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'Winner' Josh Robinson loves the banter at Seaview, insists Linfield's Andy Mitchell

Crusaders 0 Linfield 2

By Graham Luney

Linfield midfielder Andy Mitchell looked like a man who was on the Carl Frampton undercard.

The former Crusaders ace left Seaview with his own battle scar, a nasty cut on his face but a small price worth paying for a war won in north Belfast.

Mitchell and his team-mates expected a heavyweight physical contest and they got it but as well as matching the champions in terms of power and strength they also produced the class and invention needed to land a knockout blow on the Crues.

It's far too early in the season to make wild predictions but Linfield's early form suggests they have a renewed sense of purpose and a healthy mix of character and quality.

A big part of that was centre-back Josh Robinson, who looked at home alongside Jimmy Callacher in the Linfield back line, even when receiving a cold welcome back to Seaview.

Robinson, of course, joined the Blues last summer in a long saga after both Linfield and Crusaders announced on the same evening that he had put pen to paper for the two clubs.

"Josh is well known around these areas but he wears his heart on his sleeve no matter who he plays for... maybe too much sometimes but he's a leader and winner like a lot of the boys," said Mitchell. "Josh loves the banter, sometimes it does get a bit much but it's expected here."

Linfield are gunning to win back the title this season after their defence fell apart last term, the Blues ending the campaign a full 24 points behind champions Crusaders. Mitchell is one of the players who acknowledges last season's horror show and he's keen to put things right.

"I'm just trying as hard as I can to play well and stay in the team, if players around me get more headlines that's the way it is," said the former Rangers man. "I've a job to do for the team and I think I'm doing that well. We have a lot of players who can perform in midfield and it was great to have club captain Jamie Mulgrew back.

"He's a leader and held in high regard, he has to play. Jamie has more freedom as I'm told to sit. I've been in the wars but they are a strong side and you have to give them the respect by being up for the battle. I know their players well and you can only beat them by playing well which we did."

Mitchell rose to the occasion but he wasn't alone with Joel Cooper touching home the opener in the 35th minute and then conjuring up a stunning assist for Mulgrew's clinical finish on 56 minutes.

Crusaders had their moments with Ross Clarke unable to beat Roy Carroll early on and Matthew Clarke almost putting the ball in his own net but they were second best.

Linfield face another difficult test against Cliftonville at the weekend but they will go there confident of making it a north Belfast double.

"The gaffer has freshened the squad up and we acknowledge we were poor last season," said Mitchell.

"It's up to us to put things right and while we have started well we won't be getting carried away. We have three clean sheets and long may it continue. All you can do is focus on the next game because you know it will be tough. Institute came to Windsor and I thought they were brilliant. It took a while to break them down.

"There will be no easy games and you take it game by game."

There will be no panic button pressed at Seaview but Crusaders know they must improve. Missing Colin Coates, Sean Ward and Howard Beverland, they looked vulnerable at times but they must weather this storm and not allow any side to gain a convincing lead.

Boss Stephen Baxter said: "I thought Ross Clarke was good for the first 30 minutes but you look for consistency from all the players. They are all top lads, I love every single one of them and we will work ourselves through this.

We lost the third game against Coleraine last season and went on to win the league. We've lost because Linfield were better, well done to them."

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, McChrystal, Caddell (Snoddy, 56 mins), Forsythe, K Owens, Ruddy, J Owens, Heatley, Clarke (Cushley, 64 mins), Patterson (Glackin, 74 mins). Unused subs: Carvill, Holden, Doherty, Donnelly.

Linfield: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth (O'Connor, 69 mins), Cooper (Millar, 79 mins), Clarke, Kearns, Mulgrew, Mitchell (Garrett, 81 mins), Quinn, Casement. Unused subs: Deane, Stafford, Fallon, Smith.

Refeee: Steven Taylor (Ballyclare)

Man of the match: Joel Cooper

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph

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