In 2021, Linfield opted to undergo one of the biggest changes in their history, transforming from a part-time club to a full-time operation. Manager David Healy believes, though, to the outside world nothing ever changes at Windsor Park — no matter the circumstances, they are expected to win every time they step out onto the pitch.
That will be the case today for their fans when a sell-out crowd show up at the national stadium for the Big Two derby between the Blues and Glentoran.
The big-spending Glens are looking like a team who could go all the way in the title race after flattering to deceive in the last couple of years. Eight league victories in succession have taken them level on points with the Blues, though they are still second behind the champions on goal difference.
Despite losing 3-0 at home to Healy’s side earlier in the season, sparking calls from Glentoran fans for boss Mick McDermott to be sacked, the visitors will arrive at Windsor feeling they can defeat their fiercest rivals and move to the top of the Premiership table.
There will be pressure on the away side, though it will be greater for the home team for whom anything but a win on any given day can lead to an inquest from fans around the country.
The Blues won the double last season, then lost Shayne Lavery, Joel Cooper, Andy Waterworth, Mark Haughey and Mark Stafford and went full-time, transforming the lives of those players who remained and joined the club. For all the differences at the club this year, the same expectation is there.
“We understand that we are in transition. There is no point in me coming out and saying otherwise,” said Healy.
“There have been many challenges along the way. As a manager and as a staff we have managed to keep the noise out.
“With the transitional period for other clubs when they were going from part-time to full-time, you have seen them put themselves out there to show they are going through difficult periods. At Linfield, though, regardless, you are expected to win. I know that better than anyone.
“People will say you are Linfield and feel we should just get on with it, which we do, and I certainly do. I don’t think we are ever under the radar. People just expect from the outside that we are going to be there and should be there in terms of the title race. There is not that much of an understanding that things have changed.”
Healy believes given the new training schedules combined with injuries and illness to a host of important players this season, his team merits more credit than they have received for their efforts in the first half of the campaign.
“We have a good squad of players and a good mix of experience and youth and different people from different backgrounds which is fantastic in the dressing room,” stated Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer.
“The boys are a credit to themselves the way they manage and handle different situations in the dressing room. I am a manager with huge beliefs in not only my choices and decisions, I have huge belief in the staff and more importantly I have huge belief in the players that we have in the dressing room. We will hopefully add to it and hopefully kick on in January.”
Told that his team are four points better off than this time last season, when they went on to win the title, Healy added: “If that’s the case, great. The boys have done something right but we aren’t going to rub our shoulders and massage our egos here when we win a game. When you win a league or a trophy or whatever else you can sit back and enjoy the five minutes of glory that comes with it and then you get back to work.”
After missing recent matches, Kirk Millar should be available for selection, as will captain Jamie Mulgrew and Cameron Palmer, who returned from injury in last week’s 1-0 win over Ballymena. Stephen Fallon was absent then.
On the midfielder, Healy remarked: “If Stephen was playing for another club in this country he would get more credit because he is a fantastic player. I look at his age and I think of people from clubs coming to watch our games and don’t know how they miss Stevie Fallon’s performances.”
Whoever plays for the Blues today, Healy will look to them to deliver dynamic performances against an in-form Glentoran side who lately have been as mean defensively as Scrooge.
It will be loud at Windsor this afternoon with just shy of 10,000 expected and while the result won’t determine who goes on and wins the title, it will have a significant impact on the race.