Crues land late blows to find winning feeling again
Carrick Rgrs 1 Crusaders 3
Crusaders returned to winning ways thanks to two stoppage time goals from Jordan Owens and Jamie McGonigle.
The Shore Road side appeared to be heading towards another stalemate with identical goals from Guillaume Keke and Ross Clarke cancelling each other out, until Owens' deflected effort in the 93rd minute found the corner of the net.
Then - and this was so cruel on Carrick - McGonigle delightfully lobbed in a third from the far right hand touchline to end Crues' run of three successive draws.
The win moves Crues within three points of leaders Coleraine but now having played a game more while Rangers stay in eighth.
Carrick had beaten Crusaders only once in the Premiership and they had failed to score in the last three games between the teams but Niall Currie will have told his players they had never a better chance of breaking that sequence.
Rangers came into the game on the back of three wins in their last four, Crusaders had picked up just four points from their last five winless games. And it was the in-form team who started much the brighter.
They could and probably should have been ahead inside five minutes, despite two goalbound efforts from Kyle Cherry, in a hectic goalmouth scramble, heroic defending from the Crues somehow kept their goal intact.
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But the lead goal was delayed by only another nine minutes and a superbly taken one it was. Lloyd Anderson, the one change in the Carrick starting line-up that continued Ballymena's poor run of form last Saturday, found Keke who still had much to do, 25 yards out.
But the striker hooked the ball over Jordan Forsythe and, in space on the edge of the area, fired a first time shot which flew past Gerard Doherty's right hand.
The goal did inspire the Crues into life and more of an attacking threat but despite the return of Owens, it was long-range shooting from David Cushley, the other change from the side that started the uninspiring scoreless draw at Larne on Monday, which were the only threats on the Carrick goal. Unfortunately for the visitors, most of his efforts - and he had four in the first half-hour - were off target, and the one that was, was straight at Aaron Hogg.
It was Paul Heatley who went closest with a snapshot from 12 yards but Hogg had that covered as well at his right hand post and that too failed to find the target.
It wasn't a surprise that Stephen Baxter decided to change things at the break but it was a shock that Cushley and Heatley were the players withdrawn, in favour of Howard Beverland, into a back four, and Ross Clarke.
But it took only 10 minutes for the manager to be proven right. Owens played the ball out wide to Billy Joe Burns who helped the ball on to Clarke who decided to cut back inside.
And he just kept going, skipping past one challenge after another before, much like Keke in the first half, he found space and fired an unstoppable left foot shot into the roof of the net.
Crusaders continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession but it looked as if the closest they would come was when Philip Lowry was about to shoot from six yards only to be denied by a superb challenge by Mark Surgenor.
Until that dramatic double in stoppage time.
Carrick: Hogg, Ferrin, Surgenor, Rodgers; Chapman, Cherry (Hassin 60 mins), Anderson, Thompson; Faulkner; Nixon (Sachem 84 mins), Keke (Smith 62 mins). Unused subs: Nicholl, Carson, Neale, Loughran.
Crusaders: Doherty, Burns, Coates, Ruddy; Forsythe, Cushley (Beverland h/t), Lowry (McGinley 90 mins), Hale, Heatley (Clarke h/t); Owens, McGonigle. Unused subs: O'Neill, Caddell, O'Rourke, McElroy.
Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan).
Today (3pm, unless stated): Ballymena United v Carrick Rangers, Cliftonville v Warrenpoint Town, Coleraine v Glenavon, Institute v Glentoran (1pm)