Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' clean sheets can provide strong foundations for a title challenge: Burns

Crusaders 3 Dungannon Sw 0

Watching brief: Billy Joe Burns sticks close to Dungannon’s Michael Carvill
Watching brief: Billy Joe Burns sticks close to Dungannon’s Michael Carvill
Billy Joe Burns strikes to put Crusaders 2-0 up

By Graham Luney

Crusaders may boast significant firepower this season, with Paul McElroy added to manager Stephen Baxter's attacking options, but Billy Joe Burns feels a title challenge will be sustained by clean sheets.

Four shut-outs in five games has allowed the forwards to weave their magic and it's a solid foundation that augurs well for the long campaign ahead.

There are so many goal threats within a Crues team, even among the backline, and Burns delivered a sublime finish to add to Philip Lowry's double against Dungannon Swifts.

The 3-0 victory was a comfortable - bordering on ruthless - display and it fired the north Belfast side three points clear at the top of the Premiership.

McElroy's three-year deal makes him the third player to leave Stangmore for Seaview this summer with Jarlaith O'Rourke and Chris Hegarty contributing to their former employers' downfall on Saturday.

McElroy's two big challenges will be forcing his way into the starting line-up and then repaying the faith shown in him by Baxter.

Former Linfield ace Burns says he's confident the Irish Cup winners will continue to blow away teams if they can remain cool at the back.

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"There's goals all round the team and every little bit helps," said Burns. "Paul will be welcomed, treated like the rest of us and hopefully he can come in and do the business.

"When you have Jordan Owens, Jamie McGonigle, Paul Heatley and David Cushley - the list goes on - we are always confident we can score and I think this season we are really concentrating on clean sheets.

"That's what let us down last year, we let in too many stupid, preventable goals.

"This season we have four out of five clean sheets and we are confident of winning games with a clean sheet. There were changes around the club last season and the two tankings in Europe didn't help our confidence. It was a long year but we look fresher now and ready to go.

"We are expected to win home games but it's tough getting points on your travels whether it's Windsor or Warrenpoint. Every game is tough and it's up to us to be consistent.

"Teams are set up well and there's quality across the league.

"The cups are bonuses but the league title is the trophy we are all after."

Burns' first half strike, to make it 2-0, was a finish Baxter would have been proud of in his playing days.

"To be fair, there was a chance just before it I didn't get on the end of so I took a gamble and went into that area, fortunately the ball came my way and I hit it nicely," he added. "Nine times out of 10, I might sky it over the bar but I kept my head down and thankfully it went in."

Baxter was thrilled to see Lowry maintain his sparkling form but he was even more pleased with the collective effort.

"Philip has had a number of injuries here but he has had a great pre-season and quality is quality," he said. "You just need to give players like Philip the right environment to thrive in. Other players have had a brilliant pre-season and they have been outstanding in their preparation. Goalscorers catch the eye a little bit, Paul Heatley and Ross Clarke are among the players on fire at the moment."

Swifts chief Kris Lindsay, who is clearly disappointed to lose a player of McElroy's quality, accepted his men were second best.

"You love wining football matches but you learn more about players and teams from your defeats," he said.

"It's important the players react in the right way and learn from this. We will train on Monday and get ready for Coleraine.

"Kris Lowe had a good chance in the first-half which might have lifted us but the goals we conceded were poor. Once it goes 3-0, the Crues are in control and Sam Johnston makes a few good saves to keep the score down."

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Hegarty, Coates, Lowry, Hale, Cushley (Caddell, 80 mins), O'Rourke, Thompson (McGonigle, 71 mins), Heatley (Robinson, 81 mins), Clarke. Unused subs: Shields, Beverland, Ward, Ruddy.

DUNGANNON SWIFTS: Johnston, Redman, Wilson, King, Clucas, Smyth, Patton (Gallagher, 65 mins), Lowe, Carvill (Campbell, 70 mins), McGuinness (Harwood, 67 mins), Waide. Unused subs: Byrne, Taylor, McGinty, Devlin.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).

Man of the Match: Philip Lowry

Match Rating: 7/10

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