Hale stunner sees Crues beat Linfield at Seaview
Crusaders 1 Linfield 0
Take a bow Rory Hale. What a performance from the Crusaders number 10.
Not only did he deliver a masterclass in negating the threat of Linfield dangerman Bastien Hery, he scored a stunning winning goal at Seaview in this battle of the Irish League heavyweights.
Hale took advantage of a mistake from Kirk Millar to find the net from 20 yards early in the second half sending table topping Crusaders ten points clear of the champions.
Linfield have three games in hand but this was a significant result in what promises to be a classic race to the title between these two teams.
How Crues boss Stephen Baxter enjoyed the victory. Tactically his side were spot on while David Healy’s creative forces Hery, Shayne Lavery and Joel Cooper were largely ineffective.
Both sides were unchanged from last weekend when they flexed their muscles hammering Glentoran and Glenavon respectively.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause for Crues legend Norman Pavis, who sadly passed away earlier this week.
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When these two sides meet these days there is always that big game tension in the air. No wonder. Between them the Crues and Blues have won the league title for the past five seasons.
Last term they had some spectacular battles with Baxter’s boys coming out on top in knockout competitions and Healy’s side the dominant force in the league.
For the first meeting this season it was a sell-out with the Shore Road venue packed. Early on Crues captain Jordan Owens was prominent in both boxes clearing danger in his own and then seeing his effort blocked by Jimmy Callacher after fine approach play from Ross Clarke.
An intriguing feature in the opening quarter, which continued throughout, was the midfield battle between Hery and Hale with the Crusaders player terrier like in his desire to halt the Frenchman influencing the contest. Jamie Mulgrew’s battle with Declan Caddell was another one to watch.
In a stop start highly intense first period chances were few and far between – Joel Cooper headed wide and at the other end Billy Joe Burns, playing at left-back, fired into the side netting.
The flow of the game wasn’t helped by a number of cautions with home players Owens, Chris Hegarty and Clarke booked for the home side and Niall Quinn yellow carded for the visitors.
It was a match, while compelling due to its importance, needing some magic to increase the excitement levels. Hale provided it.
When Millar lost possession, from outside the box Hale curled a beauty over Linfield goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson into the net with his right foot. It was a fantastic strike by a player who had displayed plenty of perspiration keeping Hery quiet and then showed his inspirational side with a special goal to break the deadlock.
Moments later Shayne Lavery, in a rare moment of danger, did well to cross for Cooper who was blocked out by the hard working Jordan Forsythe.
Just before the hour Ferguson prevented the Blues going two down with a fine save to deny the onrushing Clarke who had been sent clear by the brilliance of Paul Heatley.
Confidence was oozing through the Crues’ side illustrated by Philip Lowry’s audacious effort from 40 yards drifting wide with Ferguson off his line.
The outstanding Hale was forced off injured on 68 minutes receiving a deserved standing ovation from his own fans for a superb performance. Gary Thompson replaced him and immediately set about doing a job on Hery, who was substituted late in the fray.
The shape and discipline of Baxter’s team was hugely impressive limiting Linfield’s attacking threat. Their best chance arrived in the 95th minute when the ball broke to substitute Daniel Reynolds whose shot was well saved by Gerard Doherty.
The final whistle blew shortly after signalling a deserved success for the Crues.
CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Hegarty, Beverland, Lowry, Hale (Thompson 68), Caddell, Forsythe, Owens, Heatley (McElroy 90), Clarke (Ruddy 90). Subs not used: O’Neill, Ward, McGonigle, Cushley.
LINFIELD: Ferguson, Stafford, Callacher, Cooper (Reynolds 88), Millar, Lavery, Clarke (Waterworth 75), Fallon, Hery (Shevlin 84), Mulgrew, Quinn. Subs not used: Deane, Larkin, McGivern, Mitchell.
Referee: Arnold Maguire (Maguiresbridge)
Man of the match: Rory Hale (Linfield)
Match rating: 7 out of 10
Belfast Telegraph Digital