Belfast Telegraph

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McGonigle shows class as Coleraine fire a major title warning

Crusaders 0 Coleraine 3

By Steven Beacom

Jamie McGonigle delivered a finishing masterclass to earn Coleraine a stunning 3-0 victory against Crusaders at Seaview and sweep the Bannsiders to the top of the table.

The magnificent McGonigle netted twice in the second half, adding to Josh Carson's early effort as Oran Kearney's men took advantage of some shoddy defending from the champions.

It was a fantastic win in front of the Sky Sports cameras for Oran Kearney's men, who have now gone a remarkable 33 games without defeat in domestic competition.

And despite not being at their brilliant best in the opening matches of the season, they are at the head of the Danske Bank Premiership with Linfield behind on goal difference.

As for Crusaders, they have yet to hit any degree of form and have now lost two of their first five games and their last two home matches.

It's early days of course but Stephen Baxter will demand much better from his players in the weeks ahead. Last night, they made too many elementary errors at the back and lacked composure in attack.

In contrast, Coleraine were rock solid in defence, with Stephen O'Donnell and Gareth McConaghie outstanding, and clinical when opportunities came their way.

Talk about making a statement of title intent. They went so close last season and are fiercely determined to go one better this time.

Before kick-off there was a sense of eager anticipation in the air about how the sides would match up after the excitement and drama they generated in the Irish League last season.

Both were sensational throughout the campaign, providing one of the greatest title races ever witnessed in Northern Ireland.

It went all the way to the final game with the Crues eventually coming out on top in dramatic fashion with a victory at Ballymena sealing their third crown in four years.

The Crues opted to begin with former Coleraine striker Rory Patterson on the bench, while new Bannsiders signing Aaron Canning was drafted into their starting line-up.

Seconds before kick-off, Crusaders fans were reminding their Coleraine counterparts who the champions were - though once the game started, their team was playing like anything but.

There was a nervousness about the home side in the early stages and on 11 minutes it proved costly when Howard Beverland's mistake allowed Eoin Bradley to have a run on goal - his powerful drive was parried by Sean O'Neill with the onrushing Carson first to the rebound.

The winger showed real quality to bury the opportunity and put the visitors in front.

To add injury to the insult of gifting Coleraine the opener, Crues midfielder Philip Lowry ended up in a heap 60 seconds later after a crunching challenge from sibling Stephen, who was booked. Not much brotherly love there.

The Seaview ace never truly recovered and limped off before the half-hour mark.

Keen to hit back straight away, the Crues should have equalised when Paul Heatley dragged his shot wide inside the box after typical rampaging play from Billy Joe Burns down the right flank.

As the half wore on and the pace grew ever more frantic, the visitors were forced to defend a number of set-pieces with Canning prominent in clearing the danger.

The tackles were flying in before the break with Ciaron Harkin and Beverland booked in quick succession. In the second half, Heatley, Colin Coates, McConaghie and Bradley were also yellow carded.

At the interval, interested spectator Gavin Whyte, who moved from Crusaders to Oxford United in the summer, was given a standing ovation by the Shore Road faithful, acknowledging his wonderful spell at the club.

Whyte was in his Northern Ireland tracksuit and hopes to make his international debut in the days ahead.

He would have appreciated the skill by his old team-mate Jordan Forsythe on 48 minutes that afforded him space to drill just over from the edge of the box.

Next up to try his luck was substitute Matthew Snoddy, smashing a 35-yarder goalwards which was unconvincingly dealt with by Chris Johns.

The Coleraine goalkeeper was more assured in turning away a Burns strike from long range moments after Darren McCauley had blazed over the bar at the other end when Bradley had picked him out.

In contrast, McGonigle was bang on the money on 65 minutes with his splendid finish after a Sean Ward slip presented him with a golden opportunity just inside the box. Facing O'Neill, McGonigle accurately cracked the ball into the net in front of the jubilant travelling support.

Better was to come on 71 minutes when Crusaders failed to clear a corner and McGonigle returned it with interest, smashing a brilliant low shot into the net from distance.

Game over. Coleraine may have lost the title war to the Crues months ago but they won this battle in fine style.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Coates, Lowry, Ward, Carvill, Caddell, Forsythe, J Owens, Heatley. Subs: Snoddy for Lowry 29, Cushley for Carvill 70, Patterson for Caddell 70. Subs not used: Doherty, McChrystal, K Owens, Clarke.

COLERAINE: Johns, Harkin, McCauley, Lowry, Bradley, Carson, McConaghie, O'Donnell, Traynor, McGonigle, Canning. Subs: Parkhill for McGonigle 90. Subs not used: Mullan, Douglas, Crown, Burns, Parkhill, Doherty, Gawne.

Man of the Match: Jamie McGonigle

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)

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