IRISH LEAGUE: Champions elect Crusaders made to work for win at Glenavon

Glenavon's  Andy Hall in action with Crusaders' Craig McClean
Glenavon's Andy Hall in action with Crusaders' Craig McClean
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GLENAVON 0 CRUSADERS 1

Crusaders have one hand on the Danske bank Premiership title after a hard fought win over Glenavon.

But they were made to work hard for their win over a resilient Lurgan outfit who will be left rueing a string of missed chances.

The Crues remain eight points clear with just three games remaining.

The league leaders had goalkeeper Sean O’Neill to thank that they were not a goal behind inside the first five minutes. He pulled out a great block to deny Eoin Bradley after Andy Hall had squared the ball to the striker.

Crusaders’ had their first opportunity at the other end on 18 minutes when Paul Heatley and Declan Caddell caused all sorts of confusion inside the Glenavon box. The ball eventually fell for Jordan Owens, but he scooped the ball over the bar.

Gavin Whyte then had a shot from the edge of the box, but Andy Kilmartin managed to get a vital block in with the ball eventually trickling to Jonathan Tuffey.

O’Neill came to the rescue again just before the half hour mark when he blocked another Bradley chance; this time Joel Cooper was the provider.

Bradley and Colin Coates, who have history from the last time these two sides met in the Danske Bank Premiership, each received a booking in separate incidents. Firstly Bradley was booked for dissent after tumbling over the defender, and then four minutes later Coates found himself in Ian McNabb’s book for a high challenge on the forward.

Glenavon had another good chance before the break when Hall found Bradley down the right flank. Bradley supplied a low pass for Kevin Braniff but his shot was crucially blocked by Billy Joe Burns.

Both sides provided a battling start to the first half and Gavin Whyte was booked for simulation after a challenge by Conor Dillon.

The Crues took the lead on 56 minutes after substitute Mark Patton was booked for a foul to the right of the box. Whyte provided a fantastic delivery for the unmarked Jordan Owens to head past Tuffey.

Bradley could have levelled shortly afterwards when he was found on the edge of the box, beating an offside trap, but he took too long before pulling the trigger and eventually fired wide.

Braniff had an opportunity as the game fell into the last quarter. A Rhys Marshall throw-in fell to Declan O’Brien, and he teed up the striker who fired wide.

With 12 minutes remaining Gary Hamilton brought himself on and almost immediately found himself in the referee’s book for dissent.

Then Owens, looking to kill the game off, fired against the post before Whyte forced Tuffey into a fine save to force a corner.

Braniff was unlucky not to level the scores with three minutes to go when a long throw by Dillon fell him 25 yards out. His powerful volley was parried away by O’Neill, who found the shot too hot to handle.

And a Braniff cross to the back post to O’Brien went agonisingly across the face of goal.

GLENAVON: Tuffey, Morris, Dillon, Lindsay, Kilmartin, Marshall, Cooper, Bradley, Hall, Braniff, Martyn. Subs: Patton (Morris 33), O’Brien (Bradley 63), Hamilton (Kilmartin 78), Delaney, McGrath.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Magowan, Coates, McClean, Caddell, Snoddy, Mitchell, Owens, Heatley, Whyte. Subs: McKibben, Clarke, Carvill (Heatley90), O’Carroll, Forsythe.

REFEREE: Ian McNabb.