By Stewart Robson
A man of the match performance and a brace of goals from Jordan Owens kept Crusaders top of the Danske Bank Premiership as they beat a lacklustre Linfield at Seaview.
There was a lot of nerves around the ground prior to kick-off as talk of one of the most nail-biting finishes to a season spread like wildfire from seat to seat. One gentleman said that he’d never known a league finish like this in all the 68 years that he’d been supporting the Crues.
Any pre-game anxiety was quickly dispelled by a pulsating first 15 minutes from the Hatchetmen. The early pressure started right from the back with captain Colin Coates driving his team forward. Matthew Snoddy linked with the troublesome trio, Carvill, Heatley and Owens on a number of occasions. The one touch passing and fast flowing football was a joy to watch on such a big day.
It only took 14 minutes for the ball to find the back of the Linfield net as a low drive from the right wing from Carvill found the feet of Owens. The big striker rifled the ball into the roof of the net from close range to send Crues fans into a frenzy. A composed finish from Owens who has been troubled by injury over the last few weeks.
Snoddy put in a stellar performance and bossed the midfield, not giving Linfield a chance in the middle of the park. The Blues found it hard throughout the game to get into any sort of rhythm thanks to sustained pressure from Snoddy and his counterparts.
Both wings saw plenty of action too with BJ Burns skilfully breaking from the back and weaving through Linfield. Burns continued to be a threat for much of the game, linking up well with the midfield and providing the wingers with clinical passes.
The first half was brought to a close with a fantastic save from Crues shot stopper Brian Jensen, denying Andy Waterworth the chance to bring Linfield back into the game. The striker couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity with the big Dane getting down low to keep Crusaders ahead going into the second half.
Despite dominating, the opening part of the second 45 was frustrating for Crusaders. Trying to replicate the flowing moves of the first half proved difficult with Linfield holding their own in a physical battle across the pitch. Fouls were a common occurrence throughout the afternoon with the skill of Gavin Whyte and Michael Carvill torturing the Blues’ backline.
A member of that backline was former Crusaders’ defender Josh Robinson who was given a tough welcome on this return to Seaview. Robinson was booked for what appeared to be a high stamp on Michael Carvill, making the disgruntled Crues fans irate. At the other end of the pitch, Colin Coates was a leader amongst men all day, winning headers and even making runs forward to try and help the Hatchetmen find that all important second goal. The Crues already have a superior goal difference on title contenders Coleraine but the ball crossing the line for a second time would’ve seal this victory.
That goal came with three minutes remaining as Owens lept like a salmon to meet a cross played in from the right wing. It hit the back of the net sending the majority of travelling Linfield fans for the exit and the Crusaders fans into dreamland. A late challenge on substitute Jamie Glackin by Andrew Mitchell meant Linfield finish the game with 10 men.
The singing continued until the last blow of the referee’s whistle and should send the boys into next week’s north Belfast derby against Cliftonville with hearts full of hunger and belief that this is Crusaders’ year.
Goal-scorer Jordan Owens told BBC Sport NI after the game: “We limited Linfield's chances and once we got the first the confidence flowed through the team. If we play like that in our last two games we should be okay and we look forward to a big derby against Cliftonville next Saturday.”