Belfast Telegraph

Linfield must prove they can weather many title storms

Feeno's boys are flying but obstacles remain on road to glory

Sing when you’re winning: Andy Waterworth has been on song for the Blues
Sing when you’re winning: Andy Waterworth has been on song for the Blues

By Graham Luney

Rumours are surfacing that Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has agreed to do the team talks at Windsor Park, warning the Northern Ireland and Linfield boys not to let it slip.

So far, so good for Warren Feeney's side. Top of the Danske Bank Premiership and four points clear of champions Crusaders.

The million dollar question is, can they finish the job?

The Blues choked near the finish line last season so the fear persists they will stumble again. This season the fans are dreaming of a different outcome and they are desperate to celebrate a title success again.

The 2012 triumph, the ninth and final one under legendary boss David Jeffrey, is a fading memory. So can Crusaders win back-to-back championships for the first time in their history or will Linfield end their title drought?

The Blues failed to lift the Gibson Cup from 1995 to 1999 and that was the last time they went four or more years without winning the top prize in domestic football.

Are they serious title contenders this time round?

The argument I'd make - admittedly without much conviction as we are only nine games into the campaign - is I feel the title is going to be a shoot-out between the Blues and Crues.

Cliftonville are a strong side but now that Joe Gormley has flown the nest I don't believe they have the firepower to sustain a challenge. Returning to the European stage and winning trophies along the way should be their number one target.

Can Linfield do it? There certainly seems to be more confidence, belief and hunger at Windsor than we witnessed last season and the Guy Bates-Andy Waterworth partnership has really blossomed.

But I have two big concerns regarding Linfield.

Firstly, I feel Crusaders have greater strength in depth in their squad and this will become apparent from January onwards.

Secondly, the Blues are relying heavily on Waterworth and Bates to keep performing and they could do with more attacking options.

Feeney may renew his interest in Warrenpoint Town striker Daniel Hughes in January and there's no doubt he needs cover should one or both of his first-choice frontmen become injured.

It should be added that while I have doubts that Linfield can finish on top, the Crues could be their own worst enemy with indiscipline creeping in.

The Blues players and management know the score. No major prizes in three seasons is an unacceptable recent record for the most successful club in Irish League football. Second place is nowhere at Linfield but the club have had the misfortune of coming up against the greatest Cliftonville and Crusaders sides there has ever been.

Only when Linfield hit some turbulence will we know if they have the skill and nerve to complete their journey.

The Blues are the most loved and most hated club in the country. Rival fans love to kick them when they are down but if there are any neutrals left in the Irish League, they would surely not want a young ambitious manager like Feeney to fail.

He had the guts to take on the role and he's big enough to absorb harsh criticism.

But he needs his players to win a trophy and then prove the big prizes are within their grasp.

Although they made hard work of it, Linfield got the job done on Saturday by edging out Glenavon but things didn't go smoothly off the pitch and lessons must be learned.

Many visiting supporters missed the start of the game as there weren't enough staff taking admission money and toilet facilities were also claimed to be inadequate.

Hopefully the Blues take a fresh look at their match-day arrangements. There's no point in having a shiny new stadium if we treat fans shabbily when they get there.

We have worked hard to bring families back to the Irish League, let's not drive them away again.

Belfast Telegraph


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