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Blues look to stretch their lead at the top of Danske Bank Premiership

Linfield manager David Healy after the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round, second leg match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Picture date: Tuesday July 13, 2021. PA Photo. See PA Story SOCCER Linfield. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.. .RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder..
STEVEN BEACOM

WITH Cliftonville and Glentoran not going toe to toe in the Danske Bank Premiership at Solitude until Monday evening, today offers champions Linfield the opportunity to increase their lead at the top of the standings.

It also provides fourth placed Larne a chance to close in on the Reds and Glens and build on their impressive midweek County Antrim Shield final triumph over the Blues.

Ahead of hosting Dungannon Swifts this afternoon, Larne boss Tiernan Lynch has called on his players to back up Tuesday's 1-0 win at Seaview to retain the Shield with another victory while Linfield counterpart David Healy wants his team to respond to disappointment like they have done so often under his management.

He will be well aware though that former Blues boss David Jeffrey, returning with his Ballymena United side will do all he can to prevent that from happening.

Jeffrey will travel to Windsor Park without influential midfielder Jude Winchester who has joined Crusaders so that he can play in Belfast helping him with his mental health. Kym Nelson has come in from Ards and could feature against Linfield who, with Jordan Stewart out through injury for several weeks, may give a debut to their loan signing from Rangers, 19-year-old striker Chris McKee.

Healy said: "Chris is lively and confident. I have known him since he was 14 or 15 and he comes in in the knowledge of when he gets a run of games that he is more than capable of scoring goals. He works hard, he harasses defenders and he gets about the pitch and I think he gives us something different to what we have already."

Linfield are two points clear of Cliftonville and three in front of Glentoran at the top of the table and eight better off than Larne.

Healy, who felt refereeing decisions went against his team in the Shield decider, added: "Our boys have made good habits of responding and reacting to disappointments. I can assure people and I have assured our players if we are going to do anything this year and if we are going to be successful and win we will have to do the hard way.

"I like that. It is a mentality we use. Sometimes I perform better, act better and speak better if I feel as if my back is up against the wall. We have a huge challenge this year with opposition teams improving but we also have a huge challenge that if we are having an off night we aren't going to get too much help from outside, that's for sure."

Delighted by the Shield performance and result, secured by Tomas Cosgrove's late winner, Lynch stated: "This team over the last two or three weeks you can sense something different about them. They have that eye of the tiger but there's no point winning the final if you are going to take your eye off the ball come the Dungannon game.

"I've been saying to the players if we are going to do any kind of damage we need to be together and collective and it can't be about individuals. You can only play 11 and that's the hardest part of management leaving people out and telling them they are not involved especially when you watch them work so hard all week. It has to be about all of us."

Elsewhere in the Premiership fifth placed Crusaders travel to bottom club Warrenpoint who haven't won at Milltown since the opening weekend of the season, Portadown, in second bottom, are at home to Coleraine and Glenavon are away to Carrck Rangers. All 3pm.

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