Crusaders will have to win last three games to seal title, predicts Heatley
Crusaders 1-1 Glenavon
Crusaders winger Paul Heatley feels his side will probably have to win all their remaining games to be sure of holding off a ferocious challenge from Coleraine in the title race.
The Crues dropped two precious points in this 1-1 draw at home to Glenavon, allowing the Bannsiders to move level on points in the race for the Gibson Cup.
Only a superior goal difference of plus 21 in Crusaders' favour separates the sides and that means Stephen Baxter's men know that three wins out of three should be enough to seal a third title in four years.
That's easier said than done, of course, with Linfield and Cliftonville set to visit Seaview and the Crues rounding off their campaign at Ballymena United, where a defeat a year ago torpedoed their title dream.
And for Seaview supremo Baxter, there is the added mystery of the whereabouts of his striker Darren Murray to solve.
The former Warrenpoint Town goal getter was named on the original teamsheet for Saturday's clash but that all changed when he failed to arrive at Seaview.
It was hardly ideal preparation for a massive game, particularly when Jordan Owens and Gavin Whyte were ruled out through injury.
Heatley, who struck the opener, remains confident even though Coleraine have cranked up the pressure.
"There is nothing to take for granted and Coleraine are getting the wins and staying in touch," said Heatley.
"We expect that we will need to win the three remaining games, it's our mindset anyway. If we do that we will win the league. At the start of the season you want to win 38 league games and when you play for this club that is your target.
"We are in a good position, where we want to be. Yes, we were missing a few players but that's not an issue given the quality and strength in depth we have in the squad."
Heatley, whose goal was his 25th of the season, admitted the two dropped points were disappointing but he took heart from his side's performance.
"We had so many chances and dominated much of the game but we lacked a bit of luck to win it," he added. "We are disappointed but we are still top with three games to go.
"You forget about it quickly and turn your attentions to the next game against Linfield here which will be the biggest game of the season for us. Linfield will be a big challenge but we will move on from the disappointment of this one.
"Our first-half performance was probably one of the best we have produced this season, we were dominant and quick, showing great movement.
"We've got to learn from this but we are playing good football.
"To be honest I can't remember last season and you can't reflect on the past. A Saturday game is over by Sunday morning and you have to look at the next challenge. We have a fantastic squad with talented players and we shouldn't be too downhearted."
The visitors were always capable of netting an equaliser and after keeper Jonny Tuffey made a few fantastic saves, they did just that when Andrew Mitchell forced the ball home following a Mark Sykes cross.
"They had a few chances but so did we," said Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton. "We worked their goalkeeper too. You don't expect to be the best team for large periods of the play, they will have the ball and you just hope to get something out of it.
"For the third match in a row a major decision has gone against us as it was a stonewall penalty on Mark Sykes (after a tackle from Colin Coates)."
CRUSADERS: Jensen, Burns, Coates, Beverland, Ward, Lowry, Caddell (Snoddy, 51 mins), Glackin (Cushley, 71 mins), Heatley, Forsythe, Carvill (Bonnar, 82 mins). Unused subs: McClean, McChrystal.
Glenavon: Tuffey, Burns, Doyle (Norton, 43 mins), Daniels, Marshall, Mitchell, Sykes, McGrory, Cooper, Murray (Griffin, 46 mins), Singleton. Unused subs: Kelly, Foley, McCavitt.
Referee: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)
Man of the match: Sean Ward
Match rating: 8/10.