Crusaders ..... (0)0 ..... Glenavon ..... (0)0
Glenavon left damp and dreary Seaview last evening with a share of the spoils. They’ve now taken 7 out of 9 points from the Shore Road men this season, with Crusaders not managing a goal in any of the three meetings.
A win for Crusaders would have reduced the gap between themselves and north Belfast rival Cliftonville in third, to 7 points. As it is, tonight’s stalemate leaves them trailing The Reds by 9 with a solitary game in hand.
Gary Hamilton was the happier manager at the end of a hard-fought 90 minutes in which his side showed little attacking ambition. Instead they were well-organized, always had plenty behind the ball, and managed to frustrate Crusaders, who enjoyed plenty of possession but created precious little.
We had to wait 84 minutes for the first worthwhile shot on target. Jordan Forsythe swivelled in midfield, advanced and fired a well-struck effort from 25 yards. Taylor in the Glenavon goal was well behind it although not entirely comfortable with the gather.
It was the prelude to Crusaders’ best opportunity of the game which fell to Billy Joe Burns with two mins of regulation time left. The Crues captain met a cross at the back post, one touch to control then unleashed a volleyed attempt from 7 yards which took strong hands from Taylor to repel.
They had also struck a post soon after the restart through Lecky, restored to the starting line-up after his winning goal at Inver Park at the weekend, but it was a night when Glenavon’s stubborn and well-organized resistance would not be breached.
Clearly the Lurgan side intended to sit behind the ball and try nick a goal on the break, but only one real opportunity came their way. Midway through the second-half McCloskey’s half-volley from 25 yards flew just over.
Recent Crusaders signing from Ballymena United, Jude Winchester was the brightest performer on view prompting his manager Baxter to say, “You’ll see more of Jude. He’s here for the long-haul and you can see how he drove at the Glenavon defence this evening.”
The Crues boss also had praise for his team’s performance in terms of their passing and possession play.
“We haven’t seen the stats yet, but I expect they’ll show we had 70-80% possession. We passed the ball well, but sometimes you cannot break the opponent down.
“There was a couple of good chances and we hit the post, and when they sit in like they did, defending with eight men behind the ball it becomes difficult to break down. Quite a few teams in the league have played in this way this season and have become good at it.”
The first-half was nondescript, the overall 90 minutes unlikely to remain in the memory for long. In fact it took 25 minutes before anything significant happened, when Glenavon’s Danny Wallace blocked Lecky’s attempt as he spun and shot from 12 yards.
It was after this that Winchester begun to impose himself on the game. One marauding run through midfield allowed him to find Kennedy with space on the left on 38 mins. And although the ex-Stevenage player’s dead ball delivery was generally off colour by his own lofty standards, on this occasion he produced a dangerous cross inviting a team-mate to gamble, but no-one did.
Winchester screwed another ball wide just before the break then on the stroke of half time an altercation between Forsyth and Matthew Snoddy, attracting the interest of several team-mates, saw each man yellow carded.
Winchester had two other half-chance attempts after the restart. One resulted in a corner, neither troubled Taylor.
Crusaders had second-top scorer Heatley on the bench and surprisingly, given the urgency to find a late winner, refrained from throwing him into the action. Perhaps he was carrying a knock of some sort into the game despite his dugout deployment .
Although the better, more enterprising side throughout, Crusaders rarely un-ruffled Glenavon’s dogged rearguard. The Lurgan men weren’t forced into any last-ditch defending and a sense of satisfaction prevailed amongst the visiting troupe at the close. The game-plan, neither pretty nor enterprising, had been soundly executed after all.
Glenavon now sit just a point behind Ballymena for the seventh place required to secure a Europa Conference League play-off berth and the two sides go head to head this coming Saturday should the weather, and Ballymena’s fragile Showgrounds pitch, permit.
Crusaders: Tuffey - Burns (c), Larmour (O’Rourke, 75), Robinson, Wilson - Lowry, Weir, Forsythe, Winchester - Kennedy, Lecky (Owens, 73)
Bench (not used): Shields, Caddell, Heatley, Clarke, McMurray
Glenavon: Taylor - Ward, Wallace, Haughey, Singleton (c) - Snoddy (O’Mahony, 73), Garrett, Birney, McCloskey, Fitzpatrick - Campbell
Bench (not used): Hall, A Doyle, O’Connor, Scannell, J Doyle, Waterworth
Match Officials -
Referee: Evan Boyce
Asst Refs: George Argyropoulos, Gavin Hegarty
4th Official: Christopher Morrison