Crusaders hoping to another big say in title race as Linfield visit Seaview

North Belfast side looking to follow up win over champions Larne by upsetting the Blues

Crusaders Stewart Nixon  celebrates his goal     In todays   game at Inver Park Larne v Crusaders in the Sports Direct Premiership 6\4/24  Pacemaker Press
Crusaders Stewart Nixon celebrates scoring the winning goal against Larne at Inver Park last weekend (Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press)
Sports Direct Premiership: Crusaders v Linfield (Friday, 7.45pm, live on BBC iPlayer BBC Sports NI website)

Crusaders head into Friday night’s massive game with Linfield in the hope of causing more disruption in the title-race, after upsetting Premiership league leaders Larne last Saturday.

Stewart Nixon’s 84th minute strike was enough to give the Crues victory at Inver Park and condemn title-holders Larne to a first league defeat of 2024, and only their second of the entire season.

Nixon is not content with causing one upset however, and hopes to play a pivotal role in deciding where the Gibson Cup ends up in just over two-weeks’ time.

“It was a great feeling to get the winner against Larne, especially having started on the bench and making a real impact,” the 26-year-old said.

“We will look forward to Friday night now against Linfield.

“It is all about getting into Europe, that is the be-all and end-all of the season for us, so we just want to win every game.

“After picking up three points against the league champions we are up against it again, but every player has confidence at the club that we can cause a bit of havoc in the title race.”

David Healy
Linfield manager David Healy was frustrated his team couldn't take tops spot last weekend after Larne's slip up against Crusaders (Andrew McCarroll/Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Pres)

After enduring a horror middle part of the season, Stephen Baxter is enjoying a fine run of form with his side unbeaten in seven matches, as he nears the end of his Crusaders career; and he would take no greater pleasure than beating the Blues on home soil this evening.

The Crues now occupy fourth in the table, after trading positions with fifth-placed Glentoran for much of the campaign. This race for fourth spot is turning into a competition all of its own. 

A potential eventuality is emerging that the European Play-offs at the end of the season may only include three sides, given that the top three teams have already qualified for a summer on the continent, and the seventh-placed contenders not having managers with qualifying UEFA coaching badges.

This would mean the league’s fourth-placed squad would only require one victory – at home – to qualify for one of Europe’s premier competitions, rather than the usual two.

With only a single point between Crusaders and the Glens, the race is very much in the balance and a win for the Crues this evening would be huge.

David Healy travels to Seaview also in the hunt of staying in a race, only his is for the big prize in domestic football, the title.

His side missed the chance to overtake Larne last weekend, when they failed to defeat Glentoran in a scoreless draw.

Lying only a point behind the Inver Park side, Healy again has a chance to go top of the pile, heaping more pressure on Tiernan Lynch and his troops heading into their weekend game with third-placed Cliftonville.

In this season’s previous meetings between tonight’s opponents, all three have gone the way of the Blues; in fact, Crusaders have failed to score in any of those meetings and Baxter will be hoping that home advantage may just do the trick.