Belfast Telegraph

Never write Blues' title chances off, warns Lowry

By Graham Luney

David Healy believes Linfield's title defence has gone up in smoke, but Crusaders midfielder Philip Lowry feels it would be crazy to say the Blues are down and out.

After the disappointing 2-1 defeat at Glentoran on Boxing Day, the Blues boss claimed his side were out of the running in the title race.

Currently 15 points behind league leaders Coleraine, even with their two games in hand Linfield are facing an uphill struggle to hold onto the prize they won in incredible fashion last season.

If Crusaders can conquer the Blues at Windsor Park tomorrow, they will move 14 points ahead of their Belfast rivals, and Linfield's game in hand over the Crues will be little comfort.

It would be foolish to write off the champions' title hopes at this stage, but the players and management will accept they are not defending the championship with the same conviction and hunger they displayed last season.

Coleraine's stunning start to the season commands respect, and there are signs the Crues mean business after last seaosn's heartbreak, but Linfield are not showing the consistency required to win championships.

With the Crues up next tomorrow, followed by a trip to Coleraine on Monday, Healy's charges must dust themselves down quickly if they want to be popping champagne corks again in April.

Lowry, who scored against his former club when the Crues thumped the Blues 5-2 at Windsor Park in October, is relishing another huge test this weekend, but he knows Linfield will be hungry to dish out some pain.

"I think anyone who writes Linfied off with regard to the title race is wrong, it's mad to say they are out of it," said Lowry, who had a spell on the sidelines nursing an arm injury but came off the bench in the Boxing Day win over Cliftonville.

"I know their manager said the title was beyond them after the Glentoran defeat but we are only at the halfway stage, and we witnessed what Linfield did last season when they came storming back.

"You never know what can happen and, when you're involved in big games with top teams taking points off each other, the picture can change a lot.

"We know not to read anything into Linfield's results. There's never an ideal time to play them, particularly at Windsor Park, and especially when they are coming off the back of a defeat. If things are not going their way, they will see a team like us as an opportunity to put the record straight and get back on track.

"There is an extra motivation to knock us off our perch and, as we have beaten them three times already this season, they will be determined to hit back. Form goes out the window in a game of this magnitude and it's about producing the quality needed to get the win. But we will go there full of confidence and we will need to perform at our best because when Linfield suffer a setback you can sure they will come back 10 times stronger."

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