CRUSADERS manager Stephen Baxter admitted he took a gamble with skipper Colin Coates in Saturday’s Danske Bank Premiership clash against Ballymena United at Seaview.
The 27-year-old lasted a mere seven minutes after landing awkwardly on a suspect ankle – injured in the glamour midweek friendly against Liverpool.
“Colin had a fitness test at 12.30 and he felt grand,” said Baxter.
“But practically straight from the kick off, he came down on his ankle after jumping for a ball. There obviously wasn’t enough strength in the ankle.
“We took a chance, but you do that with a player of his quality and capability. Sadly, it didn’t work, so we changed it quite quickly. David Magowan came in and I thought he was magnificent.
“The lad (Jamie) Davidson scored two goals for United against Linfield last week – he looks a sharp young player, but Maggs never give him a kick.”
United’s new signing Gary Thompson missed the best chance after only five minutes of an otherwise totally forgettable affair.
The former Lisburn Distillery midfielder skipped past a clearly struggling Coates, but his shot was brilliantly beaten away by the alert Sean O’Neill.
David Cushley, who was also snapped up over the summer, tested O’Neill again just before the interval with a stinging free kick that fizzed through a posse of legs, but the big shot shopper got down to claw the ball out of the bottom corner.
“Chances were few and far between,” added Baxter.
“Fair play to them, they marked us tightly – we just couldn’t find the openings around goal. Ballymena defended stoutly in the second half as we threw everything at them.
“We probably just lacked a little bit of quality. I was really pleased with the effort of our lads.
“Last week after the defeat at Coleraine, I questioned their effort.
“They get praise from me week in, week out. They know how much I love them. But if they don’t reach the standards we set for them, they will not be long hearing about it.”
United manager Glenn Ferguson has instilled a new confidence and work ethic into the side, gleaned from his successful decade at Linfield.
After last week’s opening victory over his former employers, Spike regarded his team’s latest offering as ‘another pointed gained’.
“We played the current all-Ireland champions in their own back yard, it was never going to be easy,” said Ferguson. “But we stood up to the test.
“A draw was probably a fair result, although we had the two best chances of the game. Having picked up four points from our first two games, against the top two teams, I’ve got to be happy. It’s not rocket science – it’s all about hard work and organisation. Obviously, confidence levels soar after results like this.
“We’ve made the squad a bit bigger this season and we’ve now got good competition for places. So, they boys who are in the team know they must perform, or they’ll be out.
“We have also got a few leaders in Johnny Taylor and Allan Jenkins, but everyone of the lads have shown a great attitude.”