The Irish Cup quarter-final draw delivered four mouth-watering ties between well-matched sides. Both Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town are enjoying good seasons and will battle it out at Stangmore. Two derbies have pitted Portadown against Glenavon while David Jeffrey’s high-flying Ballymena United host Coleraine – matches fit for any cup final.
But the tie of the round is arguably the meeting of the Irish Premiership’s top two.
David Healy’s Linfield sit seven points behind Crusaders in the league but his team will go to Seaview full of confidence having already won 2-1 at the stadium on New Year’s Eve. The Blues also defeated Crusaders 3-1 in the County Antrim Shield final just under a month ago, while the first two meetings between the sides finished scoreless earlier in the season. Linfield will be aiming to keep the unbeaten streak going in Saturday’s encounter.
The Blues will be looking to go one further this year after last year’s Irish Cup final defeat and will go into the clash with plenty of fire in their bellies. It’s a competition Linfield value greatly having won on 42 occasions, the last time coming in 2012 - so there’s no lack of motivation for the Windsor Park outfit.
Stephen Baxter and Crusaders have enjoyed league dominance in the past few years and are a well- drilled outfit. The Shore Road side are aiming to win the Cup for the first time since 2009. The Crues were on the wrong side of a seven-goal thriller in last year’s semi-final against Glenavon and will have ambitions of doing a first-ever domestic double.
The Crues have beaten Ards and PSNI to reach the quarter-final, whilst Linfield have knocked out Glentoran and Institute respectively.
Crusaders will be without attacking options Michael Carvill and Paul Heatley who both picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season against Dungannon Swifts on February 17. Stephen Baxter will be hoping his skipper Colin Coates will be fit after being withdrawn from the action at half-time in their draw at Portadown last week.
David Healy will be hoping to have Mark Haughey and Roy Carroll back after missing last week’s win over rivals Glentoran. 18 year-old goalkeeper Alex Moore showed his quality to step into the nets with Gareth Deane also unavailable and is no doubt one for the future, but Carroll is still a class act at 39 years old.
A bumper crowd is to be expected at Seaview on Saturday. Linfield have sold out their away allocation three days in advance and Crusaders should do the same with a total attendance possibly in the region of 3,500 to see two quality teams going at it hammer and tong.