Crusaders Jordan Owens has champs in cruise control against Ballymena UNited

Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates scoring against Ballymena United
Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates scoring against Ballymena United

Towering Jordan Owens bagged an opening day hat-trick as Crusaders sent out a chilling Danske Premiership message at sunny Seaview.

The Shore Road boys' demolition of David Jeffrey's new look Ballymena United suggested it's going to take something special to prise the Gibson Cup away from North Belfast come the end of the term.

Paul Heatley also conjured up a delightful double with wing wizard Gavin Whyte completing the carnage.

Little wonder Crues boss Stephen Baxter was drooling with pride as he analysed his team's performance.

“It was a joy for watch," he beamed. "We had a wee 10 minutes spell when we got the goals, we were excellent. We were clinical and professional.

“When you go four goals up, it’s important to retain the focus. We upped our gears again after the break and scored two more . . . and hit the woodwork a few time. Ballymena certainly played much better in the second 45 minutes and they tested Sean (O'Neill) with three or four shots.

“But overall, we were pleased with our day’s work. I am constantly reminded about our opening day record . . . we hadn’t won an opening day fixtures since 2010, so it’s nice to put that stat to bed."

Baxter hailed hat-trick hero Owens, stating: “He missed a sitter in the first half . . . I just couldn’t believe it.

“Jordan works tirelessly at his game and works hard on his finishing,” said Crues boss Stephen Baxter. “He wants to learn, he wants to get better.

“I keep pushing him to be better -- that’s what he needs. He’s joy to work with. Jordan is a great lad to have around you, I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s had clubs sniffing around him over the years, but he chose to be loyal to us.

“I had a bit of a go at him the dressing room. He scored three, but he missed two sitters . . . I try to keep his feet on the ground.”

Baxter insists there will be bigger tests up ahead, adding: “There is always lots of pressure in football. But there is a great buzz about the place. Yes, we’re pleased (with the result), but we’ll now bank the points and move on. It’s only one game of football . . . we have a long campaign ahead of us.

“We knew we had to hit the ground running. We were solid at the back and when you have players like Heatley, Owens and Whyte, you are always going to create chances -- they were different gravy. David Cushley is new to us . . . he is still learning how we move the ball about.”

United boss David Jeffrey admitted his boys were ‘out-classed’.

“We defended poorly,” he moaned. “We were hit by three Carl Frampton-like blows in a quick spell and we capitulated after that. Crusaders didn’t have to work for their first three goals.

“The players are disappointed with themselves. We created a few good goal scoring opportunities in the second half, but failed to take them. It told the players it was a very harsh footballing lesson in how not to defend and how not to take any chances we created.”

With a total of seven new faces on show, Jeffrey admits change will not happen over night. He added: “It’s going to take time. We are well aware of the mountain we have got to climb. We were aware of it before we came into the job.

“Even in defeat, there were some positives to take form the game. I thought young Cathair Friel did well. He came up from up from Championship Two after being Limavady’s top goal scorer. I thought Jonathan McMurray worked hard. We had a number of lads playing Premiership football for the first time.

“But the reality is Crusaders have the strongest squad in the league, without any shadow of doubt -- they proved that with this performance."