High five Crusaders serve up treat
Glentoran 4 Crusaders 5
Published 02/04/2013 | 08:00
Glentoran four, Crusaders five, entertainment value: 10 out of 10.
And one in the eye for those who enjoy nothing more than criticising the Irish League.
Only the most hyper-critical would knock this game and the victory keeps Crusaders in the title race – a race which manager Stephen Baxter won't concede, even though his team is 11 points off the pace with just six games to go.
"It would be wrong to give up," he said.
"Whilst it is still there for you to compete for, you must give it your all to the very end.
" The laws of probability tell you that a miracle is required, but whilst there is a football match to be played and won we will be trying to win it."
A game that should have been over after the Crues raced into a 3-0 lead with just 15 minutes on the clock remained on a knife- edge right until the final kick of the ball and had each team hit double their goal tally it wouldn't have been unjustified.
Even the term 'nine-goal thriller' doesn't even do this game.
Rather than a game of two halves, there were three parts to this one.
The Crues were rampant from the off. They could have been 6-0 ahead before the Glens started their fightback – David Rainey, Chris Morrow and Paul Heatley missing chances after Morrow and Timmy Adamson (two) had scored earlier.
Even though Glentoran scored twice before half-time, through Andy Waterworth and Richard Clarke, it might have been 7-3. Jim O'Hanlon's equaliser shook the Crues and the Glens then looked the team most likely to win the game.
They were denied the victory by Heatley and substitute David McMaster won the game for the Crues, with Glens sub Stephen was a goal.
Often after high scoring games there are a large number of defensive mistakes or goalkeeping howlers to pick over – and yes, Glentoran manager Eddie Patterson felt that all of the goals his team conceded were preventable – but to focus on such things would be taking away from the finishing prowess on show.
Not just the quantity of goals, there was plenty of quality too.
The finishes from Clarke, McMaster and Carson were particularly special, but it was Heatley's strike – which put Crusaders back in front with 18 minutes to go – that was the pick of the bunch.
He brought down Colin Coates' long ball with his first touch and, after spotting Elliott Morris off his line, he dinked the ball over the Glentoran goalkeeper with his second.
It was a vital goal as Glentoran had the momentum at that time and Crusaders looked like they'd thrown it away, yet Heatley almost wasn't on the pitch to score it as the talented winger was substituted immediately afterwards.
"We had the two players ready and we were waiting for the ball to go out of play," said Baxter.
"Paul was coming off, he'd asked to come off two or three minutes previously. He missed the game on Wednesday because he's been unwell, but he gave us his all – as did the rest of them."
The new-found patience of the Glentoran fans played a part too. A year or two ago they would have been getting on the backs of the players after those early goals but, instead, they kept encouraging and despite the 5-4 defeat, the team was applauded off at the end.
"The first three goals killed us and they were all our fault," said Patterson.
"I thought we were excellent in stages, some of the goals we scored, some of the chances we created.
"I'm really disappointed that after we'd spoken at half-time about a quick transition of play catching us out a couple of times in the first half you look at their fourth goal, it was exactly the same – we were slow to react to it.
"Some of the football that we played was excellent.
"We caused Crusaders some big problems and at 3-3 we had them riled a bit and we were in the ascendancy, but we lost the ball and defensively we went to sleep to allow them to score the fourth.
"The big thing is that those boys learn from today, I have no doubt that they will and that they will be stronger for it.
"There is no question about their character.
"That's one of the positives that I will take out of the game because they showed that."