Linfield will entertain Institute FC at Windsor Park (3pm ko) on matchday 32 of the NIFL Danske Bank Premiership. This will be the fourth meeting of the season between the teams, with all three previous games having gone the way of Linfield (IPL h3-0, IPL a4-1 and LC h5-0).
It was a night of high drama in the rescheduled CAS Final, as Linfield conceded a last minute goal (4-3) to allow Crusaders to retain the trophy at a packed and rain lashed Seaview. The game was badly hampered as a spectacle, as strong headwinds effectively turned it into a 'game of two halves'. In the first half it was advantage Linfield who played with the wind at their backs, scoring three times to take a two goal lead (3-1) into the interval break. Crusaders unfurled the sails in the second half to put the Linfield back line under intense pressure, as conditions worsened. Linfield, although now mainly restricted to hitting on the break, went desperately close on a couple of occasions, before Crusaders netted a late fourth final goal to seal the game. A disappointing night for the loyal Linfield supporters, especially those who braved the elements in the uncovered seated area of the ground!
Visitors Institute come to Windsor sitting in ninth place in the table with a 17 point and a game in hand buffer above the relegation zone. The Londonderry team look well on track to securing their Premiership status in what has been an impressive first season back in the top flight. This has been made even the more remarkable after the club was forced to decamp from their flooded Riverside stadium to enter into a ground share agreement at the Brandywell. The hard work of all those closely involved, both off and on the field, has been rewarded during this difficult period in the club's long history. The recent transfer of top scorer Mark McCrudden to Derry City has been just one more hurdle for the team to take in their stride. It is now upwards and onwards, as they go in search of the points needed to take the team up into a seventh place finish in the table and the European play-off place that goes with it.
Linfield have now been left to concentrate on the Premiership title race, as they strive to keep one step ahead of the chasing pack. Second placed Ballymena United are six points behind and with a vital game in hand. Third placed Crusaders sit a further eight points off the pace but will still obviously be determined to hold onto the Gibson Cup trophy. The Shore Road outfit have a tough run in with all five post split games scheduled away from the home comforts of Seaview.
After two defeats on the spin, David will be demanding a match winning performance from his players. At this stage of the season, it is all about results and banking crucial points. A quick return to winning ways must be the bottom line for Linfield on Saturday. COYB!