Stuttering Crusaders lose more ground on title rivals

Portadown's Sean Mackle 
celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 
during the New Year's Day clash at Shamrock Park

Portadown's Sean Mackle celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 during the New Year's Day clash at Shamrock Park

Stuttering Crusaders, with just two points from their last four games, can rightly claim the gods of football picked their pockets in this one.

A ‘messy decision’(in the words of referee Raymond Crangle) in the dying minutes, plus a courageous header off the Ports goal line by Darren Murray contrived to steal two points from the Crues who drop six point behind league leaders Linfield.

It was in the 83rd minute that Mr Crangle pointed to the centre-spot after a well-struck shot from Paul Heatley ricocheted off Paul Leeman and billowed the net.

But after a long talk with his linesman, the Belfast whistler changed his mind.

“My assistant told me via the intercom that the ball had struck a red, a Portadown player,” he explained.

“The Portadown players protested, and I had been 110 per cent convinced that it hit Leeman, who was in an off-side position, so I awarded a free-kick.”

Crues manager Stephen Baxter manfully accepted the decision as ultimately the right one, but he was far from happy that two points had gone awry.

“We should have won it,”he insisted.

“We threw everything at Portadown in the last 20 minutes and how we didn’t score I don’t know.

“The goal-that-never-was, allied to the header off the line from a great Joshua Robinson effort, typified our misfortunes. But when things aren’t going your way, that sort of thing is inclined to happen in football.”

Both goals came in a rousing opening, with the Ports going ahead in just three minutes, courtesy of a screamer from Sean Mackle, playing his 150th game for the Shamrock men.

He ran onto a slick flick from Peter McMahon and blaster home from 20 yards.

Heatley’s reply on 10 minutes was almost a spectacular. He ran onto an Eamon McAllister pass and carried the ball 20 yards before whipping it hard and low past David Miskelly.

Declan Caddell should have added a second for the Crues when he executed a weak chip which Miskelly held easily, and a McMahon thunderbolt smashed against the Crues post.

And despite Crues talisman Colin Coates missing the second-half with an ankle knock, they might just have squeezed a victory.

However, Ports manager Ronnie McFall didn’t concur. “We had the chances to win,” he insisted.

“But I give full marks to my team who battled in a muddy pitch, despite five just being back from injury. We deserved at least a point.

“But it’s their first point in three matches, and leaves them in fifth spot and 12 points adrift of The Blues.”




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