Belfast Telegraph

Blues are in title heaven: Stewart

Linfield 0-0 Crusaders

Winning feeling: Jordan Stewart celebrates with Linfield manager David Healy
Winning feeling: Jordan Stewart celebrates with Linfield manager David Healy

By Alex Mills

Jordan Stewart has gone from zero to hero - and admits there is no better feeling.

Healy's Linfield got the point required to secure the Danske Bank Premiership crown for the second time in three seasons and dethroned out-going champions Crusaders at the same time.

The fans turned up at Windsor Park expecting a spectacle between the Irish League's two heavyweights. They were sadly disappointed. It was a dour 90 minutes, littered with wayward passes and niggly tackles.

Although Healy's boys had a vastly superior goal difference, they still needed that point to officially get them over the finish line.

Stewart, who was on the transfer list earlier in the season, did have the chance to turn it into a champagne performance, but the 23-year-old fluffed his lines when it mattered, having his second-half spot kick saved by Gerard Doherty.

In fact, the ex-Derry City man produced the game's outstanding moment when he somehow flipped a Ryan McGivern effort over the crossbar.

It hardly mattered. Stewart and his team-mates celebrated with the fans at the finish.

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The table doesn't lie. Linfield have been massively consistent from day one, built on the meanest defence in the league. They've conceded merely 21 goals in 35 starts, which is a phenomenal achievement.

It just could be the start of something special for Stewart and his colleagues.

"Football is a funny game," he said. "I was on the transfer list at the start of the campaign and things were not going my way, but now I'm a title winner.

"It doesn't get much better than that. It has turned out to be a great season for me.

"Hopefully, it is the start of things to come for not only me personally, but for the club and the rest of the boys as well."

The former Swindon Town man admitted the competition for places is the driving force behind the Blues' success.

Stewart added: "The gaffer pushes us a lot, he always wants us to be better.

"I worked extremely hard to get back into the team. Thankfully, I can say I played my part in winning the title."

And, on his penalty miss, he added: "I was so disappointed. It was the chance for me to possibly score the winner to win us the league, but it wasn't to be. I hit the penalty pretty well and the goalkeeper made a good save. For me, if you miss from the spot, it's always a bad penalty.

"Thankfully, it didn't ruin the occasion because we've won the league and there is no getter feeling.

"It was a game we probably should have won, but a point was all what was needed to get us over the line. We are now officially league champions. It's been an amazing season.

"Some people would have preferred for the presentation to take place right away, but we'll get the silverware in due course.

"The boys have worked tremendously hard from day one this season and we've now got the rewards. We'll enjoy it next week when it happens."

Crusaders chief Stephen Baxter was the first to congratulate Blues boss David Healy on his team's success on the final blast of referee Ian McNabb's whistle.

"Linfield have been the best team in the country this season," he said. "They showed a consistency that's required to win a league title. It was a consistency we showed over the past few years.

"But we've lost 10 games in this title race and don't deserve to be anywhere near it. I don't think we've lost 10 combined in the previous three years.

"The Linfield team this season was built on a solid goalkeeper and back four and then they had the flair players at the top end of the park that would hurt any team.

"They had the spark to win games from nothing and you need that if you want to challenge at the top, so they are worthy champions.

"I congratulated David straight after the game on his team's success."

LINFIELD: Deane, Casement, Callacher, McGivern, Quinn, Stewart, A Mitchell (Fallon, 59 mins), Mulgrew, Kearns (Cervenka, 85 mins), Cooper (Millar, 75 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: C Mitchell, Stafford, M Clarke, McClean.

CRUSADERS: G Doherty, Ward, Beverland, Coates (Forsythe, 74 mins), Ruddy, R Clarke, Lowry, Caddell, Heatley, Cushley (J Owens, 75 mins), Ronan Hale. Unused subs: H Doherty, K Owens, Thompson, Patterson, Rory Hale.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)

Man of the match: Jimmy Callacher

Match rating: 5/10

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