Crusaders on fire but Billy Joe Burns knows hurdles remain
Ballymena United 1-3 Crusaders
It's not clear if Stephen Baxter is a fan of cult sitcom Dad's Army but his best Lance Corporal Jones impression at the interval ensured his team moved another tantalising step closer to Gibson Cup glory on Saturday.
Having trailed, albeit hugely against the run of play at Ballymena United, his side shook off the set-back of Allan Jenkins' 16th minute opener to level within 10 minutes.
News that Linfield were a goal to the good at seemingly doomed Institute would have done little to ease any anxiety but, with Baxter imploring his team to keep doing what they have been doing most of the season - bombarding the enemy into submission and allowing their flair players to lead the floundering defence a merry dance - it all came good in the end.
A man who knows what it's like to keep his nerve in title run-ins, albeit with Linfield, is Billy Joe Burns and it was ammunition that helped in the shooting down of the Sky Blues.
He was involved in the equaliser, his pass missed by Jim Ervin, allowing the ball to be fed to Jordan Owens whose cross-shot was touched home at the far post by Paul Heatley.
In the second period it was another Burns hanging cross that caused United keeper Tim Allen, under considerable pressure from Owens, to spill the ball and allow Timmy Adamson the simplest of tasks.
Owens grabbed the third himself with a bullet of a header from Richard Clarke's cross and what could have been a banana-skin was deftly avoided even without the silky skills of the ill Gavin Whyte.
"Every game from now on in is going to be a big three points," admitted Burns afterwards.
"I've been playing in the Irish League for a few years now and I don't think I've ever had a simple game down in Ballymena.
"We knew it was going to be tough even though they had a few suspensions but you're away at Ballymena and you're still going to get a hard game and credit to the boys for putting in a good shift and playing for the whole 90 minutes.
"All it takes is one defeat and that gives everyone else a lifeline, so it's up to ourselves to keep ticking them off game by game.
"All we can do is concentrate on ourselves and at half-time, even though it was 1-1, I thought that flattered them, because over the 90 minutes I think that was their only shot on goal.
"We knew if we kept going and doing what we'd been doing we'd come up with the three points."
United, missing several key men, were no match for the champions-elect and must hope that their form returns ahead of Saturday's Irish Cup semi-final against Portadown.
David Cushley, Gary Thompson and Johnny Taylor's return will certainly bolster the chances of a side that has won more cup games in 2015 than league ones, with a miserable four points from 27 to show for their efforts.
The Ports should be without red-carded duo Chris Casement and Robert Garrett for that game, unless their Mid-Ulster Cup semi-final clash with Dungannon Swifts, scheduled for Tuesday-week, is brought forward - a move that will not be well received by Glenn Ferguson.
"I can't see for the life of me in the context of football matches why a football team in Portadown's position would want to play a Mid-Ulster Cup match in the week of an Irish Cup match," he fumed. "It would be for only one reason. They wouldn't do it any other time, so why should they be allowed to do it now? I think within the IFA rules you have to give 30 days notice to rearrange a match so if they're able to do it under the Mid-Ulster FA they should be ashamed of themselves.
"I think it would be another embarrassment (for the IFA) that two players who have been sent off can be cleared to play in their competition. If it does happen there are some people who wear suits that need to take a good look at themselves."
BALLYMENA: Allen, Ervin, McBride, McNally, Jenkins, Kane, McAllister, Surgenor, McCaul, Tipton, Teggart. Substitutions: Gawley (McAllister, 71 mins), Boyce (Ervin, 72 mins), McNeill (McCaul, 83 mins)
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, McClean, Magowan, Coates, Caddell, Clarke, Heatley, Adamson, Owens, O'Carroll. Substitutions: O'Flynn (O'Carroll, 70 mins)
Man of the match: Billy Joe Burns (pictured)
Match rating: ?/10
Ref: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)