Belfast Telegraph

Linfield is league's biggest club and will challenge for the title, says Stute boss

By Graham Luney

Institute manager Paddy McLaughlin says his boys will relish the big stage in their showdown with Linfield at Windsor Park tonight, but he won't be too despondent if they taste defeat.

An away win would catapult Institute to the summit of the Danske Bank Premiership and represent a dream start to life in the top flight, but their feet will remain firmly on the ground.

Stute got up and running with a 1-0 win over fellow promoted side Newry at the Brandywell last weekend but a revitalised Blues team, keen to record their first league win of the season at Windsor, are a different proposition.

Linfield recorded a 1-0 opening day victory at Glenavon and after their trophy cabinet remained unlocked last season, David Healy and his men are expected to put up more of a fight this campaign.

McLaughlin believes the Blues will be in the hunt for the Gibson Cup come the business end of a season in which consolidation is the key word for his own troops.

"There's no doubt Linfield will challenge for the title," said the Stute chief. "When you look at the squad David has assembled and factor in his knowledge and experience you would expect the Blues to be more like themselves this season.

"They are probably the biggest club in the country and while there's big expectations on them they have a team more than capable of winning the league or, at the very least, challenging for the title. They are going to be one of the top teams."

Michael McCrudden's well-taken 19th-minute goal rocked Newry City at the Brandywell but it was his side's defensive performance that impressed McLaughlin.

"We know ourselves it's going to be tough," he added. "When you step up into a higher league everything gets tougher. We worked hard in pre-season because it's a massive season for the club. Keeping a clean sheet was a big plus for us. We scored a fantastic goal which was nice but we defended very well. You don't want to depend on last ditch tackles and headers every week.

"It's important to get points on the board. It lifts the mood because we all know the challenges ahead. Had we not won the opening game there would be a bit more pressure on us to get that first win but the players' attitude was excellent. It's wonderful for the club to be playing in this type of fixture.

"Our opponents last season were very different so preparing to take on one of the biggest clubs in Ireland at the National Stadium is very exciting for the players. It shows how far the club has come. From almost going out of business to playing against Linfield, it's a fantastic achievement for the club."

"If we win the odds will be slashed for us to win the league," he joked. "But, seriously, if we win the game it would be one of the biggest scalps many of our players will enjoy in their careers. We are realistic in what we need to do. Any points taken off the top sides are a bonus for us."

Holders Dungannon Swifts will begin their League Cup defence at home to Limavady United in the second round.

BetMcLean League Cup second round draw: Cliftonville v Lisburn Distillery, Tobermore United v Portadown, Dungannon Swifts v Limavady Utd, Carrick Rangers v Sport & Leisure Swifts, Institute v Loughgall, Larne v Glentoran, Coleraine v Ballyclare Comrades, Newry City v Knockbreda, Glenavon v Dergview, H&W Welders v Portstewart, Annagh United v Warrenpoint Town, Ards v Newington YC, PSNI v Crusaders, Linfield v Moyola Park, Ballymena United v Dollingstown. All ties will be played on Tuesday, August 28.

• Linfield Ladies will take on Ajax at Seaview today (2pm) in their latest Uefa Women's Champions League Group 1 test. The Blues lost 2-0 to Icelandic side Thor KA in their first game.

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