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Blues have so much to prove after the misery of last year: Callacher

 

By Alex Mills

Reliable Linfield defender Jimmy Callacher doesn't intend to become carried away with his team's impressive start to the new season.

David Healy's boys have picked up maximum points from games against Glenavon and Institute but today face their biggest test so far when they make the short trip across town to face Danske Bank Premiership champions Crusaders at Seaview.

Following a disastrous campaign last season, which left the Blues well out of the title shake-up, another year in the doldrums is not negotiable.

There were a number of contributory factors for their failure - the transfer of Paul Smyth, serious injuries sustained by talisman striker Andy Waterworth and skipper Jamie Mulgrew, and too many players simply failing to reach the heights that heralded three trophies the previous season, including a league and cup double.

That disappointment prompted Healy to clear the decks. He revamped his squad over the summer by snapping up Joel Cooper, Daniel Kearns, Lorcan Forde, Michael O'Connor and former Northern Ireland defender Ryan McGivern.

Callacher insists the Blues still have much to prove. He said: "We're happy with the start we've made. Glenavon is never an easy place to go, while it was also good to get a home win against Institute.

"We are just taking one game at a time. We know where we are at. Our aim is to take maximum points from each game. I know it's almost impossible to do it every week, but that's our mindset.

"What happened to us last year was difficult to take - there were too many players off the boil. You can possibly carry one or two who are not on full throttle.

"Too many players were nowhere near the level of performance they were at the previous year. That's the reason why we finished where we did.

"We have to hold up our hands and admit the teams above us were better. There can be no excuses - we just didn't do ourselves justice. The league table doesn't lie.

"Losing Paul Smyth in the final week of the transfer window was a blow. He was our shining light, and he was a massive loss."

Callacher has tipped his cap in Healy's direction at the way the former Northern Ireland striker has gone about his transfer business.

"The boss has worked hard over the summer on a recruitment drive," said the defender.

"I firmly believe that we now have a stronger squad than last season.

"He has brought in a lot of quality - Daniel Kearns, Joel Cooper, Ryan McGivern and Michael O'Connor, while Jordan Stewart will be like a new signing because he missed almost six months of last season.

"I think we now have more options going forward than we've had in previous years. Every player knows if they are not producing, they'll be out of the team.

"There is healthy competition for every position. Ryan will be a great signing - he'll bring a lot of experience to the table. Big Mark Stafford has been out suspended and he is bursting to get back. In my opinion, he's one of the best centre-backs in the league.

"But it's up to the boys who have the shirt to keep it. If you go out of this team, you could be out for months, such is the competition for places. That's the reality of where the squad is at.

"Our aim is to get back challenging for all the trophies - something we failed to do last season."

Callacher expects another hell-raiser at Seaview today. He added: "We are only two games in, but everyone knows we need to be a lot better than last season.

"When you look around the league, every club has strengthened. There are no easy games in this division.

"We know if we are not on top of our game, we could be beaten by any of the other 11 teams.

"The league is a lot better and more competitive than it has been for some time.

"Crusaders are in the same position we were in last season, going into every game as champions.

"They are a great club, who are superbly managed by Stephen Baxter. They have won the title three times in the last four years, so that says it all - they have earned the respect from every club in the league.

"We'll certainly go there and give them our respect, but once the whistle goes, it's over to us. We feel that we are capable of beating any team on the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all about us and what we do."

Belfast Telegraph

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