We'll keep going right to the wire: Coleraine ace Eoin Bradley
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Crusaders v Coleraine (tonight, Seaview, 7.45pm)
COLERAINE striker Eoin ‘Skinner’ Bradley says they are proving the doubters wrong every week and insists he had no doubts over the Bannsiders sustaining their title challenge this season.
With the championship race now in the final straight, Oran Kearney’s men face their biggest test of the season when they visit leaders Crusaders this evening – the result of which could go a long way to deciding the destination of the Gibson Cup.
Victory for Coleraine would put them a point ahead of the Crues as the post-split fixtures commence tonight.
It was anticipated Crusaders and champions Linfield would fight it out for the title this season but Coleraine have continued their excellent form from last season and are showing no signs of bowing out of an intriguing race.
“A lot of people said Coleraine would fall away after Christmas but we’re building something here,” said Bradley.
“The team we have is a young team so this year won’t be the end of it but we’d love to get a bit of silverware.”
Coleraine have kept up their challenge despite losing some key players earlier in the campaign, including ‘Skinner’ who missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury before Christmas.
“The thing about it is we’ve been unfortunate with injuries – Lydon Kane was out for four or five months, Brad Lyons was out for eight weeks and I was out for three-and-a-half months all at the same period but the team kept winning, and we signed Aaron Burns and Stephen Dooley after Christmas which was a big help too.”
Coleraine’s only league defeat came against Linfield in November while the Crues have twice lost at home to the Bannisders and Glenavon and suffered a third defeat at Cliftonville last month.
Crusaders, however, claimed Coleraine’s scalp in the early rounds of the League Cup this term. Both league encounters at Ballycastle Road finished all square – 1-1 and 3-3.
Coleraine clinched their Irish Cup final berth for the second successive season with a 3-1 win over outsiders Larne last weekend.
“Saturday was probably a harder game for us because the pressure was on us to win,” said Bradley.
“When there is a bit of pressure on you things can go differently. All the pressure is on Crusaders on Tuesday night. We’ve never been in this position before. They have, and they are the ones that dropped all the points last year so they have to win the league this year.
“They’re probably under a lot of pressure from their own fans so you’ll probably see the roles reversed at Seaview from our Irish Cup semi-final against Larne.
“But I don’t think this will be the first or last points dropped between ourselves and Crusaders. There are four or five tough games left and both teams will drop points, I’m sure.”
A win for the Crues would put them five ahead of Coleraine and although both face very tough games this month, the smart money would be on Stephen Baxter’s men to go on and win the title.
“If we lose it would be tough," Bradley acknowledged.
"We’d need other teams to do us favours. If we lose, we lose – but it’s a big game and it will go a long way in deciding the league title.
“Crusaders might be thinking as long as they don’t lose. A draw could do them, so there are a lot of different scenarios.”
Tonight’s fixtures: Ards v Warrenpoint, Ballinamallard United v Carrick Rangers, Ballymena United v Cliftonville, Crusaders v Coleraine, Glenavon v Linfield, Glentoran v Dungannon Swifts (kick-offs 7.45pm)