (if it's a draw) we can still catch them, but if you look at Crusaders' record over the previous couple of seasons, they won the five games in the split last year, the previous year when they won the league title I think they only lost one game," said the former Northern Ireland star.

"If you look at the stats, they don't lose many games.

"We are up against it, but they are huge favourites and we are huge underdogs to turn Crusaders over. I said weeks ago, it will take an almighty collapse from Crusaders to let us nip in."

Aside from the title race, Linfield have the small matter of an Irish Cup final to look forward to. They overcame Dungannon last weekend courtesy of an 89th-minute winner from midfielder Stephen Lowry and set up a clash with Coleraine on May 6.

Healy admits the run to the final could give the players fresh impetus as the season enters its closing weeks.

"I think now with the opportunity of playing in a cup final it keeps the players in the dressing room hungry - it keeps them ticking over," he said.

"Everyone wants to be fit, they want to be involved, they want to be a part of it."

Back in December, the Blues dug out a 2-1 win at Seaview.

Last Saturday against Dungannon was also about getting the job done, and Healy admits a similar approach may be needed.

"They now know what it takes, especially after a game like (the semi-final) - how to get over the line," he added. "When you don't actually play at your best, it's about getting over the line - like at Crusaders earlier in the season. The players now realise that when they play well, normally they win games. If they don't play as well and other teams play as well as you, you can still find a way to win a game like we did last Saturday."

Meanwhile, this season's Tennent's Irish Cup final will be refereed by Raymond Hetherington.

The Dungannon referee will be assisted by Stephen Bell and Jarlath McElholm.

The Irish Football Association's Referees Committee have also appointed Keith Kennedy as the fourth official for the Irish Cup decider.

The reserve assistant referee will be Ken Ross, while John Ferry is to act as the referee observer at the showpiece game.

Coleraine will wear their red and black away kit in the final.

• Northern Ireland have climbed nine places to joint 26th in Fifa's world rankings, level with the Republic of Ireland, who fell by two places.

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