Warren Feeney is under no illusions as Linfield look to extend lead at top

Linfield earned a late Boxing Day win against Glentoran to remain four points clear at the top
Linfield earned a late Boxing Day win against Glentoran to remain four points clear at the top

Linfield boss Warren Feeney is under no illusions as he prepares to send his title hopefuls out for battle at Seaview on Thursday afternoon (3pm).

The Blues boast a four-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership as they head into 2015.

Their nearest rivals are Crusaders who will be determined to eat into that advantage when the two sides meet on Thursday.

And with champions Cliftonville dropping more vital points on Tuesday night – courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Ballinamallard United – the incentive is there for both sides to go for victory on the Shore Road.

A win for Crusaders would blow the title race wide open once again, while victory for Linfield would see the league leaders stretch seven points clear at the summit.

“Our only focus is on trying to win the game – the table looks after itself after that,” Feeney said.

“We know how difficult Thursday is going to be. Our record against Crusaders hasn’t been great over recent times, and we haven’t beaten them yet this season.

“So it is going to be a big test for us, but one we are relishing.”

Linfield have enjoyed a profitable festive period, earning big wins against Portadown and Glentoran to cement their place at the top of the table.

The Blues will need to improve on their recent record against Crusaders if they are to extend their lead, however, as they have managed just three wins from 17 meetings with the Crues over the course of the past three seasons.

Stephen Baxter’s side have already won twice at Windsor Park this season – in the County Antrim Shield (4-2) and league (2-1) – while the two sides fought out a 2-2 draw at Seaview in the Premiership back in September.

“Crusaders are a good team and they have enjoyed a decent record against us, so we know it will be a big test on Thursday,” Feeney added.

“But we can only focus on ourselves, and our points return recently has been fantastic.

“We’ve got into the habit of winning games and we have real momentum at the moment. We are in control of our destiny, but we aren’t looking too far ahead.

“Yes, we’re on a great run of form, but there is a long, long way to go. We have 15 league games left and it is too early to be studying league tables. I don’t read too much into it.

“We’re top of the table at the moment but we’re not looking too far ahead. I told the players the easy part is getting to the league summit, the hardest part is staying there. I am confident the players will rise to the challenge.”

Feeney believes Linfield are ready for any challenge in the weeks and months ahead.

“People questioned our mentality against the bigger sides this season, but in our last two games we have beaten Portadown and Glentoran,” he added.

“We have shown we can rise to the challenge. We are getting stronger, our fitness levels are superb and we are gelling as a team. I still think we can click into a higher gear.”

Crusaders also go into today’s game brimming with confidence following their Boxing Day win over Cliftonville.

The Crues have won their last three league games and claimed 20 points from 27 in their last nine Premiership outings.

“Boxing Day was a big win for us, and now we have another big game,” Baxter said.

“It is nip and tuck in the league, and I expect it to be that way for the rest of the season.”