Crusaders 1 Institute 2
John Gregg watched his side plunge the knife into Crusaders and then backed the Hatchetmen to keep their title assault on track.
The Crues have now gone six league games without a win and you can hear the critics who wrote off their Gibson Cup dream whispering “I told you so” under their breath.
Stephen Baxter’s side have the perfect stage to lift the gloom when they come up against Linfield in the County Antrim Shield Final at the Oval tomorrow night but the failure to return to winning ways at the weekend will be a source of concern to him.
Any talk of the Crues’ new 4G pitch being an advantage to the home side has been blown away by this result.
’Stute did their homework and they executed their gameplan to perfection.
It was the classic away performance at Seaview where visiting players have to work like trojans and be clinical in front of goal.
The Drumahoe men trained twice on a similar surface in midweek and their teenage frontman, Paul Lowry, who was making his first league start for the visitors, ran a defence badly missing Colin Coates and David Magowan ragged.
Gregg was thrilled to maintain his side’s unbeaten record in Belfast this season — the 2-1 win was also Stute’s first win on the Shore Road.
However, the triumphant manager had words of comfort for his defeated counterpart.
“Crusaders are a very good side,” he said. “I really do believe that they will fight it all the way in the league. They are strong all over and this isn’t the easiest place in the world to come and get a result.
“I’m absolutely delighted — you have to work for everything you get here. I thought our defensive performance in the second half was top drawer. It’s hard work that gets you results at Seaview and the players, particularly young Paul Lowry, deserve all the credit.”
Not surprisingly, Gregg had no complaints about the 4G surface which has attracted some negative comments, particularly from Glentoran striker Gary Hamilton.
“We knew we had to play on the pitch and we trained on a 3G pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said.
“I don’t have any qualms about it — I don’t think it’s a bad surface. It’s passed by the IFA and we have to play on it.
“It doesn’t matter what I think about it, people will have to get used to the fact that games will have to be played on it. Forget the pitch — football is judged by the people watching it and both sides put on a good show. The pitch is second to the football.
“The game was played in the right spirit — there were early goals and chances. We had a blip at the start of the season with six or seven injuries but I am delighted we are picking up points again.”
In an explosive opening eight minutes Lowry struck twice and Jordan Owens netted for the Crues but the home side lacked a killer instinct and when David Rainey headed against a post in injury time, Stute could begin celebrating.
While the visitors recorded their third league win of the season, Baxter was wondering when his side’s winless run would come to an end.
“We probably had about 90 per cent of the possession from start to finish but we never created enough chances to win the game by opening them up,” he said.
“They defended for their lives, put their heads and bodies in front of everything and when Davy thumped the post with that header, knowing it was an inch away from a goal, that summed up the day.
“These little things are sent to test you at the moment but the attitude of the boys and the way they are passing the ball around pleases me.”