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Crues won't snap under the pressure, says McClean

Crusaders v Ballinamallard, Danske Bank Premiership, Seaview, Tonight, 7.45pm

By Alex Mills

Crusaders defender Craig McClean insists there are no alarm bells sounding after his team's lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership was cut to four points on Saturday.

Linfield turned up the heat after a thumping victory over Ards, but Stephen Baxter's boys have the chance to repair the damage when they entertain Ballinamallard United at Seaview tonight, the game being screened on Sky Sports.

"We put a bit of pressure on Linfield last week by extending our lead to 10 points," said McClean.

"They then cut it back to seven again following their win over Cliftonville. The roles are now reversed. They have cut the gap - it's over to us.

"It's great for the local game that Sky are now showing these matches - it adds a bit of spice to the occasion. Clubs in England and Scotland think nothing of changing their fixtures to Friday, Sunday or Monday. We in the Irish league are used to playing on Saturday afternoon, so it kind of upsets our routine, but it's a game we must win.

"We know Ballinamallard have some dangerous players. They are battling for their lives to stay out of the relegation play-off place. We'll be giving them the respect we would afford to Linfield or Cliftonville - we'll certainly be taking nothing for granted.

"Although we defeated them 5-1 at our place earlier in the season, we played them at Ferney Park a few weeks later and we scraped home by only one goal - after they hit the crossbar twice.

"There are no easy games in this league, regardless of whether it's a top six or bottom six team."

The Crues were dealt a severe blow over the weekend when influential defender and skipper Colin Coates was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The 31-year-old, who has led the Shore Road club to back-to-back title wins, is to receive surgery on an ankle problem later this week, which could keep him out for six months.

It's a massive jolt to the team's ambitions of writing themselves into the history books by becoming the first Crusaders side to record a hat-trick of title successes.

"It's a big setback for Coatsie," said McClean. "But he's been out for around four months with the problem. He needs a bit of surgery on his ankle."

In Coates' absence, Michael Gault, Alan Keane and Billy Joe Burns have all partnered the ever-present Howard Beverland in the centre of defence.

"We've a great squad of players," said McClean. "It opens the door for someone else to step in. Paul Heatley is back for the Ballinamallard game and that's a massive plus for us.

"He's a top player - one of the best in the league. We have match winners all over the park - Gavin (Whyte), big Jordan (Owens) and Cush (David Cushley). We'll be giving Ballinamallard respect, but we'll let them worry about us."

With fixtures against Coleraine and Linfield on the horizon, McClean admits every match is now a cup final.

"They are two massive games coming up," he added. "But we have to be professional about things. Our total focus will be on the Ballinamallard fixture. Once we get that one out of the way, then we'll start our preparation for what will be a massive game at the Coleraine Showgrounds at the weekend.

"We are in a great position at this stage of the season. It's a matter of chalking off the games and putting three points on the board. I know it's boring, but we simply take one game at a time."

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