Belfast Telegraph

Crues turn on the style as Linfield's unbeaten run is ended

Crusaders 2 Linfield 1

By Alex Mills

David Healy's Linfield crashed to their first league defeat since January on a night of drama at Seaview. First-half wonder goals from Jordan Forsythe and Paul Heatley - his seventh of the season - fired Crusaders into second place in the Danske Bank Premiership table.

But after dominating the opening 45 minutes, the Crues were forced to hang on at times in a nervy second half, especially when big Mark Stafford reduced the deficit with 19 minutes remaining.

Going into the game, the Blues boasted an impressive 27-game unbeaten run stretching back to last season - and, in fact, they hadn't even conceded a goal this campaign.

But they had a mountain to climb after those early strikes. The victory was made that bit sweeter due to the fact that Crusaders failed to win any of their six outings against their cross-city rivals last season.

Make no mistake about it, Stephen Baxter's boys deserved this success and, even though they had to withstand a late onslaught, they were given a standing ovation by the delighted home fans at the finish.

Although they handed out a five-goal hammering to basement side Ballinamallard United at the weekend, Baxter made two changes to his startling line-up, drafting in skipper Colin Coates and midfielder Declan Caddell with Howard Beverland and Gavin Whyte dropping to the bench.

With a view of having a bit more firepower up front, Blues boss Healy handed new signing Louis Rooney his first league start. He replaced little Jordan Stewart.

Forsythe had the first poke at goal after only three minutes when Billy Joe Burns' cross was flicked on by Jordan Owens, but the midfielder's speculative scissor kick flew over the crossbar.

Then, a mix-up involving Brian Jensen and Coates presented Aaron Burns with a half chance. With the keeper stranded, the Blues striker could only loft his shot high and wide.

It was hectic stuff and a moment's indecision at the other end on 13 minutes almost opened up a chance for Owens.

Jensen's long punt through the middle caused disarray and Owens was allowed time and space only to see his shot superbly beaten away by Roy Carroll.

Former Crusaders man Andy Mitchell then tried his luck with an audacious 30-yard drive that skimmed off the greasy surface - a strike that Jensen was relieved to see fizz past the post.

The Crues broke the deadlock with that Forsythe blockbuster on 24 minutes.

He was sent hurtling into the box by a sweet pass from Heatley and, after taking a touch, he bent a beauty beyond the despairing dive of Carroll.

It was the first time the Blues had found themselves behind in the league this season.

The Crues thought they had done it again when Forsythe's shot fell invitingly for Owens, who blasted home, but the referee's assistant already had his flag raised for an offside infringement.

But the home fans were on their feet acclaiming Heatley's fabulous strike on 32 minutes. The striker latched onto a long punt through the middle and, as the Blues defence backed off, he unleashed the most delicious of volleys that rocketed into the top corner, leaving Carroll a mere bystander once again.

It really should have been over as a contest six minutes from the break when Michael Carvill's cross was completely miscued by Heatley. The ball zoomed right onto the head of Owens, but his header flashed over the top.

It was all Crusaders. Defender Rodney Brown then joined the party and bursted forward to thunder in a brilliant 30-yard shot that Carroll was again relieved to see clear his crossbar by inches.

It was hardly surprising the pace slackened after the break. Crusaders appeared to have the job well under control, but that changed 19 minutes from time when the Blues grabbed a lifeline.

Burns managed to cut the ball back from the byline, leaving Stafford with a simple tap in. It was game on once again.

Heatley then sent in a 20-yard shot that took a deflection, and Carroll sighed with relief when it flew inches past the post.

Linfield searched for an equaliser, but the Crues held on.

Crusaders: Jensen, Burns, Coates, Ward, Brown, Lowry, Carvill (Whyte, 76 mins), Caddell (Snoddy, 62 mins), Forsythe, Heatley, Owens. Unused subs: Beverland, Cushley, Glackin.

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Lowry, Burns, M Clarke (J Stewart, 83 mins), Casement, Rooney (Adams, 62 mins), Mulgrew, Mitchell (Millar, 62 mins), Quinn. Unused subs: Robinson, Garrett.

Man of the match: Paul Heatley

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)

Fixtures to come Saturday (3pm): Ballymena v Glentoran, Coleraine v Carrick, Crusaders v Ards, Dungannon v Warrenpoint, Glenavon v Cliftonville, Linfield v Ballinamallard

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