Belfast Telegraph

I can reignite Linfield's bid to defend league title, insists Byrne

 

By Alex Mills

New boy Kurtis Byrne believes he can help shoot Linfield back into title contention.

The 27-year-old striker opened his account when he grabbed a priceless winner in Tuesday night's Danske Bank Premiership clash against Carrick Rangers at a wet and windy Loughshore Hotel Arena.

David Healy's boys had huffed and puffed in dreadful conditions and, although they were wasteful in front of goal at times, they came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Harry Doherty.

With time running out and the visiting fans becoming increasingly frustrated, young substitute Ryan Strain, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes, whipped in a great cross from the left and Byrne did the rest with a sweet right-footed volley.

The relief was tangible, both on and off the pitch.

The champions may still be playing catch-up in terms of their position in the league - they are 14 points adrift of high-flying Crusaders - but Byrne and his team-mates are not for throwing in the towel just yet.

"It was nice to get off the mark by scoring the winner, but more importantly it helped us get the three points," said the former St Pat's Athletic man. "It was a tough game and the pitch was in a dreadful state, it was a mud bath in places.

"But I suppose it was the same for both teams. We knew it wouldn't be easy at Carrick, the boss had us well briefed. They are fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table, and they battled for everything."

Byrne hailed the contribution of young Strain for his part in the breakthrough strike.

"Ryan cut the ball back really well," he said. "Fortunately I was there at the back post to put it away. I didn't have time to think too much about it.

"I just focused on getting a good contact on the ball to volley it into the net. Ryan gave us that wee bit of spark required. I thought he was great when he came on.

"Admittedly, I was a little bit frustrated because I had a few decent chances earlier on. The goalkeeper got a good hand to one shot and I had another kicked off the line, so I suppose it was third time lucky for me.

"We were just happy to get the three points and move on to the next game. Every match is going to be a battle. Even junior side Glebe Rangers put up a good fight in the Irish Cup last weekend.

"I know teams in this league are very capable and you have to work for anything you get. But if we play to our ability, there is no question we can climb the table and hopefully I can nick a few goals along the way.

"I haven't set any goal targets as yet, but hopefully if I can start finding the net on a regular basis. I'll have a target set before the end of the season."

Although it's still early days, Byrne's partnership with the Blues' other high-profile January signing, Achille Campion, has shown promise.

"We are beginning to gel with the lads," he said. "Achille is a target man, he holds up the ball well. He's also good with the ball at his feet.

"We've started pretty well, so hopefully I can play off him and score a lot more goals."

With relegation-haunted Warrenpoint Town next up at Milltown on Saturday, Byrne added: "It will be another big test. I know they drew at Windsor Park a few weeks ago.

"They seem to be a team that plays without any fear so it will be another battle, just as it was at Carrick in midweek."

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