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Jordan Owens predicts a tight title race and hopes Crusaders can stay in the mix

Ballymena United 1 Crusaders 4


Jordan Owens

Jordan Owens

INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Jordan Owens

Crusaders skipper Jordan Owens is bracing himself for one of the most competitive races for the Gibson Cup this season.

His two goals helped Stephen Baxter's men recover from a first-half deficit against Ballymena United to turn the game on its head and fire the Crues right back into the title mix.

That looked highly unlikely after the Sky Blues took a deserved 24th minute lead when Paul McElroy poached the opener against the side who dispensed with his services in the summer.

While David Jeffrey's side were good value for that lead they shot themselves in the foot multiple times after the break, the first just three minutes in when a long ball somehow evaded the clutches of Ross Glendinning and Ross Clarke rolled it into the empty net.

Glendinning and his defence were all at sea again when, inexplicably, Owens was allowed to amble in and put a resounding thud of his forehead on two superb free-kicks from Jordan Forsythe, and salt was rubbed in the wounds when Declan Caddell came off the bench to make it 4-1 late on.

"I thought in the first-half Ballymena were better but we re-grouped at half-time and a few orders were given out and the boys went out in the second-half and gave a good account of ourselves," said Owens.

"After we got the equaliser it gave us that wee bit of momentum and kicked us on and, overall, in the last half an hour it was a great performance.

"It's going to be tough. It's a big league this year with everybody coming back from the situation that we're in and I think we gave a good spectacle for the supporters.

"The games are coming thick and fast and there's a big one on Tuesday night against Coleraine, so it's good to be back and have the Irish League back with everybody playing.

"It's going to be tight this year, I don't think any team will be clear by Christmas and hopefully we'll be one of them.

"Larne's in the mix, Coleraine, Glentoran, there are big games and we're looking forward to them.

"Coleraine have been there or thereabouts in the last couple of years. Oran (Kearney) has them playing well, they have great players and we all want to be up there around Christmas time and I'd say Coleraine will be."

As for Ballymena there is much head-scratching for David Jeffrey over his Jeykll and Hyde team.

Captivating in the opening period, cataclysmic after it, and he'll be hoping to get things right when Glenavon visit the Showgrounds tomorrow evening.

"You can't give any team those opportunities and it's not as if we don't talk about it, we do week-in and week-out and it's not as if we don't practice it week-in and week-out," said the Ballymena boss.

"We're really good going forward and play really good, attractive football, we're very easy on the eye, but you can't legislate for those mistakes and that's what obviously killed us today.

"Working hard, good attitude, good application, good football - all those boxes are ticked. It's the unglamorous parts of the game that we're got to do better.

"The players are really annoyed and angry at themselves and with the situation."

BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Hume, Redman, Addis, Kelly, Millar, Winchester (McCready 80), Harpur (T Kane 80), McCartan, Waide (McKeown 80), McElroy.

Subs not used: Williamson, K Kane, Balmer, Ervin.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Forsythe, Ruddy, Hegarty, Brown (Wilson 66), Clarke, Lowry, Thompson (Hale 80), McGonigle, Owens, Lecky (Caddell 80).

Subs not used: Doherty, Kennedy, Cushley, O'Rourke.

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)

Man of the match: Phillip Lowry

Match rating: 8/10

Belfast Telegraph