Irish Cup quarter-finals: Linfield prepare for 'massive' tie with Crusaders

Colin Coates and Andrew Waterworth
Crusaders defender Colin Coates will aim to keep a close eye on Linfield striker Andrew Waterworth

Linfield striker Andrew Waterworth says his side's season "probably boils down to" Saturday's Irish Cup quarter-final against Crusaders at Seaview.

The Blues trail the Premiership leaders by seven points but are unbeaten in four games against the league champions in all competitions this season.

"The league is probably over so this match is massive," said Waterworth.

"We relish these games and have proven we are every bit a match for Crusaders. We will go there full of confidence."

"Seaview is a very hard place to go and Crusaders are a good side but these are the sort of games you want to be involved in," added the Linfield forward.

The Windsor Park side's last Irish Cup triumph came back in 2012 when they beat Crusaders in the final, while their opponents are hoping to bridge an eight-year gap since their last success in the competition.

The teams drew 0-0 in their first two league meetings of the season, but the Blues emerged victors from the New Year's Eve clash between the pair at Seaview and then defeated Stephen Baxter's outfit 3-1 in the County Antrim Shield final last month.

"Linfield have got the better of us in the last couple of games and deservedly so. A cup game is completely different and it's up to us to find a way through," said Baxter.

The draw for the last eight of the country's premier knockout prize also threw up two tasty derby ties between Ballymena United and Coleraine and mid-Ulster rivals Portadown and Glenavon.

Coleraine's Neil McCafferty in action against Fra McCaffrey of Ballymena during the League Cup semi-final at the Showgrounds in December
Coleraine's Neil McCafferty in action against Fra McCaffrey of Ballymena during the League Cup semi-final at the Showgrounds in December

The Braidmen have enjoyed the better of their encounters with the Bannisders so far this campaign, winning one and drawing one of their league clashes, and seeing off Oran Kearney's charges after extra-time at the semi-final stage of the League Cup.

"Oran has taken his team on an unbelievable run. They are absolutely flying," said Jeffrey in light of Coleraine's recent unbeaten sequence of eight wins and a draw from nine games.

Kearney observed: "We have not performed well in the Irish Cup in recent years and we want to put that right. With losing to Ballymena in the League Cup semi-final, we want to put that right too.

"David has made a massive difference at Ballymena - he's a fantastic manager with all the experience in the world and knows the game inside out.

"We are excited and looking forward to it. I love big games and these are the ones that keep us going.

"I think teams like ourselves and Ballymena have closed the gap a bit to make it a hyper competitive league. We are not in a position yet maybe to challenge for league titles but we are capable of winning cups," added Kearney, who must plan without suspended full-back Adam Mullan.

Portadown manager Niall Currie foresees few changes from the side which has secured impressive league draws with Linfield and Crusaders in recent weeks for his side's match with holders Glenavon at Shamrock Park.

"We have won it twice in the last three years so we don't want to let go of the trophy lightly," said Lurgan Blues' assistant boss Paul Millar.

McAree guards against cup upset

In the day's final quarter-final, Dungannon host runaway Championship leaders Warrenpoint Town at Stangmore Park, with Swifts manager Rodney McAree wary of a potential upset.

"We've had them watched a couple of times and Matthew (Tipton) has his team playing very well. It's going to be extremely difficult for us," said McAree.

"It's good to have a home draw in the quarter-finals of a major cup competition and it's one we are looking forward to but we aren't taking them lightly.

"I love the feeling of waking up on an Irish Cup day. You are always living the dream but it's a question of getting over the next hurdle and for us that next hurdle is Warrenpoint. We will do our utmost to try and win it."

Warrenpoint are on a run of 17 matches unbeaten in the Championship, a series of results stretching back to 24 September 2016.

"Dungannon go in as favourites and we'll give them the respect they deserve. We probably won't dominate the game in the way we often do in Championship football but we'll give it a good go and hopefully upset the odds," said 'Point manager Tipton.

Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-finals - Saturday 4 March - 15:00 GMT
Ballymena UtdvColeraine
Dungannon SwiftsvWarrenpoint Town
Live coverage on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound from 14:00 GMT