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Blues won't give up fight: Coyle

Irish League great Roy insists Healy's men can still regroup and finish with a flourish


Huge clash: Linfield's Mark Stafford will renew hostilities with Crusaders midfielder Declan Caddell today

Huge clash: Linfield's Mark Stafford will renew hostilities with Crusaders midfielder Declan Caddell today

Stephen Hamilton/Inpho

Huge clash: Linfield's Mark Stafford will renew hostilities with Crusaders midfielder Declan Caddell today

The Irish League's most successful manager Roy Coyle refuses to accept Linfield's title defence is over - even if they taste defeat to Crusaders at Windsor Park this afternoon.

If David Healy's men lose to the Crues they will fall 14 points behind the side they pipped at the finishing post last season and a game in hand will be their only crumb of comfort.

If Linfield fail to win and league leaders Coleraine triumph at Coleraine, the Blues will slide a massive 18 points behind the Bannsiders with only two games in hand.

After the heavyweight tussle with the Shore Road men today, Healy's side travel to take on the men from the north-west on New Year's Day and the importance of their next two fixtures cannot be downplayed.

League trophies aren't handed out in January, of course, but unless the Blues awaken from their slumber not even a comeback similar to last season's heroics may be enough to retain the title.

Coyle, who steered the Blues to 10 league titles and Glentoran to three Gibson Cup triumphs, admits the Windsor Park side could be left with a mountain to climb in 2018, but his wealth of experience in the game has taught him never to write off Linfield.

"It's great to see the provincial clubs improving but Linfield never give up, it's in the club's DNA," said Coyle who won 50 trophies in his remarkable managerial career.

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"The Blues will keep fighting until it's mathematically possible to win the league and it would be very foolish to write them off.

"The transfer window will open and it gives David Healy an opportunity to strength in certain areas. There are always twists and turns in the race for the title and I have seen big leads come to nothing. I can remember Kenny Shiels' Coleraine were something like 11 points clear going into the new year and lost it.

"Nothing is certain in this game, particularly in this league where you have to win the battle to win the points. At the moment Linfield face a big task and it will become bigger unless they start winning again but all the teams will hit difficult periods and I would expect the Blues to finish strongly again."

Coyle admitted he has been impressed with Coleraine's consistency. The Bannsiders are four points clear of second placed Crusaders with the north Belfast side boasting a game in hand.

"They've only lost one of their 22 league games since August and that's incredible," added Coyle who is director of football at Glentoran. "It might feel a bit alien to the Coleraine fans but they are approaching it one game at a time and they still have momentum and belief."

There was some badly needed cheer for the Glens fans after the surprise 2-1 Boxing Day win over Linfield and Coyle added: "It was a fantastic result for us.

"Linfield were the form team and Glentoran haven't enjoyed much success in the big festive fixture so it was great to see and hopefully the players can use it as a springboard to put a good run of results together."

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