Belfast Telegraph

Hot Heatley hails efforts of Crusaders' ice-cool defenders

 

By Adrian Rutherford

They may be Irish League football's most lethal attacking force but Paul Heatley says it is time Crusaders' defenders got more credit.

The Crues are the Danske Bank Premiership's top scorers, hitting 47 goals so far this term.

They have netted 11 times in recent days, following up a 7-1 hammering of Carrick last Saturday with a 4-0 win at Dungannon Swifts.

But while their stylish attacking play is drawing plenty of plaudits, Heatley believes their defensive efforts are going under the radar.

After Tuesday night's win at Stangmore Park, boss Stephen Baxter was quick to single out the clean sheet for special praise.

And Heatley said: "We are scoring goals and winning games, but that all starts from the defence.

"It's not just about the players scoring the goals or our attacking style, without such a solid defence we wouldn't be able to create the opportunities we have done.

"Against Dungannon we were able to push up high, keep them in their own half and play the ball in an attacking style. A lot of credit goes to our defenders in the last few weeks - they have been absolutely instrumental.

"Dungannon had very few chances - I think they had one opportunity in the first half - and it shows the stability we have at the back.

"The back five this season in particular have been superb."

The Crues defence will be tested when they face leaders Coleraine in the match of the weekend locally.

The Bannsiders lost for the first time against Linfield last Saturday, but bounced back to beat Ards 4-1 on Tuesday night.

A win for Oran Kearney's side would open up a nine-point gap between the sides.

The Crues, however, are on a nine-game winning run in all competitions. It should make for a cracking game, but Heatley is refusing to place too much emphasis on one fixture.

"It's one game, it's three points, that's all it is - just like Tuesday night at Dungannon," he said.

"We'll certainly not get caught up in the moment.

"Yes, it's a big game, as every game is for us at the moment. We're in good form and we'll look forward to it.

"It's an important game, we want to get the three points, but we can't focus too much on just one game."

Crusaders showed all of their attacking qualities against Dungannon.

Gavin Whyte was outstanding, netting twice, with Rodney Brown and David Cushley also on the scoresheet.

Heatley felt it was a big three points.

"It's a tough place to come on a cold Tuesday night and the conditions were tough, but we played to our strengths," Heatley added.

"We put in a good display, especially in the first half. We got the ball out wide, knocked it about really well, and scored four good goals."

Coleraine, who boast the best defensive record in the league, will be a very different challenge.

Yet Heatley believes the Crues are capable of meeting whatever comes their way.

"We are learning to adapt against different teams," he added. "You come up against very different tactics and styles and you have to just adapt and use your strengths and pull together.

"Sometimes it's really difficult because some teams sit back and play five at the back, or six at the back.

"You just have to be patient and work on finding the little gaps and recently we've been doing that really well."

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