Belfast Telegraph

Healy backs his men to step up with Blues' season on the line

By Alex Mills

Linfield boss David Healy admits his boys face a make or break showdown in today's Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final tie with Cliftonville at Windsor Park - weather permitting.

Like other Irish League surfaces around the country, Windsor Park has taken a battering from the cold weather and the match remains in doubt with a decision expected early this morning.

The ailing Blues slumped to their ninth defeat of the league campaign in midweek when they were dismantled by Glenavon - a result that leaves their hopes of pinching a third-place finish in the table hanging by a thread.

It's a pale shadow of the team that stormed to league and cup double glory last season - one that went unbeaten since early January.

If anything, Barry Gray's Reds should be rubbing their hands with glee because the Blues have produced some of their worst performances in front of their long-suffering home fans.

They have won only twice at the international venue since defeating Cliftonville on December 23 - but they were against junior side Glebe Rangers and Newry City, both Irish Cup ties.

Healy was 'gobsmacked' with his boys' latest offering in midweek, but admitted they now enter the last-chance saloon in terms of winning silverware.

"It's a huge game," said the former Northern Ireland striker. "It's make or break for both teams because it's the only trophy that is now available.

"That's not putting pressure on ourselves - the players know what is at stake. We must make sure we are bang on it, that's for sure. The performance against Glenavon fell way short of what we have been producing. Windsor should be the easiest place to play. It's the biggest pitch and best surface, although it's probably not as good as it should be.

"It's a venue we should feel at home on, but our results this season haven't proved that way. Hopefully, we'll put that right."

Healy admits the players must up their game for what is now the most important fixture of the season.

He said: "I need to up my game - so do the players. I have to make sure I come up with the standards expected at this club. The only pressure put on me comes from myself.

"I can handle criticism - a lot of that comes from outside the club. If I know I'm falling short of my standards, I'll hold up my hands and say it's my fault.

"But the standards and expectations at this club mean I must always be bang on it. It doesn't mean the players are bang on it at times - or sometimes the staff, because they all have a life outside of football. It's different for me because my life is football.

"Every single day I walk through the door of this football club, I only have one objective - to make this club winners.

"It's no different from the first minute I stepped through the door. I was always aware of the demands and expectations - and it remains the same.

"The only pressure on me comes from within and my own demands to be successful. I'm hurt after we were beaten - and the midweek result was a difficult one to take.

"It's how we respond is what matters. The Cliftonville match is massive - the biggest on the calendar as far as we are concerned.

"I expect the lads to be behind each other. I've signed these players, re-signed most of them. They will have my backing to go out and produce a performance for the club - and themselves."

Belfast Telegraph

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