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Forget doing any favours in title race, we owe it to ourselves to step up: Mitchell

By Graham Luney

Linfield midfielder Andy Mitchell says his side are not on a mission to wreck Crusaders' title hopes this afternoon.

The Crues may be at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with only three games remaining but it's only a superior goal difference that is keeping them in front of Coleraine.

Linfield, who host Oran Kearney's side next Saturday, will feel they have a point to prove against the two sides gunning for the championship.

The Blues' title defence has faltered badly and they are spending the rest of the season nursing wounded pride as they aim to finish in third position and qualify for the Europa League.

Glenavon are only two points behind David Healy's side in fourth place and they will be hoping the Windsor Park men stumble at Crusaders this afternoon.

Mitchell and his then-Crusaders team-mates endured heartbreak a year ago when the Seaview aces collapsed at the finishing line and he knows his old comrades will be determined not to let that happen again.

The former Rangers midfielder, however, says the Linfield players owe it to themselves to stage a strong finish.

"We've had a few good results and shown some fighting spirit and character," said Mitchell.

"It's important now we keep going and finish what has been a very disappointing season strongly.

"We still have to secure a European place and as well as that we owe it to the fans, the club and ourselves to put in performances we should be proud of.

"It would be nice to give something back to the fans because the players have fallen short and we know everyone is facing an uncertain future.

"It's like that at Linfield, you are judged on your last pass, never mind your last game."

While the debate rages on why the Blues have been so unconvincing this season, is appears certain Healy will make significant changes over the summer.

"I can't put my finger on why we have underperformed this season but when we have crossed the white line we haven't done ourselves justice," added Mitchell.

"All the players are behind the manager and the dressing room is united but we need to dig in and show more character.

"If you don't perform at this club you will move on somewhere else and we all acknowledge that.

"You have to live with that pressure and expectation. Linfield are the biggest club in the country and that's the way it works.

"We should be up there challenging for the league title and everyone is disappointed we aren't. It's up to us to work harder and improve.

"David (Healy) and Ross Oliver are working us hard in training and there has been a lift in our performance level."

While Crusaders were expected to challenge for the title again, many observers are surprised at Coleraine's consistency.

Mitchell added: "Coleraine have been brilliant this season and silenced any doubters. We are the only team to beat them and it's extraordinary they haven't blown up yet.

"I know from my experience with Crusaders last season that there's still a long way to go and the title race could go to the wire.

"Maybe we do have a point to prove in our games against Crusaders and Coleraine but our main priority is getting into Europe.

"These matches at Seaview are always helter skelter and we aren't interested in doing anyone any favours. All we want to do is give ourselves a lift and we haven't beaten Crusaders yet this season so it's another challenge for us."

Crusaders duo Jordan Owens and Gavin Whyte are expected to be fit to take on the Blues in the huge clash.

Belfast Telegraph

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