Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders 3 Portadown 1

By Graham Luney

Football can be unpredictable and that’s why it captures our imagination, but some things never change.

Linfield win Irish League titles and managers don’t see eye to eye at the end of matches.

The accusations were flying from rival bosses Ronnie McFall and Stephen Baxter after Crusaders’ 3-1 win on Saturday but when the dust settles on another season, there is much more reason to be cheerful on the Shore Road than at Shamrock Park.

Now that Linfield have effectively retained the championship, Crusaders can now focus on the Irish Cup decider against the Blues, a fitting end of season platform for the entertaining football they have produced this season.

A second-place top flight finish has been secured for the first time since their Gibson Cup triumph in 1997 — and this from a team that was scrapping in the Intermediate League five years ago.

Baxter was right to pat his players on the back for a job well done, but as the players strolled into the post-match sunshine, Ports chief Ronnie McFall turned the air blue.

“Crusaders are a physical side,” fumed McFall. “That’s the one aspect that people overlook. They go into tackles to do damage.

“We ended up with four or five players booked while Jordan Owens is up with his elbows every time he jumps with the centre-half. (Aidan) Watson must have had 10 fouls during the game and no action was taken against him.”

But McFall’s hairdryer wasn’t just turned on the Crusaders players. Referee Colin Burns also got a blast.

“We were comfortable until the referee gave them two goals and then for (Tim) Mouncey’s sending off he couldn’t get the red card out quick enough,” said McFall.

“He didn’t spot a handball in the middle and he gave the red card near enough before he blew for the penalty.

“The manner of the defeat is disappointing when the influence of the officials is taken into account.

“They (referees) have to look at themselves. They are accountable to no-one.”

Stinging criticism from McFall, no doubt sparked by a frustrating end to a season which started with European success, but ended with a real whimper.

Baxter, not surprisingly, rejected McFall’s claims as a “cheap shot.”

“Ronnie needs to watch a DVD of that game, maybe we should sent it to him,” said Baxter.

“There was a tackle on (Stuart) Dallas in the first half when the boy just booted him. He didn’t look at the ball, just whacked him.

“There were two or three kamikaze tackles while there wasn’t a bad tackle from our team.

“His team were well beaten and to say that is just a cheap shot.

“I thought the referee was excellent and for the penalty kick the boy (Mouncey) just whacked him (Owens).

“It was suicidal stuff. His team were out of control and we played the football,” he said.

The Ports took an early lead through Richard Lecky, but Crusaders kept creating chances and from the moment Declan Caddell equalised in the 56th minute, the visitors’ challenge melted away in the north Belfast sunshine.

Michael Halliday coolly slotted in a spot-kick after Mouncey’s poor challenge on Owens which was punished with a straight red card. Then Owens’ glancing header on 68 minutes was the end of the fireworks until the post match analysis.

Although Crusaders will turn their thoughts to the Irish Cup decider against Linfield, their immediate concern is facing a Cliftonville side thirsty for revenge at Solitude tomorrow after their 5-0 hammering at Seaview last month.

“We are a club here with small resources and a small squad,” added Baxter. “But we managed to keep the title race interesting and we have kept the football writers in a job!

“The guys have battled really well since Christmas as we kept things alive and exciting right up to the end.

“Win, lose or draw in the cup final it will be a phenomenal season here.”

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