Belfast Telegraph

Blayney has Linfield title in safe hands

By Stuart McKinley

It might have happened to Real Madrid, but Linfield aren’t about to let a trophy slip from their grasp.

Sergio Ramos’ gaffe in letting the Copa del Ray fall from the open top bus as the Spanish giants celebrated their win over Barcelona has been played before a worldwide audience.

Only a small percentage of that number will be aware when Linfield clinch their 50th Irish League title and the chances of the trophy being dropped are much less too — particularly with Alan Blayney ready to lift the Gibson Cup now that he is wearing the captain’s armband for the Blues.

The big goalkeeper hasn’t let too much slip from his grasp this season and Linfield certainly won’t loosen their grip on the Carling Premiership title as the home straight looms.

Peter Thompson’s 21 league goals have been integral to the Blues march towards the title, but Blayney’s hugely impressive form is a big reason why Linfield will be crowned champions within the coming days.

A win at home to Cliftonville tomorrow will spark celebrations at Windsor Park, even if the title triumph won’t be 100 per cent official. The Blues massively superior goal-difference will mean that it’s near impossible for Crusaders to catch them.

Blayney has kept 16 clean sheets in 35 games and has only been beaten 29 times in league games, guaranteeing him many plaudits when the ribbons are tied to the trophy before next Saturday’s final home game against Portadown.

There is no title talk in the Linfield dressing room, but the players know how close it is and what it’s going to take to clinch it.

“We have to go into the last four matches of the season with the same mindset we’ve had in the last six games, where we’ve won them all,” said Blayney.

“We want to finish in the right way, which means winning all our games and hopefully doing the double again.

“Our confidence is high at the minute and it’s hard to see us slipping up, but we have to keep the same attitude that we’ve had over the last few games.

“We’ve come through a period where we’ve beaten Glentoran three times in a row and they were big results.

“We've seen this season that every team is capable of taking points off anyone else so we have got to treat every game like it’s a Big Two game and as our biggest game of the season.

“It’s not about how many points will give us the league, there are nine point left to play for and we want all nine.”

Really Linfield should have secured the crown by now. A blip that ran from late January to mid-March has, however, only delayed the inevitable rather than wrecking the dream of a double celebration with the 50th championship in the same year as the club marks its 125th birthday.

Six points were collected from a possible 15, but just when doubts began to surface, David Jeffrey’s men have now won five consecutive games and now one win out of three will be enough to see them home and dry.

“The one thing that made us push on again is our desire,” said

Blayney. “We never really got together and talked about the form that we were in, but we all know how important it is for the club to win the league this season and get the 50th title in the 125th anniversary year.

“We picked ourselves up, had a good kick up the backside and took a good hard look at ourselves.

“We got a couple of kicks up the backside from the manager, but but he’s been really good. There’s been no ranting and raving.

“He’s just tried to keep our confidence up and he knows we’re only human and anything can happen.”

Blayney is the only player in the Linfield squad to have played every minute of every league game this season — and that hasn’t happened by accident.

He’s been performing at the top of his game from day one, carrying on from where he left off last season, when the 29-year-old’s form earned him an international recall, four years after winning his only previous cap.

“It took me a good four or five months to settle in at Linfield and last season was really about bedding in, but this season I’ve felt much more comfortable and confident,” he said.

“I went away with Northern Ireland last summer expecting to be on the bench for the two games against Turkey and Chile.

“I never expected to start them both, but that helped my confidence too.

“I think that has played a big part this season. I had two targets when I signed for Linfield, one was to win trophies and I’m now trying to win a second double. The other was to get back into the Northern Ireland squad, which I have accomplished too.”

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