Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is obsessed this week with the old folk tune ‘The Boys from the County Armagh’ as he plots the downfall of Glenavon next Saturday.
Having disposed of Portadown at Shamrock Park, he wants to bank maximum points in part two of his campaign against the Orchard County’s ‘Big Two’, both lurking just below second-placed Crues in the league table.
“They’re both top teams,” reflected Baxter after this tight, defensive game which his men won through a controversial goal from Timmy Adams, two minutes into the second half.
“We had to work hard for these three vital points.
“The key to this victory was that our defence – with Colin Coates and Paul Leeman superb – blunted Portadown’s talented attack, and we hope to do the same at Mourneview Park next week.
“Glenavon are a free-scoring side, and we aim to put the shutters up on them as well. If we can export six points from County Armagh, we’ll stay in second spot, hot on the heels of Linfield.
“As well as us beating Portadown, Glenavon and Cliftonville both dropped points, and we’re well placed.”
But if Baxter was a happy camper after this oh-so-narrow win, Ports boss Ronnie McFall certainly wasn’t – he was dismissed from the bench to watch the match from the grandstand for vociferously disputing the Allen goal, laid on by a brilliant pull-back from Coates.
McFall stormed: “Both Allen and Coates were off-side, and the failure of the linesman to spot the obvious cost us at least a point in such an important top-four match.”
McFall let linesman James Eakin know his views in no uncertain terms, and when he was directed to the stand, he let referee Raymond Herington feel the weight of his ire as he set off on the lonely trek across the pitch and into the stand.
“The ref also turned down two cast-iron penalty claims,” McFall said after the match.
“We deserved at least a draw. It’s hard to take.”
And after Baxter insisted the referee “got it just right, with a Portadown player back-heading the ball and playing everyone on-side,” Coates said.
“I just don’t know. I cut the ball back, with Timmy on the near post, and he scored a vital goal. The ref gave it, and that’s what counts.”
After the opening goal the Ports pressed in the final half-hour when Ryan McStay replaced new man Joshua Barton in midfield, which injected some order in the Ports’ rather untidy play.
A late Braniff effort testing Sean O’Neill and Murray blasted high over when he could have levelled matters.