Coleraine aren't going away in Premier League title race, says hero McCauley
Linfield 2 Coleraine 2
Goal hero Darren McCauley was simply poetry in motion at Windsor Park on Saturday.
The big midfielder revived his team's Danske Bank Premiership title ambitions by firing home a glorious second half double, just when the Bannsiders looked to be on the ropes against a Linfield team that performed with purpose and menace in an absorbing opening 45 minutes.
Achille Campion and Kurtis Byrne were both on the mark as the Blues eyed up their second league win over Oran Kearney's team this season - their only defeat of the campaign.
And, only for the heroics of goalkeeper Chris Johns, who performed with distinction when he team were under the cosh, David Healy's side could well have been out of sight at half-time.
Whatever Kearney put in in his team's cuppa during the interval, it worked. He withdrew the ineffective Jamie McGonigle and Eoin Bradley, replacing them with Ian Parkhill and Aaron Burns - another master stroke.
Suddenly the Bannsiders were a different beast. McCauley took up the mantle by firing home a spot kick after Parkhill had been flattened by a needless challenge by Roy Carroll.
Then, just minutes later, Stephen Dooley's pass sent the midfielder hurtling through the middle, totally unmarked, and the outcome was inevitable.
With Crusaders being held by rivals Cliftonville in the north Belfast derby at Seaview, it means the title race will be decided on the final day of the campaign next week - and McCauley can't wait to board the bus for his team's trip to face Glenavon at Mourneview Park.
"I keep telling everyone, Coleraine are not going to go away," he said. "I'm sure Crusaders were hoping we were beaten at Windsor and I'm sure they'll be thinking 'they are not going away' - and we won't. Our performance suggested we deserved to be at the top along with them.
"Linfield were consistent and persistent last season and that's what won them the title. I think we have showed we also have that in our locker.
"We have consistency, and that plays a part in the mentality we have. We are going to Glenavon next week, ready to give our all for the club and for the town of Coleraine. I can't wait."
McCauley admitted the Bannsiders struggled to live with Linfield in that dramatic first half.
"We were not good enough," he added. "Our work rate and our quality just wasn't there. After the break, we got the ball down and played a bit more football. We have to change our game when we come here (to Windsor). We can't play the way we play at home because the pitch is so big... we just can't ping the ball long.
"At half-time we were down but the gaffer said we now have nothing to lose and told us to keep going. The boss told us we had 45 minutes to conjure up something - thankfully we did."
McCauley admitted there was a lot of pressure on him when he jogged up to hit the penalty kick, adding: "There seemed to be a lot of time because Linfield made a double substitution. I had to keep my composure and focus on the job. I knew if I scored, we were back in it.
"For the second one, I just seen the space opening up. To be honest, when I received the pass, I thought I may have been offside, but I looked across and there was no flag.
"Again, it was a case of keeping my head. I spotted Roy coming out and stepping to his right a little bit, so I just lifted it around him and thankfully it went in.
Although it has been a season to forget for Linfield, manager David Healy believes his boys can end on a high.
"This club certainly doesn't want to be delving around the lottery of the European play-offs, but hopefully the players can reap a little reward for their efforts," he said
"The frustrating thing for me is I know how good we can be. We should have been out of sight at half-time. It's happened to us so many times."
LINFIELD: R Carroll, Stafford, Robinson, Haughey, Callacher, Millar, Byrne, Clarke, Garrett, Campion (Rooney, 74 mins), Strain (Fallon, 74 mins).
Unused subs: Crowe, Casement, A Carroll.
COLERAINE: Johns, Kane (Mullen, 61 mins), Harkin, McCauley, Smith, Bradley (Burns, 46 mins), McConaghie, O'Donnell, Traynor, McGonigle (Parkhill, 46 mins), Dooley.
Unused subs: Douglas, Lyons.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Darren McCauley
Match rating: 9/10