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Stalemate deals Crues and Reds big title setback

Crusaders 0 Cliftonville 0

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Tight battle: Crusaders ace Declan Caddell and Cliftonville’s Chris Curran

Tight battle: Crusaders ace Declan Caddell and Cliftonville’s Chris Curran

Tight battle: Crusaders ace Declan Caddell and Cliftonville’s Chris Curran

Crusaders' title chances finally hit the buffers on a night to forget at Seaview.

The Shore Road team's dismal run of results was cranked up even further in this lifeless north Belfast derby.

Still wobbling from their controversial Irish Cup demise at Glentoran at the weekend, the Crues again flattered to deceive.

They now trail Linfield by a whopping 10 points in the Danske Bank Premiership table and, with only eight games remaining, they are realistically playing for runners-up place - and a slot in European football.

February was a costly month for the Crues, having lost two league games to Glenavon and Linfield. They were also defeated in the final of the League Cup, while their interest in the Irish Cup went down the tubes.

Another anaemic showing against their rivals suggested their troubles are far from over.

Manager Stephen Baxter was forced to watch last night's game from the grandstand, the legacy of his dismissal after the final whistle on Saturday.

Goalkeeper Gerard Doherty and midfielder Jordan Forsythe were also missing as they also took the walk of shame. Only Billy Joe Burns, Jordan Owens, Rodney Brown and Paul Heatley survived the chop.

Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin made one change from the team that defeated Dungannon Swifts in the Cup, Garry Breen replacing young Donal Rocks.

The draw meant that the Reds are also 10 points adrift of David Healy's Blues. Their focus is now on the Irish Cup - a trophy they haven't paraded for 41 years.

Perhaps it was no surprise it was the Reds who had the first sniff of goal. Michael McCrudden found Conor McMenamin, who tried his luck with a drive from distance that flashed over.

Joe Gormley then let fly from wide on the right, an ambitious effort that ended up high into the crowd behind the goal.

And they had the ball in the net on 17 minutes when Aaron Donnelly's corner fell invitingly for Jamie Harney, who poked home, but the Reds defender had strayed offside.

The home team at last threatened at the other end, but had to wait until the 35th minute when the strong-running Heatley was hauled down by Harney.

Heatley floated in the free-kick which was met by Chris Hegarty, but Richard Brush got down smartly to paw clear.

From the resulting corner, Owens climbed high above everyone else to meet Heatley's cross only to see his header fizz over the crossbar.

Then, seven minutes later, Paul McElroy cut in from the right before unleashing a vicious low shot that again had Brush at full stretch.

Crusaders came within inches of breaking the deadlock on 54 minutes. Michael Ruddy whipped in a cross from the left that was met by Owens, but his thumping header hit the post.

But the Reds responded in a positive manner and the usually lethal Gormley missed a sitter.

Harney's searching pass picked out the striker. His first touch was immaculate, but he could only screw the second past the post.

The Crues almost won it on 89 minutes when Hegarty's header grazed the post following Heatley's free-kick.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns (Dummingan 73), Hegarty, Lowry, Hale, Caddell, Ruddy, Owens, Brown, Heatley, McElroy (McGonigle 82).

Unused subs: Shields, Cushley, O'Rourke, Thompson, McGinley.

CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McDermott, Breen, Harney, C Curran (Rocks 80), R Curran, McCrudden (Maguire 89), Doherty, Gormley, McMenamin, Donnelly.

Unused subs: Dunne, Foster, Bagnall, Casey, McCurry.

Referee: Raymond Crangle

Man of the match: Richard Brush.

Match rating: 4/10

Belfast Telegraph