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Coming games are make or break for Linfield, says captain Mulgrew

Linfield 2-0 Carrick Rangers

By Alex Mills

Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew believes his team face their biggest challenge of the season over the next five days.

The Blues go head-to-head with Cliftonville in the quarter final of the Irish Cup tomorrow night, then on Saturday, clash with their bitter Belfast rivals Glentoran in a crucial league clash - both at Windsor Park.

Although their victory over relegation-haunted Carrick Rangers ended a horrible sequence of results on Saturday, it was far from impressive stuff.

Goals from defender Mark Stafford and Mulgrew - his first of the season - helped lift the gloom. Incredibly, it was the first time the Blues pocketed three points in front of their frustrated home fans since December 23, when ironically, they racked up a 2-0 success against the Reds.

The Irish Cup now provides David Healy's boys as their only means of lifting silverware. With a third-place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership still up for grabs - which could be a possible route to European football - Mulgrew insists the next two games are crucial

"It's a massive few days," said Mulgrew. "Let's be brutally honest, it's a must win game for both teams on Tuesday night, there is no getting away from that.

"We may have had a disappointing season by our own standards, but we still have a lot to play for. We are the Irish Cup holders and will not give up without a fight. A third-place finish still isn't out of our reach, but the cup is a priority."

The nervous fans had to wait until 66 minutes to see Stafford bullet home a delicious cross from Niall Quinn, but Mulgrew soon had them off their seats again with an audacious 20-yard drive with the outside of his boot that curled into the top corner.

"I knew it was on," smiled Mulgrew. "I didn't really see anything in front of me. I'm not so good with my left foot, that's why I used the outside of my right.

It was one of those shots I knew it was going in as soon as it left my foot. I suppose it was good to get that goal because it gave us that little cushion. The pressure was off and we easily seen the game out."

Rangers boss David McAlinden firmly believes his boys can crawl out of the bottom two in the league table before the end of the campaign.

"It's another game gone, we draw a line in the sand and move on," he said. "When it got to 60 minutes, I thought it was going to finish a scoreless draw. They were huffing and puffing without getting anywhere.

"To be honest, we looked comfortable for a long time. My big disappointment was we allowed the ball to come into our box too often. When that happens, you are always at risk.

"It was as you were at the bottom. We can only concentrate on what we need to go. Once we go into the split, we'll be playing the teams in and around us.

"I believe we can claw our way out of the bottom two."

LINFIELD: Moore, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth (Strain, 26 mins), Millar, Fallon, Mulgrew, Garrett, Campion (Byrne, 59 mins), Quinn. Unused subs: Robinson, Rooney, Mitchell.

CARRICK: Doherty, Edgar, McNally, Chapman, Taggart (Hassin, 52 mins), J Smith (M Smith, 70 mins), Larmour (Mooney, 81 mins) Kattoy, Henderson, McNulty, Anau. Unused subs: Gage, Nimick

Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare)

Man of the match: Jamie Mulgrew

Match rating: 5/10

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