Crusaders 0 Linfield 1
Michael Gault admits defeat for Linfield last Friday night would have spelt disaster in their quest to retain their Carling Premiership title.
The Blues travelled across Belfast to Crusaders for the most eagerly awaited clash of the season so far — and passed the test with flying colours.
Robert Garrett's stunning strike from the edge of the box with four minutes left on the clock increased the Windsor Park men's lead at the top to three points, with a game in hand, and hammered a nail in the Crues’ title coffin.
“We have been slipping up a lot and maybe that was because we had a 10-point lead and the pressure was off us,” said Gault.
“It's not something you do intentionally, but I'm sure that played a part in our bad run.
“Friday night was totally different. Crusaders have been on an incredible run and deserve to be right up there challenging but all the pressure was on us.
“If they lost, people would say it was bad luck and they've made it interesting for everyone but, if we had lost, it would have been a disaster for us.
“No team wanted to get beaten so it was a cagey game and everyone was desperate not to concede a goal.
“We stood up to every test that was put in front of us, though, and now we have another five games to do exactly the same.”
While the Blues celebrated at the final whistle, ugly scenes broke out. Firstly Blues defender Winkie Murphy had to physically restrain the incensed Colin Coates from charging after Jamie Mulgrew and the pair had clashed earlier. Blues boss David Jeffrey was also involved in an unseemly altercation with stewards as tempers boiled over.
It is understood referee David Malcolm did not report any individual for their actions but has advised Irish FA chiefs to use trial by TV.
Gault, who was in the middle of the heated exchanges, admits it did get out of hand.
“I don't think anyone wants to see that, especially after what had been a big game for local football,” he added.
“Everyone had been on edge all night and passions were running high. That doesn't excuse things but it can explain why they happen.
“Words were said and people got involved in things they shouldn't have which shows just how much it meant to everyone on the pitch but thankfully it was over pretty quickly.”
In recent weeks it has been pointed out that Linfield were still favourites for the title because, despite their wobble, they have been there and done it all before.
Having won four doubles in five years, the Blues certainly have proved they have what it takes in recent years but their big players have struggled for form since the end of January which only aided the Crues in biting at their heels.
Gault added: “To win the league everyone has got to perform and I think we have started to do that again.
“The pressure has been all our own doing but Robert Garrett showed great composure to stick the ball in the top corner in the last few minutes.
“As soon as he hit it I knew it was in, it was a sweet strike.
“From then on we just had to see the game out and the celebrations showed what it meant to us and our fans, who played a big part in backing us.
“We've let people down recently, but this win can give us an added boost for the remainder of the season — if we don't perform, though, we will only have ourselves to blame.”