Time now running out, Crusaders hotshot Heatley warns rivals
Carrick Rangers 0 - Crusaders 4
Crusaders striker Paul Heatley believes it's now a two-horse race for the Danske Bank Premiership title. Stephen Baxter's boys hardened their challenge with a thumping 4-0 win over Carrick Rangers at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena on Saturday, keeping them five points ahead of Linfield.
However, the Crues can open the gap to eight points by claiming victory at the same venue in a rearranged game tomorrow night.
Carrick will certainly be sick of the sight of Heatley, who bagged two goals in the first helping of this double-header.
Jordan Forsythe shot the visitors ahead after only 20 seconds before Heatley took centre stage and Jordan Owens finished the job late on.
But Carrick also made a significant contribution to their downfall as goalkeeper James Taylor was sent off on 34 minutes after clashing with Diarmuid O'Carroll.
Manager Gary Haveron might, however, have found an adequate replacement in midfielder Brian McCaul, who took the gloves before producing a brilliant save to repel Billy Joe Burns' spot-kick.
Heatley insists it's now down to a battle of nerves for the title.
"I think it would be fair enough to say it's now between ourselves and Linfield," he said. "The season is rapidly drawing to a close.
"Everyone (of the top six) is going to play each other. No matter what, those teams trying to catch us will drop points at some point.
"Yes, it's probably now a two-horse race, but we're just focused on ourselves.
"We are five points clear with a game in hand. If we can get a win at Carrick on Tuesday night, we'll be eight clear. Let's see how Linfield respond to that.
"It's crucial we win on Tuesday. It will add more pressure to teams around us.
"All we can do is keep doing what we're doing and make sure we get three points each week."
Heatley stressed that Carrick simply couldn't live with his team's blistering start.
"The job was done and dusted after a few minutes," he said. "In fact, the game was dead and buried after 20.
"When the goalkeeper was sent off, that really sealed the deal - it rubbed salt into their wounds.
"The pitch wasn't the best and it got worse as the game wore on. I think we can be very, very happy with the clean sheet and four goals."
Heatley hailed the contribution of O'Carroll, whose blinding pass set him up for his first goal. He added: "It was a great ball. I got it down with a good first touch. I probably haven't done that enough this season.
"I was able to control the ball and drive at the defender. It's nice when things like that come off and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
"BJ did brilliantly for the first goal. He was like a machine driving through the middle of the defence. I think he was hoping to go all the way, but he ran into too many defenders.
"He decided to make the simple pass and it was absolutely perfect. I had the easy job, BJ did all the hard work. That's 19 for the season. I'm not going to declare my target - I'm nowhere near it.
"Seriously, I'm not that far away. I just try to score as many as I can. As long as the team wins, that's the most important thing."
Carrick boss Haveron admitted that his boys just couldn't recover from a horrible start.
"Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong," he said.
"My last words to the boys were, 'let's frustrate them and stay in the game as long as we can'. That went out of the window straight away.
"Once they got their third goal, they dropped the pace, they knew they had the game won. We gifted them the points. It was basically damage limitation for us."
CARRICK: Taylor, Smyth, Traynor, Surgenor, Johnston (Kelly, 57 mins), Harmon, Doyle, Salley (Chines, 75 mins), McCaul, Wright, McCloskey. Unused subs: Roy, Wallace, Kane.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Coates (Mitchell, 65 mins), Robinson, McClean, Clarke (Whyte, 84 mins), Caddell, Forsythe, Heatley, Owens, O'Carroll (Carvill, 70 mins). Unused subs: Snoddy, McKibbin.
Man of match: Paul Heatley
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast)