Scoring goals isn’t a problem for Crusaders — it’s the challenge of keeping them out at the other end that will be occupying the mind of manager Stephen Baxter.
Baxter now has three goalkeepers to select from ahead of two huge cup games this week — the Irish Cup replay with Linfield at Seaview tomorrow night and Saturday’s IRN-BRU Cup final showdown with Cliftonville.
Teenager Jack McCrea was handed his third appearance for the club in Saturday’s comfortable home win over Ballymena United — and, in boxing parlance, the visitors barely laid a glove on him.
The home defence wasn’t penetrated until the 79th minute but by that stage, the Crues were five goals to the good.
But McCrea may not be the first name on the teamsheet for long now that experienced new boys Yohann Lacroix and Craig Hyland are thirsty for action. Sean O’Neill’s dislocated shoulder will certainly lead to a higher than usual phone bill for Baxter.
“We were chasing about a dozen goalkeepers in five days,” said Baxter. “I’ve spoken to keepers all around the world and my phone bill must be through the roof, I can assure you. It’s difficult getting them in and some clubs couldn’t help us, but we’ve struck gold with these two.
“Jack had very little to do but anything we asked of him he did it. He kicked it well and his positional sense was good but he wasn’t under an awful lot of pressure. I had no hesitation in putting him in. He’s a very capable keeper and one for the future.
“We are waiting on the international clearances to come through for the two top goalkeepers, hopefully it will be done on Monday.
“Both of them look exceptionally good in training and we have to see them in a match situation. But their handling and kicking tells you they have played at a high level. If you’re up at the top of the table you need to have the right personnel around you.”
Such is the form of the outfield players at Seaview, it means Baxter’s selection headache isn’t confined to the goalkeeping position.
Ballymena United were swept away in ruthless fashion, former Sky Blues marksman Gary McCutcheon netting a brace with further goals from Paul Heatley, Chris Morrow and Colin Coates completing the rout. Alan Teggart’s late consolation header did little to warm the hearts of the dejected travelling support.
Disappointed boss Glenn Ferguson said: “It’s frustrating when the team is so inconsistent. We can lose heavily to Linfield, then beat Crusaders, get beat by eight against Cliftonville then beat Linfield, go to the Oval and beat the Glens then get thumped here by Crusaders. It’s not good enough and players need to look at themselves.”
Aspiring goalkeepers will get a chance to listen and learn from two of the Irish League’s top goalkeepers at a free coaching master-class this week.
Cliftonville net-minder Conor Devlin and Crusaders ‘keeper Sean O’Neill will appear at the Just4keepers coaching school at Cooke Rugby Club on Wednesday (7.30pm), just three days before their respective clubs come face-to-face in the IRN-BRU League Cup Final at Windsor Park.
Reds star Devlin will assist Antrim GAA’s goalkeeper Sean McGreevy in the session.
The class is for keepers aged 10 and older and places are limited to a first come, first serve basis, and must be reserved via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07927 967 111 ( www.j4kni.co.uk).