Ballymena United 1 Crusaders 2
If Ballymena United hope to pick up points in the Carling Premiership they are going to have to stop playing suicidal football.
And if Crusaders players hope to put a smile on their manager’s face they will have to perform a lot better than this.
Rival bosses Roy Walker and Stephen Baxter had a good old moan after this Showgrounds battle which was action-packed but offered little encouragement to both teams.
Baxter was thrilled with the three points but he referred to his players’ performance as “abysmal”.
Walker knew exactly how he felt after watching goalkeeper Sean O’Neill and midfielder Aidan Watson ruin any hopes the Sky Blues had of pocketing an early fair play award.
O’Neill lost the plot when he pushed over Eamon Doherty four minutes before the break while Watson, who had already been booked for a foul on Ryan McCann, also saw red after another lunge at the midfielder in the 51st minute.
It was Watson’s fifth yellow card in four matches and the nine men paid the price when Colin Coates directed a superb header from Martin Donnelly’s deep cross past stand-in shot-stopper Mark Surgenor.
In the opening half, Albert Watson’s bullet header from a Philip Carson free-kick cancelled out David Rainey’s stunning strike but United’s indiscipline came back to haunt them, though they were spared further punishment when Martin Donnelly blasted an injury time penalty over the bar after David McMaster had been felled by Michael Smith.
At the final whistle, both managers put the boot in. “That was a horrendous performance,” said Baxter who will demand a better showing against Coleraine at Seaview tomorrow night.
“We usually play good football and have a good tactical brain but the players didn’t show up.
“I don’t understand why we couldn’t pass the ball well. Good players don’t become bad players overnight but players must be responsible for their performances. If we play like this on Tuesday night we will be hammered.
“We normally play like Barcelona and pass the ball around well which you have to do to win football matches but they didn’t do that.”
Former Crues boss Walker felt the pain as his troops shot themselves in the foot.
“The nine players put in a heroic effort but a lack of professionalism from others hurt us,” he said. “It’s not the first time Aidan has done this, he did it with the same referee at Dungannon. It was a pathetic sending off which lets everybody down.
“I don’t fault the referee for the two dismissals but in the run up to O’Neill’s sending off their player pushed our player. The fella who started the incident got off scott free.”
The Crues will allow goalkeeper Aaron Kerr to play for Ballymena United against Glentoran on Wednesday as O’Neill is suspended and Dwayne Nelson is still out injured.
Kerr could then become the first Irish League shot-stopper to have Keith Gillespie charging towards him at the Oval. The Sky Blues could do with 11 men against the champions.