Portadown 1-3 Crusaders: Buoyant Stephen Baxter happy to win ugly
Portadown 1-3 Crusaders
While most of the attention at Shamrock Park was focused on beleaguered Portadown boss Ronnie McFall after a fourth straight defeat, it was opposite number Stephen Baxter who deserved the plaudits for guiding his team back to the top of the Premiership.
Baxter admitted afterwards that this game "will not live long in the memory" but after only one win in their last four outings and facing a Portadown team which had proved their nemesis in their title-winning season, only the result mattered for the Crues manager.
So, gone was the exciting, open, passing game which is so often a feature of the champions' play and replaced by a solid, workmanlike, mainly defensive performance, the visitors happy to play on the break.
It worked a treat as an early strike from captain Colin Coates, his first of the season, was supplemented by a 56th minute headed goal by Jordan Owens and the last gasp third by Paul Heatley which not only made sure of the victory but was the strike which edged them ahead of Linfield on goal difference at the top of the table. Not that Baxter is taking any notice of the standings for now.
"It's too early to look at a league table," said Baxter. "We are just past the month of October and I'm just trying to prepare for football matches.
"You saw a couple of changes today to combat a few things we felt might come our way and we got the result we needed and that pleased me.
"We lost three out of four last year to Portadown and the first game of this season. So we did a lot of things differently and it worked really well.
"When you are competing as hard as we are, we have to find different ways to win football matches. There are days when it is going to be wide open, pass, movement, quick feet and other days you have to dig it out. And that's what we did today and we're sitting with three more points."
The result, ironically, pleased a small section of the home crowd who actually booed when Crusaders lost concentration and Darren Murray drew the Ports level on the stroke of half time - the supporters who are calling for McFall to quit the post he has held for 29 years.
But the longest serving manager in Europe had a message for the boo boys.
"If they think I'm the major problem at Portadown Football Club, they are deluded," he said. "If they want rid of me it mightn't be as easy as they think.
"We are in a position scrapping for points and you need to encourage the players. We have a lot of genuine supporters, but we have a bad element at the minute.
"Those people are not supporters. If you are a supporter do you not come and support your team? You don't boo. But everybody knows where they come from - a particular supporters' club - and what they are at.
"But the players are giving me 110%, their attitude and commitment is first class and there for all to see. We had three gilt edge chances in the first half and didn't take them, unfortunately."
PORTADOWN: Brennan, Casement, Breen, Gault, Redman, Richardson, Garrett, Ramsey, Mackle, McMahon (Soares, 61 mins), Murray. Unused subs: O'Hara, Oman, Mouncey, Conaty.
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Stewart (Magowan, 80 mins), Coates, McClean, Forsythe, Caddell (Snoddy, 46 mins), Clarke, Heatley, Owens, Carvill (O'Flynn, 73 mins). Unused subs: Whyte, O'Carroll..
Man of the match: Jordan Forsythe
Match rating: 5/10
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)