Hamilton is gutted after Crues' late recovery bid
Glenavon 3 - Crusaders 3
Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton was left cursing his luck following this dramatic Danske Bank Premiership clash at Mourneview Park.
Not only did his team surrender a two-goal advantage - Crusaders' Jordan Owens netted the equaliser with only four minutes left - but the Lurgan Blues then squandered a great chance of taking all three points when Eoin Bradley's injury-time penalty was saved by Sean O'Neill.
Paul Heatley shot the Belfast side into the lead, but the hosts came battling back with a David Elebert double and a Rhys Marshall strike.
Heatley reduced the deficit early in the second half, before Owens conjured up his late party piece. Glenavon then had defender Kris Lindsay sent off before Bradley messed up from the spot.
"It feels more like a defeat than a draw," claimed Hamilton. "I was proud of the boys tonight. I could have killed them on Saturday after their performance against Linfield. But this was more like it."
Hamilton stressed that his team were denied a clear cut penalty when Andy Hall was pulled back inside the box - an incident that duly led to Lindsay's dismissal for speaking out of turn, with coach Niall Donnelly following soon after.
"It's frustrating, but we are now missing a man for Saturday," he added. "I think everyone in the ground knew it was a penalty - everyone bar the referee."
Hamilton singled out midfielder Mark Sykes for a special word of praise.
"If he keeps playing like that, I'm sure it will not be long until the scouts come knocking. He was brilliant. I think he could certainly play at a higher level," he said.
Hamilton wielded the axe following his team's embarrassing draw with nine-man Linfield at the weekend, drafting in Kyle Neill, Mark Patton, Ciaran Martyn, Greg Moorhouse and Elebert.
With Declan Caddell suspended, Crues manager Stephen Baxter brought back Gavin Whyte and Jordan Forsythe, with Richard Clarke dropping out.
O'Neill was called into action after only six minutes when he got down bravely to paw away a Lindsay header, following Paddy McCourt's free-kick.
The Crues responded with the hard-working Forsythe cutting in from the left before finding Heatley, whose shot skipped off the ankle of Sykes, but Johnny Tuffey managed to stick out a boot to deflect clear.
Heatley was not to be denied. He gobbled up a clever flick from Owens on 14 minutes and, after skipping clear of a static defence, his cheeky lob left Tuffey totally helpless.
But Hamilton's boys were level on 20 minutes. Neill whipped in a free-kick to the back post and big Elebert got up above O'Neill to head home.
Incredibly, the Lurgan Blues struck again four minutes before the break, with another delicious delivery from Neill leading to Marshall poking home at the back post.
The defender's corner-kick caused mayhem at the back post and with Elebert and Bradley also making a stab at getting the ball over the line, Marshall appeared to get the final touch.
Heatley should have had the Crues level seconds before the break when he twisted and turned, leaving Andrew Doyle in a sorry mess, but his shot fizzed inches past the post.
The Lurgan Blues required only four minutes of the second half to extend their lead. Sykes took off on a mesmeric solo dash before crossing for Elebert to hammer into the roof of the net.
They managed to keep the advantage for only two minutes when Heatley struck again. Whyte's shot clipped off the boot of Lindsay and the little man was at the back post to head home.
The home fans were on their feet with loud penalty appeals after Moorhouse buckled under a challenge from Colin Coates on 70 minutes, but referee Raymond Hetherington wasn't convinced.
Bradley was then flattened by a clumsy challenge from Coates on the edge of the box. Neill's free-kick fell nicely for Moorhouse, but he scooped wide.
But the Crues clawed their way back with only four minutes left. David Cushley's free-kick was met by Howard Beverland, whose header was knocked off the line, but Owens reacted to fire home the loose ball.
Referee Hetherington then denied Glenavon a penalty when Hall was pulled back inside the area, which duly led to Lindsay's dismissal.
The Dungannon official did award a spot-kick in injury-time when Bradley went down under a challenge from Craig McClean, but the striker fluffed his lines when it really mattered.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Neill (Hall, 80 mins), Lindsay, Marshall, Bradley, Patton (Cooper, 55 mins), Sykes, Moorhouse, McCourt, Martyn (Doyle, 9 mins), Elebert. Unused subs: Kilmartin, Braniff.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Gault (Clarke, 75 mins), Mitchell (McClean, 75 mins), Carvill (Cushley, 68 mins), Forsythe, Owens, Heatley, Whyte, Coates. Unused subs: Soares, Dougherty.
Ref: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)
Man of the match: Mark Sykes
Match rating: 8/10