Belfast Telegraph

Linfield can all but secure Premiership title tonight but Healy expecting tough tie at Ballymena

Finish job: David Healy wants to win the Gibson Cup as soon as possible and has targeted victory at the Showgrounds
Finish job: David Healy wants to win the Gibson Cup as soon as possible and has targeted victory at the Showgrounds

By Graham Luney

Linfield manager David Healy will tell his players to go out and finish the job against Ballymena United tonight.

The top-of-the-table showdown in front of the BBC cameras could see the Blues place the title-winning champagne on ice.

An away win will see Healy's troops go 12 points clear at the summit with only four games remaining, and such is their superior goal difference - 17 more than the Sky Blues - it would all but kill off the Braid title dream.

United boss and former Linfield supremo David Jeffrey has always maintained his primary objective was securing European football, but they are the only side to make the Blues sweat that little bit harder.

To be four points ahead of champions Crusaders at this stage is a phenomenal achievement by Jeffrey's men, but huge praise must also go to Healy and his players for their ruthless response to last season's poor showing.

But the job isn't done yet and if United can slash the gap at the top to six points then a thrilling finish is still possible.

Any complacency within the visitors' ranks is unlikely, but Healy will expect his players to achieve their title mission as soon as possible.

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"It's a big game," admitted Healy. "Ballymena have had a phenomenal season under a manager who is known for success in the league, so we're under no illusions as to how big a game it will be but we'll look forward to the challenge."

United did overcome Linfield 2-1 at the Showgrounds in December, but since then the Blues have claimed the bragging rights, winning in the County Antrim Shield, League Cup final and Premiership.

Linfield might appear on course to be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons but Jeffrey will certainly relish the chance to knock the wheels off the bandwagon.

"It's ironic when I hear some of their players saying that they maybe haven't been playing as well but my goodness gracious me they've kept those results going," said Jeffrey.

"Really the opposition is secondary, this is about us giving our best and seeing if we can get ourselves into Europe. That's what we're about and nothing more, and if you stay focused on your goals then that's the best thing to do. Others may like to dream, I live in the real world."

Meanwhile, Linfield's Kirsty McGuinness collected her award for being the Premiership's leading goalscorer last season.

McGuinness netted 24 times in 18 league ties as the Blues were crowned Danske Bank Women's Premiership champions for a third straight year, as well as lifting the League Cup in the first domestic televised women's match in Northern Ireland.

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