Stephen Baxter praises Crusaders stars after Ards rout
Ards 1 Crusaders 4: On target: Jordan Owens is congratulated after nodding home IT was a day of contrasting emotions at Clandeboye Park as Crusaders climbed to the top of the table while Ards sank to the bottom.
The impressive Crues brushed their hosts aside in the first 26 minutes of the game, playing an intense style of football that the home side couldn't live with.
Gary McCutcheon, Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley all scored inside the first half hour, on top of Chris Morrow missing a penalty. McCutcheon added a fourth in the second period before Neil Dougan scored a consolation goal.
"It doesn't get much better than that," said boss Stephen Baxter.
"In the first-half, we kept the ball well, scored three goals, created numerous chances and missed a penalty. By 3-0, the damage was done and we just had to make sure we stayed on top.
"We took our foot off the pedal in the second-half but I can have no complaints today. Some of our passages of play were superb. It was supreme football from a team that are playing well.
"We've not lost in 21 games and we're top of the league. That's the players' reward for all the hard work they've put in, but no-one is getting excited or carried away with themselves. After all, we're only top on goal difference."
Ards manager Niall Currie accused his players of letting their supporters down.
"It was men against boys out there today," he admitted. "I know it's tough, but the players aren't pressing the opposition enough.
"They were light years ahead of us. I was extremely disappointed with the lack of intensity in our game. They played very well, but we gave them three soft goals today. Our boys need to be brave on the ball and need work hard when they're not in possession.
"The supporters deserve more than what they got today. Our players lifted their wages after the game and I think a few of them will have to reflect on their recent performances."
Crusaders took the lead in the 15th minute when Ards failed to clear a corner kick. Defender David Gibson tried the walk the ball out of the penalty box only to be robbed inside the area. Heatley fired off a shot that Graeme McKibbin was only able to parry into the path of McCutcheon, who couldn't miss from six yards out.
Ards conceded a penalty in the shortly afterwards when Stephen McCullough brought down Eamon McAllister but Morrow's spot kick and Heatley's rebound effort were both well saved.
Crusaders fans didn't have to wait long for their second goal, though, as Heatley raced to the byline before providing the perfect cross Jordan Owens to head home.
The third goal arrived a minute later after an horrendous defensive mix-up saw Heatley capitalise on Gibson's poor back-header, while any hopes of a second-half comeback from the home side were extinguished on 50 minutes when McCutcheon scored Crusaders' fourth goal of the game ahead of Dougan's consolation.
ARDS: McKibbin, Gibson (Mitchell, 27 mins), Hunter, Armstrong, McCullough, Henderson, Gordon, Faulkner, Dougan, McClelland (P McDowell, 46 mins), Roy (Davidison, 50 mins). Unused subs: Spence, Arthurs
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Leeman, Magowan, Coates, McClean, E McAllister (McMaster, 78 mins), Caddell (Robinson, 80 mins), Morrow, Heatley, McCutcheon, Owens (Adamson, 65 mins). Unused subs: Hanley, Snoddy
Referee: Hugh Carvill (Belfast)