Belfast Telegraph

Everything adds up to a Crusaders coronation

Coleraine 1 - Crusaders 5

By Keith Thomas

You don't have to be a mathematician to work out that the numbers are stacking up for champions-elect Crusaders.

Victory at Windsor Park on Saturday will effectively put nearest challengers Linfield out of their misery, opening a 12-point gap with just four matches remaining.

How did Stephen Baxter's hot shots get themselves firmly into the box seat? By simply playing the numbers game of course!

Defeat to Glentoran in the Irish Cup semi-final last weekend was the first time the Crues had failed to register a goal since October 4 when outgoing champions and rivals Cliftonville inflicted a 1-0 defeat at Seaview in the north Belfast derby.

That was a harsh lesson learned. The all-conquering Crues have registered 82 goals in the ensuing 30 games while in their quest for Gibson Cup glory the stats are equally impressive. In 22 matches they have found the net on no fewer than 59 occasions.

The main purveyors of goals, Jordan Owens and the sensational Paul Heatley, were at it again at Coleraine on Saturday, scoring two apiece in a clinical dismantling of Oran Kearney's Bannsiders.

Owens has now rounded his tally up to 30 for the season in all competitions and Heatley is only six behind him.

They are a seriously good combination and add Diarmuid O'Carroll's contribution of 17 into the mix and you can see why Crusaders are Premiership champions-elect.

Owens is locked in a personal battle with Cliftonville goal machine Joe Gormley at the top of the league goalscoring chart.

But the only arithmetic that matters is the next three points as far as Baxter's buoyant boys are concerned.

After watching the manner in which his troops responded to that cup shock at Lurgan to maintain their relentless march to Premiership glory, the Shore Road boss said: "A lot of people have made comments about our style this year but for me it has been superb as we saw here on a bumpy pitch in a testing wind.

"Ask anyone around us and they will tell you that we play football. The amount of goals we score is fantastic and I will watch that every week!"

Perhaps Coleraine's big error was to take the lead against the mean machine.

The celebrations following Neil McCafferty's 20th minute penalty conversion had barely died down when fearless full-back Billy Joe Burns, another jewel in the Crusaders' crown, drilled a ground hugging free kick past keeper Michael Doherty whose day would end in a 65th minute with a straight red card for a frustration-fuelled challenge on speed merchant Heatley outside the box.

Goal machine Owens headed Crusaders in front and quickly grabbed his second, while Heatley delivered twice after half-time.

Coleraine: Doherty, Canning, McNeill, Ogilby, Douglas, Higgins, McCafferty, McGinty (Browne 61), McCauley, McGonigle (Watt 68), Parkhill. Subs: Mullan, Kane, Lyons.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, McClean, Coates, Robinson, Caddell, Heatley (Hanley 79), Whyte, Adamson (Molloy 46), Owens (O'Carroll 62), Clarke. Subs: Hanley, McKibbin, Magowan.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Carrickfergus).

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