Belfast Telegraph

Player of the Month Cushley targets a strong end to Crusaders' season

Prize guy: David Cushley receives his award from Keith Bailie of NIFWA
Prize guy: David Cushley receives his award from Keith Bailie of NIFWA

By Alex Mills

Enigmatic David Cushley believes Crusaders can end the season in a blaze of glory.

Even though the Danske Bank Premiership title has slipped from their grasp, Stephen Baxter's boys don't intend to rely on next month's Irish Cup final against Ballinamallard United as a means of securing European football.

They are determined to chase down second place in the table and, over this crucial weekend, could eat into the four-point deficit that separates them and David Jeffrey's Ballymena United.

The Crues will look to harden their challenge when they travel down the M1 to face Glenavon at Mourneview Park tomorrow.

Ballymena, of course, play Linfield tonight - a game that could nudge David Healy's side to within touching distance of the title.

Although Crusaders play their final five league games away from home, Cushley - today named the Belleek March Player of the Month by the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association - stresses they'll be keeping their foot on the gas.

"Our poor start to the league campaign killed us," said the striker. "Our form wasn't good, we squandered points. We are paying for that. But we are on a good unbeaten run, so hopefully we can keep that going.

"We never get it easy at Mourneview Park, they are always tough games there. But we've prepared well and hopefully we can get three points."

Cushley was key in the Crues' impressive run over the past month, including Irish Cup wins over Ballymena United and Coleraine, a County Antrim Shield final victory against Linfield and league successes against Warrenpoint and Cliftonville.

"It was a brilliant month with loads of big games," added Cushley. "I wish it could be like that every month because those are the sort of games you want to be involved in. But we now want a big end to the season. We go into every game with a winning mentality. We still haven't given up on finishing in second place.

"We also have the Irish Cup final, but that will look after itself. The boss will not allow our minds to wander. We basically operate on a game-to-game basis. That's the way it's always been."

It may have taken injuries to Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley to open the door, but Cushley has made the starting shirt his own.

"I take nothing for granted," he added. "I knew I had to step up. At a club like Crusaders, you need to be able to do that because there are a lot of quality players waiting in the wings.

"I'm thrilled with my first monthly award, it also reflects on how well the team is playing."

Baxter is hopeful of having Heatley available. The striker, who made his comeback in last week's Irish Cup semi-final win against Coleraine, sustained an arm injury late in the game.

"He trained on Tuesday morning, so fingers crossed he'll make it," said Baxter.

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