Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders will focus on their own job in title race but I wish Linfield well for Europe: Heatley

Cliftonville 0 Crusaders 2

Paul Heatley
Paul Heatley
Tight battle: Crusaders’ Philip Lowry comes under the attention of Cliftonville ace Liam Bagnall

By Conor McLaughlin

Paul Heatley says every club in the Danske Bank Premiership would love to have the fixture pile-up that awaits Linfield in the coming weeks - but was rather more coy when it came to asserting what it might mean for Crusaders' title prospects.

Saturday's north Belfast derby defeat of Cliftonville at Solitude - where Heatley sealed the points after Jordan Owens' opener - maintained the Crues' perfect start to the season, with nine points from three games and not a single goal conceded in the process.

Linfield's European exploits have, meanwhile, already left them playing catch-up on the fixtures front, with next weekend's home game against Warrenpoint Town also set for rearrangement, along with a League Cup trip to Ballinamallard.

One way or the other, David Healy's side will have a big gap to plug on Crusaders - but Heatley insists that is out of the Seaview side's control.

"We have always just looked after ourselves and tried to focus on our own performances and results," he said.

"Getting our own points on the board is the only thing we can really take care of. What other teams are doing or what matches they're playing is nothing to do with us.

"Linfield have done really well in Europe and I think every other team in the league would love to have the experiences they're having at the minute. They're doing the league proud and deserve a lot of credit for that."

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Quizzed on how beneficial the Blues' progress to the Europa League group stages - and the knock-on effect of further fixture upheaval - would be to Crusaders, Heatley simply added: "I hope they do make it through because it would be such a great story for the Irish League."

It's almost as though gracefully dodging tricky challenges comes as second nature to the fleet-footed winger.

The 32-year-old's 73rd-minute finish killed off any threat of a Cliftonville comeback on Saturday after Owens' header early in the second half had set the Crues on their way.

Home boss Paddy McLaughlin was disappointed by his team's failure to truly exert their authority on the game, but was left just as frustrated by the fashion they conceded goals in.

"For the first goal, I thought it was a foul on the keeper at the time and, having seen the video back, I still think it's a foul," he said.

"I know I would say that and I know everybody will have their opinion on it, but the striker's put his arm across the keeper as he's jumped for the ball. It's Brushy I feel sorry for the most because he's made two top-class saves before that and ended up with no reward for it.

"I'm disappointed that the referee and linesman have allowed that goal to stand and I think, for a while afterwards, we were a bit distracted and concerned with arguing with the officials.

"It took us a few minutes to get that out of our heads and we had plenty of the ball in attacking areas but couldn't do enough to really work Crusaders' defence or keeper.

"For the second goal, I don't think that Crusaders have any intention of trying to score - they're happy to just be in possession - but the way we stood off and let them open us up isn't acceptable. We need to learn from that."

CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McDermott, Ives, Breen, Harkin (C Curran, 55 mins), R Curran, R Donnelly, Bagnall (Maguire, 74 mins), Doherty, Gormley, Gorman. Unused subs: Dunne, Foster, Wilson, A Donnelly, Rocks.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Hegarty, Coates, Lowry, Hale (Caddell, 80 mins), Forsythe, Ruddy, Owens (McGonigle, 80 mins), Heatley, Clarke. Unused subs: Doherty, Beverland, Ward, Thompson.

Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare)

Man of the Match: Chris Hegarty

Match Rating: 7/10

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