Warrenpoint Town 0
Slowly but surely Crusaders are getting their mojo back.
After going five games without a League victory, Stephen Baxter’s men have earned successive hard fought wins on their travels.
Two injury-time goals gave them a morale-boosting 3-1 success at Carrick Rangers and yesterday they battled to a 1-0 triumph against an improved Warrenpoint Town side, courtesy of a disputed Jordan Owens goal.
Baxter and his players would be the first to acknowledge they have been nowhere near their blistering best for much of this season yet they are only three points behind top pair Coleraine and Cliftonville — and five clear of Champions Linfield.
The concern for the other title challengers is there is more to come from the Crues, whose bench at Milltown included Sean O’Neill, Chris Hegarty, Paul Heatley, David Cushley and Declan Caddell, illustrating the squad strength at Seaview.
In influential frontman Owens, they had the matchwinner.
With 28 minutes on the clock, young Warrenpoint goalkeeper Mark Byrne could not prevent the striker’s effort going over the line after Jamie McGonigle’s deflected delivery from an astute Billy Joe Burns crossfield pass fell to the club’s record goalscorer inside the area.
After that, in either half McGonigle tested Byrne while, at the other end, Alan O’Sullivan missed a fabulous chance and had a strike brilliantly blocked by Howard Beverland following goalkeeper Gerard Doherty’s stop to keep out Conall Young’s free-kick.
In the dying moments, Lorcan Forde’s dancing feet looked as though they might provide an equaliser for Barry Gary’s bottom-of-the-table team but the Crues cleared the danger.
Post-match, Baxter was pleased that his side dug out a crucial victory.
“We aren’t in what I call the turn for home which comes around the end of January, so at this stage you have to stay in the mix and wins like this keep you in the mix,” said Baxter.
“We had four draws and a defeat in five games and got into a little rut and we weren’t at full tilt but I thought our performance at Carrick in the last 20 minutes was very strong and we looked a little more like ourselves in the first-half against Warrenpoint.
“You have to find your way through these situations and hopefully we are doing that.”
Opposite number Gray said: “After beating Coleraine, I wanted a similar performance level and we got that without the result.
“We stayed in the game against a very good side and the players deserve credit for that. They are digging in, working well to our system and, although I’m disappointed to lose, I think we are moving forward in the right way and can take positives out of the game.
“The boys are working hard and that’s what we need because we won’t get off the bottom of the table without that work ethic.”