Crusaders 1 Linfield 1
David Jeffrey left Seaview on Saturday with a parting shot at Crusaders’ artificial surface.
The Linfield manager is no lover of 3G pitches and his players didn’t always make smooth progress in this dead Carling Premiership clash.
Both managers, Jeffrey and counterpart Stephen Baxter, fielded their second strings and a stalemate was a fair outcome with a late Daryl Fordyce strike cancelling out a Jordan Owens’ header.
Jeffrey will no doubt be relieved that the Irish Cup Final between the sides will be played on the lush green grass of Windsor Park on Saturday week.
Linfield are in action again tonight at Windsor against Coleraine (7.45pm), who are hunting down a European place, fulfiling the fixture rearranged to accommodate the Blues’ Irish Cup semi-final last week.
Jeffrey has warned the Bannsiders his players will keep their foot on the gas in the run up to what he calls a “ginormous battle” in the Irish Cup Final against the Hatchetmen.
But before switching his attention to Oran Kearney’s men, he was happy to wave farewell to Seaview for another campaign.
Two Linfield players left the action with injuries, Steven Douglas jarring his back and Aaron Burns aggravating a hamstring injury.
“I’ve got to say that I’m not a lover of this surface,” said the Blues boss. “There are too many inconsistencies in terms of the run of the ball but overall I was pleased with the players.
He added: “This wasn’t simply a matter of fulfiling fixtures. We made changes with very good reason but, as I said after the Cliftonville game, every player has got to prove their worth in the squad. We already have one eye on next season and there is no point in having anyone in your squad if they cannot contribute. The challenge was thrown down to them and I thought they responded very well.
“There was hunger and desire and, with a little bit more fortune, we would have won the game. Another game on Monday night gives me an opportunity to look at other players and I’ve explained to the group that come Irish Cup day, I want to have the optimum choice.
“I want as many players to be as fit, sharp and mentally correct as I can have. Why? Because the challenge and the battle on that day will be ginormous and it’s vitally important that we have every member of the squad in tip-top form.”
Linfield were guilty of conceding a sloppy goal but their equaliser was pretty on the eye.
“I was disappointed with the goal we conceded — I thought we could have done much better,” added Jeffrey. “On another day we might have capitalised on the chances we had but I’m happy.
“It was a quality goal from us and Mark McAllister, who has done ever so well this year, showed great strength and quick feet to set up Daryl who didn’t need to break stride and score. It was a classic goal.”
Linfield’s strength in depth and awesome squad has been well documented but Crusaders proved on Saturday that they have plenty in reserve as well.
There were a number of outstanding performances from fresh faces, particularly Matt Snoddy and keeper Jack McCrea.
“There’s teams here from under-10 right through the age groups and what these lads have achieved so far has been amazing,” said Baxter.