David Healy says that if Linfield are going to be successful this season then they will have to do it the hard way, stressing that he will relish that particular challenge.
The Blues were hoping to collect their first trophy of the season on Tuesday night at Seaview but went down 1-0 to Larne in the final of the County Antrim Shield, with Healy insisting afterwards that Tomas Cosgrove’s winning goal should not have stood and questioning other decisions from referee Tony Clarke.
Already out of the League Cup, Linfield will now focus on retaining the league title and Irish Cup, with the champions welcoming Ballymena United and former boss David Jeffrey to Windsor Park today in a crucial Premiership encounter.
With 21 games played, Linfield are two points clear of Cliftonville and three ahead of Glentoran, who meet at Solitude on Monday, so this afternoon represents an opportunity to pile the pressure on their nearest rivals.
Jeffrey’s side will not make it easy.
Just last month it took a late Christy Manzinga goal to earn Healy’s men a narrow home win over the Sky Blues, who beat the Windsor Park side at the Showgrounds in the League Cup in November.
What has set Linfield apart on their way to winning four league titles in five years is an ability to bounce back from setbacks and Healy wants more of the same after the Shield final defeat.
He said: “Our boys have made good habits of responding and reacting to disappointments. The Shield would have been lovely and it was a competition we wanted to win but is it the most important thing? No, though I thought we were more than good value to win it in the way we participated in the final.
“We will take that like we always do at Linfield. I have said to the players again that everyone else outside of Linfield feels Linfield get this, Linfield get that and the calls and decision and whatever else.
“I can assure people, and I have assured our players, if we are going to do anything this year and if we are going to be successful and win we will have to do it the hard way.
“I like that. It is a mentality we use. Sometimes I perform better, act better and speak better if I feel as if my back is up against the wall.
“We have a huge challenge this year with opposition teams improving but we also have a huge challenge that if we are having an off night we aren’t going to get too much help from outside, that’s for sure.”
Healy joked about the number of strikers Linfield have been linked to in recent weeks, adding that Chris McKee, who has come in on loan from Rangers, will be a fine addition to the squad.
Asked what the teenage forward will bring, Healy said: “Hopefully energy. Hopefully goals. He is lively, he is confident. I have known Chris since he was 14 or 15 and he comes in in the knowledge of when he gets a run of games, which we hope he does, that he is more than capable of scoring goals. He works hard, he harasses defenders and he gets about the pitch and I think he gives us probably something different to what we have already.”
Linfield forward Jordan Stewart, who suffered injury after a challenge with Larne’s Fuad Sule on Tuesday, is expected to be out of action for a number of weeks.
Meanwhile, United boss David Jeffrey has expressed his delight at the signing of former Glentoran midfielder Kym Nelson.
Speaking to the club’s website about Nelson’s move from Ards, he said: “He has been on our radar for some time, he comes highly recommended and we went and did our own due diligence on him and liked what we saw.
“He’s coming with a burning desire to play here and will strengthen our options on the pitch. A no-nonsense player who is technically very sound and intends to bring his hard work rate to the Showgrounds as he did at Ards.”