COUNTY ANTRIM SHIELD: Crusaders see off Carrick to reach final

Stephen Baxter's Crusaders are on a trophy roll!

Crusaders Jordan Owens heads his side into a 1-0 lead
Crusaders Jordan Owens heads his side into a 1-0 lead

The Shore Road team last night claimed their place in the final of the Toals Country Antrim Shield following this victory over 10-man Carrick Rangers at Seaview.

But it could be the start of a silver-plated season for the Crues as they still have a League Cup semi final to negotiate at Dungannon next month before the travel to across the Irish Sea to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the last four of the Scottish Irn Bru Cup.

Baxter made three changes to the team that grabbed a valuable league point at Coleraine at the weekend, drafting in Michael Kerr, Jamie Glackin and David Cushley.

Carrick chief Davy McAlinden, who pulled on punches following his boys’ dismal display, thumped 4-0 at Dungannon, also decided to shake things up by bring in Liam Hassin, Ben Roy and Martin Maybin.

It has to be said, it wasn’t a game for the football purist. It was tough and uncompromising, but the Crues did enough to see it out.

When Carrick’s Mark Clarke was dismissed with 12 minutes, their chances of pulling off a shock disappeared.

The opening half hour resembled a pre-season friendly rather than a cup semi final.

Rangers were content to soak up a constant barrage of pressure with Harry Doherty dealing comfortably with a long range drive from Jordan Forsythe before David Cushley’s free kick crashed off the Carrick ‘wall’ and into the grateful arms of the shot stopper.

Crusaders had another decent chance on 21 minutes when the the impressive Jamie Glackin was flattened by Mark Edgar, but again Doherty wasn’t fully tested after Forsytle had rolled the 20 yard free kick into the path of Cushley.

But the home fans were celebrating on 32 minutes with Owens’ breakthrough. The wizardry of Paul Heatley on the left bamboozled the Rangers defence and, when he whipped in a delicious cross, the big striker did the rest with the flick of his head.

The Crues went looking for a killer second goal after the restart and the alert Doherty prevented certain goal when he rushed from his line to hoof the ball off the toe of Heatley, who was sent racing clear by a sublime 40 yard pass form Cushely.

Rangers were hanging on at times. Cushley’s excellent vision created another great chance for Heatley, but once again, the little striker failed to get the better of the impressive Doherty.

Incredibly, the small pocket of visiting fans had to wait until the 64th minute for their team to create anything tangible at the other end. Michael Smith’s low cross found the unmarked Eamon McAllister, who shot into the arms of Brian Jensen.

But Carrick’s chances of a shock went down the tubes when Clarke received his second yellow card of the night for a clumsy challenge on Forsythe.

The Crues will now face Ballymena United in the final on Tuesday, January 23.

CRUSADERS: Jensen, Beverland (Mcclean 88), Ward, Kerr, Brown, Caddell, Cushley (Nimick 92), Glackin (Whyte 66), Forsythe, Heatley, Owens.

Unused subs: Dougherty, Anderson.

CARRICK: Doherty, Chapman, Larmour, Gage, Edgar, Hassin, Clarke, McAllister, Roy (McMillan 76), Smith (McKenna 88), Maybin.Unused subs: McNally, Rice, Morrow.

REFEREE: Keith Kennedy