LEAGUE CUP FINAL: Talking points before Coleraine and Crusaders clash

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter (left) and Coleraine manager Oran Kearney with the BetMcLean League Cup trophy. Pic by Pacemaker.
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter (left) and Coleraine manager Oran Kearney with the BetMcLean League Cup trophy. Pic by Pacemaker.

Coleraine and Crusaders clash this weekend in a League Cup final for the first time since 2012.

The Windsor Park showdown will be broadcast live on the Sky Sports Football channel from 7.30pm as Crusaders attempt to secure the prize for the third time in club history and Coleraine bid for a second taste of glory.

Here we look at some of the key talking points heading into the season’s first major final:

FIRST BLOOD

The accepted wisdom for any knockout tie is that the first goal proves crucial, especially on the grandest stage of all.

Statistics support that claim as, looking back across the 20 previous League Cup finals since 2000, on 16 occasions the team with the first goal has finished with a grip on the trophy.

Of the remaining four showdowns, three have gone to penalty kicks so the ignominious honour as the only club having failed to lift the prize after breaking the deadlock goes to Portadown for the loss to Lisburn Distillery in 2011.

Five of those 16 games have been settled by a single goal, with 11 losing teams unable to produce a response on the scoresheet to suffering that key first blow.

Both high-flying sides have banked points courtesy of grabbing the upper hand this season.

The two clubs stand divided by a solitary point after 28 games across the Danske Bank Premiership.

The Crues can count 13 wins and five draws on the league list after finding the net first this season.

Coleraine sit with a tally of 14 triumphs and three draws across the same number of tests.

CLEAN SHEETS

Ticket sales of over 4,500 have been reported by Northern Ireland Football League officials leading up to the big day.

Fans inside the National Stadium will consider the destination of greater importance than the journey as each set of supporters makes the trip dreaming of glory.

For the national television audience, any neutrals hoping for a glut of goals on Saturday evening may stand disappointed.

Coleraine enter the game having clocked up 14 clean sheets in total over the league season - including three in each of the Danske Bank Premiership games since defeat by Crusaders on January 10.

Crusaders sit one short of that 14 tally, having produced 13 blanks overall in league play and a positively parsimonious sequence of five on the bounce from Boxing Day.

That league run finished on Saturday with a loss to Glenavon at a windswept Mourneview Park.

Coleraine line out with happy memories of last weekend’s weather conditions thanks to Jamie Glackin’s ambitious curling corner-kick effort finding the net for victory over Glentoran.

BURNS NIGHT

Billy Joe Burns (pictured) has built a career at Crusaders based around defensive reliability and attacking ambition since making a switch from Linfield in 2014.

The 30-year-old recently reverted back to his early days in Blues by stepping inside from right-back to add communication and composure to the crucial heart of the Crues backline.

His centre-back partnership with Rodney Brown proved central to Crusaders’ sparkling form across 2020, with Burns picking up the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association’s ‘Player of the Month’ prize for January as confirmation of that value.

However, Burns’ move into the middle has robbed Crusaders of his influence along the right flank.

Jordan Forsythe has offered an alternative and January loan signing Cameron Dummigan enjoyed an encouraging debut in that position during victory over Carrick Rangers.

In Burns’ previous final appearance at Windsor Park he delivered a trademark cross from the right for Jordan Owens to break the deadlock and send Crusaders towards Irish Cup glory over Ballinamallard United.

Crusaders will be working on a way to retain that right-side flank threat alongside the extra security offered by Burns’ step inside the backline.