Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders star Paul Leeman insists league race is Linfield's to lose

By Stuart McKinley

Paul Leeman expects Linfield to to win the Irish League title, but that won't stop the Crusaders defender from doing all he can to stop David Jeffrey's men from becoming champions.

And that means he will be going all out to beat the Blues when the teams lock horns in their next league outing, at Windsor Park next Tuesday night.

The Crues cut the gap to Premiership leaders Linfield to six points when they beat Dungannon Swifts 5-1 on Monday night, to record their first league win in five game.

Linfield haven't beaten Crusaders in the league for almost two years and Leeman believes that is a run that the Shore Road men will have to continue if they are keep the pressure on the Blues.

"It's a big ask for ourselves to win the league. We're behind Linfield and Cliftonville and the Blues have a match in hand as well," said Leeman.

"I think it's Linfield's to lose now. They are in the box seat, they are on a good run and they have the biggest squad.

"It's up to us and Cliftonville to try to stop them. We were on a great run ourselves and we have the talent in the squad to challenge.

"One thing is for sure, we won't be giving up.

"It's a massive game against Linfield next week and we need to do something to try and stop them."

Prior to losing to Ballymena United on the Saturday before Christmas, the Crues had gone 24 matches unbeaten in all competitions.

That run saw them pick up 40 points out of a possible 54 in the title race, but despite taking just three points from their four matches before Monday night, Leeman insists that confidence is still high at Seaview as crucial games come thick and fast.

Not only do they face Linfield next week, they are also waiting to find out when the County Antrim Shield final against the Blues will be played.

They also meet north-Belfast rivals Cliftonville in the League Cup final at the end of January, but before that Crumlin Star visit Seaview in the Irish Cup this weekend.

"There was never a dip in confidence. When you are on a long unbeaten run you know that it is going to come to an end sometime," said Leeman.

"We took a point against Cliftonville on Boxing Day in a tough game and got another draw at Portadown on New Year's Day on a difficult pitch."

e JIM Ervin is expected to join Ballymena United after being released from his contract at Linfield.

The right-back, who had been with the Blues for nine and a half years, has found first-team opportunities limited this season and has played just eight times.

Blues boss David Jeffrey said: "Jim has been granted his unconditional release in view of of his loyal and faithful service over a considerable period."

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