'How long do you want to stay at the top?' - Oran Kearney issues challenge to Coleraine players ahead of Linfield visit
Coleraine boss Oran Kearney has warned his players that the hard work starts now after shooting to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
A brilliant 2-0 victory at Crusaders last weekend lifted the Bannsiders ahead of their closest rivals on goal difference, but reaching the summit is one thing - staying there is a much more formidable challenge.
Champions Linfield will arrive at the Showgrounds tomorrow thirsty for revenge after Kearney's side embarrassed them with a 4-2 triumph at Windsor Park in August.
Back then the Blues had one eye on their European commitments, but now it's full steam ahead in pursuit of a 54th league championship and David Healy's men are only two points behind with two games in hand.
Former Linfield favourite Kearney knows the Belfast side will be all guns blazing when they arrive in the north west and he's intrigued to see how his troops deal with the test.
"It's just goes from easy fixture to easy fixture and they're brilliant," said Kearney.
"You look forward to these games, the big tests in the big atmospheres.
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"We beat Linfield earlier in the season during their European campaign but they have been going under the radar and climbing up the table.
"Their form is good and we know we are going to need another performance of the level we produced against Crusaders to get something out of the game.
"I wouldn't say there's a spotlight on the players, we could be sitting fourth in the league after the weekend games.
"We are joint top on goal difference, and it's nice to reach the summit, but now the challenge for the players is how long do you want to stay there.
"Can we put a run together to stay at the top?
"I think a number of teams can stay around the top, the league table doesn't lie and you can see how tight things are.
"Teams have beaten each other and it doesn't seem like two teams will steam away and leave everyone else.
"The bar has levelled out with respect to the other teams and that means it's very competitive."
Whatever the result tomorrow, Coleraine have already hammered home their strengths, both going forward and in defence.
"From the previous team when I was here, there is still a big core of players in the team, and then you add in players with good attitudes who have joined the club," added Kearney.
"You are hoping to generate the type of mentality you want and the lads are doing that.
"I was also delighted with the way Ben (Doherty) tucked away the penalties against Crusaders. Ben is a great lad and I'm thrilled he's here.
"He's bought into what we are trying to do."