Crusaders have edge on Linfield, says Chris Morgan
Chris Morgan knows what it is like to play in games that could decide titles — and in tomorrow night's crunch Carling Premiership clash between two of his old clubs, he is tipping the one with whom he made his name, to come out on top.
Morgan began his career at Crusaders and as they prepare to take on Linfield — the team the striker joined from the Crues — at Seaview in the biggest match of this season, he has backed the Hatchetmen to rip through the Blues’ double ambitions in this their 125th anniversary year.
For, indeed, not only does Morgan believe that Crusaders will win this particular battle, but they will go on to win the war and bring the title back to Seaview for the first time since 1997.
The two clubs are currently locked on 67 points apiece, though Linfield have a game in hand, making tomorrow night's fixture as close to a title decider as we are likely to see this year.
Back in 2005, Morgan was involved in the ultimate crunch match when he scored the winner for Glentoran, three minutes into injury time, against Linfield at the Oval to all but secure the championship for the east Belfast side.
It would be hard to imagine such tension and excitement being repeated tomorrow, but it is amazing that we are even in this position because for a long time it appeared as though Linfield were running away with it.
However, a stumble along the way has seen a 12 point gap close to nothing, thanks to an amazing run of 10 league victories on the trot for the Crues — a sequence that goes back to January 4 when, ironically, they were beaten by Linfield.
Everything is set up for a titanic battle and with the momentum with Stephen Baxter's men, it is one that Morgan believes will go the way of Crusaders.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that the Crues will win — they have just hit form at the right time,” he said.
“Linfield had a great result last week when they beat Portadown 4-0 at Shamrock Park.
“Everyone will have thought, ‘that's a tough place to go, they might drop points' but they wiped the floor with them and I suppose it was typical Linfield. They are at their most dangerous when people knock them — you'll always get a reaction.
“But the Crues just seem to be flying at the moment. They are full of confidence having gone on a run of 10 straight wins.
“Linfield are still very much in the driving seat — if they look after themselves then the title is theirs but I think the run they are about to go on is a lot tougher than Crusaders'.
“After this one they play Glentoran three games in a row — two league matches either side of an Irish Cup semi-final.
“That is a hell of an ask for them — to win all three of those matches or not drop points in the league games.
“If they do that then they deserve to win the league and the cup but it's going to be tough. Linfield playing Glentoran is a much tougher proposition than Crusaders playing Glentoran, obviously because of the rivalry.
“So with that, Crusaders need to win on Friday to ease ahead of Linfield and then if they do that they will go on and win it.”
Morgan has been impressed by the Crues this season and while everyone talks about their free-flowing attacking play, it was a gritty display in beating Coleraine 3-1 last week that caught his eye most.
He said: “A lot of people really sat up and took notice after they beat Cliftonville 5-0 but to then go away and — though they didn't play particularly well — get a comprehensive result at Coleraine by digging in and battling, that showed a different quality that, I guess proved that they are able to fight for this title.
“Earlier in the season they lost 8-1 to Linfield. For them to show the character to bounce back from that is phenomenal.”
It's fair to say that Crusaders will have the backing of most neutrals but Morgan went on to warn that, as ever, Linfield cannot be written off and that may be used as a motivational tool by boss David Jeffrey as he gees his troops up for one final break out of the trenches and towards a 50th league crown.
“Linfield have the experience, most of the team have been there and done it so that will go in their favour but if there's one thing I know, they will be well prepared for this,” added Morgan.
“Big Davy will possibly motivate the players by telling them that no one wants them to win it, that they are all in this together, because I know that if there is one thing he is good at it is motivation.
“They can't be ruled out,” Morgan warned.
“They are the champions and the most successful club in the country for a reason.”
Glenavon entertain Dungannon Swifts tonight at Mourneview Park in a Carling Premiership game brought forward from Saturday because of the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final at the same venue. Kick-off is 7.45pm.