Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders 4 Cliftonville 3: David Cushley on high after settling thriller

By Graham Luney

As one Crusaders supporter commented at the end of this pulsating north Belfast derby, "how could anyone say the Irish League isn't worth watching after that?"

The champions might want to get this match on a DVD in time for Christmas but it turned into a horror show for Cliftonville.

Yes, the Crues fought like tigers to hold onto their unbeaten record in the Danske Bank Premiership, but their neighbours should have seen the job through after coasting to a 3-0 lead in the 61st minute.

It was little consolation to Cliftonville that they had played some scintillating football but the introduction of David Cushley in the 57th minute helped spark one of the greatest fightbacks witnessed at Seaview in recent memory.

"The ball was bobbling about and I just got my knee on it I think," said Cushley after the dramatic winner deep into stoppage time.

"It was brilliant, what a way to win it. As Colin Coates said to me, 'welcome to the party!'

"It was a great effort from the boys to come back from 3-0 down. We fought to the end and we looked more dangerous as the game went on.

"The gaffer was angry at half-time and we had to come out and start playing.

"No matter who you are playing it's never easy turning a game around like that and especially against a good Cliftonville side.

"I came here for games like this and the derby lived up to my expectations.

"You are always disappointed not to start but I couldn't be happier with the way the game ended."

This fightback was a statement of intent from the champions, a message to the rest of the Premiership that this team don't know when they're beaten but Cliftonville will be kicking themselves for tossing away a huge lead.

Their goals from Daniel Hughes on 15 minutes, Jay Donnelly (54) and Ruairi Harkin (61) had the Red Army loving life at sun splashed Seaview.

Keeper Jason Mooney had produced a sensational save to frustrate Michael Carvill and it seemed certain this wasn't going to be the champions' day.

But Crusaders never gave up hope and four goals in 28 minutes snatched the bragging rights in unforgettable style.

Jordan Owens, who had missed a sitter before the break, came up with two headers (65 and 78 minutes), Carvill slotted in the equaliser (89) and Cushley (93) poked in the winner.

Reds chief Gerard Lyttle was sent off by referee Raymond Crangle after the fourth official had taken a dim view of protests after the third goal when Carvill collided with Mooney before forcing the ball over the line.

"The boys were sitting too deep and not stopping crosses," admitted Lyttle.

"Maybe tiredness crept in but Cushley wasn't closed down and we paid for a lack of concentration and perhaps belief.

"Crusaders are champions and their never say die spirit should be applauded. We want to have that within our group and we must work on that. We've got the ability to play but you need more than that."

Crues boss Stephen Baxter said: "The boys got my wrath for the first hour but we pulled ourselves together and they go home as heroes. Football goes like that sometimes.

"I'm a believer in taking a gamble and throwing the dice.

"We didn't settle for a draw, we kept attacking and it worked for us. On another day it could backfire. But take nothing away from Cliftonville, they were absolutely superb."

It was breathless stuff, no doubt leaving Baxter with little breath left to blow out the candles on his birthday cake.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Coates, McClean (Clarke, 64 mins), Gault (Carvill, 46 mins), Caddell, Heatley (Cushley, 57 mins), Whyte, Forsythe, Owens. Unused subs: Dougherty, Lowry.

Cliftonville: Mooney, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Knowles, M Donnelly (Garrett, 84 mins), Hughes (McDaid, 74 mins), Harkin, Winchester (Curran, 60 mins), J Donnelly, Cosgrove. Unused subs: Bonner, G Donnelly.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)

Man of the match: David Cushley

Match rating: 9/10

Belfast Telegraph


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