Lyons' 'astounding' return has lifted Coleraine, says Oran Kearney
Coleraine 1-1 Crusaders
Coleraine might have stretched their lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership to six points with Saturday's home draw against Crusaders, but the big celebration was Brad Lyons' return from injury.
The midfielder - who suffered a double cheekbone fracture against Linfield in October - made his comeback from the bench and played a big role in Jamie McGonigle's opener on 66 minutes.
Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney admitted the 20-year-old's return is a 'big lift' ahead of the busy festive fixture schedule.
"It is such a massive boost to have a player of his quality back fit and playing," Kearney said. "The magnitude of his injury and for him to be back on a pitch six weeks later is astounding. I was wiping out most of December for him as well to be honest.
"I'm not sure how long he'll have to wear the mask for, it might be for the foreseeable future, but he's very comfortable and happy with it.
"I'm delighted for Brad because it has been a tough few weeks for him. The reception he got from the fans when the substitute board came out was brilliant. This has given everyone a really big lift."
The Bannsiders' lead didn't last long as former Showgrounds favourite Howard Beverland headed home to give Crusaders a deserved share of the spoils on 78 minutes.
The result means that Stephen Baxter's side now remain unbeaten in their last 10 matches and move up to second in the table.
Baxter labelled his players as 'outstanding' for their performance and believes they should have left with all three points.
"We had all the pressure in the game and created three clear-cut chances in the first half," he said. "There were two shots that went inches by the post in the second half.
"I felt we were right on top and their goal came against the run of play. Our performance was outstanding and I praise every single member of our team because they were strong. Any football person watching that today will know Crusaders were the dominant team."
Baxter also revealed that injury forced influential skipper Colin Coates to sit Saturday's game out.
"Colin phoned me at 8am saying he had pulled his back out," he explained. "When that happens, it is usually a two or three week recovery."
Both sides had late chances to take all three points as home defender Stephen O'Donnell headed over the bar, before the in-form Gavin Whyte fizzed a shot inches by the far post in stoppage time.
Baxter, meanwhile, believes the exciting title charge involving his side, the Bannsiders, Glenavon, Linfield and Cliftonville can only be a positive for the game.
"The title race is absolutely brilliant for Irish League football," he said. "There is not much separating them all and I hope that continues for the league. Everybody is taking points off each other and it makes for an exciting second half of the season."
COLERAINE: Johns, Mullan (Whiteside, 90 mins), Harkin, McCauley, Smith, Carson, McConaghie, O'Donnell, Parkhill (Lyons, 56 mins), Traynor, McGonigle. Unused subs: Douglas, Ogilby, McCready.
CRUSADERS: Jensen, Burns, McChrystal, Beverland, Ward, Caddell, Forsythe (Cushley, 77 mins) Owens, Heatley (Glackin, 81 mins), Whyte, Brown. Unused subs: McClean, Nimick, Kerr.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)
Man of the match: Mark McChrystal
Match rating: 7/10