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Keeper Johns revelling in Coleraine's recent surge

Coleraine 1-0 Crusaders

By Alex Mills

Chris Johns believes Coleraine are peaking just at the right time.

The 21-year-old goalkeeper was the star man as the Bannsiders blew the Danske Bank Premiership title race wide apart with a performance of grit, passion, determination - and no shortage of skill against Crusaders at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds.

They matched the title holders all over the park. This Coleraine side have become accustomed to winning and are now unbeaten in 14 outings, dating back to Boxing Day.

Manager Oran Kearney has nurtured a blend of youth and experience, which is on the verge of achieving something very special.

They know how to mix it, but they can play and, with the sun on their backs on the north coast, they made a double championship winning side look ordinary enough.

And, significantly, the victory meant that Crusaders' lead at the top of the table has now been cut to only four points.

It was Eoin Bradley's first half penalty that separated the teams, after former Coleraine man Howard Beverland had handled inside the box.

Cool Bradley, known as Skinner, sent Sean O'Neill the wrong way from the spot.

Not for the first time this season, Johns's handling was impeccable at the other end of the pitch.

He has a big presence about him which helped his team nullify the ariel threat of Crusaders which is such a vital cog in their armour.

"It's not easy to keep a clean sheet against those guys," said Johns.

"By no means was the win based on me, it was a great team performance.

"I made my Coleraine debut against Crusaders - and that was a baptism of fire. I knew what to expect against them."

The big shot-stopper reserved his best work until the last minute when he catapulted across his goal to flip away a thundering header from Jordan Forsythe, which was hurtling towards the top corner.

"I thought it would be nice to make a save and make it look good," he added with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek.

"It was a great header, but I got a good hand to it and thankfully got it over the crossbar."

With the Irish Cup semi final looming next week, Johns insists the Bannsiders are in the best possible shape for the tests up ahead.

"There's a great buzz about the place," he added.

"The fans are really getting behind us - you can feel it when you walk out on to the pitch.

"We've got a great winning mentality and we have a lot of momentum, we are on a fantastic run.

"There is no negativity in that dressing room, it's positive vibes all round. It's a matter of keep that run going, especially with the Irish Cup semi final coming up next week."

Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney insists boys now have grown into the habit of winning.

He said: "We've beaten Linfield at Windsor Park and we've brought the champions down here and beat them.

"Yes, I'm the boss and I try to get the best out of them, but actions speak louder than words.

"I try to make the boys believe in themselves, but they know the direction they are moving in and that is more powerful than anything I can say."

Stephen Baxter insists his team will not be feeling sorry for themselves now that Linfield are breathing down their necks.

The result sets up an intriguing showdown with the Blues at Windsor Park on April 8.

"There is a wee bit to go in this championship race and, while we are disappointed with our result, we are still sitting four points clear at the top of the table," said Baxter.

"We shouldn't be trying to defend that lead, we should be trying to win the title.

"The Linfield match is now huge. It's fantastic when we get big games of football in our country - matches that everyone is interested in and want to see.

"It will be a big game of football. We haven't been successful against Linfield this season, two draws and three defeats, so that will buoy them a little bit.

"I've been in this game too long to worry about what way results shape up.

"We had to handle the pressure of it last year - and we got through.

"If Linfield beat us, it will be then down to one point and it will be hairier for everybody - but if you want to win titles, that's the kind of pressure you have to handle."

coleraine: Johns, Kane, Mullan, Harkin, Ogilby, McCauley, McLaughlin, McConaghie, Lyons (McCafferty, 59 mins), Parkhill, Bradley (McConigle, 46 mins). Unused subs: Douglas, Edgar, Doherty.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Lowry (Mitchell, 85 mins), Forsythe, Carvill (Caddell, 65 mins), Owens, Heatley, Whyte (Cushley, 46 mins), Brown, Keane. Unused subs: Clarke, McClean.

Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)

Man of the match: Chris Johns

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