IRISH LEAGUE: Aaron Burns strike gives Linfield crucial win over Crusaders

Linfield's Aaron Burns scores against Crusaders

Linfield's Aaron Burns scores against Crusaders

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LINFIELD 1 CRUSADERS 0

Aaron Burns grabbed the goal to keep Linfield’s Danske Premiership aspirations alive at Windsor Park today.

Linfield�'s Aaron Burns celebrates

Linfield�'s Aaron Burns celebrates

He supplied a classing finish to shoot David Healy’s boys to within one point of Crusaders at the top of the table, with only four games remaining.

Both managers were forced into a reshuffle with giant striker Jordan Owens ruled out of the Crusaders side due to a calf injury.

Midfielder Michael Gault was also missing after breaking an arm in an accident at home on Friday.

Stephen Baxter drafted in Andy Mitchell, Craig McClean and Declan Caddell with Alan Keane and Rodney Brown dropping out.

Linfield�'s Paul Smyth and Crusaders Craig McClean

Linfield�'s Paul Smyth and Crusaders Craig McClean

Linfield Healy drafted defender Chris Casement after Mark Stafford failed a fitness test.

After the early sparring, it was the reigning champions who were almost in front on 12 minutes when defender Howard Beverland met a Michael Carvill corner kick, but his bullet header was superbly pawed away by Roy Carroll.

But it was the big home support who were celebrating on 21 minutes with that Burns opener. Matthew Clarke whipped in a great ball from the left and, even though he was tightly marked by Billy Joe Burns and Beverland, Burns still managed to twist and turn before slotting low past Sean O’Neill.

The rampant Blues came within a coat of paint of snatching a second goal on the half hour. A sweeping move on the left featuring Clarke and Burns opened up the Crues’ back line. Beverland then completely fluffed his lines when he attempted to clear, presenting the usually lethal Andy Waterworth with a great chance, but his first time effort crashed against the outside of the post.

Burns should have had a second goal, but he was again thwarted by O’Neill, who pulled off a brilliant save right at the finish.

Linfield: Carroll, Casement (Ward 86), Haughey, Callacher, Clarke, Mulgrew, Lowry, Quinn, Smyth (Millar 89), Waterworth, Burns.

Unused subs: Carson, Gaynor, Strain.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Lowry (Cushley 28), Mitchell (Clarke 86), Carvill, Caddell, Forsythe, McClean, Heatley, Whyte (Suarez 76).

Unused subs: Dougherty, Brown.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey).