IRISH LEAGUE: Linfield’s Sean Ward wary of Cliftonville threat

Sean Ward (left) is ready for the challenge Cliftonville will bring to Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Sean Ward (left) is ready for the challenge Cliftonville will bring to Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye

Linfield midfielder Sean Ward believes the league table doesn’t mean a lot at this time of the season, but admits his team can’t afford any slip-ups as they hunt down champions Crusaders.

The Blues entertain fourth placed Cliftonville at Windsor Park on Saturday - a showdown that could either make or break both clubs' aspirations of toppling the title holders.

Gerard Lyttle’s boys are coming off the back of a League Cup defeat at Glenavon -- the first time they have been beaten in that tournament for an astonishing four and a half years -- and the Blues aim to pile on the agony.

“It’s a big game for both clubs,” said Ward, who has been instrumental in the centre of the park for David Healy’s team in recent weeks. “We don’t pay too much heed to the league table at this time of the season.

"Yes, we are four points behind the Crues, but there is a long, long way to go. We are not becoming obsessed with the points difference . . . in saying that, we certainly don’t want to let that gap get any wider.

“Crusaders have been winning games of late, without being over impressive. They have been grinding out results. We know they have the character. So it’s important we look after our own house and try to pick up as many points as possible.”

Ward, however, believes the Blues have clicked into gear after their momentous win at Glenavon earlier this month when they were reduced to nine men after having Roy Carroll - his red card was later rescinded - and Matthew Clarke dismissed after only 10 minutes.

“I’m not going to say the Glenavon match was a turning point, but we certainly learned a lot from each other. It helped galvanise the team. And, we carried on that momentum into other games.

“There are no egos in the side - we are a tight knit bunch. And, we are disciplined on and off the ball. We have youth, pace and experience. Playing for Linfield means so much to every player - you have to make sacrifices in terms of your lifestyle to pull on a blue shirt.

"We have been been impressive over the past three or four matches . . . I think the professionalism side has come out in us. We are working hard for each other . . . . we are aggressive and competitive. It’s what you need in this league.

“Some people outside of the club questioned our character. Crusaders are certainly talked about in a more positive way than we are. But I think we are answering those questions with our performances.

"We’ll need another top display against Cliftonville. They have players that can hurt you . . . the likes off Harkin and Winchester. They rotate the middle of the park. They defeated us (2-1) up at their place earlier in the season, but we really deserved something form the game.

“We had an issue in the past about failing to take points off the top teams, but we have addressed that. We’ve a decent record over the Reds - and Crusaders - of late. We are on the crest of a wave at the minute . . . there is no fear factor in the side, so it’s important to keep that going.”