Stephen Baxter hailed the “clever feet” of super-sub Adam Lecky as the Crusaders striker came off the bench to bag a late winner at Larne.
There was barely a minute between Lecky taking to the field and making it 2-1 as Baxter’s men secured a vital victory on the road.
Daniel Larmour and Kofi Balmer had earlier exchanged quick-fire goals, but it was Lecky who proved to be the difference.
“They brought (Cian) Bolger on and we felt something similar, that we lacked a bit of height,” said Baxter.
“We felt we needed something a bit different to penetrate them and Adam has got clever feet.
“He can get into the box and score you a goal and you’re always hoping a sub can come on and score you a goal.”
The win was enough to see Crusaders leapfrog Larne into fourth place in the Premiership — and with two games in hand.
Baxter also had Jonny Tuffey to thank, with the goalkeeper making three eye-catching saves to keep Larne out.
“We had to make sure we were tight defensively and stand up to all that Larne threw at us,” Baxter added.
“I thought Jonny Tuffey made two very good saves in the first half but, outside of that, we felt we kept them at arm’s length.
“I thought we had some outstanding performances. Our two centre-halves were immense, really immense.
“We had to stand up to the high ball into our box and we stood up to that very well and were able to see it out.”
As for Larne, it’s now four defeats in their last six League outings. They began in bright fashion, however, and came within a whisker of taking the lead with four minutes on the clock.
Andy Scott’s corner was stabbed goalwards by Albert Watson, but Tuffey produced a fine reflex save to tip it onto the bar before the danger was cleared.
The keeper was then at full stretch to tip a Davy McDaid effort over the top but that was as close as either side came until Crusaders took the lead with 69 minutes gone.
The visitors recycled a free-kick out to the right flank, where Jordan Forsythe delivered a pinpoint cross for defender Larmour to head home.
The lead lasted for just five minutes, however. Substitute Mark Randall delivered an in-swinging corner onto the head of Balmer to level the game.
It was the Crues who left with the points, though, as Lecky started and finished a fine move.
The former Ballymena United man danced past a number of players before slipping the ball to Philip Lowry and he found Declan Caddell, who crossed for Lecky to tap home at the front post.
There was still time for Tuffey to come to the fore when he somehow clawed out a Lee Bonis header from the top corner to deny the hosts a share of the spoils.
Larne boss Tiernan Lynch led an hour-long debrief with his players and admitted there was a lot of soul-searching to be done.
“We have to put our hands up and take responsibility,” he said.
“The goals we conceded weren’t good enough. In the big moments, we let ourselves down — all of us collectively.
“All I can do is apologise to the fans, they deserved more but unfortunately we couldn’t deliver it for them.
“We’re conceding too many stupid goals. It’s killed us today and it’s killed our season.”
LARNE: Devlin 6, Balmer 6, Watson 6, Sule 7, Herron 7 (Randall, 59 mins, 6), Hale 6, McDaid 6, Scott 6 (Doherty, 64 mins, 6), Bonis 6, Cosgrove 6 (Bolger, 59 mins, 6), Jarvis 6. Unused subs: Ferguson, Kelly, Nasseri, Lynch.
Crusaders: Tuffey 9, Burns 7, Wilson 7, Lowry 7, Kennedy 7 (Owens, 90 mins, 5), Caddell 7, Forsythe 7 (Lecky, 81 mins, 7), Larmour 8, Heatley 6, Robinson 7, Clarke 6. Unused subs: Shields, O’Rourke, Patterson, Winchester, McMurray.
Referee: Shane Andrews (Comber) 5