The three outstanding players that led Crusaders to a vital victory over Linfield
Two familiar stars played to their potential and another man continued his rise to prominence
Crusaders picked up what was a vital victory over Linfield on Tuesday night - as much for what it meant to their heads as what significance it carried in the Danske Bank Premiership table.
And even at such an early stage of the season, it was a big step in terms of league points. A defeat would have seen Stephen Baxter's side move six points behind Linfield and early pace-setters Coleraine, but the win ensures the Crues reel in the Blues, and sit just one win off top spot.
But after enduring a tough 16/17 season that saw Linfield win four of six battles between these two clubs, that run threatened to become a gremlin in the minds of the Seaview stars.
Right from kick-off on Tuesday evening, the determination not to let that take hold was clear to see. So just who were the leading lights that drove the hosts on to the 2-1 victory?
1. Paul Heatley
In truth, the winger would likely make this sort of list after almost every one of Crusaders' victories, such is his importance in the Seaview side. He showed, once again, just why that is the case with his series of trademark jinking runs forward, visibly shaking a Linfield back line that had survived five Premiership games with conceding a single goal before they arrived at Seaview.
That shut-out lasted just 25 minutes against the Crues and it was Heatley who teed up Jordan Forsythe's opener. He contributed far much more than that - there's little doubt he was the man that injected such uncharacteristic unsteadiness in the Blues' defence.
And then, of course, came his 20 yard screaming half-volley that turned out to be the winner. The technique was perfect and even Roy Carroll stood no chance of stopping it. Few Irish League players can do that as often as he does. If it had been in the Champions League, it would have been shown ad nauseum by BT Sport.
2. Jordan Forsythe
After the game, the affable Heatley was keen to heap praise on the former Lisburn Distillery winger who has already quadrupled his Premiership goal tally for last season. Four goals in six games and the 26 year-old showed just why he has reached that with a composed finish, blasting the opener into the top corner. He contributed more than that two, showing presence of mind to find Jordan Owens for a goal that was ruled out for offside and fired an acrobatic scissor-kick over the bar early on.
Forsythe's early displays suggest a real coming of age this season - to the extent that it was little surprise to see the much vaunted Gavin Whyte benched to accomodate Forsythe in such a key game. He's clearly learning from Heatley's direct runs and looked almost as dangerous as the main man with the ball at his feet.
3. Colin Coates
Admittedly, it wasn't the most fearsome Linfield performance Coatesy will ever come up against but still, as the Blues launched a second half assault, the Crusaders skipper was first to every ball. Had he been available for Crusaders' only defeat of the season so far, at home to Coleraine, perhaps they would now be at the top of the table, such is the difference the talisman makes to the Crues' back-line. The 31 year-old is as good as ever, even after his injury troubles last season.
Belfast Telegraph Digital