Belfast Telegraph

Linfield can climb Everest-size mountain to retain league title, says Stafford

 

By Graham Luney

Linfield defender Mark Stafford has admitted there is no margin for error as the Blues cling to their Danske Bank Premiership title dream.

David Healy's side travel to Carrick tonight knowing they are well off the pace as leaders Crusaders and second-placed Coleraine look in fine fettle.

The Gibson Cup may have been snatched from Crusaders by the Windsor Park men in thrilling fashion last season, but there have been few fireworks from the Blues in this campaign.

Linfield have slumped to fifth in the table, 17 points behind the Crues with two games in hand.

Paul Smyth's departure to QPR and an early injury to Andy Waterworth contributed to a lack of cutting edge which has hurt the champions, but Healy is hoping new arrivals Kurtis Byrne and on-loan Cork City striker Achille Campion can strike it hot.

Stafford admitted defeats to Glentoran and Crusaders have delivered a huge blow to his side's title hopes, but said: "I still believe we are capable of going on a strong winning run as we have good players.

"We need to play a lot better and we won't give up. You fight to the finish and that's the Linfield way. We have fallen so far behind that it feels like we have to climb Mount Everest, but I believe we can go on a run.

"The new lads have come in and freshened things up a bit. They'll get a good introduction to the Irish League on a cold, wet and mucky night in Carrick!

"It's important we start getting the wins we need to force ourselves back into the title race.

"As for whether we can win the title, it's not impossible but we are relying on others to slip up. It will require a huge effort."

Stafford's team-mate Mark Haughey says they need to pressure the sides above them.

"Last season we were chasing down Crusaders, but other teams are looking strong and that shows you the quality of the league," said the right-back.

"We have to try to get a bit of momentum and stay in the Irish Cup. In the league you never know what can happen.

"We have dropped a lot of points but we will fight on until it's mathematically impossible."

Carrick boss David McAlinden said: "If we give the same level of performance in terms of commitment that we produced against Glenavon, we have a chance. We'll stick in there, and if we get a bit more of the rub of the green we should pick up a few more points before long."

• Ryan Nimick has signed a new deal at Crusaders, extending his contract to the end of the 2019/20 season. He has now moved to Carrick in a loan deal.

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