Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders have right ingredients to claim big prize this season

By Graham Luney

Could Crusaders be on course to win the Irish League title for the first time since 1997?

Now that the first round of fixtures are behind us, fans are looking for signs their team is going to flourish or flop.

If I was a Crusaders fan I'd be quietly confident that Stephen Baxter and his men have what it takes to snatch the league crown from neighbours Cliftonville.

Linfield are also looking good and cannot be ruled out but the Shore Road side look well equipped to put in a formidable challenge.

Only an astonishing display of consistency from the Reds last season prevented the Hatchetmen from grasping glory but they don't look like they are in the mood to win it again.

I just have a feeling that Crusaders, who are only four points behind leaders Linfield, now possess a squad of sufficient depth to claim the title.

And the players are hungry to go one better than last season.

When a striker of the calibre of Gary McCutcheon is struggling to force his way into the starting line-up then you recognise they have the firepower to win the league.

They are strong all over the park and an unbeaten run of 13 matches underlines how familiar and confident the players are alongside one another and with the system they are playing.

Declan Caddell, despite his sending off at the weekend, has developed into a more mature player while Chris Morrow is arguably playing the best football of his career.

Paul Heatley provides a considerable attacking threat while Timmy Adamson and Jordan Owens will bury chances.

Owens, who almost netted his 100th Crusaders goal on Saturday, has worked hard on his finishing.

Sean O'Neill is one of the best goalkeepers in the league and he has experienced defenders in front of him.

Nathan Hanley and Sean Cleary were brought in during the summer, but such has been the form of Baxter's men that they have needed patience.

There can be no doubting the hunger and motivation at Windsor Park but Linfield missed a chance to land a blow on the Crues on Saturday.

It was another display of Crusaders' resilience – the kind of resilience that could see them celebrating with the Gibson Cup next year.

Belfast Telegraph

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