Such is the devastating form of league leaders Cliftonville that it doesn’t really matter how their title rivals pocket the points.
For the chasing pack it’s all about keeping in touch with Tommy Breslin’s pacesetters and Crusaders breathed a sigh of relief after seeing off a determined Lisburn Distillery side on Saturday.
The Whites had the wind in their sails when Gary Liggett reduced the scoreline to 2-1 in the 71st minute and any points dropped at home by Crusaders would have been very costly.
Stephen Baxter’s men were nowhere near their free-flowing best and it was a nervy finish, but Declan Caddell’s 90th minute strike kept the festive atmosphere on the Shore Road alive.
“It was getting nervous for us,” admitted Caddell. “The players will admit that we didn’t play particularly well and some games are like that. You can’t produce brilliant performances all the time and the Linfield game (IRN-BRU Cup semi-final) probably took a lot out of us.
“There were some tired legs and we sat back and became nervy when they scored. But I’m happy to score and it’s about time! The gaffer spoke to me a few weeks ago about my finishing and it’s a part of my game I need to improve.
“There’s no stopping Cliftonville at the moment, they are like a steam train and averaging three goals a game but as long as we stay in touch with them after Christmas maybe we can go on a strong run.”
Jordan Owens (pictured with Timmy Adamson) and Colin Coates used their heads in the second half to give the Crues a commanding lead but the Whites deserved to get on the scoresheet through Liggett. Caddell’s winner was a slick counter-attacking move, the midfielder slotting home after a delicate touch from Paul Heatley.
Whites boss Tim McCann refused to be downbeat, knowing that his side could have picked up a precious point with a little ruthless finishing.
“We had a couple of chances at 2-1 to pull the game back,” he said.
“Michael Halliday had an opening and there were a few others but as we pushed forward looking for the equaliser we left ourselves short at the back and they exploited that.”