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Crusaders keep a frim grip on title thriller at Seaview

Crusaders 3 Coleraine 2

By Alex Mills

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter hailed his team following this pulsating Danske Premiership clash at Seaview. Little Paul Heatley's classy double helped the Shore Road boys maintain their one point lead over Linfield at the top of the table - with two to play - prompting Baxter to state: "We're going to throw the kitchen sink at trying to retain the title".

Things looked ominous for the champs when big James McLaughin shot Coleraine ahead, but Jordan Owens plundered a quick equaliser before the spotlight honed in on Heatley's brace.

However, the Bannsiders were not for giving it up because substitute Jamie McGonigle hit a late goal to ensure the home fans would suffer an edgy final 10 minutes.

"I thought it was a stunning display from us, especially after their spectacular opening goal in their only raid up the pitch," beamed Baxter. "Our concentration levels were high and our focus and determination were good.

"What an advertisement for the Irish League against a top, top team. Coleraine have impressed me this season.

"In situations like this you need your big players to stand up - and every one of our boys did that. We are now down to two games - all roads now lead to Ballymena for us at the weekend. It's going to be a battle to the finish, but we are prepared to throw the kitchen sink at it to hold on to the title."

Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns was called into action on 28 minutes, getting down smartly to smother a crisply hit Jordan Forsythe drive, following Heatley's teasing cross.

But the home fans were stunned into silence two minutes later with that McLaughlin wonder strike.

There appeared to be no danger when the big striker gobbled up a short pass from Ciaron Harkin, but he took pot luck from fully 30 yards and the ball arrowed into the top corner past a startled Sean O'Neill.

The champions responded in the proper manner as they were level five minutes later.

Heatley was the play-maker on the left and, when he whipped in a low cross, Owens popped up at the back post to tap in his 19th league goal of the campaign.

And the Crues almost did it again in their next attack with Owens meeting a Burns cross.

His header looked destined for the net until Lyndon Kane popped up to somehow hoof the ball off the line and away to safety.

But the home team were not to be denied as they were in front for the first time five minutes prior to the break.

Heatley was allowed time and space on the edge of the box and, although his initial shot was beaten out by Johns, the little striker was on to the rebound in a flash and this time his shot ballooned the net.

It was almost game over in another blistering break involving that man Heatley, who threaded a great pass to Declan Caddell, whose fierce drive from the edge of the box flew just inches past the post.

The Bannsiders looked to repair the damage, but defender Gareth McGonachie could only ram a free kick into the Crues defensive wall after Jordan Allen has been flattened by Forsythe.

But it was the Crues who carried on where they left off with the jet-heeled Gavin Whyte ripping through the middle only to be stopped in his tracks by a great tackle by Adam Mullan.

Johns then had to show a clean pair of hands, getting down at the near post to save a low drive from Heatley.

But the wee man had better luck on 68 minutes. The Crues bombarded the Coleraine goal, with Owens and Forsythe having shots blocked, and when the ball fell to Heatley, he hammered an unstoppable drive into the bottom corner.

The visitors responded within two minutes. Substitute McGonigle was surprisingly left with time and space on the edge of the box and his crisp low shot nestled into the bottom corner in spite of a brave attempt by O'Neill to retrieve the situation.

In fact, they almost conjured an equaliser in the closing stages when Allen headed a McLaughlin cross wide.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Keane, McClean, Caddell, Carvill (Snoddy 84), Forsythe, Heatley, Whyte, Owens.

Subs not used: Mitchell, Suarez, Cushley, Dougherty. 

COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Mullan, McConaghie, Ogilby, McCauley, Harkin, McCafferty, McLaughlin, Parkhill (McGonigle 58), Allan. 

Subs Not Used: Douglas, Edgar, Doherty, Whiteside.

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)

Man of the match: Paul Heatley

Match rating: 8/10

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