Football/Soccer

Blues boss Healy backing his players to keep their cool in Oval cauldron

Only goal difference separates Glentoran and Linfield at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership
STEVEN BEACOM

Danske Bank Premiership: Glentoran v Linfield (tonight, 7.45pm, live on BBC2 NI)

LINFIELD manager David Healy says his team including the raft of new players at the club should have no fear playing in what promises to be a red-hot atmosphere away to Glentoran tonight.

The Oval will be a bear-pit with the home fans determined to roar their team on in a derby that sees the top two in the table go head to head in a crucial Irish Premiership encounter.

With 12 games left only goal difference separates Linfield and Glentoran. The Blues are top, thanks to a vital 2-1 midweek success over Larne at Windsor Park, though that would change if the east Belfast side manage to secure their first victory of the season against their fiercest rivals.

Back in September when the Oval outfit were struggling, Glentoran fans wanted manager Mick McDermott 'sacked in the morning' after his team lost 3-0 to Linfield while in December with McDermott still in the hotseat the visitors drew 1-1 versus the champions at Windsor.

All involved with Cliftonville would like to see the points shared again giving the Reds the chance to close the gap at the top to just two points with a win over Coleraine tomorrow.

In recent years Glentoran, under owner Ali Pour, have been throwing cash around like confetti at a wedding in a bid to catch up with Linfield who aren't exactly paupers themselves. The Glens are almost there and tonight offers them a chance to move three points ahead and strike a psychological blow in the title race.

The will look to quality performers like Shay McCartan, Conor McMenamin, Jay Donnelly, Rhys Marshall and Robbie McDaid to deliver in what is the biggest game of the season.

Linfield's go men are the experienced Jamie Mulgrew, Jimmy Callacher, Matthew Clarke, Niall Quinn and Kirk Millar, key to the club's four titles in the last five years. Christy Manzinga and Chris Shields are also influencial figures.

Blues boss David Healy will also need his new players to shine and there are plenty of them to choose from given seven were brought in over the course of last month's transfer window. He expects new and old to cope with the atmosphere.

Healy said: "The environment shouldn't matter to the players. I think some of them got a taste of the expectations at our club in the midweek win against Larne. Taking away the goals some of the loudest cheers were for tackles and people closing down. Some of the players have aspirations to play at the top level so going to the Oval should hold no fears for any of our players."

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer added that while this evening's contest is a big one it won't decide where the title ends up especially with the sides due to meet again after the split later in the season.

"It's an exciting match especially the way the table is at the moment," said Healy.

"Going into it I don't think it's make or break in terms of the title. It's not at that stage yet though it might be further on if we get into the split and it's close when we play each other.

"We are aware of the size of the game though and the atmosphere that will be at the match. There will be a big crowd and we will have a strong support there so bring it on.

"We won 3-0 at the Oval last time we visited but previously we lost there. Derby games are all on the night."

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Football/Soccer