Oran Kearney predicts open title race as Coleraine close in on leaders Crusaders
Coleraine 4 Crusaders 2
Oran Kearney says Coleraine had to "dig deep" to out-muscle Crusaders and ensure they ended the day as the Danske Bank Premiership's sole remaining unbeaten side.
After falling behind to an early goal from former Bannsiders favourite Jamie McGonigle, Kearney's men roared into a 4-1 lead courtesy of Ben Doherty and a Jordan Owens own goal ahead of second-half strikes from Eoin 'Skinner' Bradley and Jamie Glackin.
The Crues - who hadn't lost a league game this season prior to visiting the Showgrounds - pulled one back courtesy of defender Chris Hegarty but were unable to deny Coleraine.
"We had to dig deep today," said a proud Kearney afterwards.
"Being 2-1 up is nice but I thought the big thing for us was 15 or 20 minutes after the break because number one, we came out and give them nothing to get back into the game; and number two is that Skinner's free-kick was outstanding and Jamie gets his goal that his overall performance deserved.
"The way we got about that first 20 minutes of the second-half was super and it gave us something to hold on to.
"Crusaders are a top side and they were throwing on player after player and I was wondering where they were coming from.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"The quality of their squad is absolutely phenomenal and I think when you go 1-0 down after two minutes, with the front four they have on the pitch, you think this could be a long day.
"Credit to our lads, I think that performance was coming and I don't think we've had the rub of the green this season in relation to other bits and pieces.
"We've picked up four red cards already and dropped points along the way, partly us to blame and partly external sources, so today we were adamant that we wanted a big day here and a big performance here.
"We've seen a few extra people through the gate as well which was nice to send them all home happy."
The victory leaves the Bannsiders just three points behind Crusaders at the top of the table, with Kearney adding: "I don't see any team running away with the league.
"I just see it being the strangest season ever and there could be six teams in the mix by January time.
"There is so much quality in the league that it's hard to say if anyone will make the charge and, for us, we are frustrated with some of the points we have dropped this year, but it's important on days like this, we pick up good results."
The Crues got off to a great start as McGonigle scored on his return to the Ballycastle Road after three minutes, but the lead didn't last long as Doherty equalised eight minutes later when he pounced on hesitant defending by the visitors.
On the half hour mark, the Bannsiders would edge ahead as Stephen Lowry's shot was turned into his own net by Crusaders striker Owens.
In a frantic first-half, Paul Heatley would go close on several occasions, including one that forced Coleraine stopper Chris Johns into a stunning save from the winger's diving header.
The home side would make a strong start to the second-half and stretched their lead to 4-1 through Bradley's free-kick and Glackin's well-taken effort.
On 70 minutes, Hegarty reduced the arrears but there was never any suggestion of the goal sparking a comeback for Stephen Baxter's men.
"The swirling, windy conditions were difficult but we should have taken some chances in the first half," said the Crues chief.
"We probably had four or five clear-cut chances which we didn't get into the net.
"I think if you make the errors which we made today then you don't deserve to win a football match and that's it.
"There were some crazy errors from us in the second-half, so you lose a game of football because you make bad errors.
"You give yourself a mountain to climb. You look at the goals, and they are really c**p goals."
COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Canning, Jarvis, Doherty, Lowry, Bradley, Carson, McConaghie, Glackin (Maciulaitis, 84 mins), Traynor (Parkhill, 64 mins). Unused subs: Gallagher, Douglas, Gawne, McGuckin, Whiteside.
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Hegarty, Lowry, Ward, McGonigle (Caddell, 62 mins), Forsythe, Ruddy (Cushley, 62 mins), Owens, Heatley, Clarke (McElroy, 65 mins). Unused subs: Doherty, Beverland, Hale, Thompson.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the Match: Stephen Lowry
Match Rating: 8/10