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Owens is hoping he can return to steady Crusaders ship

 

By Graham Luney

Jordan Owens says he was "devastated" to miss Saturday's showdown with Linfield but he still believes Crusaders can regroup and win the title.

The Crues' hopes of winning three championships on the bounce suffered a setback at Windsor Park when David Healy's side rocked the champions with a 1-0 triumph.

Aaron Burns' first-half goal blew the title race wide open, leaving the Shore Road side, once nine points clear at the top, clinging to a one-point lead.

With only four league games remaining, both Linfield and Crusaders are facing the ultimate test of character.

Crusaders' trip to Cliftonville on Saturday has huge implications for Stephen Baxter's side. Win it and the league leaders might steady the ship and find the momentum to finish the job. Lose it and there could be no way back for the Hatchetmen.

Linfield are playing with real desire and determination but they also have huge tests to come. The title remains in Crusaders' hands so if they can overcome the Reds this weekend they may have enough fuel in the tank to reach their destination.

Owens was a huge loss to the Crues on Saturday and the striker admitted it was painful viewing from the sidelines.

"I pulled out of training on Thursday night with a calf injury and on Saturday morning I was up early to test it but couldn't run without feeling the shooting pains up my leg," said the striker who has netted 16 Premiership goals this season. "I don't think it's anything major but we'll wait and see how things develop. I've got until Saturday morning to recover and I will have a better idea then.

"I thought we did okay in the game but there was a change of style and without a targetman, Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte probably had less to work off. They like to come off the wing and play off me but overall I thought the boys battled hard and we are still a point clear at the top so we just need to win our games."

Linfield have managed to remain unbeaten in their six matches against the Crues this season, drawing the opening two and winning the last four, but that will be little consolation to Healy if his men finish runners-up in the title race.

Owens is still keeping the faith despite his side suffering back-to-back league defeats for the first time since April 2014.

"We have been in this position before and handled the pressure," added the 27-year-old.

"There was more pressure on the Blues on Saturday and now it is up to us to react and hopefully win the next game. We have beaten Cliftonville at Solitude before and we just have to go and do it again if we want to stay in front. Everyone was looking forward to the game on Saturday and the build-up to it was massive so I was devastated to miss it. It's a test of character and mental strength and we've got to rise to the challenge."

• Fans have reacted angrily to the news they could be charged £20 for an Irish Cup Final ticket.

The Coleraine Facebook page yesterday stated that the price for tickets is £20 for adults and £10 for concessions.

Last season's final saw tickets priced at £15 for adults and £8 concession. The Blues and Bannsiders will clash at Windsor Park on Saturday, May 6 when Coleraine fans will be housed in the South Stand and Kop Stand.

Tickets will go on general sale via the Ticketmaster website at 10am tomorrow but supporters vented their fury at the rising costs of the tickets on social media.

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