Belfast Telegraph

It's not just Crusaders and Linfield in the title race, says Heatley


By Alex Mills

Paul Heatley believes Crusaders are ready for a title assault after their exhilarating 2-1 win over Danske Bank Premiership champions Linfield at Seaview on Tuesday night.

The 30-year-old was at his brilliant best in a night of pure theatre in front of a bumper crowd as the Blues' 27-match domestic unbeaten run hit the buffers.

Roy Carroll also picked the ball out of the net for the first time in league combat this season, beaten by exquisite strikes from Jordan Forsythe and tormentor in chief Heatley.

After failing to beat David Healy's side in six starts last season, the Crues could be forgiven for overindulging in the celebrations.

Heatley, who bagged 24 goals last season, insists the victory can be the platform for another sustained title push - the win fired Stephen Baxter's boys to second place in the league table.

"We scored two great goals but we could have had three or four," said Heatley. "We have the capability of creating and scoring.

"The reality is, we didn't want the gap to get any bigger between Linfield and ourselves, even though it is still early days.

"As long as we look after ourselves, the league table will look after itself. Everyone talks about ourselves and Linfield in terms of title candidates, but you cannot disregard the likes of Coleraine, Cliftonville and other teams around the top six. There are a lot of sides there - Glenavon, Glentoran and Ballymena United. They have all upped their levels over the summer.

"Coleraine and Ballymena had the experience of European football which will help them. I think it's going to be a very close title race, but I don't think that all the attention should surround ourselves and Linfield.

"We have to concentrate on how we play, not only individually but collectively. We have to keep putting in the performances the gaffer wants - and we did that against Linfield."

Heatley's goal was worth the admission money alone, an audacious volley from 22 yards that screamed past Carroll.

"The ball bounced too high so I had to hit it. I had no choice," he said.

"Thankfully it finished in the net. I knew as soon as the ball left my boot where it was going.

"It's seven goals so far. It's not bad at all, but credit has to go to the team. I've got great players around me.

"We've a wonderful squad. The five players on the bench against the Blues - Howard Beverland, David Cushley, Matthew Snoddy, Gavin Whyte and Jamie Glackin - is probably the best five-a-side team you'll ever see.

"The talent the gaffer has to choose from is phenomenal, but it shows where this club's going."

With Ards due to visit Seaview at the weekend, Heatley reckons that the Crues can make Seaview a fortress once again following their surprise defeat by Coleraine a few weeks ago.

"That's four wins on the bounce now after the Coleraine defeat," he added. "We don't often lose at Seaview. Unfortunately, we slip up occasionally.

"It was a matter of picking ourselves up and going again. I think we have done that.

"We'll continue to take one game at a time. But there is no point in taking three points against Linfield and then dropping three against Ards.

"Every team deserves respect. We'll do our homework on them. We'll make sure we are focused mentally and physically. Home form is crucial if we want to build a platform in the league.

"We've been runners-up two or three times and we've lifted the title on two occasions.

"It's our home form that keeps us in contention. We have made Seaview a fortress in the past so hopefully we can continue along those lines."

Belfast Telegraph

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