IRISH LEAGUE: Gavin Whyte revels in the spotlight as Crusaders edge closer to title glory

Gavin Whyte celebrates his 89th-minute goal

Gavin Whyte celebrates his 89th-minute goal

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With a deft flick of his right boot, Gavin Whyte banished a season of toil an frustration with a moment of magic on Saturday.

Crusaders’ title showdown with Linfield was a tense chess match that was ebbing towards stalemate as the clock eased into the 89th minute at Seaview.

The champions were clinging on to a 0-0 scoreline that would have preserved their five-point lead at the Premiership summit.

But in the blink of an eye, and the speed of a darting bullet, Whyte latched onto Jordan Owens’ flick-on before coolly nudging the ball past the advancing Ross Glendinning.

It was a thrilling denouement in a massive match, and a defining moment in this season’s title race.

And with Jordan Forsythe adding a classy second goal deep into stoppage time, the Crues suddenly found themselves eight points clear with just four games remaining.

And for wing wizard Whyte, it was a special moment following a testing season for the 20-year-old.

“I have found it harder this season,” said Whyte, last season’s Young Player of the Year.

“I don’t mind if I’m on the bench and there’s someone better on the pitch, doing the job, whoever it is. I know I have to take my opportunities when they come and I’m just glad I was able to contribute with a goal against Linfield.

“My only previous league goal this season was at Ballymena near the start of the season, so I was a bit dry with goals.

“I’m feeling good again and hopefully I can contribute a few more goals in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

That’s only my fourth goal of the season, and it’s probably the most important. A couple of the boys said that to me in the changing room.”

Whyte’s moment of intervention came following a period of sustained second half pressure from Linfield.

A long ball was flicked on by Owens, and Whyte darted between two defenders to rush through on goal before finishing past Glendinning.

Crusaders’ second arrived in the 94th minute following a corner for the Blues.

The ball was cleared to Paul Heatley who fed Forsythe on the left wing, and with Linfield keeper Glendinning rushing back towards goal, Forsythe delicately chipped the ball into the net from 25 yards.

It was a rousing finish that elevated Crusaders eight points clear at the top, and left Linfield’s valiant title surge on the ropes.

But despite extending their lead at the summit, Whyte insists there is work to be done before the Gibson Cup is retained.

“It’s definitely not over as far as we are concerned,” he added.

“We have to keep plugging away and keep winning games and picking up positive points.

“It would be history if we can win back-to-back league titles, but we can’t say too much or get ahead of ourselves because we still have four games to play. We still have a job to do.

“We have Glenavon away next week and that’s where our focus lies now.”

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter echoed the cautious sentiments of Whyte.

“This is a step on the path. We have one less game remaining and we have extended our lead,” Baxter said.

“The job isn’t done, and it is important we remain professional and focused in how we train and approach games.

“It is a significant step to win this game and we managed that today.”

Linfield boss David Healy insisted his side would keep battling to the end, but conceded it would take a miraculous turn in fortunes to see the Blues crowned champions.

“We won’t give up until it is mathematically impossible. It is very much in Crusaders hands,” he said.