Belfast Telegraph

Rough start as Linfield boss means David Healy has big questions to answer

By Steven Beacom

When David Healy was unveiled as Linfield's new boss last month, he stated that he did not want a honeymoon period. His wish has come true. Northern Ireland's record goalscorer hasn't had one.

He's only been in the job a matter of weeks and already some Irish League fans are questioning his managerial abilities.

Such is the way of the modern football world. Time waits for no manager these days.

One win and you are greatest, one loss and you don't have a clue.

Healy's problem is that his Linfield side have been defeated in their last THREE league games.

That hasn't happened since 2002 - 13 years ago.

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The dreadful run has seen them drop from being level on points at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table to fourth spot, now nine points behind the leaders Crusaders.

It was on October 14 that the Blues announced Healy as the successor to his old international team-mate Warren Feeney, who after 15 months at the Windsor Park helm had decided to leave to become assistant manager at Newport County.

With Healy's arrival there was much excitement amongst Linfield supporters. After all, Healy was a huge hero to them and just about every other football follower in the country.

This was a man responsible for giving Northern Ireland some of its finest sporting moments ever - THAT winning goal against England, the stunning hat-trick to beat Spain as well as staggering strikes versus Sweden, Denmark, Austria and others. And all at Windsor Park... home to Linfield FC, the club Healy supported as a boy.

For lovers of Linfield, it seemed a match made in heaven and for Irish League football it was a major boost too with a household name and national hero moving from England to be part of the Northern Ireland club scene.

Things actually started quite well for Healy. In his first three league games, Linfield picked up seven points out of nine and in the middle of that the Blues impressed when overcoming Cliftonville 3-1 at home in the quarter-finals of the County Antrim Shield. This month, though, results have been poor. Three fixtures, three losses. Linfield 0 Crusaders 1, Linfield 1 Cliftonville 2 and on Saturday Glenavon 3 Linfield 2, sparking debate and questions about his management.

Is he too inexperienced?

Is he too nice to be a boss?

Is he too quiet?

Does he know enough about Irish League football?

This is his first management role so obviously he lacks experience and while he is a genuinely good guy, anyone in football will tell you he can be nasty and noisy when he needs or wants to be. Check out his sharp responses in post match interviews of late.

The biggest issue here is knowledge about the local game.

Healy followed it from afar playing for Manchester United, Leeds, Fulham, Sunderland and Rangers, but that is completely different to living it and breathing it week in week out.

He is trying to make up for it now by going to as many games as possible, but he's still way behind his managerial counterparts. And remember he's still getting to know his own players, let alone those in the opposition.

He won't admit it, but it's also clear that he has inherited a side that plainly isn't good enough to win the league, even though on day one he insisted that was his ambition for the season. After an encouraging opening he may have thought he could actually do it. Three defeats later and reality has bit and hit hard.

Linfield's soft underbelly has been uncovered again and sliced apart. Unlike in the past they aren't tough enough mentally or physically when they come up against quality opposition in high stakes league encounters. This hasn't just been going on in Healy's time. It was there when Feeney was in charge and in the latter years of the legendary David Jeffrey.

The club, which believes it should win the title every year, have not been champions since 2012.

Cliftonville have won it twice and Crusaders once since.

A telling and an alarming statistic is that in the last 24 league games against the Reds and the Crues with 72 points up for grabs, the Blues have only claimed 15.

They may be able to defeat them in the County Antrim Shield, but not when the heat is on at the top of the table.

This season, with Feeney in charge, Linfield started superbly, winning their first six Premiership encounters. Then they travelled to Seaview and were thumped 3-0 by the Crues.

Right now the Blues players aren't good enough to compete with the two north Belfast teams. In his excellent Belfast Telegraph column last week, former Glentoran boss Scott Young said that Linfield needed FOUR new players to even think about challenging for the title again.

Of course Healy has to support his current stars but he should already be putting plans in place to significantly strengthen his squad once the January transfer window flings open.

He must recruit extremely well because at present Linfield are weak rather than a force to be reckoned with in the heat of battle.

Until then, and he'll know this better than anyone, even though it is early days in his reign he has to get Linfield winning again to satisfy the club's demanding fans, starting on Saturday at Portadown.

Otherwise Healy will face even more questions.

Belfast Telegraph


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