Another year of failure could be the end says Blues defender

Linfield defender Mark Stafford is desperate to hear the sound of celebration at Windsor Park. Pic: Presseye
Linfield defender Mark Stafford is desperate to hear the sound of celebration at Windsor Park. Pic: Presseye

Linfield defender Mark Stafford believes there will be no room for error as the new Danske Bank Premiership campaign approaches.

To go one season without a major trophy is normally frowned upon at Windsor Park, but alarmingly the Blues are now approaching their fifth term without any tangible celebration.

They had the chance to repair the damage in last season’s Irish Cup final against Glenavon, but they again came up short when it mattered.

That means the pressure on everyone; manager David Healy, his backroom staff and the players. They will be cranked up once their title challenge begins at Ballinamallard United tomorrow (Saturday).

“This is a massive season for us,” said Stafford, who will line out against his former colleagues at Ferney Park. “For the Gibson Cup not to come to Windsor in five years is practically unheard of.

“Every one of the players is well aware of the situation. Time is running out for a number of us - including myself. We’ve been brought to the club to deliver trophies.

“It hasn’t happened. We haven’t been as successful as we hoped. We all know the consequences. If it goes on, we’ll be out the gate.

“Apart from Jamie (Mulgrew), it’s all new to most of us. He’s the only one that was part of the successful era under David Jeffrey. Burnsie (Aaron Burns) was at the club but he was only a cub.”

Stafford was one of the star performers against Cork City in the two Europa League ties earlier this month - the Blues beaten 2-1 on aggregate. The big 29 year old grabbed the Blues’ goal in the 1-1 draw at Turner’s Cross.

“It was a decent enough showing over the two games,” said Stafford. “We had to work hard because their fitness levels were superior.

“But it’s the bread and butter stuff that is our priority and we know that the Gibson Cup has to be brought back to the club. The games against Cork certainly helped sharpen us up and we have upped the work-rate as the season approaches.”

Blues boss David Healy admitted after the cup final defeat that his boys lacked the ‘experience’ required to get them over the line.

He has addressed that issue over the summer by bringing in Northern Ireland international duo Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan.

“They are two fantastic signings,” added Staffford. “Big Roy had was brilliant in the two matches against Cork.

“It’s great to play in front of him because he talks you through games. Having played at the top level for the likes of Man United and West Ham, this experience will rub off on everyone.

“Even in the dressing room, he passes on his knowledge to the younger members of the squad. Sammy also comes into that category. He’ll be a massive asset to the boys around him on the pitch.

“But we’ll not be underestimating any team. Every team has beefed up their squad, especially Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glentoran, Glenavon, Coleraine and Ballymena. But teams like Ballinamallard and Dungannon are also difficult to beat.

“It could be one of the tightest league campaigns for some time. We must make sure we hit the ground running because it could be the last chance saloon for some of us.”