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Jeffrey battles another Linfield crisis

By Graham Luney

Crusaders 2 Linfield 0: The Linfield supporters who chose to boycott this fixture didn't miss much that would have lifted their spirits.

The crowd of roughly 130 in the away section who did attend left Seaview asking why their team hadn't turned up either.

Blues fans staged a boycott in protest at the Crues' legal fight with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure over the redevelopment plans for Windsor Park.

That legal dispute is over and it's on the field matters that will now be keeping the supporters awake at night.

Linfield face Knockbreda at Windsor Park tonight in the League Cup but hearts will be beating a little faster when Glentoran come to the international venue for a Big Two league battle on Saturday.

The Blues have yet to win a league game this season and sit eight points adrift of champions Cliftonville.

But the writing has been on the wall for some time as Linfield have only won one of their last 11 league matches – at home to the Glens in early April.

Crusaders were resolute at the back and man of the match Jordan Owens was simply unplayable.

As the Shore Road men celebrated their first league win of the campaign, Linfield reflected on a display that lacked inspiration, invention, creativity and attacking endeavour.

Colin Coates and Davy Magowan were rock solid at the back while the Blues defence badly needs stabilised and strengthened.

Linfield's impressive form in Europe suggested they would be serious title contenders this season but unless they wake up from their slumber soon, the Reds will be drinking title-winning champagne by Christmas.

On this evidence, only Crusaders have the tools to put up a fight.

Two headed Owens goals in the 36th and 67th minutes sealed a deserved win against a side that lacked support from the stands and conviction on the pitch.

Owens, who also scored twice against Linfield in a 3-0 win at Seaview in March, was understandably pleased with his day's work.

"That was brilliant," beamed the 24-year-old. "The team played well all round. After our last two defeats we showed character and we had to as another loss would have left us nine points behind Cliftonville.

"We did the job and hopefully we can build on this. I've been doing more work in training including Monday nights and hopefully there's more goals to come. I got the goals but it was a superb team effort against a good Linfield side and we will take confidence from it.

"Linfield have won league championships so it's always good to score against them and hopefully I can get a few more against Coleraine on Friday.

"Last year I got 17 goals and the year before 22 so I'd be happy with 20 this season."

Delighted Crues boss Stephen Baxter said: "I'm pleased for all the players though Jordan was the standout performer.

"You work on making sure you are rock solid and don't give chances away and I thought our back four were sharp and tight.

"They have a lot of dangerous players who can score goals and it was important for us to restrict that. I was pleased that we were clinical."

Jeffrey gave his players the hairdryer treatment after the game but he feels a growing injury list is stopping them.

Mark Haughey, Andrew Waterworth, Philip Lowry, Peter Thompson, Jamie Mulgrew and Mark McAllister are now sidelined through illness or injury. When Mulgrew limped off in the 11th minute it was just the beginning of Linfield's tale of woe.

"This team is a work in progress but this is the first performance that I felt was below par," said Jeffrey.

"I'm not going to get stuck into the players as they are very young. I'm not making excuses but we are getting slaughtered with injuries and we haven't seen the benefit of new players we have brought in.

"We are three games into the season and we have a very young group. This is a learning curve and we have to build quickly but we will pick them up. But Cliftonville are mightily impressive and no-one at Linfield said Cliftonville weren't capable of winning back-to-back titles."

The fans' boycott landed a financial blow on Crusaders but at least Seaview officials were counting their blessings when a bet on a horse called 'Dark Crusader' reaped rich reward for them before kick-off.

That's just the slice of luck Jeffrey needs to stop the knives being sharpened around Windsor.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Magowan, Coates, McAllister (Hanley 86), Morrow, Adamson, Robinson, Caddell, McCutcheon (Snoddy 78), McClean, Owens. Unused subs: McMaster, Watson, Lacroix.

Scorers: Owens (36 & 67 mins)

LINFIELD: Tuffey, Gault, Thompson, Carvill, BJ Burns, A Burns, Ward (Tipton 65), Clarke, Knowles (Ross Clarke 76), Ervin, Mulgrew (McCaul 11). Unused subs: Ross Glendinning, Quinn.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).

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