Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders will be kings, but we can delay coronation: Callaghan

By Graham Luney

Aaron Callaghan believes Crusaders will go on and wrap up a hat-trick of Premiership title wins but he hopes to put the brakes on his old club tomorrow.

The Carrick Rangers boss, who won two titles with the Crues in 1995 and 1997, returns to Seaview looking to net another crucial three points for a side fearing the dreaded drop.

With eight games remaining, Carrick occupy the play-off spot but Ballinamallard United, who are 11 points above them, are within striking distance.

Crusaders have a very different mindset and seven points clear of second-placed Linfield, Stephen Baxter's side are determined not to let the last available piece of major silverware this season slip from their grasp.

The Blues dumped their title rivals out of the Tennent's Irish Cup last weekend and are promising a fight to the death in the championship race.

David Healy's side face Cliftonville at Windsor Park in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Monday night and they are waiting to exploit any further slip-up from the Hatchetmen.

Crusaders were held 1-1 at Portadown in a lacklustre display in their last Premiership outing but Callaghan still expects the Shore Road boys to weather the storm.

"I think they are champions-elect," said Callaghan, whose last visit to the north Belfast venue was his side's League Cup final loss to Ballymena United.

"They have a seven-point lead and I can't see them losing it now. They have the best squad, the biggest squad and an excellent manager in Stephen (Baxter). Linfield have been on a good run but I think Crusaders will win it again, I can't see them being caught now.

"It's back to the old stomping ground for me and I have very fond memories of my time there and have many good friends. I enjoy going into the social club after the game and embracing people I know very well and respect. But for 90 minutes friendship goes out the window.

"We like to focus on what we can do and our form in the last few matches has been very encouraging - we have steadied the ship.

"I'm not focusing on their form too much as we can only control what we can control.

"Stephen and his team are always tough to beat. They are going for the title and I expect them to win it. We know their strengths with pace down the wings and big (Jordan) Owens up front. It's a huge test for us but we are in good shape ourselves."

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