Portadown 0 Crusaders 2: In the grand tradition of managerial understatement, Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter keeps claiming that league tables mean nothing at this early stage and he doesn’t study them.
But you can bet the contents of your wallet that the Seaview man gave the Carling Premier League table more than a cursory glance after this rather easy win over Portadown, which hoisted the Crues to second spot, just three points behind leaders Glentoran.
And with the teams meeting at Seaview next Saturday, Baxter will be keen that the Crues join their rivals across the city on the top spot.
If he was being circumspect about league placings, he certainly didn't hold back on this professional performance against inconsistent Portadown.
“We bossed it from start to finish,” he enthused. “We were superior in every department and really should have won by more than two goals.”
He also picked out the two goal scorers — veteran Michael Halliday, who nodded the opener three minutes after half-time, and the sparking young teenage talent Stuart Dallas, who drilled home the second midway through the second half.
“There are a few years separating them,” said Baxter. “But what unites them is attitude.
“Michael’s goal was the result of experience and the ability to ghost into position and Stuart’s was sheer attitude and enthusiasm.
“Both are keen and dedicated — elements that percolate this entire squad, but it’s far too early to even start discussing league potential.
“It’s a pleasure working with people like Michael and Stuart.
“The young lad travels from Cookstown to Seaview twice a week for training, even though I’ve told him he can train with his local side Coagh United one of those nights.
“He’s so keen to learn and he’s such a precocious talent at just 19.”
How it stayed at 0-0 at the interval is something of a mystery, with Crusaders on the ascendency from the start, although Ports keeper David Miskelly pulled off two superb saves .
It all changed with the Halliday goal and it was young Dallas who started it.
He teased the Ports defence, whipped the ball out to the unmarked Donnelly on the left and his floated cross just begged to be buried, with Halliday duly obliging.
Miskelly made a brilliant low save leading up to the second — he parried a great effort from Jordan Owens, it fell perfectly for Dallas at the edge of the box and he drilled home, hard and low.
That was it and angry Ports manager Ronnie McFall stormed: “Too many of my players simply didn’t turn up.
“It’s hard to understand this inconsistency, but it’ll have to be sorted out.
“This simply wasn’t good enough. We were well beaten.”