Do not be afraid of Crusaders. Do not be afraid of Crusaders. Do not be afraid of Crusaders.
There are too many teams in this League who are afraid of Crusaders. Shamefully, last season, Linfield were one of them.
The opening two games of 2018-2019 suggested that Crusaders were there for the taking. In the opening game, they blew a 2-0 lead against Ards and needed a late goal to secure a 4-2 win. That was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Ballymena United. A team full of players approaching or in their 30s who are leaking goals. There was nothing for Linfield to fear.
Especially so, as they had won their opening two games without conceding a goal.
Despite that, this was not going to be an unchanged Linfield team, now that Jamie Mulgrew was back from suspension.
There’s a case to be made for resting Jamie Mulgrew against last season’s bottom five (Dungannon, Ards, Warrenpoint, Institute and Newry City) considering his age and the fact he is returning from injury, picking and choosing his matches.
Even if he is picking and choosing his matches, this is a match where he would play if it.
It was expected that Niall Quinn or Andrew Mitchell would miss out, but it was Kirk Millar who did, with Quinn moving out left.
Just like at Lurgan two weeks previously, there was a sizeable away support there to cheer their team on.
It was Crusaders who had the first chance of the game when Ross Clarke drifted past four players before shooting straight at Roy Carroll. He really should have scored, considering he had a clear strike at goal and a choice of sides to go to.
Having survived that, Linfield came more into the game, spending a lot of time in Crusaders half and winning a succession of corners.
Nothing came of them but Crusaders weren’t fully dealing with them. Not once did Sean O’Neill catch one, his punches not fully clearing the danger, giving Linfield a second ball to fight for and keep the attack alive.
It was a first-half littered with Crusaders yellow cards. Oh the joy of seeing a ref prepared to not tolerate their tactical fouling, and a Linfield team prepared to stand up to them. Crusaders didn’t know how to respond. They lost their discipline, and handing the game to Linfield. Linfield players knew this, which is why they were so keen at times to stop Josh Robinson getting involved. They had Crusaders right where they wanted them, and they weren’t going to give up this advantage easily.
Chris Morgan on Radio Ulster seemed to be offended by Linfield players surrounding the referee. He may have a point that it’s not nice to see, but teams freely do it against Linfield. Too many times last season, Linfield were outsmarted by stupid teams. Crusaders players were being told in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t be kicking anybody off the field today.
Joel Cooper was Linfield’s main attacking threat in the first-half, having Linfield’s two main shots at goal.
The only moment of worry that Linfield had was when Jimmy Callacher had to head out a cross in the six yard box out for a corner.
On 35 minutes, it was Linfield who get the breakthrough when some neat passing out the right, where Linfield were getting a lot of joy through the half, saw Chris Casement cross low for Joel Cooper to finish from close range, a reversal of the previous week against Institute when Cooper crossed low for Casement to score.
Cooper was everywhere when Linfield attacked, and Crusaders didn’t know how to handle him. They didn’t know which way he was going to go. Thankfully, Linfield’s players did, and wether he went left or right, there was always someone available for a pass.
Linfield began the second-half, now attacking their own fans, on the attack, with Chris Casement having a free-kick saved. Again, it was another punch by Sean O’Neill.
The second goal wasn’t long in coming when Joel Cooper got possession on the right wing, cut inside before playing a defence splitting pass.
I was on the opposite side and thought initially that it was Niall Quinn, but it was actually Jamie Mulgrew, who made no mistake to make it 2-0.
It wasn’t quite the three points in the bag, but it was hard to see Crusaders coming back from this.
Crusaders response was a Jordan Owens shot which went over and into the stand. A Crusaders supporter threw the ball away from Roy Caroll who was waiting to take a goal kick. The supporter celebrated as Carroll was able to take his time, and kill any hopes Crusaders had of getting some momentum and getting back into the game. They really aren’t the brightest.
In fact, the closest that Crusaders came was from a sliced clearance by Matthew Clarke hitting the bar. At no point did Linfield look troubled.
If any team looked likely to get the next goal, it was Linfield, with Michael O’Connor, on as a substitute for Andrew Waterworth, getting in behind Crusaders defence only to see his low shot saved, while a deflected cross from Daniel Kearns almost snuck in.
Joel Cooper was replaced by Kirk Millar, a bit surprising, as Andrew Mitchell was getting bandaged up for the umpteenth time. A few minutes later, Mitchell couldn’t carry on any longer, being replaced by Robert Garrett, who was able to help Linfield see the game out with no fuss.
This result sent Linfield five points clear of Crusaders. Nothing to get too excited about, they were five points clear of Crusaders at this stage in 2015.
The game after this would be a trip to Cliftonville. A win would give Linfield an eight point lead over them. The matchday after that sees Crusaders face Coleraine. With one of them dropping points, the game against Ards is a must-win. That is followed by a game against Warrenpoint while Crusaders and Coleraine are playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup. There is a great opportunity to get some momentum and pull clear of rivals.
Linfield players celebrated this win in dignified fashion, there was no throwing of food in Nandos.
Later that night, David Healy made a guest appearance in the Panto taking place at Windsor Park that night, content that his side landed a massive punch, but not quite a knock-out blow.