Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter saluted the ‘character’ of his team following their thrilling North Belfast derby win over Cliftonville at Seaview on Friday night.
In a typical robust, blood and thunder showdown, big Jordan Owens earned the Shore Road supporters the bragging rights by plundering an injury time winner.
Joe Gormley shot the Reds into an early lead from the penalty spot – a strike that took him to the top of his team’s all-time scoring charts. His tally of 171, bettered Dr Kevin McGarry’s previous total.
But the Crues his back through Roy Patterson before Ross Clarke curled home a wonderful free kick.
Gormley still wasn’t finished. He banged home yet another spot kick to leave the game evenly balanced going into the final 20 minutes.
And, it looked as though both teams would settle for a point until Owens appeared at the back post in injury time to tap home a Patterson cross. The place erupted!
“We should have been two goals up before they scored,” said Baxter. “I thought we were really good . . . it was more like the Crusaders we know. We showed great energy all over the pitch . . . we had a great hunger and showed great hunger. And, we got into the right areas to score the goals.
“Some of the lads were a bit up tight at half time – they were all hyper. There was a lot of shouting going on over the missed chances, so I had to calm things down and bring a bit of order.
“I told them to relax and settle down. I said they would get other chances in the second and thankfully they manged to put them away.
“I don’t really remember Cliftonville threatening our goal on too many occasions.”
A frustrated Gormley admitted he would swap his two goals for three points.
“I’m not fussed on records, I’d rather have the three points, so I’m really disappointed,” said Gormley. “That’s all I care about, getting three points for the team.”
“Yes, enjoy every goal, but to lost out in that matter was really frustrating. I’d swap those goals and the record for three points right now.
“I thought our performance deserve a point. I though we lost it a bit over the last 20 minutes or so, but we were still hanging in there.
“They scored in injury time and it didn’t give us a chance to get back at them. We can talk about the performance or analyse things, but at the end of the day, Crusaders scored three goals, we scored two.
“Every game you lost in injury time is a nightmare. It has happened to us too many times this season.”
Owens, who has now hit 206 goals in the famous red and black shirt, admitted his boys has to bare their teeth to get the three points.
“It was a good way to win a derby game,” he said. “It was tough, Cliftonville are a good side. “Derby games are always feisty and this was no different.
“That was more like the Crusaders we know. Our standards in certain games haven’t been great so far.
“We got a good win at Institute last week that helped generate a bit of confidence in the squad, so it was good to follow that up with a victory against our main rivals.”