Tough at the top

Published Wednesday, 16 April 2014
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It's a two-horse race now, but one even the most-seasoned pundit would be brave to call.

Three games left and just two points separate the top two - champions Cliftonville and perennial title winners Linfield - at the summit of the Danske Bank Premiership.

Whatever the thrills - and there will I'm certain be one or two unexpected spills between now and the end of the season - we've had a classic race.

You cannot help but look to that last day of the season.

None of the two club's remaining three fixtures are easy of course, but that final, red-letter day (no pun intended) on April 26th looks pivotal when Linfield go to Glenavon, but for Tommy Breslin's side it's the short trip across north Belfast to derby rivals Crusaders....it could be an epic afternoon.

For Cliftonville, there is no doubt the strike partnership of Liam Boyce and Joe 'The Goal' Gormley have put them on the crest of a second successive title; Gormley's goal in last Saturday's 2 - 0 win over Glentoran was his 36th of the season - setting the same dizzy total as Boyce last season - small wonder the exploits of these two in particular have drawn the attention of scouts from England and beyond.

Breslin's side - to their eternal credit - have been able to maintain that unabashed, attacking, care-free football which swept them to last season's title, their first since 1998.

Some say there is a real difference to playing as defending champions, when you, in effect, are the scalp everyone wants.

However 23 wins and 78 goals scored from 35 games this season would suggest Cliftonville are every bit as menacing as last term, and as they sit a point clear with three games left, although the margins are so fine, it is indisputably, in their hands.
Linfield though will want to clinch this title, and David Jeffrey in particular, like few before.

They may be Northern Ireland's most successful club ever, but as Jeffrey brings to an end a managerial spell at Windsor Park going back to 1997, he'll want to ride off into a blue sunset with another Gibson Cup adding to a bulging trophy-winning CV.

Cliftonville's 3 - 1 win at the Blues on March 29th, could be the one that ultimately decides where things go from here.

However Jeffrey has won nine League titles, and seven Irish Cups - he will be craving to make it the perfect 10 before he goes.

The County Antrim Shield Final win over Crusaders was Jeffrey's 31st trophy in charge of Linfield - equalling the record of Roy Coyle.

He has one more shot, the Premiership title, to move clear on 32.

But at this stage, who is confident enough to call this title race?

A point clear, and with a better goal-difference, it is essentially Cliftonville's to lose.

© UTV News
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Chris Brennan
Chris Brennan

Chris Brennan is a cross-platform sports journalist with UTV.

As well as featuring on UTV Live and contributing to u.tv, Chris can be heard regularly on U105, fronting the station's sports coverage.

Chris started his career part-time, whilst still at school, with the Down Recorder newspaper in Downpatrick and then began freelancing when at college and university.

It was at this stage that he moved into broadcasting and began freelancing for UTV in 2004.

Chris is a graduate of Queen's University Belfast, where he graduated in Modern History and Politics.

Apart from his huge appetite for all sport - but especially football - his other interests include history and travel.

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