Goal hero Jordan Stewart hails Linfield's watertight defence after win at Crusaders
Crusaders 0 Linfield 1
Jordan Stewart's sweet finish may have landed a psychological blow on Crusaders as the Premiership title race heats up but the match winner was keen to deflect much of the praise onto his side's mean defence.
Little Stewart is standing tall for the Blues but he isn't the only one. Linfield's defence has been awesome this season and not even Crusaders' prolific firepower could find the code to unlock it.
The Gibson Cup holders could be nine points adrift of David Healy's men by tomorrow night - if the Blues can win at Newry City - and on Saturday they had the look of champions in waiting.
This was the classic away performance at Seaview with some incredible defending and a ruthless bit of attacking play from Stewart frustrating the Crues.
And while the players gave everything on the pitch, the supporters of both teams showed their class with an impeccably observed minute's silence in honour of Stephen Baxter's father, George, who passed away last week.
The Crues boss applauded the supporters following the moving gesture and he will not be surprised that fine margins again decided a football match.
The winner was a careless bit of defending from the Crues as Jimmy Callacher's long ball cleared Colin Coates and Stewart darted in ahead of Howard Beverland to find the net with a sublime lob over keeper Ger Doherty.
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That's seven goals in as many league games for the former Glentoran ace but he was quick to salute another outstanding performance from the Blues rearguard.
"The defence has been brilliant and don't get enough credit for what they are doing," said Stewart.
"It's always attacking players who get the praise but our defence has conceded the fewest goals all season and eight clean sheets in nine games speaks volumes. If we can keep doing that it's the kind of form that wins trophies.
"The ball just came over the top and I thought I could be offside and no one really went for it. I nipped around the defender and luckily the keeper came off his line and I was able to lift the ball over him and into the net.
"I saw him coming and then he stopped. Everything happened so quickly but what mattered is I scored and it won us the game."
Crusaders did have a few chances but Paul Heatley missed the target in the first half and after the break Ross Clarke forced keeper Roy Carroll to make a smart save.
But the Blues were dangerous going forward too and could rely on their backline to withstand strong pressure coming from the home side.
"It was a massive three points for us and now we have the opportunity to go nine points clear of them if we can beat Newry on Tuesday," added Stewart.
"We will go there and try to win. Crusaders are always the big rivals and that's not taking anything away from Ballymena United who are flying.
"You are always wary of a team like Crusaders who know how to win leagues.
"We are taking nothing for granted as we know all good runs come to an end at some point but we have to make sure we keep the momentum going. We are in two cup finals, still in the Irish Cup and top of the league so we have a lot of positives to take and hopefully we can drive on to win silverware.
"The run has been phenomenal but you always take a step back and say we haven't achieved anything yet. The lads are enjoying their football."
Crues assistant boss Jeff Spiers reflected: "They are a very good team with a system that is working for them.
"We won't be giving up the battle.
"It's just three points and you can get that against any team any week. Linfield are in the driving seat, where we want to be and we have to go on another mini run.
"We won seven in a row and we want to do that again."
CRUSADERS: G Doherty, Burns, Beverland (Patterson, 84 mins), Coates, Lowry (Ronan Hale, 46 mins), Cushley (Clarke, 46 mins), Caddell, Ruddy, J Owens, Heatley, Rory Hale. Unused subs: O'Neill, Ward, Forsythe, Snoddy.
Linfield: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher (Stafford, 56 mins), Waterworth, Cooper, Stewart, Millar, Fallon, Mulgrew, Quinn, Casement. Unused subs: Deane, O'Connor, Clarke, Kearns, McClean, Mitchell.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)
Man of the match: Josh Robinson
Match rating: 7/10.