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Crues are ready to take full advantage of any last-gasp slip-up, warns Beverland

 

By Graham Luney

Howard Beverland says Crusaders are still clinging to hope of one last dramatic twist in the race for the Gibson Cup.

The title pendulum swung dramatically in Linfield's favour last weekend when the champions lost 3-0 at Ballymena United and David Healy's side cruised to a 5-1 victory at Coleraine.

With the Blues two points in front and boasting a goal difference of 19 higher than their nearest challengers, Crusaders know only a Linfield loss at Cliftonville will give the north Belfast side an opportunity to make it a remarkable title hat-trick.

Stephen Baxter's side must beat Glenavon at Seaview and hope Linfield crash at the final hurdle and lose at the home of the Reds.

It appears an unlikely scenario given Cliftonville's poor displays and the Blues' red-hot form but strange developments happen in football and Tommy Breslin's arrival as interim boss at Solitude has added an extra kick to this title cocktail.

Beverland accepts the Crues need a huge favour from their neighbours but he insists the Shore Road men are focused on doing a professional job on the final day.

"We just have to put the disappointment of last weekend away and be professional and do our job," said the former Coleraine skipper.

"It's not in our hands any more but it's not over.

"Cliftonville aren't doing anyone any favours other than themselves as they need to win to finish strongly and get that home place in the Europa League play-offs.

"Tommy (Breslin) is an absolute gentleman and he's enjoyed huge success with Cliftonville. He's been missed during his time away from management and it's Cliftonville's gain having him back in helping out.

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"That European play-off is a great opportunity for all the teams and big money comes with it. There's an extra buzz about Cliftonville and it might affect the minds of the Linfield players."

Whatever happens this afternoon, everyone at Crusaders, including Beverland, acknowledges that Linfield deserve enormous praise for fighting to the finish.

"Setting rivalries aside, you have to commend Linfield, they have chased us the whole way even when people weren't giving them much of a chance," added the centre-back.

"Everyone always knew it wasn't going to be won by a seven or eight-point margin but the Blues deserve great credit for putting us under pressure.

"We would have ran out easy winners had their challenge tailed off.

"Credit where it's due, they have been very hungry but this is the first time where the tables have turned and they are now leading the pack. With that comes a different pressure than chasing something."

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