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Painful loss for Ballymena United against Cliftonville

Crusaders 2 - 0 Ballymena United

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Jordan Owens

Jordan Owens

Inpho/Stephen Hamilton

Jordan Owens

It may have been David Jeffrey's 200th game in charge of Ballymena United but there was no light relief at the end of a week which saw a painful County Antrim Shield Final loss to Cliftonville, a £60,000 bid from Glentoran for his striker Adam Lecky and now this 2-0 Premiership defeat at Crusaders.

The Sky Blues had chances at Seaview, with Joshua Kelly producing a wayward finish on two occasions, but the Crues maintained their excellent run of form with two magical moments in the second half.

Declan Caddell's header and Ross Clarke's stunning free-kick keeps the Crues machine rolling forward in what is a thrilling title sprint.

"From our point of view, it was a game we totally dominated," said home chief Stephen Baxter.

"We had control of the ball for 80 per cent of the game and put balls into good areas. We looked for a way to break them down and when you knock on the door that many times, you will get an opportunity.

"We tucked two chances away near the end and I felt we were superb. It's five wins on the bounce and five clean sheets so that's good and you need to keep building on that.

"We aren't getting carried away because there's a long way to go. Big games are coming up and you can easily get derailed by losing a few. We are enjoying the games, the boys are enjoying training and playing well so that's a good sign."

Lecky did play for United, who made five changes following the Shield Final defeat, drafting in Ross and Reece Glendinning, Tony Kane, Aaron Burns and Kelly.

It was a nervous start from the visitors as Jordan Forsythe's close range flick from Jamie McGonigle's corner whistled over the crossbar.

The United defence was still napping when Paul Heatley picked out Philip Lowry, who failed to find the target.

Heatley missed a chance to send McGonigle through on goal and the striker then powered a shot over the woodwork during a lively opening.

The former Coleraine ace looked a genuine threat as he tested Ross Glendinning from distance.

After a dull period, the game exploded into life just before the interval when the visitors should have taken the lead.

Forsythe was unable to make an effective clearance from Andy McGrory's cross and the ball fell invitingly for Kelly, who could only direct a low shot wide of the post.

In the 56th minute, Caddell couldn't get sufficient power in his header and Kelly was able to clear the danger.

Four minutes later, Kelly wasted another decent chance, drilling his shot wide of the post.

The Crues were living dangerously and they had another let off on 61 minutes when Cathair Friel cut the ball back for McGrory, who let fly but keeper Ger Doherty was able to tip the ball onto the post.

But in the 71st minute the Crues produced a moment of inspiration.

Forsythe delivered a delicious right wing cross and Caddell's header found the bottom corner of the net.

Baxter's boys made it 2-0 in the 84th minute when Scot Whiteside tugged Jordan Owens' shirt and substitute Clarke, announcing his return from injury, curled a wonderful free-kick round the defensive wall and past the keeper.

Jeffrey felt a few big decisions from referee Raymond Crangle -who also officiated Tuesday's heartbreaking loss to Cliftonville - cost his side the chance of ending their losing streak.

"Crusaders started like a house on fire and it took us a few minutes to work them out," he said.

"After that, I felt we played tremendously well and Josh Kelly, who ironically was the match winner the last time we were here, had a simple chance which unfortunately went wide. Scot Whiteside had a chance with a header and it could have been 2-0.

"In the second-half, we applied ourselves well and Ger Doherty makes a wonder save. The game turns when Tony Kane and Ross Clarke come together.

"Clarke flicks out a foot and I felt it was a free-kick. Raymond explained to me he saw it as a reaction after a coming together and I respect him for explaining his rationale but I didn't agree with him.

"For the free-kick which led to the goal, Scot Whiteside was penalised for fouling Jordan Owens but I felt it was six of one, half a dozen of the other.

"The players gave absolutely everything and they didn't let the disappointment of the Shield Final affect them but we were unable to get across the line and it's tough to take."

CRUSADERS: Doherty 7, Burns 7, Lowry 7, McGonigle 7 (Cushley, 89 mins, 6), Caddell 8, Forsythe 8, O'Rourke 7, Owens 7, Brown 7, Thompson 7, Heatley 6 (Clarke, 64 mins, 8). Unused subs: O'Neill, Beverland, Ruddy, McElroy, Dummigan.

Ballymena: Ross Glendinning 7, Kane 7, Addis 7, Whiteside 7, Friel 6, McGrory 7, Lecky 7, Millar 7, Reece Glendinning 6, A Burns 6, Kelly 6. Unused subs: Williamson, Knowles, McCullough, K Kane, Carville, Winchester, Lavery.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast) 7.

Versatile Jordan Forsythe created the goal and managed to be a prolific attacking threat while performing a right back role.

Forsythe's stunning cross from the right allowed Declan Caddell to find the net and break the deadlock with a glancing header.

Raymond Crangle didn't brandish too many cards and the game flowed well.

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