Glenn Ferguson has become the latest big name to slam Crusaders’ new 4G artifical surface.
Glentoran striker Gary Hamilton was unhappy with the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury in the first game played on the new surface and now another former Northern Ireland international has stuck the boot into it.
Ferguson is an Irish League legend who has produced many memorable moments on the Seaview grass but possibly his last appearance at the north Belfast venue was one to forget.
The former Linfield favourite was on the periphery of this contest as Crusaders’ 2-0 win over Lisburn Distillery catapulted the Crues to the Carling Premiership summit at Christmas.
Ferguson was shocked to learn that the Big Two had both tasted defeat – but he also felt that the new Seaview pitch threw up a few unpleasant surprises.
“Crusaders played better than us on the pitch but I wouldn’t like to play on it every week,” said Ferguson.
“It’s probably the worst artifical pitch I have played on, though that is no excuse for our lack of hard work.
“It’s not great. I’ve played at Ashfield, in Sweden and on a few more of these pitches and this one is a poor one. The grass is far too long, creating a crispy feel while the rest are smooth and you get a truer bounce or run.
“If that is an improved pitch costing a lot more money I wouldn’t be putting one down. It wasn’t difficult for Crusaders to knock the ball around but I am just a traditionalist who likes grass.
“It is a novelty for people to train and play on them but not week in, week out. I don’t think it would work but I am quitting and I’ll not have to worry about it!”
‘Spike’ added: “We didn’t work hard enough or play enough football. We were fortunate to be goal-less at half-time, they missed a few chances while our boys threw bodies on the line.
“If David Rainey is honest he will say his shot was going for the corner flag but it took a deflection and went in. But that is irrelevant as we did not deserve anything and a lot of hard work is needed to lift us off the bottom of the league.”
Crusaders will be disappointed another high profile name has criticised their new pitch but, judging by the wry smile that sprung up on manager Stephen Baxter’s face when Ferguson’s complaints were put to him, the Crues boss will not be losing any sleep over it.
“We have been training on that pitch for the past month, we are getting used to it and passing the ball well. If teams cannot get used to it then that is unlucky for them,” he said.
“I thought some of our football was beautiful, the best we have played this season. We passed it well and probably should have had four or five goals in the first half.
“It was a stunning performance. I don’t think they had a shot on goal. We bossed the first half against a strong wind and played some exceptional football in their half. We kept the momentum going in the second half and I am thrilled to be top of the league.
“We have seen topsy-turvy results again. Distillery are fighting for their lives and we knew this would be a tough game. We had to knuckle down and that was our best performance of the season. Ryan McCann was man of the match by some distance and we gave a debut to David McMaster who was outstanding.”
Eamon Doherty shook the post in the 13th minute but the visitors’ luck ran out in the 58th minute when David Rainey’s volley deflected into the net after striking Stuart Thompson.
The newly crowned Umbro Player of the Year, Colin Coates, then stepped forward to drill home the second goal on 76 minutes. Martin Donnelly’s corner wasn’t cleared by the defence and the ball fell invitingly to the skipper to poke it home from close range.
The Crues will now aim to prove they have the staying power in an open title race but they should heed the word of warning from a man who knows what it takes to win league titles.
“It will be tough for all the teams but Linfield and Glentoran will not be far away at the end,” said Ferguson.
With Cliftonville up next at Seaview on Boxing Day, Baxter knows the hard work is only just beginning.
“I’ve told the boys we are cancelling Christmas,” he added.
“We are going to up our training this week and coming in on Christmas Eve. There will be no let-up. We have to keep the fitness going and be ready for the big games.
“It’s nice to be top of the league but you take nothing for granted in this game.”
Linfield boss David Jeffrey and his Glentoran counterpart Alan McDonald will share that view.