Crusaders are determined to make up for title collapse: Heatley
Hat-trick hero Paul Heatley fired Crusaders two points ahead of title rivals Coleraine in the race for the Danske Bank Premiership in a 4-1 victory at Warrenpoint last night in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Crues now face Coleraine in a potential title decider on Easter Tuesday as the league top-bottom split was completed with Ballymena United making the top six at Glentoran's expense with a 2-0 win over Ballinamallard.
Heatley later insisted Crusaders have learned from last season's disappointment of losing the title to Linfield in the final furlong of the season and are firmly focussed on bringing it back to Seaview.
"You always want to put right what you did wrong and every single player in that dressing room is feeling the same way. It's important not to forget that we won two in a row. Maybe the pressure got to us last season, but winning three in a row isn't just like winning one," said Heatley of last season's collapse.
"We've restructured, we've gone again and picked up ourselves up. Things are certainly going according to plan, but it's still just one game at time and our attentions will now turn to Coleraine. We have to make sure we focus right and prepare well."
Heatley, now on 18 league goals, says the Crues return to the top puts the pressure on the Bannsiders.
Heatley said of the Coleraine challenge: “It’s a bit bigger for them now. We sit two clear like we always have been and we plan on keeping it that way. I’m sure that they’ll come and throw the kitchen sink at us but we’ll get back on the training pitch and focus on what we’re going to do.
“It’s always been in our hands and as long as it is then nothing else really matters because it’s then down to us to put in the performances and get the right results. Nothing else affects us.”
David Jeffrey, meanwhile, heaped praise on his Ballymena United players after they clinched the final place in the top six of the Danske Bank Premiership.
A 2-0 win over Ballinamallard was United’s third on the spin and was enough to see the Sky Blues leapfrog Glentoran into sixth spot before the split.
“That was definitely one of our objectives for the season,” said Jeffrey. “We want to try and mirror clubs who have gone on a journey — Glenavon, Crusaders, Cliftonville and, more latterly, Coleraine.
“This year has been really tough second time around. We knew there would be an element of second season syndrome, what we had never counted on was the number of injuries that we’ve had, and it’s still not going away because we lost Steven McCullough and Johnny Flynn tonight.
“We were really reeling after the defeat against Warrenpoint but the one positive was that it was still in our hands — we knew that if we won our three games, we would be in the top six.
“That was a ginormous effort and the players deserve a great deal of credit.
“To get ourselves into the top six of such a tough, tough league, Bryan (McLoughlin) and I are really proud of them.”
Ballinamallard boss Harry McConkey said his side paid a heavy price for a slow start.
“Our plan was to stay in the game and grow into the game as we had done in the last two games,” he said.
“But we had players coming from Sligo and Dublin and all over the place and truthfully, in the warm-up, I felt we were a wee bit flat and subdued.”