Coleraine boss Kearney keen to bring Danske Bank Premiership title race down to final day with win over Linfield
COLERAINE manager Oran Kearney wants to keep the Irish League title race going until the final weekend of the season. Linfield counterpart David Healy is determined that it finishes tonight.
No wonder Bannsiders and Blues fans are anticipating a classic ahead of this evening's Danske Bank Premiership top of the table showdown (7.30pm).
Linfield have the Irish Cup in the bag and know that even a draw at the Showgrounds will see them crowned champions for a third year in a row and a fourth time in five seasons. Only a home win will do for Coleraine which would close the gap to two points with one fixture left.
And that would bring Cliftonville into play because they host Healy's side on Saturday while Coleraine visit Larne.
Kearney was hoping that Linfield would beat Larne in Friday's Cup final because that ensured the Bannsiders qualified for Europe. Come tonight though the former St Mirren boss will do anything he can to beat the Blues.
"We only have one job against Linfield and that is to try and take the race to the final weekend and push it to the last game of the season," said Kearney, one of the shrewdest managers around.
"The cup final result helped us because before it we would have been looking up and behind us. The boys deserve huge credit for qualifying for Europe with two games to spare. It's been a monster effort."
It sure has. Coleraine had an indifferent start to the campaign and a few months in were struggling for a top half spot let alone a European place. Now they could be two wins away from the title illustrating the phenomenal work of Kearney and his players who tonight will be inspired by 500 home fans in the ground due to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Healy and his team have been exceptional as well, but typical of his career as a player and manager he is not taking anything for granted until the deed is done.
He will also know full well that before the Cup glory the Blues lost at home to Larne when they first had a chance to seal the title.
“It's a huge game. Coleraine are a brilliant side, managed by a brilliant manager and they will be smelling blood off us. They'll fancy it," said Healy.
"While we have been playing in a Cup semi and final Coleraine have had the week to prepare but hopefully we'll get another positive performance and result. I thought we were outstanding in the Cup final and we'll need that level of performance again."
Elsewhere in the Danske Banke Premiership, fourth-placed Larne need to bounce back from their final woe knowing that if they lose at home to Glentoran, Mick McDermott's side will qualify for Europe and the Inver Park outfit will have to achieve this season's goal through the play-offs. Cliftonville host Crusaders in what is likely to be a rehearsal for a Euro play-off semi-final while in the bottom half Glenavon are away to Carrick, Ballymena are at home to Warrenpoint and Dungannon visit Portadown (all 7.45pm).