Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders have proved they're extra special, says Baxter

Glentoran 1 Crusaders 2

By David Mason

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter hailed his young guns after this thrilling County Antrim Shield quarter-final win at the Oval. With a top of the table clash with Linfield pending at the weekend, Baxter took the brave decision to blood a posse of his Under-20 players - and they stood up to the test.

Extra-time goals from David Cushley and Brandon Doyle, who has played only two reserve team games, earned the Crues a Shield semi-final slot.

Although Steven Gordon hit a late, late consolation, the night belonged to Baxter's babes.

"Young players excite me and I told them that before the game," said Baxter.

"I had no worries throwing these boys in. We have a heavy fixture list coming up, with four games in 10 days, so it's a matter of utilising the squad.

"They didn't let me or the club down. They can go away with their heads held high because they were immense.

"And, of course, we had a masterclass in midfield from Richard Clarke, who simply ran the show."

The Glens should have been in front after five minutes. Jonathan Smith sent Alex Leu racing into the box, but his shot was brilliantly saved by Michael Dougherty.

Eric Foley's raking pass then picked out Nacho Novo, but Dougherty was off his line in a flash to thwart the danger.

Baxter's young braves grew into the game and an error from Nigel Birney, who swiped at a Salou Jallow cross, meant it fell invitingly for Marcio Soares, but his control let him down.

A piece of Novo magic on the left carved out a golden opportunity for Leu on 30 minutes.

The little Spaniard wriggled clear of his marker before cutting the ball back for the big midfielder, whose shot was hoofed off the line by Dale McCreery.

But the Crues responded with Soares showing lightning pace down the right before crossing for Ryan Nimick, whose blistering drive was superbly beaten away by Dwayne Nelson before David Cushley fired wildly over the top.

Both teams failed to maintain the frantic pace after the restart.

Glentoran had to wait until the 67th minute for their first sniff of goal.

The build-up between Patrick Cafolla and Ciaran Caldwell deserved better, but Smith volleyed high and wide.

And, in another impressive move involving Cafolla and Caldwell, Gordon could only scuff his shot wide.

With the clock ticking down to extra-time Smith produced the game's magical moment, cutting in from the left only to see his fierce drive flipped over the top by Dougherty.

Cushley sent the small band of travelling fans in to a frenzy when he thumped home the opener form the edge of the box following a clever knock down from Soares.

The Crues finished the job in the final minute when Cushley capitalised on an error by Cafolla, leaving Doyle with a simple tap in.

Gordon at last got the better of Dougherty, scoring at the back post with the last kick of the match. But it was Crusaders' night.

Glentoran: Nelson, Birney, Kane, Harmon, Gordon, Foley (Nelson 60), Leu (Lavery 52), Smith, Novo (Caldwell 36), Redman, Cafolla. Unused subs: Morris, Kamill.

Crusaders: Dougherty, Kerr, McNulty, McCeery, McClean, Anderson, Nimick (Smith 78), Jallow, Soares, Cushley, Clarke. Unused subs: Doyle, Carill, Forsythe, O'Neill.

Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Holywood).

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