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Crusaders boss Baxter delighted as players show true mettle

Ards 2 Crusaders 4

By Keith Bailie

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter hailed his comeback kings after the champions responded to Saturday's defeat to challengers Linfield with a fine win at Clandyboye Park. Ards led the league leaders 2-0 thanks to early goals from Craig McMillen and Carl McComb, but the Crues fought back to win 4-2 with Paul Heatley scoring twice.

Colin Nixon's men finished the game with 10-men after full-back McMillen was sent off for an alleged headbutt on Andy Mitchell.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter said: "I thought we were absolutely magnificent tonight.

"Yes, Ards did very well but we started like a house on fire and could have been 2-0 up before they scored. We fully deserved to win the game. We get the ball into the box and get players into dangerous areas, and when you do that, you score goals."

New Ards biss Nixon wasn't too downbeat despite his side throwing-away a two-goal lead.

Nixon said: "It's been a difficult day because we lost a number of players through injury and sickness. We started incredibly well, but Crusaders are a fantastic team. I think we showed great spirit."

Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley struck the woodwork in the first 10 minutes but it was Ards who took the lead from the peanlty spot after Craig McClean was adjudged to have blocked Joe McKinney's cross with his arm.McMillen stroked the ball into the bottom corner, although Crues goalkeeper Sean O'Neill got a hand to the ball.

It was Ards' turn to hit the underside of the crossbar in the 15th minute but Guillaume Keke's shot bounced down in front of the line.

The Red & Blues had their second goal in the 17th minute. McKinney threaded the ball into the path of Greg Hall who put a dangerous cross into the Crues box. Ross Arthurs knocked the ball down for Carl McComb to hook the ball in from six yards.

However, as Crusaders reasserted control of the game, it was no great surprise when they scored three minutes before the break, Heatley steering the ball home after two Owens' efforts had been blocked.

The champions were level in the 58th minute with Declan Caddell headed home an Andrew Mitchell cross and they grabbed the lead five minutes later when Heatley's low cross was turned into the net by Ards captain Emmet Friars.

With Ards reduced to 10 men, Heatley added a fourth in stoppage time, clipping the ball over the advancing Hogg.

Ards: Hogg; Hall, Taylor, Friars, McMillen; McKinney, Arthurs (Liggett 75 mins), Cherry, McAllister (Byers 85 mins); McComb, Keke. Unused subs: Hughes, McCullough, McMullan.

Crusaders: O'Neill; Burns, Beverland, Gault (Mitchell, 32 mins), McClean; Whyte (Lowry 85 mins), Caddell, Forsythe, Heatley; Cushley (Carvill 74 mins); Owens. Unused subs: Dougherty, Clarke.

Man of match: Paul Heatley

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Steven Taylor

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