Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits the Danske Bank Premiership title is now Linfield’s to lose!
Having watched his side pinch three points against Coleraine in an extraordinary 4-2 game at Seaview on Friday night, Baxter reckons his boys will need a lot of favours if the Gibson Cup is to remain on the Shore Road come the end of the season.
Although they were totally outplayed by Rodney McAree’s Bannsiders in the first 45 minutes – goalkeeper Sean O’Neill saved the Crues on numerous occasions – skipper Colin Coates shot the home team in front seconds before the break.
David Cushley’s delicious double then appeared to put the game to bed.
That was until Dylan King and a Jamie McGonigle penalty hauled Coleraine right back into it.
It took a strike three minutes from time by new-boy Ronan Hale to settle the nerves of the Crues fans.
“Our back five were really exceptional, especially in the first half,” said Baxter. “That gave us the platform to build on the performance, which duly led to us winning the game.
“Yes, Coleraine had a large share of possession in the opening half, they were penetrating and they were getting good delivery into the box.
“We had to rely on Sean pulling off some smart saves to keep us in the game.
“The goal pre-half-time by Colin was a big pivotal point.
“We really started to move the ball well after the.
“Credit to Coleraine, they give it a go and came charging back, but I though the penalty they got when (Eoin) Bradley went inside the box, was a soft one.”
Baxter admitted he ‘had a go’ at Cushley during the half-time cuppa.
He added: “I wanted him to shoot from 20 yard, not 40 yards which is what he was doing in the first half.
“I had had a word with David at the break . . . I wanted more from him.
“He was much better in the second half.
“When you put the ball in the right areas for David, he will score goals.
“I thought his display was stunning after the break.
“His first was a stunner and his second was brilliantly placed into the bottom corner.”
On the title race, Baxter added: “It’s Linfield’s title to lose at the moment.
“They are quite a bit ahead and games are running out. Unless, we see a collapse of dramatic proportions, I can’t see much change.
“Having said that, Ballymena United are right up there with them.
“All we can do is play the games in front of us because we are playing catch-up.
“Linfield are in the box seat.
“They face Ballymena next – that’s a game that could be a big pointer in where the title will end up.”
Bannsiders boss Rodney McAree admitted he felt he had his pockets picked at Seaview.
“How we went in one nil down at the break, beggared belief,” he said. “That’s football.
“We didn’t take our opportunity, so we made it difficult for ourselves.
“Even in the second half, I thought we were good going forward.
“But of their four goals, I can pick holes in every one of them, in terms of how we defended.
“Defensively we were not good enough.
“It’s a bit frustrating because we played them off the park for the first 45 minutes.
“It’s crazy that we didn’t get something from the game.
“Basically, the goals we conceded would scare the life out of you.”