Crusaders coach Jeff Spiers hails Paul Heatley as the player of the decade

Crusaders' Paul Heatley celebrates his goal against Institute at the Brandywell on Saturday Picture by Pacemaker
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

Danske Bank Premiership: Institute 1 Crusaders 3

CRUSADERS assistant manager Jeff Spiers has heaped praise on Paul Heatley after the winger hit an early opener for the Crues in Saturday’s win over Institute at the Brandywell.

Heatley notched his 14th league goal of the season – and his 21st of the campaign overall – with a rasping left foot shot from the edge of the box in Derry, and Spiers says this underlines his claim to be the standout Danske Bank Premiership player of the last decade.

“Paul Heatley scored the first one after a good ball from young Ronan Hale, while Ronan Patterson linked up well,” said Spiers.

“He’s [Heatley] unbelievable, he’s probably been the best player in the Irish League for the last 10 years. He’s very, very important. He scores big goals for us and long may it continue.”

Patterson and Hale made it three for the Crues before the break with one apiece, while Michael McCrudden pulled one back for Institute in the second-half after a fine team move.

“They’re [Institute] a difficult team to play against, they play an awkward wee shape at times and they’re very good on the ball,” added Spiers.

“We got a goal after 13 minutes, which settled us down and we hit two quick ones just before half-time, which sort of killed the game off.”

Saturday’s win moved the reigning champions to within six points of leaders Linfield, who play Glentoran tonight, and three behind second-placed Ballymena. Spiers is convinced all is still to play for in the final months of the season.

“There’s a load of football to be played and, if anything happens to Linfield, we just have to be ready to pounce,” he said.

“We’ve got our three points, now it’s up to them, but obviously they’re in the driving seat. You’d swap places with them, but you just have to keep pegging away at them and Ballymena and try to get as close as we can.

“It’s good that ourselves, Ballymena and Linfield are all still chasing for it. I think, this time last year, it was ourselves and Coleraine were away out in front by Christmas, it was a two-horse race. There’s three teams in it at the minute and you just have to keep winning your own games at the minute, that’s all we can do.

“Linfield have got the points and we just have to get as many as we can now and get as close to them as we can.”

Glentoran have won their two games since Gary Smyth replaced Ronnie McFall at the helm, and Spiers is hopeful they can do the Crues and Ballymena a favour tonight.

“With Gary Smyth coming on board, he’s won his first two games, so he’s gave them a wee bit of a lift, so I’ll think it’ll be enough game for them [Linfield],” he said.

“Linfield, obviously, are top of the league and they’re probably playing the best football at the minute, but Glentoran have picked up recently and you never know what could happen.”

Elsewhere on Saturday, Ballymena thumped struggling Ards 4-1, while Cliftonville, under the temporary stewardship of Michael Press, picked up a point in a 1-1 home draw with Glenavon. Dungannon moved 11 points clear of relegation danger with a 2-1 away win at Coleraine, while Warrenpoint beat local rivals Newry City 2-0 at the Showgrounds.

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