Belfast Telegraph

Genuine title contenders Coleraine are a huge threat to Linfield's hopes, says Healy

Facing off: Oran Kearney and David Healy are set to do battle
Facing off: Oran Kearney and David Healy are set to do battle

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager David Healy has declared that Coleraine are genuine title contenders this season ahead of this afternoon's highly-anticipated clash with his side at the Showgrounds.

The Bannsiders top the Danske Bank Premiership table on goal difference from Crusaders and are unbeaten in the league since Oran Kearney returned as manager.

Kearney went close to leading Coleraine to the title in 2018 but after he left for St Mirren, the team's performances took a dip and they finished sixth last term with Rodney McAree in charge.

Since Kearney's return they have found their form again and have already beaten the Crues home and away and defeated Linfield 4-2 at Windsor Park.

Due to their Europa League heroics, the Blues have been playing catch-up in terms of games and points but are now only two behind the leaders on both counts after a 7-0 hammering of Warrenpoint in midweek.

It all points to a gripping encounter played in a crackling atmosphere.

"I'm sure we will have a big support there. It's one of the away grounds, like Mourneview Park, that supporters enjoy going to," said Healy.

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"Coleraine will also have a big support. They are coming off the back of beating potential champions in Crusaders so, like ourselves, they should be in confident mood."

Much has been made of the dynamic displays of Coleraine striker Eoin Bradley lately.

Healy's take? "One thing he does is use his body very well. He's clever. Oran says he has matured and when Bradley is on form like he was at Windsor he can be a headache. We'll look to combat him.

"They have other good players and players in form. Ben Doherty is scoring a lot of goals, Jamie Glackin is doing well and they have Stephen Lowry and Aaron Jarvis who are good players. Lyndon Kane and Aaron Trainor are back fit and Chris Johns is a solid goalkeeper.

"Absolutely they are title contenders. Their improvements this season have been plain to see. Oran has gone in and basically added one or two. Rodney didn't have the same impact which will disappoint Rodney when he looks at it now with the same group of players.

"Oran has proved he is not only a good coach, but he's a good man manager and he's got the players onside and they are picking up important results. They've beaten Crusaders twice this season and they have beaten us.

"They caught us in a strange moment when we were coming off the back of big results in Europe. We were a little flat on the day and they caught us at a bad time and they enjoyed it."

Quizzed on what he meant by that, Healy replied: "They enjoyed beating us here."

Asked to explain, he repeated: "They enjoyed beating us here."

Was that by making lots of noise? Healy: "They enjoyed beating us. This is an opportunity for us to go to the Showgrounds and enjoy a tasty game."

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer was pleased by his side's clinical dismantling of Warrenpoint, though was demanding even more after the game. He substituted captain Jamie Mulgrew and striker Shayne Lavery early in the second half to keep them fresh.

"We thought that was the right decision. Jamie has basically played nearly every minute this season," said Healy.

"Jamie leads by example before, during and after games and makes my job a lot easier. I demand more than them all put together but Jamie is a demanding player."

On Linfield's recent run of league wins since losing at Crusaders, the Blues boss added: "I've learned not to get carried away with a defeat because it is part of football. If it is done in the right manner like when we lost at Crusaders, when there wasn't much in the game, there's no point in me being hugely disappointed.

"Since then we've kicked on and done our jobs and will aim to keep doing that."

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