Crusaders 1 Donegal Celtic 2: Donegal Celtic produced the classic away performance last night to conquer Crusaders and move joint top of the Carling Premiership on nine points.
The Crues missed a bagful of chances in the opening half and were only 1-0 up at the break before second-half goals from Stephen McAlorum and Paul McVeigh rounded off a stunning fightback.
For one team, tipped to challenge for the title, this was a shocking three points to toss away while for the other, tipped to be in a relegation scrap, this was a sensational victory at a daunting away venue.
Goalkeeper Robert Robinson was the Hoops hero, pulling off several eye-catching saves before his comrades showed the clinical finishing the hosts lacked.
“The first-half was very disappointing for us, but one to 11 we were outstanding in the second half,” said Robinson. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team and the manager told us a few home truths at half-time. Thankfully, we came out and won.”
Matchwinner McVeigh said: “It’s a great lift for the club and we thoroughly deserved the win. Our budget is very low, but there is a great spirit in this team.”
Michael Halliday struck the base of the DC post in the ninth minute, but the visitors failed to heed the warning as he netted four minutes later.
A well worked move culminated with Stephen McBride, making his 350th Crues appearance, chipping the ball across goal for Halliday to chest it over the line from close range.
Robinson kept out a long-range free-kick from Gareth McKeown and then beat out a powerful drive from Chris Morrow.
Ten minutes before the break, the former Linfield stopper produced more heroics to deflect a shot from McBride wide.
After the break Robinson turned over a lob from Colin Coates and a powerful strike from David Rainey.
The west-Belfast side then stunned the Hatchetmen by grabbing a 66th minute equaliser.
Midfielder Stephen McAlorum unleashed a sweet left-foot strike from outside the penalty area that found the bottom corner of the net.
The Crues thought they should have had a penalty on 70 minutes when Halliday’s shot appeared to strike a hand, however referee Alan Black waved play on.
DC snatched a dramatic winner with just four minutes to go. Paul McVeigh ghosted into the six yard box and was allowed a free header after Eamon McAllister’s wonderful cross.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, McKeown, Leeman, Coates, McBride, McMaster, Morrow, Watson, Dallas, Halliday, Rainey. Subs: Owens (for McMaster 68), McCann, Gargan, West, Snoddy.
DONEGAL CELTIC: Robinson, P Bradley, L Bradley, O’Hara, Harkness, McAllister, McAlorum, Henderson, Lambe, McVeigh, Murray. Subs: Gowdy (for Lambe 61) Devine, Burns (for Murray 87), Atkinson, Glenholmes.
Referee: Alan Black (Antrim).