Hamilton still a real handful as Lurgan Blues show class
Glenavon 2 Crusaders 2
The relief on the face of Crusaders defender Colin Coates was tangible when Gary Hamilton trooped off 19 minutes from time in Saturday night's Danske Bank Premiership thriller at Mourneview Park.
It may have been the 39-year-old's first start for Glenavon since February 9, but he still had the flicks, flair and touches that made him once one of the most feared strikers in the Irish League.
Due to a chronic injury list, the Lurgan Blues boss felt he had no option but to pull on the boots again.
And he gave Coates and his trusty defensive side kick Howard Beverland a most uncomfortable evening, until his departure when legs finally gave in.
Although it was a game that kept everyone on the edge of their seats, the personal battle between Hamilton and Coates was intriguing.
Obviously, the experienced pair had mutual respect, but they used every trick in the book to provoke each other - a side show that referee Shane Andrews did well to keep under control, having a quiet word with both players when necessary.
"I always enjoy playing against Coatsie," admitted Hamilton, with a cheeky smile.
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"I enjoy that type of challenge. To be honest, I didn't think I'd last as long."
Asked if he thought he did enough to retain his place next week, Hamilton quipped: "If I manage to start walking again by that time!
"I don't think my legs can take much more of it, the sooner the boys get back the better."
When he put on his serious hat, Hamilton was full of admiration for his young side that came so close to securing an unlikely three points.
It started so well for Crusaders with Jamie McGonigle firing them into the lead seconds before the break from a wonderfully worked free-kick routine involving Michael Ruddy and Jordan Owens.
But the home team hit back after the restart with young Jordan Jenkins firing in the equaliser before substitute Stephen Murray bagged a second with just five minutes remaining.
It was Crues substitute Paul McElroy who spared his team's blushes with practically the last kick, converting a McGonigle cross.
"I believe in the players," added Hamilton.
"Some of the boys who were not involved were in my office earlier - ex-international Jonnny Tuffey, Caolan Marron, Andrew Doyle, Seamus Sharkey, Eoin Wearen, Sammy Clingan, Robbie Norton, Andrew Mitchell and Josh Daniels
"There are a lot of established names there, but we didn't make any excuses. We got on with it.
"The players that took to the pitch, in my opinion, are good enough to compete with any team in the league, if they are bang on it - which they were.
"My only disappointment was the fact we didn't hold on for the win."
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter emerged from a 40-minute dressing room lock down after the final whistle to suggest his boys did enough to earn a draw.
He was obviously hurting but did a fine job to camouflage it.
"We looked like winning for a long time, but it was a game we then looked like losing," he stressed.
"I'm not disappointed or frustrated with our performance. We take the point and move on."
GLENAVON: Taylor, Lamour, Burns, Marshall, Hall (O'Mahony, 90 mins), Harmon, Hamilton (McCloskey, 71 mins), Beggs, Singleton, Garrett, Jenkins (Murray, 82 mins). Unused subs: Matthews, Barr, Hunter, Neil.
CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Beverland, Coates, McGonigle, Hale (McElroy, 78 mins), Ruddy, J Owens, Thompson (Caddell, 62 mins), Heatley (Lowry, 62 mins), Clarke. Unused subs: O'Neill, O'Rourke, K Owens, McGinley.
Referee: Shane Andrews (Ballygowan)
Man of the match: Rhys Marshall
Match rating: 8/10