IRISH LEAGUE: Paul Heatley brace keeps Crusaders on top after narrow win against Coleraine

Coleraine's James McLaughin celebrates after putting his side into a 1-0 lead
Coleraine's James McLaughin celebrates after putting his side into a 1-0 lead


Paul Heatley grabbed a delicious double to keep Crusaders on Danske Premiership title trace in another night of drama at Seaview.

Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates after netting to make it 1-1

Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates after netting to make it 1-1

Stephen Baxter’s champions once again demonstrated that have no desire to release their grip on the Gibson Cup -- and are now only two games away from a record breaking hat-trick of titles successes.

They remain one point ahead of fast chasing Linfield with this victory, which was Coleraine’s first defeat in 18 games.

The Crues had to do it the hard way, battling back after Coleraine roared into a shot lead through James McLaughlin’s goal of the season contender.

Like true champions, the Crues replied through Jordan Owens before Heatley took centre stage. The Bannsiders failed to throw in the towel and substitute Jamie McGonigle ensure the home supporters of a nervy last 10 minutes.

Jordan Forsythe should have had the home team in front after only 27 seconds when met a Billy Joe Burns cross, but his header brushed past the post.

The Crues, looking for an early breakthrough, almost got the opener they craved on nine minutes when Paul Heatley latched on a great pass from Burns only to see his drive flash past the post.

And, just second later, Heatley was this time picked up by Michael Carvill. However, his effort met with a similar outcome.

It was all Crusaders and Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns had to get down smartly to repel a shot from Forsythe, with Heatley turning provider..

But against all the odds, it was the Bannsiders who broke the deadlock with McLaughlin’s cracking goal. There wasn’t a lot on when he picked up a pass from Ciaron Harkin 30 yards from goal, but he sent an audacious drive hurtling into the top corner, much to the astonishment of Sean O’Neill.

But the champions hit back with a certain degree of style. Within five minutes big Owens appeared at the back post to tap home a Heatley cross -- and Baxter’s boys were back in business.

Then seconds later it took a miraculous goal line by Lyndon Kane to keep out an Owens header to looked to be creeping in.

However, the Belfast side were in front five minutes before the break, courtesy of a great strike from Heatley.

The little striker’s initial shot was superbly beaten away by Johns, but when he picked up the rebound, there was always going to be one outcome as his drive whistled into the net.

It was almost game, set and match seconds before the interval with Declan Caddell holding his head in frustration after seeing his shot flash inches wide after another great move from Heatley.

But it was Heatley who almost certainly guaranteed his team the points when he bagged his second goal of the night on 68 minutes. Forsythe and Owens had shots repelled and when the ball broke for the little striker, he thumped home form the edge of the box.

Coleraine were not finished yet however as, within two minutes, McGonigle sent in a low drive form the edge of the box that flew into the bottom corner.

In fact, they almost conjured an equaliser in the closing stages when Allen shamefully headed a McLaughlin cross wide.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Keane, McClean, Caddell, Carvill (Snoddy 84), Forsythe, Heatley, Whyte, Owens.

Unused subs: Mitchell, Suarez, Cushley, Dougherty.

Coleraine: Johns, Kane, Mullan, Harkin, Ogilby, McCauley, McCafferty, McLaughlin, McConaghie, Parkhill (McGonigle 58), Allan.

Unused subs: Douglas, Edgar, Doherty, Whiteside.

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn).