Colin Coates has hailed the impact Rory Hale has been having on Crusaders over the last few months.
The Crues skipper labelled the midfielder’s performances as ‘phenomenal’ as he has helped them open up a five point gap at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.
He showed his class last week in the big clash with Linfield scoring a spectacular goal and producing a Man of the Match showing against the reigning champions much to Cotes delight.
“Rory has certainly settled in to life in the Irish League now,” said the big defender.
“Coming from the League of Ireland and playing a lot of youth football in England it has taken him time to adapt.
“But from the start of this year he has been phenomenal for us.
“In my opinion he was the standout player against Linfield.
“He took Hery out of the game, and he is a big, big threat for them.
“He nullified any threat from him and then scored the winning goal, so it was a great night for him and it sums up his season so far.”
It looks like the clashes between the top sides will be crucial in deciding where the Gibson Cup ends up this season.
And Coates was delighted his side came out on top in the first meeting of the perennial challengers.
“It was obviously a pleasing result from our point of view,” he said.
“It certainly wasn’t a classic, you’ll not be talking about it for yours to come.
“But for us getting the three points was all that mattered.
“The big thing that comes from winning a game like that is the momentum and confidence to take into the next few games.
“We have a real tough run of fixtures coming up over the next few weeks, and the confidence within the camp after beating the champions in our first meeting this season is massive.”
So far Coleraine are proving to be Crusaders nearest challengers.
The Bannsiders are still unbeaten so far this season and with Oran Kearney back at the helm they look a real force to be reckoned with again.
They showed just how prolific they are at The Showgrounds when they beat the Crues 4-2 here last month, and Coates feels that if they can turn some of their draws into wins then they will be challenging for honours come the end of the season.
“Coleraine maybe dipped off a bit last year, but with Oran coming back it’s like he’s never been away.
“They are undefeated so far, but they’ve probably one or two many draws for Oran’s liking.
“It’s well documented how good their home form is, I think they went undefeated there the season before last.
“But they will be looking to pick up more points on the road.”
The Bannsiders will be hoping their old rivals up the A26 can do them a favour today when the Crues visit the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey will be hoping for a better day out than last Saturday when they struggled to break down a stubborn Institute side.
“It was a day of frustration,” admitted Jeffrey.
“I couldn’t complain about effort, work-rate or commitment, couldn’t complain about them wanting to pass the ball and keep the ball,
“We didn’t resort hoofing it at any stage, so everything was great up until the time when you have got to put the ball in the back of the net.
“However that being said we move on and I’m not going to start criticising those who missed the chances, because they had the bravery to keep getting in there.
“But we did go home frustrated and disappointed, not because of the efforts from the players but just the fact that we didn’t win a game, which was winnable simply because of those chances that we created,” added the United boss.