IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders held at home by Ards

Stepehn Baxter blasted his side for their inability to break down a stubborn Ards at Seaview on Saturday.

Crusaders squandered a golden opportunity to keep pace with Coleraine and Linfield despite dominating both possession and goal attempts.

And a deeply disappointed Baxter reckoned his team needs to work on breaking teams down if they are to sustain a title challenge.

“It’s disappointing not to win when you dominate possession and territory,” said Baxter.

“We probably had 80% of the ball but we didn’t do enough with the ball and we didn’t do enough in the final third to cut out clear-cut chances.

“Ards were able to set up in a way that allowed them to get bodies behind the ball. They also put their bodies on the line. Taylor, Elebert and Byers were all magnificent for Ards, they headed clear everything we threw at them.

“We didn’t do enough. You can dominate the game all you want but we didn’t do enough with the ball.

“We could have been playing all night and we still wouldn’t have scored. Paul Heatley’s chance that Hogg pushed onto the post is probably our only clear-cut chance.

“Ards came here with a plan to get themselves a point and they pulled it off, and I congratulate them on that.

“We need to work out how to break teams down.”

On Tuesday night, Crusaders announced their intentions to challenge for this year’s Gibson Cup with a fine 2-1 win over champions Linfield with stunning goals from Jordan Forsythe and Paul Heatley, but there was little evidence of that guile on Saturday, as a brave Ards defence cleared everything Crusaders threw at them.

While Crusaders dominated possession and territory, they only created a handful of genuine goalscoring opportunities as Ards defenders Dave Elebert and Jonny Taylor snuffed out a stream of high balls into the area.

Tuesday night’s hero Heatley thought he had given Crusaders the lead mid-way through the first half when he unleashed an incredible 25-yard drive, but a stretching Aaron Hogg produced a stunning save, tipping the ball onto the post.

Soon after, Michael Carvill had the ball in the net. The former Linfield man turned home a corner-kick, but referee Evan Boyce ruled the goal out for handball.

In the second half, Crusaders pushed for a winner, but they struggled to find a way through the Ards backline.

At the other end, Jonny Frazer had a grand opportunity to write himself into Ards folklore when he skipped away from Sean Ward, but with the goal at his mercy, he took one touch too many, allowing Danish goalkeeper Brian Jensen to smother his effort.

Crusaders best chance of the of the second half arrived with five minutes left on the clock when substitute Gavin Whyte’s right-wing cross was headed towards goal by Jordan Owens.

However, Ards goalkeeper Hogg was on hand to produce a top-class save against his old club that earned Ards a hard-fought point.

Crusaders: Jensen; Burns, Ward, Coates, Brown; Caddell, Lowry (63 Snoddy); Forsythe (78 Cushley), Carvill (HT Whyte), Heatley; Owens;

Subs Not Used: Beverland, Glackin

Ards: Hogg; Byers, Taylor, Elebert (63 McAleenan), Glendinning; McMillen, Hanley, Cherry, McAllister (81 Keke); Frazer, McLellan (74 Tommons); Subs Not Used: Davidson, McComb

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan).