Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders in control in title race


By Graham Luney

It's advantage Crusaders in the race to be crowned Danske Bank Premiership champions but Coleraine are promising a fight to the finish after a tense 1-1 draw at Seaview last night.

The Crues fought back from a goal down in a game billed as a potential title decider to retain their two-point lead over the Bannsiders with only four games remaining.

Jamie McGonigle shot the visitors into a second-half lead from the penalty spot but substitute David Cushley netted Crusaders' 100th league goal of the season in the 84th minute.

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney accepts Crues still have the edge in a thrilling title sprint but he insists his side, who are now unbeaten in 23 games, are still very much in the hunt.

"When you go into the last 10 minutes in a game of this magnitude with a 1-0 lead, it's perhaps disappointing we didn't see it out," said Kearney. "So we are a little disappointed we didn't leave with all three points.

"Their goal was probably the only time we didn't defend a set-piece properly. We knew that's what Crusaders are good at. They are always dangerous from set plays.

"But it was a brilliant game, just what I expected. For our lads, it was another great experience and another important learning curve to perform in such a hostile environment.

"To a man, we were brilliant.My message to them now is that there is a huge amount of football left. We are trying to chase down a league title, so we don't expect it to be handed to us. Sometimes you have to go through the mill and do it the ugly way.

"It's all about mentality at this stage, but we are prepared to take it right to the wire.

"We are all very upbeat and are looking forward to the next four games."

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter was relieved to pocket a precious point, saying: "There are still four massive games of football left - they could all go either way," he said.

Baxter shrugged off the personal plaudits as Cushley came up with the goods merely 60 seconds after replacing Jordan Owens.

"Cushley has got that about him," said Baxter. "A lot of his goals come quickly when he gets onto the pitch.

"He's inclined to get shots away when he can. I knew he would get chances within the first five minutes of being introduced. I felt the goal was always coming.

"I told the boys not to panic because we had a good 15 minutes left to get the equaliser and maybe even a winner.

"We had all the big chances in the second half and are a little bit disappointed we didn't get over the line, but the reality is when you are 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go, you'd take a draw all day long.

"There wasn't enough football played - the technical players didn't really get on the ball.

"It was a night for stick or twist. There were a couple of big chances for either side. I would like to see the incident that led to the penalty kick. I thought their man (Eoin Bradley) may have been offside.

"We had to dig deep when the penalty went in. I thought we were the better team in the second half."

Baxter insists his boys will adopt a one-game-at-a-time policy over the next four matches.

He added: "There are still four massive games of football left - they could all go either way.

"We have to keep preparing and do what we have been doing. If they give that effort and commitment in the remaining four games, I'll be happy. I couldn't ask an awful lot more of them.

"If their best is good enough, we'll see where it takes us.

"At this moment in time, we have only a two-point lead, so there is a long way to go."

Cushley said: "I think the goal was my second touch!

"I was in the right place at the right time to get the equaliser and it keeps us out in front.

"Hopefully, we can push on and get the wins we need.

"Coleraine are a great team and we have to keep plugging away.

"There is little to choose between the teams.

"It was a dogfight and no one wanted to lose it. I felt a draw was a fair result."

Belfast Telegraph

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