Sean Ward: Linfield title bid won't falter
When Sean Ward left Glentoran to join Linfield last summer he expected to become involved in a title charge – that's how they conduct their business at Windsor Park.
But the centre-back also expected a rough ride at the top and that's just what he and his colleagues are getting.
It will surprise no-one that champions Cliftonville are still the team the Blues must beat as the finishing line draws near.
David Jeffrey's side, re-energised after last season's trophyless campaign and their recent County Antrim Shield success, may be two points in front of the north-Belfast side with seven matches remaining but the destination of the Gibson Cup is still as predictable as tonight's winning National Lottery numbers.
In short, it's too close to call and any slip-up could be ruthlessly punished.
Ward knows it will be a fight to the finish and with the title dreamers set to clash at Windsor Park on Saturday, March 29, the pressure and tension is expected to reach fever pitch.
Whoever triumphs in the end will be able to reflect on a remarkable achievement with immense pride.
"Every game is crucial now and we can safely say that whoever wins this title race will fully deserve their moment of glory," said Ward.
"They will be worthy winners. I've read comments for and against the league split but what we are guaranteed is some fantastic battles. League titles have to be earned and sometimes won the hard way.
"That's the case in our league as teams have a lot to play for after the split, like European qualification. When it's all over we can say the best team has won the league because they will have deserved it.
"There will be no arguing with the final result and no-one can say they got lucky. Both teams know what they have to do and every single game is so important."
Linfield welcome Dungannon Swifts to Windsor Park today and the Tyrone men have never won at the south Belfast stadium in 11 seasons as a Premiership team.
The Blues will be focused on taking care of their own business while hoping relegation threatened Warrenpoint Town frustrate Cliftonville at Stangmore Park.
"The great thing about this league is that all the sides are capable of taking points of one another and that's testimony to how those teams have strengthened," added Ward.
"But I went to Linfield to win trophies like my team-mates and that's what we want to do. The manager stepping down at the end of the season adds an emotional element into everything but winning silverware has always been the motivation.
"After the County Antrim Shield win there were very little celebrations because we know the league title is the prize we are after."
Meanwhile, Ward is devastated to learn that that both he and Philip Lowry will be suspended for the crucial post-split clash with Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
The title chasers are scheduled to clash on Saturday, March 29 and Blues boss Jeffrey has confirmed that Lowry and Ward will be suspended for one game from Monday, March 24.
"I've got to say I'm highly frustrated by these suspensions coming in at this time of the season," Jeffrey told the club's website.
"My frustration is simply borne out of the fact that the two bookings that brought them up to the first disciplinary point were in my opinion, neither bookings nor free kicks.
"When I think of some of the challenges that our players have been subjected to this season, I'm highly disappointed that what at best were in my view, fairly innocuous challenges were punished by yellow cards.
"Having said that, these things are part and parcel of the game and we've got to get on with it.
"While those players will be sorely missed, their absence will give opportunities for others."
Ward has tried to absorb the news with some humour, saying: "I heard about it at training on Thursday night – the first suspension of my career. Maybe I don't tackle enough!"
Ward and Lowry have been among the Blues' top performers this season but in a cruel twist of fate they will miss the biggest game of the season.
It's another turn in an unpredictable and enthralling title race.