What a horrible week of football it has been for Crusaders. Beaten by Coleraine in the League Cup final a week from Saturday at the National stadium. Then on Friday evening, they gave up the challenge for the title like they couldn’t care less after Linfield inflicted a 4-0 defeat on them at the same venue. What has happened at Seaview? The wheels have truly come off and there is something just not right. The club captain and leader Colin Coates was not given a new contract and some of this team are just not good enough. This will be a hard few weeks ahead for the Shore Road Men. As I said in my article during the week, if the Crues do not beat Glentoran in the Irish Cup, there goes the European money they have been living off of for the last few years.
Linfield 4-0 Crusaders
The Blues will have never had to do as little as they did in Friday’s live screening of this Danske Bank Premiership encounter to beat the Crues. The win put the Blues nine points ahead of their nearest challengers, the Bannsiders – even if it was for only for a few hours. The Crues are now in freefall. If they keep up this lacklustre attitude towards the league campaign, they will soon see themselves down in 6th place. In-form Larne (who currently occupy 6th) are now breathing down their necks two points behind them.
The Blues started this game quickly and were ahead within the first few minutes when Jimmy Callacher got on the end of a corner. The ball seemed to deflect off Mark Haughey’s arm into the net, but the Crues should have done their homework – the Blues are the deadliest team from set-plays. It didn’t take the Blues long to show them why.
The Blues didn’t need to get out of second gear for the second half as Stephen Baxter decided to change his formation. This was the final nail in the coffin. He left Gary Thompson and Declan Caddell in the middle of the park to play up against a Linfield three which was near suicidal, to be fair. That extra man in the middle proved costly and the Blues just cut through the Crues.
Five minutes into the second half Andrew Waterworth made it two. Then from another corner – yes, another corner – Callacher lost his marker and powered in number three. Howard Beverland, who was brought in to play for the injured Billy Joe Burns was then shown a red card for a second bookable offence which reduced the Crues to 10 men.
The Blues rounded off the scoring late on when my man of the match Stephen Fallon scored with a perfect pass into the Crues net. In fairness, the Blues’ midfield was given the easiest task because of the change in formation Baxter made, but they did what they had to do and that was to win and claim all three points.
Institute 0-4 Coleraine
Saturday’s early kick-off saw the Bannsiders keep second place and that second European spot with a professional win against bottom club Stute. The Bannsiders took the lead from a free-kick as Jamie Glackin floated a ball into the box where Aaron Canning was on hand to glance a header into the net. Canning was then at the double as he made it two for the Bannsiders. A Stewart Nixon corner was met by Canning who fired home.
The Bannsiders made it three in the second half when Stute could not clear a Glackin corner and Stephen O’Donnell pounced to score. Josh Carson rounded off the scoring after some good build-up play by the impressive Nixon. A great three points for the Bannsiders against a team that they have struggled to get a win against this season.
Glenavon 2-2 Glentoran
What a game this turned out to be at Mourneview Park, but if I was a follower of the Glens, I would be taking this as two points dropped. The draw leaves the Glens in third place but only one point behind the Bannsiders, as they all fight it out for European money. Navid Nasseri opened the scoring when he combined with Rory Donnelly to tuck the ball under Jonathan Tuffey in the Lurgan Blues net.
The Lurgan Blues got themselves level just before half-time with Daniel Purkis’ header making it 1-1. The ex-East Belfast striker will have enjoyed that one! Into the second half and it was Nasseri that put the Glens back in front. But it was the equaliser that will have the Glens’ boss pulling his hair out: an Aaron Harmon deep cross found its way into the top corner of the Glens’ net. What Marijan Antolovic was doing in the Glens’ net is just beyond me, but why he was brought into the team in place of club stalwart Elliot Morris is a question only the manager can answer.
The Glens then had the opportunity to claim all three points from the spot. But instead of going for the win, they let Nasseri take the spot-kick, just so he could complete his hat-trick. In fairness for me the three points were more important, and holding off proved costly as he missed and the game played out a 2-2 draw.
Cliftonville 1-1 Ballymena United
What an inconsistent run the Reds have had since the turn of the year. Two wins, three defeats, and two draws – that’s what you call inconsistency. It leaves them in 5th place with Larne two points behind them in 6th while the Sky Blues remain in 9th. Before Saturday they were on a run of seven defeats in a row. What a turn around a season can be with this team that were flying high last season. They are doing the complete opposite this season.
Leroy Millar gave the Sky Blues the lead and they probably thought “at last they had got the three points they have been craving”. But up popped Joe ‘the goal’ Gormley. The league’s top marksman popped up midway through the second half to score the equaliser.
Larne 1-0 Warrenpoint town
This makes it four wins in a row for the Inver Reds. They have their eyes truly set on that all-important second spot and have the momentum with them. Who would write them off at this stage? They had to huff and puff to break down a well-drilled Point, and it wasn’t until late on that they got the winner with Andrew Mitchell stepping up and converting a penalty. You cannot win every game by a cricket score, some games you just have to bide your time.
Carrick Rangers 1-2 Dungannon Swifts
Two teams that that seem clear of the relegation dog fight and I cannot see them getting dragged back into it. But it was the Swifts that took all three points from this one. Swifts’ captain Douglas Wilson got the game’s first when he got his head onto a Caolan McAleer corner. Rangers were reduced to 10 men when defender Chris Rodgers was sent off for a second bookable offence. The Swifts took full advantage and got a second through Rhyss Campbell. Rangers got a consolation from the penalty spot through Caolan Loughran, but it was the Swifts that went home with all three points.