Crusaders draw against FC Levadia Tallinn at home

Crusaders Declan Caddell  in action with Levadia's Pikk Artur
Crusaders Declan Caddell in action with Levadia's Pikk Artur

Crusaders will require a big performance in Estonia next week, if their Champions League romance is to linger on.

The battling Shore Road outfit must go to the home of table topping FC Levadia Tallinn to dig out a win, but it will be a tall order.

However, you can never write off this Crusaders side. They played with commitment and passion in front of a bumper holiday crowd at sunny Seaview. And, they did create a number of excellent chances, but they came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Prit Pikker.

With manager Stephen Baxter holidaying in Spain, assistant boss Jeff Spiers took charge of the side and he handed a starting slot to new summer signings Andy Mitchell and Michael Carvill.

But they were without transfer magnet winger Gavin Whyte, who was out with an ankle injury.

The Crues shot from the traps with Carvill picking out Richard Clarke, whose drive was deflected inches wide.

Billy Joe Burns then popped up on the left wing to send in a teasing cross that was flicked off the head of Jordan Owens by giant defender Artsem Rakhmanau.

The Crues were right out of luck on eight minutes when new boy Mitchell tried his luck with a thundering 25 yard drive that goalkeeper Pikker somehow touched onto the crossbar.

Little Paul Heatley then produced a piece of magic on the left, wriggling clear from two defenders before crossing to Declan Caddell, whose snap shot was beaten for a corner by Pikker.

But the sun-baked fans were almost stunned into silence on 19 minutes when Levadia midfielder Rashad Elhussieny sent in a blistering volley from the edge of the box that Sean O’Neill did well to beat away.

The Crues carved out yet another opportunity on 28 minutes with Clarke whipping in a free kick that Jordan Owens just failed by inches to reach.

Seconds before the break Pikker was called to action once again, this time getting down to smother a Colin Coates free kick.

Surprisingly, the Crues had to wait until the hour mark to carve out their first chance of the second half. Carvill did superbly well on the right to find his former Linfield colleague BJ Burns, whose drive was brilliantly saved by Pikker.

Carvill was then teed up by Craig McClean, but again he failed to get the better of the in-form Levadian shot stopper.

New signing Jordan Forsythe was introduced for the final 14 minutes, replacing Caddell, and he almost supplied the breakthrough within 60 seconds.

Pikker turned villain with a botched clearance that fell invitingly for the big midfielder, who lobbed his shot over.

As the clock ticked down, it was the visitors who caused problems and substitute Kairmar Saag brought a great response from O’Neill in injury time.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McClean, Clarke, Caddell (Forsythe 76), Mitchell, Carvill, Owens (O’Flynn 85), Heatley. Subs not used: McKibbin, O’Carroll, Snoddy, Magowan, Stewart.

FC Levadia Tallinn: Prikker, Rakhmanau, Laitinen, Elhussieny, Teever (Saag 85), Luts, Kruglov, Marin (Antonov, 61), Pikk, Rahn, Pecha. Subs not used: Rattel, Subbotin, Shirokov, Peetson, Artjunin.

Referee: T Arnason (Iceland).