Crusaders setting sights on more glory days
Crusaders 5 Ballyclare Comrades 0: This was a result and performance that Crusaders needed to inject some belief into a dressing room that had recently featured a gloomy amosphere.
In short, it was what the doctor ordered to restore some pride before tomorrow's County Antrim Shield final against Linfield at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
With their league challenge faltering and a heavy Setanta Cup defeat at home to Sligo Rovers following the demoralising League Cup final penalty shoot-out loss to Cliftonville, the Hatchetmen needed a pick-up and a flurry of goals that would catapult them into the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.
Glentoran or Glenavon await in the final four and it promises to be another test of character but the Crues avoided this banana skin at Seaview and it's a result that removes some of the pressure going into tomorrow's final.
Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 side Ballyclare Comrades showed fighting spirit but their skipper Andrew Doyle let the occasion get the better of him when he conceded a penalty and was then sent off in the first half.
Mission improbable became mission impossible for the visitors and Comrades boss Eddie Hill knew the game was up.
"It's football and it's done, you can't turn it back," said Hill. "But I thought we should have had a penalty when Paul Leeman tripped Daniel Smyth.
"Crusaders' penalty was a stonewall one but I thought that was a definite penalty too and it would have made the score 1-1.
"It's all ifs and buts but we are just disappointed to be out."
Crusaders were more ruthless after the break when Matthew Snoddy, Declan Caddell, David McAllister and Gary McCutcheon got on the scoresheet.
Nathan Hanley had opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 15th minute after Doyle handled the midfielder's corner.
"In the first half we expected to them to come at us with plenty of gusto," said Crues boss Stephen Baxter.
"It was their big day and they came charging at us with tackles flying. We had to be aware of that. Once we scored the penalty we started to pass the ball well and we stretched them after the break.
"We kept the ball well with Paul Leeman and Richard Clarke giving a masterclass. We did what we had to do."
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Smith (McCutcheon, 84 mins), Owens, Leeman, Magowan, Clarke, Heatley (D McAllister, 79 mins), Snoddy, Caddell (E McAllister, 79 mins), Hanley, Robinson. Unused subs: King, McMaster.
BALLYCLARE COMRADES: Flood, Doherty (Wilkinson, 69 mins), Buckley, Getty, Doyle, Gage, Agnew, McCabe, Trussell, Smyth (Simms, 85 mins), Gray (McClean, 46 mins). Unused subs: Conn, Cooper.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon).