Irish Cup Final: We will learn from this, says Coates
In many ways, the Irish Cup final was a microcosm of Crusaders’ season.
Pride without the glory, threatening to spoil the Linfield party but not quite managing it.
Stephen Baxter’s men went down fighting, just as they did in the title race when the rest of the league appeared to give up the chase.
And there were several fine individual performances from players in red and black on Saturday but it was their Achilles’ heel which came to the surface again.
Their football has been pretty to watch this season but at times their defence, particularly their goalkeeping, has been a horror show.
Chris Keenan didn’t repeat the catalogue of errors that resulted in the Crues suffering a 8-1 defeat at Windsor Park earlier in the season but, when he failed to deal convincingly with a shot from Jamie Mulgrew, allowing Mark McAllister to score the winner, it was a much more costly error.
One glance at the statistics tells you all you need to know about Crusaders’ troubles this campaign.
In the Carling Premiership they conceded 30 more goals than the Blues and, while Alan Blayney has performed heroics in the Linfield goal, Keenan has struggled to regain form and confidence.
As he spilled Mulgrew’s shot, rumours began to surface that Dungannon Swifts keeper Sean O’Neill would be joining the Crues in the summer.
But for all the Crusaders players, the season ends with a feeling of what might have been.
Skipper Colin Coates was philosophical at the finish, feeling his men should hold their heads high.
“In the last 20 minutes we made two mistakes and got punished for them,” he said. “That’s what happens, you can’t afford to make mistakes like that.
“Up to then we were relatively comfortable, we had a few scares but had defended pretty well. We got caught late on, were put under pressure and it cost us.
“The boys in midfield had put in a lot of work and maybe there were a few tired bodies at the end but it was individual errors that cost us.
“I said to Jeff Spiers that football is all about experiences like this, it’s not always about winning, you end up experiencing all sorts of emotions.
“I’ve been relegated, been promoted, won Irish Cup finals, lost them, I’ve had the full works and, although I’m disappointed, it will sink in as another experience and, at the end of the day, it’s a football match and there are more important things in life.”