IRISH LEAGUE: Paul Heatley double is just the tonic for Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

Paul Heatley celebrates with Matthew Snoddy

Paul Heatley celebrates with Matthew Snoddy

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Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter saluted the predatory instincts of Paul Heatley after his glorious double strike bagged three crucial points at Seaview.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions huffed and puffed against a battling Dungannon Swifts side and appeared to be lacking a killer touch, until the little 28-year-old took centre stage with 20 minutes left.

Michael Carvill challenges Dermot McCaffrey

Michael Carvill challenges Dermot McCaffrey

He rammed home a beauty after the Swifts defence got themselves into a tizzy for the first time – but the best was yet to come.

Just five minutes later, Heatley latched on to a long clearance from goalkeeper Sean O’Neill and, having spotted Andy Coleman slightly out of position, curled in a beauty from 25 yards in off the upright.

The victory propelled Baxter’s boys five points clear in the table.

“It was clinical and professional,” said Baxter. “We were well in control.

“We had chances to make the scoreline look even more convincing. But over all it was a very solid display – one that can be pleased with. We were disappointed with the Carrick defeat in midweek, but the mark of a good team is how you respond. It was all about character – we had that in abundance against Dungannon.”

Baxter had no concerns that it took his team almost 70 minutes to make the vital breakthrough, adding: “The game is over 90 minutes. I’ll take a goal in the 85th minute – or even the fifth minute. I knew the goals would come because we were knocking at the door so many times.

“Paul again steps up with two quality strikes. That’s what he’s about. Just give him a wee sniff and he’ll put the ball in the net.

“At this stage of the season, you just have to get over the line. It was important to open up the gap again with so many big games looming.

“But we can’t really play too far ahead of ourselves, it’s one game at a time. We now go to Ballinamallard United – Linfield go to Warrenpoint Town. Games can swing any way. We just have to stay focused on the job we are trying to do. Hopefully, the results will come.”

With Declan Caddell out with flu, Baxter handed Andy Mitchell a starting slot – and the midfielder turned in a superb 90 minutes.

Baxter added: “I thought young Mitchell had a great game. It has taken him a little to settle into Irish League football. That’s often the case from players coming back from across the water because it’s a different type of game.

“He’s brought a professionalism back with him – the way he trains and the way he plays. He’s a delicious footballer, as are a number of our boys. They are a great bunch to work with.”

Swifts boss Rodney McAree was a little bit miffed at the nature of Crusaders’ goals.

“We rode our luck a little bit,” he said.

“Crusaders put us under a lot of pressure.

“They created a lot of opportunities, but none of them were really clear cut. We were encouraged coming in at half-time with the game scoreless.

“Up until their goal, I thought that we were under no pressure – and we probably had the best chance of the game when (Alan) Teggart when through.

“I was really frustrated at the way we conceded the first goal in terms of having control off the ball – it came from a half clearance.

“It was a little bit sickening because we had defended well up to that.

“And, for the second, I though we should have been awarded a free-kick before the ball arrived at Heatley.

“Andrew Burns made a run through the middle and he seemed to be impeded.

“The referee blew up for niggles all day, but he ignored that one.”