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Baxter not happy with below par Crusaders as Portadown bag deserved point

By Stuart McKinley

No excuses - that was Stephen Baxter's message to his players when, by his own admission, the Crusaders manager was relieved to escape Shamrock Park with a point.

When Jordan Owens put the Danske Bank Premiership leaders 1-0 up after 10 minutes with a stunning strike from 20 yards it wouldn't have been a surprise if the Crues had gone on to win comfortably.

The reason for not doing so was two-fold.

Portadown were excellent. A week after only being denied a victory over Linfield at Windsor Park in injury time, they were again well worth a point.

On the other hand, the Crues were well below par, failing to really trouble Jack Duffin in the home goal in the 80 minutes after they scored.

Any number of excuses were there had Baxter been looking for one. Big players suspended, his captain being forced off at half-time, playing the second half with two players more recognised as full-backs in the centre of defence - and then there was the kick-off time.

The Crues had cried foul when Portadown moved the game back to 5.30pm in order to combine it with a fans' event.

Baxter didn't reveal in public what he said in private, other than saying: "My players know my feelings on the performance and they will be more annoyed and hurt probably about what I said than the way they have actually played.

"No soft-soaping, no going easy on them - and no excuses either."

He added: "Kick off time for me is three o'clock on a Saturday - never 5.30pm. That's just me.

"It wasn't a factor because it should never be a factor. Players need to respond to all situations, so it's not a factor. It's just a personal dislike, but it's not an excuse or a factor in the game.

"Portadown were the team and they deserve the praise."

It was Marcio Soares who struck the equaliser four minutes before half time with his first goal since re-joining the Ports in January after an unsuccessful six-month spell with the Crues.

He was a constant thorn in the side of the Crues defence and deserved the little bit of luck when the ball came off Billy Joe Burns and fell into his path before rolling it into the bottom corner.

Baxter said: "I gave him a bit of banter coming off, I asked him 'why didn't you play like that when you were with us?' He got his chance in this team and he's turned in a sparkling performance."

The Ports have gone from a place where after losing 3-0 to Ards a fortnight ago and wondering where their next point would come from to taking a point each off the top two. They remain 11 points adrift of Carrick, but boss Niall Currie is at least encouraged at the performance level, as well as the battling qualities his team has shown as they fight to pull off an impossible escape.

"The last two performances have shown a real togetherness and a fight and desire - and no shortage of quality either," he said. "The players have been absolutely magnificent in the last two games and it's been no surprise to me because the quality has always been there and we've got everybody pulling in the one direction now."

PORTADOWN: Duffin, Carson, Shannon, R Larkin, Hazley, Foley (Gardiner, 87 mins), Henderson, Garrett, Mackle, McGerrigan, Soares (Ferris, 87 mins). Unused subs: C Larkin, Lyttle, Mulvenna.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Keane, Coates (Mitchell, 46 mins), McLean, Caddell, Forsythe, Lowry (Cushley, 65 mins), Carvill (Suarez, 78 mins) Whyte, Owens. Unused subs: Dougherty, Clarke.

Referee: Alharbi Sultan Sanat (Saudi Arabia)

Man of the match: Marcio Soares

Match rating: 8/10

Results: Ballinamallard United 1 Ballymena United 2; Carrick Rangers 0 Glenavon 0; Cliftonville 0 Coleraine 0; Dungannon Swifts 3 Ards 3; Glentoran 0 Linfield 1; Portadown 1 Crusaders 1.

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