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Crusaders won't take eyes off prize

Crusaders 2 - Linfield 0

By Graham Luney

Published 11/04/2016

At the double: Crusaders duo Andrew Mitchell and Gavin Whyte celebrate after downing title rivals Linfield
At the double: Crusaders duo Andrew Mitchell and Gavin Whyte celebrate after downing title rivals Linfield

The pertinent question was would Crusaders show their mettle and hold their nerve and the answer was an emphatic yes. Back-to-back titles for the first time in the club's history is within touching distance and they even conjured up some magical late drama at Seaview to knock the wheels off Linfield's bandwagon.

Defences win championships and the Crues rearguard, with captain marvel Colin Coates and the inspired Josh Robinson at its heart, stood up and weathered a Linfield storm not long after the thunder and hailstones had been and gone.

Eight points clear with four games left, while it's not job done yet it would take a Crusaders collapse of Windsor Park's Kop Stand proportions to see Linfield finish top of the pile.

David Healy's side felt they had to win the game but they didn't do enough in the final third with keeper Sean O'Neill foiling their best opportunity, flicking Stephen Lowry's effort onto the post.

Perhaps the Blues missed the goal threat of the suspended Aaron Burns but at least they arrived with their sleeves rolled up and ready to fight.

They just lacked that little bit of guile and creativity needed to unlock the door.

The visitors did apply pressure in the second-half but two sublime finishes from Gavin Whyte, in the 88th minute, and then Jordan Forsythe deep into stoppage time allowed the hosts to place one hand on the Gibson Cup.

Midfielder Andrew Mitchell, who was unable to train during the week, arrived with his knee in strapping but he had little time to dwell on his personal misfortune.

"I had heavy strapping on my knee but these are the games you want to be playing in," said the former Rangers man. "It's unbelievable to get the three points.

"There was talk of us being under pressure but this is our home ground and we don't feel the pressure here.

"Teams can come here and try to take us out but this is what can happen. I thought we were brilliant.

"No-one can doubt the character in that changing room.

"We had a blip at Carrick but it was about putting the right pieces together to make things work.

"The job is not done yet and we won't be resting up.

"There is no doubt this is a huge step closer to the title but hard work has to come after these celebrations.

"Matches come around quickly and our game heads must be on."

The Crues certainly can't take their eye off the ball now with a tough assignment coming up against Glenavon at Mourneview Park on Saturday.

Mitchell had special words of praise for his defence, a rearguard that was even bolstered by Jordan Owens' commanding presence when the heat was on.

"Everyone stood up and Oggers (Sean O'Neill) made a great save to deny Lowry," added Mitchell. "Sean's kicking was brilliant and he set up the opener as well.

"That's been our back four for most of the season and they were immense.

"Even Big Chicken (Owens) came back to help out. They put us under pressure for a good 20 minutes in the second-half but we dealt with it.

"I couldn't say any one of our boys were below par, they produced in a big game.

"Even Jordan (Forsythe) came on and hit a cracker.

"That never say die attitude we have has got its reward."

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McClean, Caddell (Forsythe, 82 mins), Snoddy, Mitchell, Owens, Heatley, Whyte.

Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry (Bates, 73 mins), Millar, Ward, Clarke (McLellan, 82 mins), Mulgrew, Gaynor, Smyth (Fallon, 85 mins).

Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin).

Man of match: Colin Coates (pictured)

Match Rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph

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