Larne 0-0 Crusaders
Monday night live in front of the Sky Sports cameras and the British public the Irish league took centre stage. Promoted, and heavily invested Larne took on a Crusaders side who have shown a little bit of inconsistent form over the last few weeks. Larne came into the game off the back of a very good 3-0 win away to Ballymena United. It can not be said of the Crusaders. The past few weeks haven’t gone their way and the Crusaders came into the game off the back of some results which on paper they should have been winning – a defeat to Coleraine, and draws against Ballymena, Glenavon, and Institute. Not really the form of title challengers.
Larne manager named an unchanged team for this encounter deciding only to change the formation. From his usual 3-5-2 formation, he reverted to a 4-2-3-1. Two holding midfielders in Jeff Hughes and Fuad Sule, which at home against a team that does concede, and has injury problems at the back, seems strange. For me was a little negative. Personally, the way David McDaid was used as a number 10 did not work. He is more dangerous in and around the 6-yard box. McDaid was playing off frontman Jonny McMurray. Ben Tilney also had a lot of freedom too, wandering around the pitch from his left inside forward position.
Crusaders once again stuck with a 4-3-3, and when under pressure reverting to a 4-1-4-1. Not for the first time this season, Stephen Baxter made changes at the back. Crusaders manager went on the camera complaining about having nine players out injured. But like last season he does not know what his best back four is. Out went Howard Beverland who sat this one on the bench, and Kyle Owens who didn’t even make the bench. In came Colin Coates and right back Billy Joe Burns who were the centre-backs for the match. Utility man Jordan Forsythe came back into the team after an injury to fill the right-back position. Jamie McGonigle lead the line for Crusaders as Jordan Owens sat this one on the bench.
Larne won the toss and decided to defend the horrendous wind that was cutting down towards the church end of the ground at Inver Park. The first half to say the least was a cagey offer. Not much to talk about and to be fair not much for both goalkeepers to do. Larne had the ball in the net early on, but Ben Tilney was adjudged to be offside. Paul Heatley seemed to be in the form that with the wind at his back and the cameras on, he was going to try at all costs to hit a worldly. His first attempt at the spectacular went high and over. “I blame the wind”. Heatley again had another chance for the Crues, but could only drag his shot wide.
Time and time again the Crues kept looking for the long ball up to the front. Problem with that, McGonigle is a different type of player that needs service into his feet. Albert Watson was winning every ball over the top time and time again. With the Crues playing three in the middle, if any of them as going to open up the defence, it was the impressive Rory Hale. But he keeps being employed as a holding midfielder when he is clearly more dangerous further forward.
On 31 mins, Paul Heatley once again had a snapshot from the edge of the 18-yard box, but it went wide. Larne eventually got their first shot away late on in the first half. A long ball forward was not dealt with by Coates. McDaid picked it up and unleashed a shot wide.
The Crues came straight out of the traps in the second half and within a minute Declan Caddell got his head to a cross, only to see Conor Devlin hold the ball in the Larne net. Larne were the first to show their hand by introducing ex-Crusaders winger Martin Donnelly into the game for the ever-wondering Ben Tilney. But the Crues kept pushing for the all-important first goal, and again it was Heatley with another tame shot that came to nothing. The Crues waited till the 72nd minute before they changed the direction of attack. McGonigle off for Owens, and Heatley off for David Cushley. Maybe this is the reason that Albert Watson got selected for the man of the match. Every ball that went forward, his head was on it. And with the introduction of Owens, it didn’t change.
The Crues carved out the best chance of the night when Forsythe delivered a wonderful low cross, which was missed by Owens and Cushley as he stretched to tap it into the net. This game just did not look like there was a goal in it. Larne pushed hard at the end but the game faded out for a 0-0 draw, and on performance, not the greatest, as both teams will look back on this and think they should have won it.