Crusaders 1 Glentoran 2
Glentoran fans left Seaview on Saturday no doubt singing the praises of their inspirational skipper Colin Nixon and wing wizard Stephen Carson.
Darren Boyce will also never forget his league debut for the east Belfast side, becoming an instant hero as his last gasp winner settled a pulsating contest.
But the Oval faithful should also be raising a glass to their goalkeeper Elliott Morris as his two outstanding saves to frustrate Crues substitute David Rainey enabled the visitors to go on and snatch victory from the jaws of a stalemate.
Morris enjoyed a slice of luck when his woodwork was rattled by David McMaster’s piledriver but there was nothing fortunate about his stunning blocks from a Rainey downward header and then a fiercely struck drive.
The Glens number one was offered magnificent protection from his rearguard held together by the solid duo Nixon and Sean Ward and it was very much a committed team performance that saw them over the line.
Yet the double save from Morris (right) should not be overlooked, as Crues boss Stephen Baxter admitted afterwards: “How he got those two balls I’ll never know but that’s what he’s there for — he’s a top keeper.”
A draw would have been a fair outcome to this thrilling Carling Premiership opener with the Glens bossing the first half and Crusaders turning the tide after the interval.
But football has a habit of giving us cruel twists of fate and it was Morris and co. celebrating at the finish.
“It was good to finally get a win here,” admitted Morris. “We hadn’t beaten Crusaders in a while at Seaview, certainly not since they put down the new surface.
“It was part of their gameplan to throw a few big lads up front when they went behind and launch balls into the box looking for knockdowns.
“Apart from the goal we defended very well and our defence was magnificent. Colin (Nixon) was superb — you wouldn’t think he’s 42 would you?
“He’s just getting better and better with age and Sean (Ward)? I never knew he could head a ball. He’s headed more balls today than in the rest of his nine years at the Glens. Carsy and Boycey are experienced Irish League players and I’m not surprised they have come and fitted straight in — they are quality players.”
Man of the match Nixon missed a great chance to open the scoring in the first half but all the goals arrived after the break.
The centre-back showed his attacking credentials when he powerfully headed home a sweet Carson cross in the 49th minute.
But another skipper and centre-back, Colin Coates, repeated the trick in the 79th minute, nodding in from a McMaster corner.
But Crusaders hearts were broken at the death when another teasing Carson cross caused panic in the hosts’ defence and Boyce was in the right place to head the ball home on the goal-line.
It was a bitter pill for Crues boss Baxter to swallow and it’s now imperative the Shore Road men take their frustration out on Carrick Rangers at the same venue on Saturday.
“On another day we might have run out 4-1 winners,” he said. “It was a fairly stale game with both teams cancelling each other out in the first half.
“The game came to life with their first goal and for half an hour our boys were magnificent. Four years ago our performance against Glentoran would have been a pipe dream.
“While disappointed to lose the game in the manner we did, we’ll have to get back on track and get ready for another game.
“We know the standards that we have set here and if there’s any drop in those it won’t be long for the players to know about it from me. The ball just didn’t fall for us against the Glens.”