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It hurts now but Crusaders will hit back: Owens

Crusaders 6 Glenavon 1

By Graham Luney

The mood at Seaview after the final whistle on Saturday was a little sombre but also a little defiant as the players vowed to hit back next season.

There were no wild three-in- a-row title celebrations but this hard luck story won't be forgotten on the Shore Road and the awful feeling of what might have been will inject more hunger and fight into their next league challenge.

Striker Jordan Owens admitted the players let an opportunity slip from their grasp but, come the first day of the 2017-2018, campaign they will set about wresting the glittering prize back.

"We will come back stronger next season and look forward to the European trip," said Owens.

"Yes Colin Coates, who has been outstanding for us in the two title wins, was out injured but one man doesn't make a team.

"He's a key man and was a big miss but we have only ourselves to blame for letting a good lead slip.

"The players available didn't get the team over the line.

"These things happen and it's a disappointing end but we will be back for another go at it and do the business next season. Three titles would have been great but fair play to Linfield for their late charge.

"A few games, such as the Ballymena United one, cost us and we were not happy but at least we finished with a good performance.

"People say you come back stronger after disappointments and I know we will."

The Crues finished their campaign with a thumping 6-1 victory over Glenavon, who will now focus on a Europa League play-off scrap with Cliftonville.

Michael Carvill and Paul Heatley both scored first half doubles before Owens and Matthew Snoddy completed the rout, while Robert Norton scored the visitors' only goal.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter demanded a swashbuckling performance from his men and he got it but it was too little, too late.

They could have done with such a display at the Ballymena Showgrounds a week earlier.

That was the moment the tide turned and a side as hungry and strong as Linfield's wasn't going to miss that opportunity.

Baxter refused to accept that his players had run out of gas but he pointed to Coates' injury as a factor in their falling short.

"Because it is all over we can be honest and the reality is we missed our skipper," said Baxter.

"To have Colin Coates out of your team for five months does not help you a little bit and we've had a few defensive frailties, particularly away from home.

"The team was not running out gas, we just didn't have enough left in our squad to deal with a few tough away games so one or two injuries hurt us.

"I've always known what's in us and when the boys click, they really click. A league is fought over 38 matches and we have seen how Cliftonville started strongly but then faded.

"You need a steel, we have been in the top three for five years and that has been an unbelievable level of consistency combined with the European achievements.

"The club is on a strong financial footing again and I can't say enough about people at Crusaders, they are top, top people."

Batteries will be recharged over the summer before the Crues prepare for a fresh assault.

"We have worked incredibly hard and I'll probably end up making a phone call or two in Portugal," added Baxter.

"We will enjoy our beak and I think we're back in on June 15.

"The camaraderie is good and everyone is up to do it again.

"We are talking about two points and that's a fine margin.

"We have a great product in our country and people need to be in the stands watching this.

"Let's drive it forward and I've so much respect for the coaching staff around the country."

The picture was different at half-time on Saturday while the Crues were ahead and Linfield were trailing at Solitude but Baxter added: "In my heart of hearts I knew Linfield would do it, they are a strong, capable side and Cliftonville were up against a juggernaut and a juggernaut is hard to stop."

And don't Crusaders know it.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Mitchell, McClean, Caddell (Snoddy, 76 mins), Forsythe, Carvill, Heatley (Cushley, 81 mins), Whyte, Owens (Suarez, 81 mins). Unused subs: Dougherty, Keane.

Glenavon: Taylor, Neill, McGrory, Lindsay, Kilmartin, Cooper (Singleton, 77 mins), Hall 6 (Young, 77 mins), Marron, Moorhouse (Gray, 32 mins), Jenkins 6, Norton 7. Unused subs: Marshall, Young, Canning.

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