Caddell makes difference for Crusaders against Cliftonville
Cliftonville 0 Crusaders 2: Stephen Baxter hailed the revitalised Declan Caddell as Crusaders ended their Solitude hoodoo.
Almost exactly four years on from their last away day success over Cliftonville, goals from Paul Heatley and Jordan Owens extended the Crues' unbeaten run to 10 matches in a typically feisty north Belfast derby showdown.
Widely regarded as the best fixture on the Irish League calendar, this contest didn't exactly live up to previous billings but, nevertheless, produced enough talking points to keep the fans engaged until their next match-up – including an obligatory dismissal.
Red cards are nearly always guaranteed when these sides meet and, while it's traditionally been Hatchetmen taking the long walk in recent years, home goalkeeper Conor Devlin became the first Cliftonville player to make an early exit since the infamous 2009 festive dust-up that saw no fewer than SIX players sin-binned.
Caddell has never been a stranger to the referee's notebook and it was almost inevitable he would be involved in the incident which led to Raymond Crangle showing red to Devlin for violent conduct – but boss Baxter was quick to accentuate the positives of his midfielder's new-found maturity.
"If you look at his record in the last 12 months, it's been fantastic," said Baxter.
"We have turned him around from being a player who was over-aggressive into a player who's got a whole lot more thought about his game.
"He's been working very hard and has done for 12 months on his discipline and it's been fantastic, absolutely fantastic. He's picked up very few cards and he's cut out that slide tackle which was getting him into trouble and that's gone from his game now.
"He needs to be treated as he was here, with fairness. The referee handled the game exceptionally well, it was the best performance of an Irish League referee I've seen for five years and I thought he was on everything, picked every decision up correctly and you can't fault what he has done out there."
The same could be said of Caddell (pictured) , whose half-time introduction helped tilt things in Crusaders' favour following an unremarkable opening 45 minutes.
The visitors had been shading things without being able to find that telling touch or incisive pass that would yield the breakthrough and, having asked his players to "almost literally take one step forward", Baxter was delighted with how the second period panned out for his team.
They pulled ahead on the hour mark when Heatley collected possession some 25 yards from goal and set off on an assertive run that saw him drift beyond Ciaran Caldwell and Jaimie McGovern before confidently poking the ball beyond Devlin.
The visiting support in raptures, they barely had time to catch their breath before Owens was nodding Caddell's cross into the top corner to wrap up the points in a magical minute for the Shore Road side.
Cliftonville – who failed to register a single shot on target over the course of the afternoon – had their misery compounded when Caldwell was forced to take over between the sticks following Devlin's goal-line tangle with Caddell.
"I didn't see too much of the incident, it just looked like pushing and shoving to me," said home boss Tommy Breslin, who has seen his champions collect just one point from three Danske Bank Premiership outings.
"It's the sort of thing you see at corners all the time and I was surprised to see the card come out, to be honest."
That complaint was, however, nothing in comparison to the frustration Breslin revealed following a lengthy post-match discussion with his underperforming stars, who have now lost just one match fewer than they did throughout the whole of last season's league programme.
"I think we have the wrong attitude at the minute," he admitted.
"If it was one or two people, it would be easier to deal with, but it seems to have spread right throughout the squad.
"I wouldn't say they're approaching matches with arrogance as such, but maybe there's an undue sense of entitlement there – is it that they're champions and they think they're going to get things easy?
"Whatever it is, it's not acceptable and we've had a long chat about it."
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, Caldwell, Garrett, Donnelly, Catney, Curran, Cosgrove, Boyce. Subs: McNally, McMullan (for Boyce, 81 mins), McNeill, O'Carroll (for Curran, 74 mins), Gormley (for Donnelly, 67 mins) .
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Magowan, Robinson, Heatley, Leeman, Owens, Snoddy, Morrow, Adamson, Coates, McClean. Subs: McCutcheon (for Adamson, 88 mins), Caddell (for Snoddy, 46 mins), McAllister (for Heatley, 79 mins), King, Cleary.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)