Crusaders remain seven clear at top of table after narrow win over Ballymena
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Crusaders 2 Ballymena United 1
PAUL Heatley wasn't playing, but Crusaders still bagged another three points on their seemingly inexorable march to the league title, with a narrow win against Ballymena on Saturday.
After what was a lightning start to the game against the Braidmen, the Crues could have been in front after 20 seconds when a header from Jordan Owens was just off target.
There were further early chances for Jordan Forsythe, Billy Joe Burns and Owens again before Gavin Whyte broke the deadlock with a super run and finish on 34 minutes.
A David Cushley deflected volley six minutes later doubled their lead, and a trade mark Tony Kane free kick 12 minutes from time set up a tense finish.
Heatley watched from the sidelines, having been somewhat controversially sent off in the mid-week County Antrim Shield final loss to Linfield, and liked what he saw in his absence.
"It was a brilliant first half performance from what I saw from the guys and I think certainly overall we deserved the three points," declared Heatley.
"The attacking four were certainly at it from the get go, and two early goals really settled the team down.
"Gavin’s always had that in his locker from day one. I think that’s why the gaffer brought him in so young.
"And he’s certainly starting to really kick on now into the season and show his true qualities.
"His goal certainly summarised every attribute he has – the close control, the quick turn, the speed and of course the finish. I’m sure there’s more to come from him."
Next up for the Crues is a Friday night trip to play Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park. Heatley is eager to get back into competitive action.
"I can’t wait to get back and get to the training ground this week to mix in with the boys again and really turn our attentions and our focus to this game," insisted the winger.
"Another massive three points are required and fingers crossed we can get the job done and stay that distance ahead.
"There are no easy games in the league now – especially when we are coming to the business end.
"Everyone’s fighting for every point and Dungannon will be no different. It’s a very difficult place to go to and come away with three points.
"It’s always close between us over the past few years – so we know what to expect and we know what we have to do."
In Saturday's other games, Cliftonville fell to a 1-0 defeat at Ballinamallard, Linfield were 2-0 winners at Carrick, Coleraine beat Dungannon 2-1, Ards won 3-0 at Portadown while Glentoran and Glenavon played out a scoreless draw.