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My lads were brilliant and trophy is fitting reward for fans: Baxter

By Graham Luney

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter left the Showgrounds last night beaming with pride after his men eased to Toals County Antrim Shield success.

Ballymena United failed to contain the Crues' devastating attacks and the 4-2 triumph exorcised the ghost of last year's decider at the same venue when Linfield swept aside the Hatchetmen.

The Shore Road side cut through the Sky Blues rearguard from the start and proud Baxter hailed a wonderful exhibition of attacking football from his men.

"I could sense the boys were ready to perform before the game," said Baxter.

"If we got a bright start we would be in a strong position and the team were motoring in top gear.

"Over 90 minutes you can't sustain the pressure but Paul Heatley put the game to bed and we are delighted to beat a team of great players.

"We haven't expressed ourselves enough in these competitions and I just felt if we could put our foot forward we could do the business."

One disappointing footnote for the Crues is a toe injury to goalscorer Howard Beverland and Baxter said he hoped there was no break.

The Crues were totally dominant in the first half and their 3-0 lead was fully deserved.

Two early goals in two minutes from Beverland and skipper for the night Jordan Owens rocked United and Declan Caddell was also on target in an explosive performance.

Heatley, Gavin Whyte and Owens gave the Sky Blues defence more than a few headaches though at times their rearguard was caught napping.

United didn't create enough going forward but they did strike back in the 55th minute through Jonny McMurray.

David Jeffrey's side threatened again through a Kevin Braniff shot which keeper Brian Jensen dealt with and then Heatley coolly drove in his side's fourth in the 69th minute.

Substitute Cathair Friel made it 4-2 when he pounced on a mix-up between Jensen and Sean Ward in the dying minutes but it failed to take the gloss off a stunning Crues performance.

"Ballymena United haven't been beaten here for a while but we produced as good a performance as we have found for some time," added Baxter.

"Kevin Braniff had a good chance and they had opportunities but we had other chances too.

"From our point of view we will analyse the possession and we will conclude it was probably 70-30 in our favour. It's hard to pull back when you're 2-0 down against a good team in a final as we know very well.

"These are special moments for the players and it's important for me to see them enjoy it. That pleases me. It's great to have that winning feeling again. Sean Ward was so excited it was like he won his first medal.

"Any trophy is a great one to win, you have to stretch players and make sure they don't settle. This is the fans' moment, we are a small Belfast club and we have a very faithful band of supporters. When you see the loyalty of the fans it's fantastic. The club is growing and it's nice to reward them with a trophy.

"We are on a nice run but what interests me is the boys staying fit and preparing properly for games.

"Hopefully we can push on from this and we will deal with each challenge when it comes."

Belfast Telegraph

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