Five things we learned from Crusaders' Europa League victory over Liepaja
From an impressive 42 year-old debutant to the summer football debate, here's the take-away from Seaview
For the first hour at Seaview, Crusaders tore strips off their Latvian opponents. But at the end, the hosts were clinging on desperately to their two-goal advantage as Liepaja pressed.
When Arturs Karastausks rifled in the goal of the game for 3-1, the momentum flipped. And it taught me a lesson - so here's the take-away from Crusaders' first leg victory.
1. One hour of football is not enough to judge a team
Alright so this might seem a little obvious. But I had happily written-off Liepaja with 60 minutes played at Seaview. Defensively, they were a shambles - time and time again a stray pass or a botched clearance fell at the feet of a Crusaders player. Even Philip Lowry's opener was all too easy as he slammed home unmarked on the six yard line. At the other end, they didn't seem like offering much. But then. Well then it all changed.
2. Arturs Karasausks is the name of a very good footballer
I didn't even have to look up the spelling of that. That's how often I was writing it down during the final 30 minutes at Seaview. The number 11 smashed in the second best goal I've seen this season to bring life into the tie. Alright, so given I've only watched two games, that's not that glowing a reference. But it says more about the quality of Jordan Stewart's strike the previous evening. Arturs' smasher was special too, in off the bar from the corner of the box. Poor Brian Jensen could do absolutely nothing about it. And Karasausks threatened to do it again on more than one occasion, showing great footwork to make space and rain in shots on the former Burnley keeper.
3. Age is just a number. Ask Brian Jensen.
Well I did ask him actually. And that's exactly what the 42 year-old said. The proof was in the pudding. During that last half hour, he made a couple of smart saves - the best of which from substitute Kurtiss' dipping effort that was expertly tipped over the crossbar. Add to that another top stop from Karasausks and a good save from an earlier free-kick and it makes a very solid debut. Oh and I also learned that he's 6'4.5. And has a fantastic, part English accent. Some boy.
4. Crusaders' attacking options are still up there with the best
We all know Linfield have strengthened. Anybody who didn't was left in no doubt by that lad Stewart on Wednesday evening. But Crusaders sent a reminder on Thursday that they can turn on the style going forward as well. Paul Heatley caused plenty of problems early on, Jordan Owens bullied the centre-halves and Gavin Whyte turned the flow of the game back in the Crues' favour. When he was introduced, Liepaja were pressing relentlessly for a second goal that would have turned a good result into a disaster waiting to happen. But once Whyte got the ball, he picked up the pace, drifted past his marker and hauled his men back up the pitch.
And all that's not to forget the man of the moment Michael Carvill, who netted an impressive goal, placing a shot into the bottom corner. It was a strike that summed up an impressive overall performance. Carvill hasn't always been one of the first names on the team-sheet, but if he keeps up those performances, he'll be hard to leave out.
5. Summer football is back on the agenda
It was interesting that during interviews at Seaview and even coming across social media from Coleraine and Ballymena in Norway, talk of opposition being mid-season was rife. Stephen Baxter identified Liepaja's match-fitness as a reason for the Crues' struggle in the final half-hour while both of the Irish League's travelling sides pointed to Norway's summer season in the wake of their defeats. One thing's for certain, it's a debate that's back on the table and it isn't going to go away quickly.
We also learned, of course, that Josh Robinson has signed for Crus......Linfield said what? I love the Irish League.
Belfast Telegraph Digital