I want invincible Linfield to be the Celtic of the Irish League, says David Healy
It was the 'clash of the Invincibles' when Linfield wrestled with Celtic in the Champions League qualifier last month and Blues boss David Healy is confident his ruthless Windsor Park warriors can keep slaying opponents in the weeks and months to come.
Brendan Rodgers' Hoops and Healy's clinical Linfield side both celebrated domestic trebles last season as they proved to be a class above the rest.
The Blues produced one of the greatest title run-ins in Irish League history to snatch the Gibson Cup out of Crusaders' grasp, denying the north Belfast side an historic three-in-a-row title triumph.
Stephen Baxter's men may have been left with the feeling they tossed away the title, tasting defeat in their penultimate game at Ballymena United, but the truth is that Linfield deserved to pop the champagne corks after remaining unbeaten since January 3 when Coleraine triumphed at Windsor Park.
That night the Blues were kicking themselves after failing to build on a vital win at Crusaders but what a response - 40 out of 42 points secured the Danske Bank Premiership title and the club also pocketed the County Antrim Shield and Tennent's Irish Cup.
Saturday's 3-1 Charity Shield win over Coleraine made it 21 domestic games unbeaten and worryingly for the rest of the league, there is no sign of the Blues' bubble bursting.
The Bannsiders went in front at The Oval on Saturday through Josh Carson but the Blues' power and strength came to the fore and even without injured striker Andy Waterworth, the goal threat was considerable with Jordan Stewart, Aaron Burns and Paul Smyth looking hungry to impress.
No wonder Northern Ireland legend Healy was bullish afterwards when he challenged his players to remain unbeaten for as long as possible.
"I've told the players so they know all about the run we are on," said Healy. "We are unbeaten since January and I want us to go unbeaten until January next year at least. That's the aim. Am I being ambitious? Slightly, but that's the confidence that I feel I have in the dressing room with our players.
"I understand it will be difficult because teams have improved with new players coming in but that's the aim. I want us to remain unbeaten for as long as possible."
Waterworth isn't alone in the treatment room - he has Jimmy Callacher and Matthew Clarke for company - but the Blues supremo still has plenty of options and a new striker may even arrive at Windsor before the transfer window closes.
If there's one team who can knock the champions off their perch it's a Crusaders side with renewed determination, still hurting from falling at the final hurdle in April, but Healy's confidence is shared among the players.
Midfielder Stephen Lowry, who is suspended for the opener at home to Carrick Rangers on Saturday, said: "The team is in a really good place right now and I really am not expecting us to lose. We are very strong defensively and we have started off this season the way we finished the last one.
"The unbeaten run is fantastic and we want to keep that going for as long as possible. I think we have winnable games at the start of the season and we will be looking to make a strong start to our title defence."
Winger Smyth, who is being tracked by several cross channel clubs including League Two side Crawley Town, who have tabled an offer close to £60,000, is also impressed with the squad's progress.
"In the Irish League there is always pressure on you no matter what game you go into," he said. "Any team can beat anyone else so you can't underestimate any side. You just have to deal with that pressure. You want to feel that pressure as you need to prove yourself. You must keep a calm head and try to get through it but all our players are looking strong.
"The competition for places is always hard and you can't complain about being left out. You keep the head down and work hard and try and get a spot in the team. The manager has brought in quality players."
The Windsor Park Invincibles are there to be shot down but it will take an extraordinary effort from any side to shatter that unbeaten run.
• Warrenpoint Town have signed Danny Wallace following his release from Linfield.