Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter on high after dramatic Ballinamallard late show
Ballinamallard 0-1 Crusaders
Colin Coates was the hero for Crusaders last night as they snatched a last-gasp 1-0 win over Ballinamallard United at Ferney Park.
With the four minutes of added-on time nearly up, the Crues won a corner and captain Coates steered his header to the back of the net to break the hearts of a resilient Mallards side.
With Linfield winning comfortably against Warrenpoint Town, Crusaders looked like having their lead cut at the top of the table to three points but Coates' goal ensured they kept their five-point advantage and manager Stephen Baxter knows it could be an important night in the title race.
"It's a fabulous goal to get at the right time and to come away with the three points is very, very important at this stage of the season," said Crues boss Baxter.
"How important it will be, time will tell because we are down to five games now and we carry a five-point lead into the split and we have Linfield up next and they are flying.
"This victory was pleasing, we knocked on the door continuously but Ballinamallard were good on the break.
"Eventually the goal came though and I'm just pleased we got it."
Crusaders dominated possession for the majority of the first-half but they struggled for the best part to break down a well-organised Ballinamallard defence.
Neither side created much of note in the opening stages with Jordan Forsythe's well struck drive that flew past the post the closest there was to a goal in the first quarter.
However, on the half-hour mark Crusaders got through for the first real chance of the game as Jordan Owens powered forward but despite beating Stefan McCusker in the Mallards goal, he was denied by defender Ryan Morris who got back to clear off the line.
At the other end, Johnny Lafferty had a good effort blocked by Coates while Crusaders upped the pressure towards the end of the half with McCusker pulling off saves to deny both Diarmuid O'Carroll and Paul Heatley.
Crusaders continued to knock on the door during the second-half as Owens headed over and Heatley hit the woodwork from a David Magowan ball over the top while he then had a shot cleared off the line.
The home side, however, remained dangerous on the counter through the pace of Ivan Sproule and substitute Adam Lecky had a couple of efforts late in the game.
Just when it looked as if the Mallards' industrious work was set to be repaid with a potentially crucial point, Coates grabbed the winner with the last touch of the game to send the Crusaders supporters wild and keep Baxter's side on course to retain the Gibson Cup.
BALLINAMALLARD UNITED: McCusker, Feeney (Lecky 46mins), McCabe, McKenna, Sproule, Lafferty, Currie (Campbell 86mins), Beacom (McCartney 73mins), Morris, Friars, Elliott.
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Magowan, Coates, O'Carroll, Robinson, Forsythe, Owens, Snoddy, Heatley, Mitchell (Holden 85 mins).
Man of match: Ryan Morris (Ballinamallard)
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)