Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter seething over double dismissal at Coleraine
Coleraine 1-1 Crusaders
A red mist descended over the Showgrounds on Saturday but Crusaders displayed the pedigree of champions, digging deep to find a way through the haze.
Referee Keith Kennedy incurred the wrath of Crues manager Stephen Baxter after he sensationally red-carded Paul Heatley and Jordan Forsythe.
Baxter protested that both received rough justice. However, despite peering into the jaws of defeat, the nine men refused to surrender and produced a last-gasp equaliser to emerge with a vital point, leaving them four adrift of league leaders Linfield.
"If I say what I really want to, I could be in big trouble," said an angry Baxter afterwards.
"It was a fantastic result given the situation because of two poor decisions."
The Crues lost Heatley to a straight red when he came together with defender Lyndon Kane in the first-half. The referee dismissed the Crues star after consulting with his assistant.
Baxter said: "Paul was in tears. He said he did not do anything. I want to watch the TV pictures to see if they can show anything."
On Forsythe's dismissal for a second-half challenge on Kane, the Crues boss added: "A player who has no malice in him whatsoever has been harshly treated in my opinion."
In between the red cards, sub James McLaughlin headed Coleraine in front after keeper Sean O'Neill had parried Ruairi Harkin's shot towards him.
But Stephen O'Flynn came off the bench to snatch an 89th-minute equaliser. His captain, Colin Coates, who headed Craig McClean's free-kick into the path of the striker, said: "It was a tough game and you have to give Coleraine credit for the way they set up and made it difficult for us.
"It says a lot about our resolve that we did not give up right to the bitter end."
Coleraine manager Oran Kearney felt Forsythe's tackle did not merit more than a yellow card. He said: "It was harsh to give Forsythe a straight red. In my opinion it, was not a malicious challenge.
"For us, the draw seems like a defeat. We took our eye off the ball and were undone from a set-piece. But given our circumstances with injuries, it was a superb result."
COLERAINE: Doherty, Kane, Beverland, Douglas (McLaughlin, 46 mins), Canning, Mullan, Lyons, Harkin, McCauley (Law, 78 mins), Brown, McGonigle. Unused subs: Watt, Falconer, Parkhill.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McLean, Whyte (Mitchell, 67 mins), Clarke (O'Flynn, 83 mins), Snoddy, Heatley, Owens, Forsythe. Unused subs: O'Carroll, Molloy, McKibbin.
Man of the match: Howard Beverland (right)
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)