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Crusaders can thrive as Coleraine carry pressure of top stop, says Snoddy

Glenavon 3 Crusaders 4

By Ian Callender

Matthew Snoddy claims Crusaders are in a good place heading into the hectic festive and New Year programme after the Seaview side left Mourneview Park with all three points from a seven-goal bonanza.

Last season, the defending champions were in pole position for much of the season, only to be overhauled at the death by Linfield, but this time they are leading the chase on pacesetters Coleraine and Snoddy is content.

"It's actually a nice position to be in," the midfielder insisted. "The pressure of being first last year for so long told in the end, but now all we have to do is keep ourselves in that group of four or five teams come the split to have a chance of winning the league again.

"The Christmas fixtures are going to be huge and these heads to heads (against title rivals) are always telling so it was a massive three points."

It left Crusaders a comfortable five points clear of third place and kept the gap to the top at six points with a game in hand.

Snoddy and Gavin Whyte were the star performers, both getting on the scoresheet in a game which provided wonderful entertainment but Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton, who had to watch the match from the stand while serving a touchline ban, said the turning point was referee Evan Boyce's failure to send off Colin Coates midway through the second half.

"The tackle alone was worth a yellow but then when Mitch (Andrew Mitchell) and him grabbed each other it was two yellows. Our player should have been booked for getting involved and I don't understand how some players get away with these things," added Hamilton.

At that stage, Crusaders' lead was only 3-2, with Sammy Clingan's penalty having cut the half-time deficit and James Singleton then saw a shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounce clear.

But the visitors showed their character by responding immediately, with a curling shot from Snoddy which hit the upright, only this time Paul Heatley scored at the second attempt from the rebound, his first effort having been miraculously saved by Jonny Tuffey.

"I was running away celebrating," said Snoddy. "I was right behind it and thought it was going in, and then the save was unbelievable. He actually ran past it and still managed to hook it out!"

It certainly made up for two of the first half goals when Tuffey was beaten by low shots from 25 yards but he had no chance with BJ Burns' effort from almost on the byline as he crashed the ball into the far corner of the net.

Glenavon had the first and last say with goals from David Griffin and Singleton but the absence of in-form Mark Sykes was a crucial factor, according to Hamilton.

Booked in injury time of the Lurgan Blues' last game, the midfielder who could be on the move to England in the January transfer window, missed Saturday's action through suspension.

"If he does go, it shows how much we will miss him," said Hamilton. "Three clubs came over to watch him - they had already booked their flights -but the referee gave him a yellow card and he was unavailable. If he had played well today, there could have been a move and now we don't have a top six team in the next five games for him to be judged against."

In contrast, next up for Crusaders is a trio of what boss Stephen Baxter described as "tasty games".

He said: "Beating your nearest rivals is always a good three points. But it is only three points and you will take them and bank them. But we have a tough run of games coming up, Ballymena, Cliftonville and Linfield, three tasty matches, and so the other side of the New Year we will have a better idea of where we are."

Glenavon: Tuffey, Marshall, Marron, Kelly, Singleton, Hall (McGrory, 24 mins), Clingan, Burns, Daniels (Foley, 74 mins), Mitchell, Griffin. Unused subs: Patton, Norton, Jenkins

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Coates, McChrystal, Ward, Snoddy, Whyte, Glackin (Cushley, 81 mins), Heatley, Owens. Unused subs: Dougherty, McClean, Nimick, Kerr.

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Gavin Whyte

Match rating: 8/10

Belfast Telegraph

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