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Crues can handle title heat: Burns

Don't question our character, says Billy Joe

By Graham Luney

Billy Joe Burns believes that no-one should ever question the character in the Crusaders dressing room.

The Crues showed their mettle by fighting back from 2-1 down to overcome Cliftonville 3-2 at Solitude on Saturday, a result that could be the spark they needed to go on and clinch a third consecutive championship.

Stephen Baxter's side appeared to be wobbling after two 1-0 defeats at Coleraine and Linfield but they remain a point clear of their nearest challengers after that massive north-Belfast derby victory.

Former Linfield favourite Burns provided one of the sweet crosses that allowed Jordan Owens to head in a brace while Michael Carvill poked in the opener.

The Reds replied through a Levi Ives double but it wasn't enough to break Crusaders' spirit and now the champions have a spring in their step ahead of the clash with Coleraine at Seaview tonight.

The Bannsiders, who will be without the suspended Eoin Bradley, have embarked on a remarkable 17 game unbeaten run, and if they make it 18 this evening the title pendulum could swing in Linfield's favour.

David Healy's side entertain Glenavon, and are ready to exploit any slip-up from the Hatchemen, but right-back Burns says the players know exactly what they need to do.

"It was massively important that we got the win and it was great character from the boys," said the 27-year-old.

"Their equaliser just before half-time was slightly against the run of play and the perfect time to score and they scored quickly in the second half but we had the character to come back and win the game.

"People say a lot of things about us but they can't accuse us of lacking character, whether we go on to win the league or not.

"We have shown it many times that we will never give up and keep battling.

"We must assume that Linfield will win their remaining league games and that's the mentality for us as well, every game feels like a cup final for both sides.

"It makes for an exciting finish for the neutrals to watch.

"It's not too often we have lost two league games in a row, and after the Linfield result everyone was down, but that's what makes this result more satisfying as we could have dropped the heads and gave up but in that changing room there will not be that feeling.

"We will battle until the end and we've got some fresh momentum now."

With only two games left after tonight's battles, this is not a time for the faint-hearted. But, while the supporters might lose some of their fingernails, the players must prove they can handle the pressure.

Tennent's Irish Cup finalists Coleraine are six points ahead of fourth placed Cliftonville and are firm favourites to finish third and seal a Europa League place, but boss Oran Kearney will demand his players stay in the fast lane.

Burns added: "Coleraine have been brilliant this season and every time someone mentions them I've got glowing praise for them, the way Oran and Winkie (William Murphy) has them playing, with the young lads full of energy, and they have been very good.

"It won't be an easy game and in an earlier match at Seaview back in November Sean (O'Neill) needed to save a penalty from Lyndon Kane for us to win the game. We are taking nothing for granted and it's up to us to win these last three games."

Baxter will use all his experience to keep his troops focused, saying: "You have to put your bodies on the line at this stage and we are just trying to prepare everybody as best we can and concentrate on what we are doing."

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