Whyte shines brightly to leave Gray browned off with Reds
Crusaders 2 Cliftonville 0
The sun may have got in the supporters’ eyes at Seaview yesterday — who needs summer football? — but it was a Whyte Christmas as Crusaders maintained their Boxing Day dominance over Cliftonville.
Gavin Whyte’s double was further evidence of his growing maturity as a player, progress that will surely be rewarded with a move across the water at the end of the season, but for now he’s playing a key role in the Shore Road mission to regain the title.
With Coleraine’s lead cut down to four points, and Linfield also losing at The Oval, it was a welcome festive gift for Stephen Baxter’s side, but they should keep their feet on the ground as Saturday’s trip to Windsor Park is going to be an almighty battle.
Whyte, continuing to win the admiration of cross channel scouts, struck in the 12th and 91st minutes of this intriguing derby and it leaves the Reds still waiting on their first Boxing Day success since 2012.
Cliftonville boss Barry Gray blasted the referee and his players, feeling Raymond Crangle failed to spot two free-kicks in the run up to both goals.
“Both are fouls, simple, but Raymond Crangle is the only one in the ground who thinks different,” he fumed.
“But sure it will always be the Raymond Crangle show, so on we go to the next defeat he can dish out for us. In my eyes, he’s got the decisions wrong and it’s created two goals against us. That’s how I see it. He might reconsider when he sees the replays. Rory Donnelly has been manhandled the whole game and hasn’t got a free-kick because Raymond deemed it was Rory backing into defenders as they throw their arms around his neck. It was a big show referee for a big show.
“As for our performance, it was utter crap. It’s not about the scoreline. We have created nothing in front of goal. Apparently we have one of the great strikeforces in the league.
“The defensive mishaps for the first goal were atrocious and our midfield had little control and these players are maybe too comfortable within their own zones.
“I’ve stood by the players but they have sent supporters back up the road with nothing. We should feel sorry for the people who have spent their hard earned money over Christmas to watch our last two games. We’ve been absolutely atrocious.”
Gray’s anger was understandable, but the Crues, without the injured Paul Heatley and suspended Colin Coates, produced one of their best defensive performances of the campaign, and in Whyte they had that bit of class that made the difference.
“It’s not often in a north Belfast derby you come away thinking I don’t really remember an attempt on goal from Cliftonville,” said Baxter.
“I thought our two centre-halves (Sean Ward and Howard Beverland) were outstanding today amongst a number of brilliant performances. We had the cutting edge we needed going forward and marshalled the game out pretty well.
“Gavin is on a lovely run, and it’s great to watch a player playing with that confidence, even in training. His passing and movement is exceptional. For the first two months of the season he wasn’t playing well or getting past people or scoring goals but, like Stuart Dallas, he is a player born with that ability, you can’t coach it. In the last two or three months we are seeing that consistency, and if he can maintain that to the end of the season we will see where his future lies because he is an amazing player.”
The breakthrough came in the 12th minute and, while it was sloppy defending from the Reds, Whyte kept his composure and coolly fired the ball low past keeper Brian Neeson. Jay Donnelly lost the ball, Whyte skipped around Garry Breen and drilled his shot past Neeson.
Whyte almost doubled his tally in the 77th minute but, after a blistering run down the right, wing Neeson blocked his goal bound effort. Substitute Philip Lowry stung Neeson’s palms with a low drive but the Crues did secure the points in the 91st minute as Whyte sprinted onto a long clearance and drilled a low shot past Neeson.
There has been speculation linking Joe Gormley with a move from Cliftonville to Crusaders in January, but Gray added: “Joe is going nowhere and no-one is leaving unless I want them to. I’ve no plans for anyone to go out.”
There’s no shortage of big names at Solitude. Gray just needs big performances in 2018.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, McChrystal, Beverland, Ward, Snoddy, Cushley (Lowry, 77 mins), Caddell (Glackin, 90 mins), Forsythe, Whyte, Owens (McClean, 90 mins). Unused subs: Dougherty, Nimick.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harvey, Curran (Cosgrove, 73 mins), Hughes (Gormley, 75 mins) Bagnall, Winchester, J Donnelly (Garrett, 64 mins), R Donnelly. Unused subs: Dunne, Lavery.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).
Man of match: Gavin Whyte
Match rating: 7/10