Reaching Euro stage a must for Linfield, says Byrne
Linfield 2 Ballymena United 0
Linfield striker Kurtis Byrne insists it's vital the Blues stake a claim for European football, even though a third-place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership may not be enough.
The Blues hardened their challenge with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Ballymena United at Windsor Park in a game that didn't spark into life until Mark Stafford broke the deadlock midway through the second half.
Byrne hit a killer second to guarantee David Healy's boys the three points which nudged them into third. Should they remain there, it could be enough for them to punch their ticket to Europe depending on how the title race and Irish Cup final play out in the coming weeks.
Although it's all ifs and buts with three games left, Byrne admits it's vital for the Blues to be playing on the European stage, even if they must negotiate the end-of-season play-offs.
"We are in third place, which will hopefully be a European spot," said the 27-year-old Dubliner. "But we need to keep our foot on the gas because we have three tough games coming up.
"There are three teams fighting for third place - I'm sure it will go down to the last day.
"They are huge matches - three cup finals. We are at home for two of them, but our immediate focus is on next week's match against Crusaders at Seaview. It's important for this club to be competing in Europe.
"There are a lot of permutations, but we must take care of our own business. Our aim is to finish third, but if we have to go through the play-off system to qualify, so be it.
"We were relieved when Stafford made the breakthrough, he scores some important goals."
Ballymena United chief David Jeffrey, whose squad was depleted because of injuries and suspensions, believes his boys deserved more for their efforts.
"Of the two goalkeepers, Roy Carroll was the busier," said Jeffrey. "I thought we deserved a share of the spoils.
"There was some relief in the Linfield camp when they scored because it was the first time I have seen a goalkeeper (Carroll) run the length of the pitch to celebrate a goal - I certainly don't know what that all was about.
"I find it difficult to take defeat and there is always a degree of disappointment. But given our circumstances, I was really pleased with the performance."
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Robinson, Clarke, Millar, Lowry, Mitchell, Quinn (Fallon, 39 mins), Waterworth (Rooney, 87 mins), Byrne (Campion, 81 mins). Unused subs: Crowe, Callacher.
BALLYMENA: Glendinning, Ervin, Balmer, Quigley, Millar, Faulkner, Kane, Burns (Flynn, 82 mins), McAlorum (McKinney, 73 mins), McCloskey (Nolan 71). Unused subs: McDermott, Owens.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)
Man of the match: Mark Stafford
Match rating: 5/10