Irish Premiership: Crusaders and Linfield continue league title race on Tuesday

Jimmy Callacher and Ciaran Martyn in aerial action as Linfield beat Glenavon 2-1 in January
Jimmy Callacher and Ciaran Martyn in aerial action as Linfield beat Glenavon 2-1 in January

Crusaders host in-form Coleraine and Linfield are at home to Glenavon as the exciting race for the Irish Premiership title continues on Easter Tuesday.

The Crues hold a one-point lead going into the final three rounds of matches.

"These games will be hotly contested. We can't have any slip-ups at this stage," said Crues boss Stephen Baxter.

"It's going to be a tough ask for us but we just have to keep winning our games and you never know what happens," stated Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew.

"We have all worked incredibly hard all season and I don't think anyone would have thought that we would be this close at this stage," added the midfielder.

In-form Blues put the case for defence

Linfield are unbeaten in 16 fixtures in all competitions and have not conceded a goal in 10 of their last 15 outings.

"Linfield are a top, top team and I always knew how difficult it would be. We are both fighting it out and we have to keep going," observed Baxter.

"People got carried away three months ago and said it was all over when we were seven points clear but now one more defeat and it could be away from us.

"There is one point in it and it can swing either way at the stroke of a foot or a head.

"You have to put your bodies on the line at this stage and we are just trying to prepare everybody as best we can and concentrate on what we are doing."

Goal-shy Lurgan Blues are draw specialists

Linfield's opponents Glenavon have drawn 13 of their matches in the league this campaign, the most of any side, leaving manager Gary Hamilton to lament the absence of clinical firepower in front of goal from his sixth-placed side.

"We have dominated a lot of games and created plenty of chances but can't find that winning goal. If we did we would be a lot higher up the table than we are," argued the Lurgan Blues boss.

"We are hoping that Andy Mitchell will come in next season and turn those draws into wins."

Kearney forbids cup final talk

Meanwhile Coleraine manager Oran Kearney has banned any dressing room talk about the Irish Cup final as his charges prepare to face Crusaders at Seaview in the second of their top-flight fixtures over the Easter period.

"We have no focus on the Irish Cup at this stage. I won't allow it. It's unprofessional to think in that way about the future and we have so much on our plate at this point in time," insisted Kearney, whose side are without a loss in 17 matches.

"We must do our job in the league first and the cup will look after itself."

Ballymena United will aim to end a run of five league games without a win, four of those defeats, when they play Cliftonville in the evening's other top-six encounter at the Showgrounds.

In the bottom half, Portadown must win again away to Ards and hope that Carrick Rangers lose at home to Glentoran as they try to further postpone their probable relegation to the Championship.

Ballinamallard United face Dungannon Swifts at Ferney Park.

Analysis

Former Crusaders title-winning manager and ex-Glenavon and Ballymena United boss Roy Walker:

"This is one of those title races that we all long for and there is every chance that both Crusaders and Linfield will win their next two games and it will go right down to the wire.

"Linfield did a very professional job at Ballymena on Saturday and have a lot about them both offensively and defensively.

"It's a case of whoever blinks first and Crusaders have got to be single-minded and just chalk off the games as they come. They are still in pole position and the ball is firmly in their court. If they win their games, that's it.

"The Crues have Stephen Baxter at the helm, who has done it all before as a player and a manager, and has led them through choppy waters. There's no reason he can't see them through again."

Former Glentoran manager Scott Young:

"Crusaders have shown character throughout the season and have big-game players in the likes of Paul Heatley, Jordan Owens and Sean O'Neill, but there is no way the league title is in the bag yet.

"They haven't necessarily been playing the free-flowing football of previous seasons or shown those wee bits of magic but they are still in front.

"Both clubs deserve huge credit that we have the title race that we have and they are both in there fighting with three games to play.

"It's great for Irish League football and there could be a twist to the plot still to come."

Danske Bank Irish Premiership - Tuesday 18 April - 19:45 BST kick-offs
Coverage on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound
Ballymena UtdvCliftonville
CrusadersvColeraine
Linfield vGlenavon
ArdsvPortadown
Ballinamallard UtdvDungannon Swifts
Carrick RangersvGlentoran

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