Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders old boys put big dent in title challenge

By David Mason

Crusaders 2 Glenavon 2: Gareth McKeown and David Rainey returned to the haunt their old team as Glenavon inflicted more Premiership pain on Crusaders.

The former Crusaders favourites bagged the goals that literally ended Stephen Baxter's boys' title challenge.

It had looked so good early on when Jordan Owens shot the Crues into an early lead, but it was all down hill after that.

McKeown punished his former employers by levelling things up before the break and then Rainey struck from distance with a strike fit to grace any occasion.

New signing Richard Clarke salvaged a point for the Crues with a thundering drive 13 minutes from time, but the reality is their title challenge is over as they now trail table-topping Linfield by a whopping 11 points.

The Crues required a mere eight minutes to forge ahead through Owens. Gary McCutcheon created the opening and Owens was allowed time and space to ram the ball past James McGrath for his 21st of the season.

Baxter's boys nearly did it again seconds later when Paul Heatley's lightning burst into the box took him clear, but his vicious drive was superbly beaten away by McGrath.

Glenavon almost grabbed a shock equaliser on 12 minutes. The ball fell to Tiarnan Mulvenna on the edge of the box, but his snap shot arrowed inches over the top.

Crues defender Craig McClean then tried his luck with a 25 yard free kick, after a clumsy challenge from McKeown on Declan Caddell, but was unlucky to see his shot ripple the side netting.

James Singleton held his head in frustration on 18 minutes when his rasping drive looped just over the crossbar, with Crues goalkeeper Sean O'Neill struggling.

Glenavon levelled matters on 24 minutes. Brian McCaul's wind assisted corner kick from the left completely deceived O'Neill and the ball was scooped in at the back post by former Crusaders defender McKeown.

It helped breathe new confidence into the visitors. With the wind again playing havoc Mulvenna's speculative header had O'Neill scampering across his goal, but the ball fizzed past the post.

McGrath then came to Glenavon's rescue on 38 minutes. Caddell's clever flick sent David McMaster hurtling into the box, but the goalkeeper got down bravely to block the effort.

Crusaders had loud appeals for a penalty after Owens appeared to be impeded by Andy Kilmartin, but referee Ross Dunlop wasn't impressed.

Glenavon roared from the traps after the interval and Rainey struck after only five minutes. He picked up a pass from Mark Patton and cut inside before unleashing a thundering drive into the top corner, in spite of a despairing dive by O'Neill.

Just when they looked to have weathered the storm, Glenavon were undone on 77 minutes by a piece of magic form Clarke, who let rip from all off 30 yards and his drive screamed into the top corner.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Leeman, Magowan, McClean, Robinson, Caddell (Snoddy 90 mins), McMaster (Smith 61 mins), Heatley, Clarke, McCutcheon (E McAllister 61 mins), Owens. Subs: Hanley, D McAllister.

Glenavon: McGrath, McCallion, Kilmartin, Rainey (McDaid 86 mins), Patton, Marshall, McKeown, McCabe, Singleton, McCaul (McGrory 72 mins), Mulvenna (Bates 75 mins). Subs: McIlveen, Dane.

Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).

Belfast Telegraph

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