Belfast Telegraph

No repeat of Linfield's nasty November, Stafford vows

By Graham Luney

Mark Stafford says there's no chance Linfield will suffer a dark November like that disastrous month a year ago. The Blues lost all their Danske Bank Premiership battles last November - to Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glenavon and Portadown - and it was a woeful run that came back to haunt them as the Crues went on to celebrate back-to-back title wins.

David Healy was just getting his feet under the table after Warren Feeney's departure a year ago but 12 months on, the Windsor Park men are looking more resolute and united.

With the Crues boasting a four-point lead at the summit this time, Linfield can't afford to let that gap get much bigger and another nightmare November is not an option.

The players' mettle will be tested again with the month throwing up tricky fixtures including visits to Glenavon, Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts before a home date with Cliftonville and then it's on the road again to Portadown.

Their November finishes off with the County Antrim Shield semi-final against Ards.

Centre-back Stafford said: "What happened last November was a one-off bad month. We had a tough run of fixtures and there was the change in manager. It was a topsy turvy time with a lot of things going on, the team wasn't settled but we never wanted to make excuses.

"This month will be another tough one but players like Andy Waterworth and Sean Ward have been through the tough times and guys like that including myself and the other boys want to win something.

"It was a hard time last November because you started questioning yourself as a person, not just a footballer, but we are a much stronger unit today and ready for the difficult challenges ahead. There is more togetherness and a good team spirit at Windsor Park and much of that is down to the manager.

"It feels like a tighter knit group 12 months on and that has been proven in the matches against Crusaders this season.

"David is getting his ideas across and he wants us to be united rather than individuals. While Crusaders have won back-to-back titles, there is still plenty of belief in our squad that they can be caught. Other teams have the tools to do it and we have to worry about them too."

Linfield begin their November with a difficult test at Glenavon this afternoon and Stafford knows there is no place to hide.

"The players are playing for their futures," he added. "There's a lot on the line. If you don't win trophies at Linfield you don't have a future at the club.

"But four points in this league is nothing. That lead can be wiped out in two matches and when you look at the quality of the teams, you know it can easily happen.

"It's very tight in the top six and you just have to look at Cliftonville looking much better. They are right up there, as are Coleraine.

"Glenavon have brilliant attacking players and they were too good for a Ballymena side that beat us and Crusaders. We couldn't really afford to lose the game against Crusaders last weekend. We can build on that performance."

Belfast Telegraph

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