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Stafford eyes a Euro spot to help ease Linfield hurt

By Alex Mills

It’s been a season to forget for Linfield, but defender Mark Stafford insists his team can end the campaign on a high by punching their ticket to European football.

David Healy’s side, triple trophy winners 12 months ago, have five games remaining to salvage a little bit of pride, starting with a testing Danske Bank Premiership showdown against Glenavon at Mourneview Park tonight.

The Gibson Cup will be taking up new residence either across town at Crusaders or on the north coast at Coleraine.

Although the Blues are well out of the equation, Stafford believes the outgoing champions can have a big say in where the trophy eventually ends up.

“We have five massive games left to restore a bit of pride — we’ll be going out to win them all,” said the 31-year-old.

“The trophies have gone and it’s a big disappointment, but we have to channel our priorities into qualifying for Europe.

“It’s vital we claim our place on the European stage. If we can take three points from Mourneview Park, we would be level on points with Glenavon which would boost our hopes of finishing third in the table.

“If Coleraine were to win the Irish Cup, that would mean automatic European qualification for the team in third. If that doesn’t happen, then we are depending on the end-of-season play-offs.

“We, the players, know we’ve let ourselves and everyone else down, but claiming a European place would help ease some of the hurt.

“I suppose we are experiencing the other side of the coin this time.

“This season, the goals have dried up and we have given away too many sloppy goals, so it’s been a mixture of things that have gone wrong.

“But there is no point in agonising over what might have been, it is what it is. We have five games left and have everything to play for.

“It’s a priority for Linfield to be playing in Europe — it’s becoming more lucrative every season.

“We have the chance of putting a disappointing season behind us by booking our place.”

Blues boss Healy must reshuffle his pack for the trip to Lurgan as defender Jimmy Callacher serves a one-game ban, while tenacious midfielder Robert Garrett begins a two-match suspension.

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