Belfast Telegraph

Cooper hails Linfield spirit but demands more from himself

Linfield 1 Crusaders 1

Point made: Joel Cooper is mobbed by Linfield fans and team-mates alike after his late equaliser
Point made: Joel Cooper is mobbed by Linfield fans and team-mates alike after his late equaliser

By Alex Mills

Linfield goal hero Joel Cooper hailed the gutsy spirit of his team after they nicked a point against an impressive Crusaders side in Saturday's battle of the giants at Windsor Park.

David Healy's misfiring Danske Bank Premiership title holders appeared to be heading for their fifth defeat of the campaign, having been outmuscled and outwitted for most of the game.

The Shore Road boys were sharper to the ball, quicker in the tackle and really should have been out of sight on a totally one-sided first-half. However, they only had Declan Caddell's eighth minute goal to show for their efforts when they trooped off at the break.

As expected, the Blues did up the ante after the restart, but when Stephen Fallon's shot crashed back off the crossbar, before Bastien Hery's spot kick was saved by Gerard Doherty five minutes from time, Healy's team looked certain to lose their top of the table spot.

That was until Cooper produced a moment of magic to salvage the situation. He cut in from the right before unleashing a thunderbolt that dipped and swerved before flashing past Doherty, off the underside of the crossbar.

"I was so frustrated with my own performance because I knew I could have done better over the 90 minutes," said Cooper. "I just decided, I'm going to hit this.

"It was on my left foot and it sat up nicely.

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"I was angry, so it was pure instinct, I wanted to take it out on the ball. It was more relief when it went in because I just didn't think it was going to happen for us.

"We were frustrated in the first-half, we just didn't do enough as a team. Crusaders set up well and they hit us on the break a few times. They certainly looked more dangerous than we did.

"When the gaffer changed things at the break, we were a lot better in the second-half. Once we scored, I thought they were holding on a bit.

"Was it a fair result? Maybe. We hit the woodwork a few times and had a penalty saved, but they were dangerous in the first-half and Rohan (Ferguson) had to make a couple of good saves so, yes, a draw was probably fair."

Cooper admitted the Blues had to show a different side of their game.

He added: "Being a goal down in the second half, we had nothing to lose, so we had a good go at it. We showed a got of guts to come back and draw.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admitted his team were gutted they didn't leave with all three points.

"That's football," he reflected. "If you don't take your chances at the right times, you invite a team on.

"The players are incredibly frustrated. We should have had the game wrapped up at half-time, we should have been out of sight.

"Even though we are disappointed with the result, I thought we were excellent. Our team shape and performance were outstanding.

"We kept Linfield at length. They are a good side, but we hit them hard on the counter-attack and really troubled them. "

LINFIELD: Ferguson, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth (Kearns, 46 mins), Cooper, Stewart (Hery, 72 mins), Lavery, Clarke, Fallon, Mulgrew, Casement (Haughey, 46 mins). Unused subs: Moore, Shevlin, McGivern, Mitchell.

CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Hegarty, Lowry, McGonigle (Cushley, 90 mins), Caddell, Forsythe, O'Rourke, Thompson, Heatley (McGinley, 76 mins), Clarke. Unused subs: O'Neill, J Owens, Ruddy, K Owens, McElroy.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)

Man of the match: Rohan Ferguson

Match rating: 8/10

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