Linfield winger Ivan Sproule
Linfield winger Ivan Sproule

Winger Ivan Sproule admits it will take more than amateur psychology to derail Linfield’s title quest this season.

The Blues boast a healthy five-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with just 12 games remaining.

The first of those dozen fixtures couldn’t be any bigger, with Saturday’s trip to Cliftonville presenting another stern test of Linfield’s title mettle.

Reds defender Marc Smyth claimed this week that all the pressure is on David Jeffrey’s side to claim the Gibson Cup.

Smyth believes the Blues’ recruitment drive in the past eight months – including the New Year acquisition of Sproule – has heightened expectation at Windsor Park.

But for former Hibernian and Northern Ireland star Sproule, Cliftonville have their own pressures to shoulder.

“They are the reigning champions, and they have just won the League Cup, so there should be plenty of expectation in their camp,” he said.

“It is their title to lose, and they are only five points behind us in the table. I would doubt there are too many Reds fans preparing for their team to fail.

“They will be expecting a push to retain the title, and the pressure will be on Cliftonville to deliver.

“But it doesn’t matter what anyone says, words will have no bearing on what happens on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. Both teams will go out and play their game, and there will be one of three possible results.

“We are going there to win and try and extend our lead at the top. That is the aim.

“But even if we do that, there is still a long way to go with plenty of points on offer.”

A partisan atmosphere will greet Linfield at Solitude on Saturday, befitting of the rivalry that has developed between the Belfast clubs.

The significance of the fixture is only heightened by their current standings in the table.

Sproule has enjoyed some titanic match-ups during his career, including a Premier League play-off clash for Bristol City against Hull back in 2008, not to mention the Hibs v Hearts Edinburgh derby.

“They are all special occasions, and Saturday will hopefully be another good atmosphere,” he added.

“These are the kind of games you want to be involved in as a player. There is a lot to play for and both sets of players and fans will be up for it.

“I can’t wait to get out there and play.”