Crusaders 5 Cliftonville 0
You often hear it said in football that ‘the result is more important than the performance’. Sometimes you just have to win ugly and winning is all that matters.
It’s especially true in a title race when points are worth their worth their weight in gold.
But Linfield should perhaps get their hands on a DVD of this Crusaders performance against Cliftonville on Saturday.
This was the Shore Road side’s ninth league win on the bounce and, if they play like this next Saturday at Seaview, Linfield could also have that losing feeling.
Yes, the Blues have experience and they have been down this road before. They know what it takes to win the Gibson Cup but the fascination of this title race is the reality that Crusaders are playing the best football in the country at the moment.
Once Linfield have confronted Portadown at Shamrock Park in their game in hand tomorrow night, they will have to focus on stopping a set of players whose confidence is sky-high.
Cliftonville conceded five goals on Saturday but it could have been more.
The Reds hold a two-goal advantage over the Crues in the Setanta Sports Cup quarter-final tie going into the second leg at Seaview tonight and they should finish the job, even though boss Eddie Patterson has seen his squad decimated by injuries.
But this league contest was heavy punishment and any doubts these Crusaders players don’t have the hunger for the championship were blown away.
Jordan Owens’ brace takes his tally for the season to 20 and the ever improving Stuart Dallas also capped a stunning individual performance with two goals.
Aidan Watson, a real unsung hero for the Hatchetmen, deserved his strike. And the afternoon’s work was completed without their suspended skipper Colin Coates.
Manager Stephen Baxter said: “Confidence is exceptionally high and we have to hold the players back a little bit.
“We have got ourselves in a position where we are challenging for the title but it takes for everything to go your way. Linfield still have a game in hand and it’s in their hands with a superior goal difference. It is their title to lose.
“We have crept back in there because we have won quite a few games, nine matches, 27 points — a colossal haul of points but next week is the biggest game of the season for us and a must-win one for us. If Linfield win it, they will win the title so we’ll see.”
Patterson, meanwhile, knows the Setanta rematch is not a forgone conclusion.
“The first three goals Crusaders didn’t have to work for,” blasted Patterson. “We handed it to them on a plate but it’s the worst scenario of injuries I have had at the club.
“There’s a semi-final now up for grabs and nothing can be taken for granted.”
The Crues are also smiling off the pitch as the £61million cash injection for local football from government moves them a step closer to realising their dream of a new stadium with Newington YC.
A club statement read: “Crusaders and Newington are pressing ahead with our ambitious Sports, Educational and Media Village.
“We were pleased that the project is within the Minister's thinking and anticipate a measure of government support towards the end of the 2011-15 budgetary spending round. Currently we are preparing a bid to the Belfast City Council public ‘Expression of Interest’ call, with a deadline of March 24.
“This is an open, competitive process and our two clubs, along with our design team and financial backers will submit a strong bid, focussing on economic viability, employment, state of the art leisure facilities and, most importantly, cross-community shared space.
“We intend that our bid will provide a ‘wow’ factor for north Belfast and the city as a whole. Thereafter, the council will deliberate on who to chose as a lead developer. In addition to the stadium and sports business park, the bid will propose a public ice-rink, an indoor arena hosting pro-basketball and a full size, 3G, GAA pitch, as well as an international standard training suite.
“This project has been a long time in gestation, but we're at the ‘business end’ now and expect to have the opportunity to ‘raise the bar’ in terms of the quality of facilities to be provided.”