Cushley mix-up likely to prove costly for Crues
Ballymena Utd 0 Crusaders 3
There was a real end of season feel to proceedings at Warden Street with both teams fielding much-changed line-ups for differing reasons.
With second spot secured for Ballymena United, they rested several key players who were in danger of suspension at the start of next season if they picked up a caution.
Crusaders, meanwhile, had one eye on this Saturday's Tennents Irish Cup Final against Ballinamallard United, although much of the talk afterwards was of a half-time substitute.
David Cushley entered the play and before long there were murmurings around the ground when it was revealed that the winger was not on the team-sheet submitted by Crusaders.
It was an honest mistake but one that is likely to cost the Crues the points, with the normal punishment a reversal of the scoreline, which would be harsh on Rory Patterson whose 11th minute opener was a late contender for goal of the season.
Ross Clarke doubled the lead before the break and, when Cushley robbed Willie Faulkner 10 minutes after his controversial introduction, Matthew Snoddy finished in style.
Stephen Baxter was happy that his changes of personnel got the better of David Jeffrey's similarly unfamiliar line-up.
"We made a vast number of changes and it gave me an opportunity to give one or two people last minute games who needed game time," explained Baxter.
"I thought we played really well, I thought we were hungry and lively to the ball, we scored three goals and we might have scored four more, and our performance was excellent.
"That gives us a lift going into the cup final next week and we'll go about our preparations for that, so I am happy."
Jeffrey, who delivered a bombastic post-match address to Sky Blue fans who lapped up his every word afterwards, reflected on a year to remember.
"It has been an absolutely incredible season," he said.
"We have had a really, really good season, we finished off with a fabulous support out in bitterly cold conditions and, although we were beaten 3-0, I thought we played really well on what was a difficult day.
"I said to the players this was about opportunity and to go out and perform and I was particularly pleased with Jordan Williamson, who looked very assured."
BALLYMENA: Williamson, McGrory, Quigley, Balmer, Watson, Faulkner, McGinty (McCullough, 23 mins), Millar, Shevlin, Mayse (McMurray, 78 mins), Nolan (Beattie, 79 mins). Unused subs: Ross Glendinning, Heron, McMullan, Lewis.
Crusaders: Doherty, Burns, McChrystal, Beverland, Owens, Clarke (Cushley, 46 mins), Thompson, Snoddy, Patterson, Ronan Hale, Rory Hale (Mathieson, 64 mins). Unused subs: Scutt, Coates, Lowry, Caddell, Heatley.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)
Man of the match: Howard Beverland
Match rating: 7/10