Crusaders today sent out a message that they are far from giving up their grip of the Danske Bank Premiership trophy after a sensational 3-2 victory over leaders at the start of the day Ballymena United. Both sides gave it their all and provided over 2000 supporters in the ground a match to remember.
Crusaders took control early in the game and set it alight when Paul Heatley scored on 6 minutes. A ball over the top was played perfectly by Philip Lowry and Heatley volleyed past Ross Glendinning to put Crusaders ahead. Heatley nearly doubled the lead 3 minutes later but this time Glendinning won the battle. The game started to settle and again it was Heatley who forced a save from Glendinning again when his in swinging corner had to be clawed out from under the United cross bar. Ballymena United equalised on 25 minutes when Jude Winchester managed to get in amongst the defenders and put the ball past Sean O'Neill. Crusaders quickly came back and it was Kyle Owens who put Crusaders ahead again on 29 minutes. A ball into the box somehow nmanaged to come right through to the defender who was at the back of the crowded area and he controlled and shot past Glendinning into the net from a tight angle making it 2-1 Crusaders. On 33 minutes the big man nearly scored again but a shot come pass came at him to quickly and his header went wide. The game had a quiet period for several minutes and shots from Philip Lowry and David Cushley did not trouble. As the half came to an end Glendinning had to be alert to palm away Paul Heatleys shot and the half ended with Crusaders 2-1 ahead.
The second half saw Ballymena United come out and give it their all from the whistle. Colin Coates made a superb block to stop an attempted shot by United before Sean O'Neill had to punch clear in quick succession as United got closer. United kept on coming at Crusaders who where under pressure at this stage but the defence stood strong and kept them at bay. The pressure did finally count as United equalised on 64 minutes. Stephen McCullough was given time and space to control and turn in the box and he shot past O'Neill to make it 2-2. They continued to pepper the goal and and another shot went not that far wide. Crusaders started to come back into the game again and on 70 minutes Paul Heatleys 25 yard curler beat Glendinning all ends up but it crashed off the bar and away to safety. Minutes later Crusaders could not convert in a goalmouth scramble and a Jordan Forsythe effort went over the bar. The game was on a knife edge and both Heatley and Caddell had shots blocked but the best was yet to come. With just four minutes left David Cushley sent Paul Heatley clear and after sending the United defender for his tea with a beautiful dummy he shot but the ball spun off a last ditch tackle from another United defender and spun over everybodys head into the net to make it 3-2 and to send the home support crazy. There was little time for United to push for an equaliser and in injury time Matthew Snoddy nearly made it four but he shot wide. It didn't matter as the ref blew his whistle and Crusaders had won 3-2.
A superb game of football and a win leaving Crusaders with maximum points over the holiday period and they move into third place only three points behind new leaders Linfield. We now look to Saturday and the Irish Cup against Glentoran at Seaview.