Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ballymena United 2 Crusaders 0

Revenge is a dish best served cold, with a healthy dose of strong winds and heavy rain thrown in.

Ballymena United, still smarting from their County Antrim Shield semi-final defeat to Crusaders in midweek, were thirsty for revenge while the visitors thought they could simply turn up, go through the motions and win.

On this evidence, the Sky Blues are a team on the up and the only way for Crusaders, sadly, is down.

Manager Stephen Baxter’s reluctance to give his analysis of the match to the waiting media was understandable. Attempting to explain that performance from his Carling Premiership leaders would simply be a waste of breath.

Even with the wind at their backs in the first half, the visitors were second best and they were fortunate not to go home on the end of a bigger hammering.

Michael Smith’s first goal for the club and a deserved second goal for the outstanding David Cushley settled the contest but Nathan McConnell and Andy Smith came close to scribbling their names on the scoresheet.

Roy Walker’s side are now in the top six and must derive fresh confidence and self-belief from this result and performance.

But Crusaders’ lack of strength in depth was highlighted when Stephen McBride was ruled out with flu and the new-look backline, with Gareth McKeown going to left-back and Jamie Marks coming in on the right, played as if they had never met before kick-off.

Marks was easily beaten by Cushley, who provided the stunning cross that led to Smith tapping home the opener on 29 minutes and the midfielder sealed the points in the 63rd minute when Andy Smith’s attempted shot ricoched to him in the box.

It may be premature to start calling the Ballymena Showgrounds a fortress again but the signs are encouraging.

Walker said: “I thought Andy (Smith) led the line well, showing a lovely touch and excellent work-rate.

“We played some good football, particularly for the first goal when David got to the byline and got his cross in and when Andy set Nathan (McConnell) through on goal and he shot just wide.

“Michael (Smith) may be a right-back but he has a great football brain and he is perceptive. Therefore it doesn’t really matter where you play him — he is aware of what is going on.

“We weren’t shrinking violets, we stood up to them and deserved to win.

“I think our barren start was undeserved given the performances and our points tally should be greater but we will keep our feet on the ground — we won’t suffer from vertigo.

“We’ll train on Monday and hopefully have a report on the Glens. The plan will be to nullify their strengths and exploit our strengths.”

Crues assistant boss Terry Moore said the club’s limited defensive options were highlighted by the defeat.

“We have a small squad,” he said.

“It is the first time in 13 games that we have made a back four change and we have very little cover in certain areas.

“You aren’t going to keep your back four together all season but there was a lot wrong with our performance.”

Crues fans will be hoping that McBride shakes off the flu to bring solidity and composure to the back four at Coleraine in tomorrow night’s Carling Premiership clash.

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