Michael Gault has warned that champions Linfield aren’t about to take the foot off the pedal.
The Windsor Park captain will be lifting the Gibson Cup within the next couple of weeks after Saturday’s win over Portadown clinched the club’s 51st league title.
Anyone expecting to get an easy ride against the Blues in the remaining four league games, however, are in for a rude awakening.
Firstly there is a big fight on to be selected for Saturday’s Irish Cup semi-final against Newry City — with possibly a meeting with Crusaders in the final to follow — as well as the chance for the Blues to set a Premiership points record, with 12 still to play for.
“You have to keep playing well if you want to keep your place and play in the semi-final,” said Gault, ahead of tonight’s clash with Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
“Hopefully there is a final to play for as well.
“You have to keep playing well to stay in the team because there are a few boys who aren’t even in the squad who are fantastic players and they will be doing all they can in training and if they get a chance in a few matches to show what they can do and show that they are worth a starting place.”
And while manager David Jeffrey is planning to make changes to his team now that the title has been secured, he won’t be starting from a blank canvas when it comes to picking the team tonight.
It is likely that Daryl Fordyce, Mark McAllister, David Armstrong, Billy Joe Burns and Chris Casement — who were all on the bench against Portadown — will come into contention for starting places.
Aaron Burns and Gary Browne may also be considered for selection.
Jeffrey, however, will not let any of his players take their eye off the ball, especially when there is more silverware to be played for this season — as well as league points.
“We intend to maintain our standards in our quest for more points,” said Jeffrey.
“There will be no wholesale changes, but having already won the league means we can use our squad wisely.
“The game with Cliftonville allows me to get good competitive time for a number of players so we’re going into the semi-final as well prepared as we possibly can be.”
With the league title race now over the focus shifts to the battle to be labelled as the best of the rest, with Portadown and Cliftonville wrestling for second place.
The two are locked together on 65 points and the big game may well come on the last day of the season when the two teams in red go head-to-head.
Having beaten the Ports Jeffrey will give Ronnie McFall’s men the utmost respect by treating Cliftonville in exactly the same way, even though the game itself is effectively a dead-rubber.
“The battle below us is fierce with Cliftonville pushing, Crusaders pushing and Portadown pushing. So it’s not a question of us switching off,” said Jeffrey.
“We’ll not be changing things from back to front but we won’t be taking any risks with players.
“Those are the benefits which come from winning the league early.”
TODAY’S FIXTURES: (7.45pm unless stated) Carrick Rangers v Glenavon, (3pm), Dungannon Swifts v Ballymena United (3pm), Coleraine v Glentoran, Crusaders v Portadown, Linfield v Cliftonville, Lisburn Distillery v Donegal Celtic.