Linfield are back on home turf for Match Day 16 of the Sports Direct Premiership, welcoming visitors Larne FC to Windsor Park (5.30pm k.o. all-ticket).
Larne will come to Belfast determined to reduce the 8 point gap that separates the two teams at the top of the table, and Manager Tiernan Lynch will certainly be looking for his team to replicate their winning performance from when the teams met earlier in the season.
This season Larne have found themselves in unfamiliar territory as ‘the team to beat' (or draw with!) as the defending league champions. This added challenge can often see teams foster a siege mentality which in itself can be a powerful motivational tool for managers.
Larne have a strong, experienced, squad including proven match winners such as Lee Bonis, Andy Ryan, and Paul O’Neill and, with the continued financial backing of club owner Kenny Bruce, it would be no surprise to see the Inver Park men conduct some business during the next transfer window.
Linfield continued their own exceptional run of form with a 10th straight win in all competitions, knocking Glentoran out of the BetMcLean Cup with a 2-1 in Tuesday night's tie at the Oval.
Talisman striker Joel Cooper was clearly a man on a mission, brimming with confidence as he scored the goals that secured the game for The Blues. This well deserved win means Linfield now meet Larne at Inver Park on 5th December in the next round of the competition.
As the season has progressed, Linfield have continued to underline their own title credentials, building up some real momentum to pull steadily ahead of the chasing pack. There is, of course, a long way to go in a title race that is sure to see many twists and turns.
For Saturday evening's eagerly anticipated clash both managers will believe they can unfurl the game plan needed for the win. With so much at stake, it promises to be an exciting, intense, evening of football between two very evenly matched sides.
By Ken Garrett