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World Cup 2018

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Linfield must shatter Crusaders' bid for revenge, says Healy

By Graham Luney

Linfield boss David Healy has admitted Crusaders will be thirsty for revenge in the Danske Bank Premiership heavyweight battle at Seaview tonight (7.45pm).

The Crues' dream of landing three titles in a row was shattered in agonising fashion at the end of last season as Linfield staged a stunning late run to win their first championship since 2012.

Stephen Baxter's men had led the whole way until they fell at the final hurdle, and in their six clashes with the Blues last season they failed to register a victory and only scored two goals.

Linfield conquered them in the final of the County Antrim Shield and also knocked the north Belfast side out of the Irish Cup. Two big Premiership wins over their title rivals since January also laid the platform for a remarkable comeback Gibson Cup success.

Fast forward to this campaign and the Crues remain haunted about the one that slipped away. They also know that defeat tonight would leave them six points adrift of Linfield and Coleraine. While there is plenty of time to reduce that deficit, the Shore Road side do not want to be playing catch-up.

Baxter's side have already lost at home to Coleraine this campaign and another defeat against a major rival would represent a significant blow.

It was the Crues' inability to rise to the challenge against the Blues last season that was their downfall and they will need to reverse that tide if they want to clinch silverware this time round. Healy, whose side overcame Glentoran at Windsor Park on Saturday, says he believes the Crues will feel they have a point to prove.

"Our perfect record will be put to the test, I expect they will fancy a bit of revenge because they didn't win last year," said the Blues boss. "Coleraine are flying, but I said at the start of the season whoever finishes above Crusaders at the end of the season will win the league.

"Last year we beat them in the County Antrim Shield final, knocked them out of the Irish Cup, beat them twice in the league from January. People say Crusaders lost this but we won it. Anything we won last season we put Crusaders out of, including the league. If we come out of there with a result we will have done alright.

"This is a massive game, but will not affect where the title will go this early in the season. Crusaders are a good side and they have a manager who I respect enormously for what they have achieved from where they were a number of years ago.

"We will give them huge respect, they are at home and on fire at the minute, we must be ready for that."

Healy admitted his players looked "leggy" during the tense 1-0 win over the Glens and that's hardly surprising given the Blues' fixture programme which has included IRN-BRU Cup commitments and four Champions League battles, two against Celtic. With Andy Waterworth injured and Paul Smyth departed for Queens Park Rangers, Aaron Burns has been thrust into attack and it was his stunning header that floored Gary Haveron's side.

"We couldn't get tight to people and looked leggy," added Healy. "But tiredness won't be an issue because they are fit lads and we proved last season we were the fittest team."

• Police visited Seaview yesterday and carried out searches as part of investigations under the Terrorism Act.

A Crusaders source said: "The police arrived and conducted searches. We don't know the reason for the searches, that's a matter for the PSNI. We don't believe it to be a football related manner."

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