In a crackerjack of a contest at Warrenpoint, Crusaders showed character and class to win it. With an hour on the clock and the scores tied at 2-2, it was anyone’s game.
The hosts had shown heart to level through Alan O’Sullivan’s penalty before the break and a fine finish from the striker just after it following well-taken Johnny McMurray and Adam Lecky first-half goals.
Then came patience and poise from Ben Kennedy to set up Paul Heatley on 63 minutes and, after providing that excellent assist, the former Stevenage player delivered a stunning goal on 85 courtesy of a clever McMurray pass to seal the deal.
In between Kennedy’s creativity and clinical edge, bottom-of-the-table Warrenpoint had defender Daniel Byrne sent off for two bookable offences, leaving the home side with 10 men and ultimately nothing to show for their efforts.
Crues manager Stephen Baxter admitted there was concern pre-match about how his team would perform late on in their first game since October 13 due to a Covid outbreak in the camp. It tells you much about his side’s mentality after a difficult two and a half weeks that they turned up the heat in that period.
“We were anxious how the last half-hour would go with regards to fitness and I felt we upped our levels which is credit to the players after what has been a testing time for everyone,” said Baxter, as proud of his players as he was pleased with the result.
On Kennedy, Baxter added: “Ben has that ability. He was a little bit quieter by his own standards and then, all of a sudden, he produces two bits of quality.
“We witness that in training time after time. He has a left foot that not many possess and delivers in the danger area. He is a breath of fresh air and an infectious personality. We love working with him.”
Baxter, a top-class striker himself, also hailed Lecky who, on top of his glancing header to score, led the line superbly.
“Adam was our man of the match,” added the Crues chief.
“What a performance. I think that was his best in a Crusaders shirt. His overall play, link-up play and movement was top drawer and he took his goal well.”
While disappointed with their ninth League defeat out of 10, Town should be encouraged by the chances they created.
Declan Caddell’s goal-line clearance to deny Fra McCaffrey was exceptional and they felt they ought to have had a penalty for handball before referee Lee Tavinder awarded them a spot-kick, converted by O’Sullivan, for the same offence.
Town assistant boss Gavin Dykes said: “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot. We worked really hard to get back to 2-2 and then gave two poor goals away. It’s been the story of our season so far.”
WARRENPOINT: Mitchell 6, Deasy 6, Ball 6, Peers 6, O’Sullivan 7, McCaffrey 6, Gallagher 7, Wade Slater 6, Maguire 7, Hutchinson 7 (Moorhouse, 76 mins, 5), Byrne 6. Unused subs: McMullan, McVeigh, Dillon, Dunne, Leddy, Quinn.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill 6, Burns 6, Wilson 7, Kennedy 8 (Clarke, 87 mins, 5), Lecky 8 (Owens, 87 mins, 5), Caddell 7, Forsythe 6, O’Rourke 6, Heatley 7 (Weir, 71 mins, 5), Robinson 6, McMurray 7. Unused subs: Tuffey, Hegarty, Frazer, Rafferty.
Referee: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon) 6