'We need to get better': David Healy calls on Linfield to find consistency for title charge
Linfield manager David Healy knew the question was coming. He had been down this road before… too often this season for his own liking.
It related to his team providing a positive response against Cliftonville tonight after losing 2-1 in the fifth round of the Irish Cup to mid-table Championship outfit Queen's University in what was one of the worst results in the club's history.
"We have needed too many reactions and responses this season," said Healy, referring to a number of disappointments in cup competitions and inconsistent form in the league.
The Blues are out of all the knockout tournaments and have lost five times in the Danske Bank Premiership so far.
All this after an exhilarating start to the campaign when Linfield enjoyed a stunning European run which earned them £1.3 million in prize money and almost a place in the Europa League group stages.
"Players in the dressing room, my staff and myself need to be better," added Healy.
"We lost the game at Queen's because we weren't good enough in all areas.
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"For us, the Cliftonville match is a good one to get back at it and we know we need to make big improvements."
With emotions running high after the shock loss at The Dub, a minority of Linfield fans called on Healy to be given the boot.
Linfield, with Roy McGivern as chairman, don't do knee-jerk reactions.
It is understood the board are fully behind Healy, who has a contract with the club until 2022 and an outstanding record of success behind him including two league titles in the past three years.
He will use the crushing disappointment of last weekend's staggering result as a driving force to try and take the Blues to another title. He will want his players to do the same.
Asked if he thought his team were hurting after the cup exit, Northern Ireland's record goalscorer stated: "I hope they are. They should be. The last performance wasn't good enough and that has to be put right."
Tellingly, at the weekend Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew was fulsome in his support of Healy, declaring that the Queen's loss was "100 percent down to the players and not the manager."
What will be just as intriguing is Healy's team selection for a hugely important league encounter at Solitude with the axe set to fall on some of the underperforming players from the cup nightmare.
Linfield enter the fixture in fourth place. They could end it as top dogs ahead of both Glentoran and Cliftonville on goal difference, one point clear of Crusaders and three in front of Coleraine with a various amount of games in hand on them all.
Even if Healy's men lose, they are still well in the title race but an away victory would be a major boost at a much needed time.
For Cliftonville, a win would cement their championship credentials. They fancy their chances of inflicting more pain and with Ruaidhrí Donnelly seemingly staying rather than going to Larne and predatory goalgetter Michael McCrudden arriving from Derry City, there is plenty to smile about for the Solitude side.
If Linfield turn up and perform at their best, however, that may change tonight.