CRUSADERS 4 CARRICK RANGERS 1
Crusaders made hard work of it, but they are still on course for a league and cup double.
Championship One side Carrick Rangers threatened briefly to cause an Irish Cup shock at soggy Seaview until Stephen Baxter’s boys went through the gears in the second half.
Midfield Richard Clarke grabbed a glorious double, with Dairmuid O’Carroll and Gavin Whyte getting in on the scoring act.
It looked so good for Gary Haveron’s battlers when Craig McClean head into his own net late in the first half. However, the visitors were totally overrun in the second 45 minutes.
The game was attended by members of the International Football Association Board, who were in town for a two-day conference. The delegation included FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce, IFA president Jim Shaw and FA chairman Greg Dyke.
Crusaders were without influential skipper Colin Coates due to suspension, while Barry Molloy, Josh Robinson and Emmett Friars were missing due to injury. The influential Paul Heatley was given leave to let him celebrate his ‘stag’ party in Newcastle.
Declan Caddell returned after serving a three game ban.
Carrick boss Gary Haveron included former Crues duo Aidan Watson and Ciaran Donaghy while Ben Roy, another ex-Seaview player, was suspended.
Both sides and fans stood for a minute’s applause for Carrrick secretary Charlie Johnston, who sadly passed away earlier in the week after battling a long illness
For a team that had scored 103 goals in all competitions, we had to wait until 27 minutes before they fashioned an opening against a side that set up with a shrewd defensive plan. Big Stephen O’Flynn managed to wriggle free on the left and whipped in an appetising cross for Clarke, whose header flashed wide.
The visitors surged in front on 42 minutes when Miguel Chines sent in a teasing cross from the left which was met by the head of the unlucky McClean and the ball ended in the top corner.
Crusaders were back on terms on 55 minutes with Clarke’s first of the day. Whyte’s drive was blocked, but fell invitingly for the talented midfielder, whose shot scrambled into the bottom corner.
Stephen O’Flynn almost did it again seconds later only to see his shot on the turn clear the crossbar.
But O’Carroll had better luck on 65 minutes when he edged the Crues into the lead.
Clarke sent in another wonderful delivery from a free kick and the big striker’s flick header did the rest.
Crusaders were out of sight when Clarke’s free kick zoomed over the head of the stranded Brian Neeson five minutes from time.
And just 60 seconds later, Whyte weaved his way into the back before firing low into the bottom corner.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burrns, Magowan, Leeman, McClean, Whyte (Peoples 88), Caddell (O’Hanlon 87), Clarke, Owens, O’Carroll, O’Flynn (Hanley 79). Subs not used: Holden, McKibbin.
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Smyth, Traynor, Donaghy, Arthur, Watson (Lynch 67), Harmon, Cherry (Martin 88), Chines, Taggart (Dick 79), McCloskey. Subs not used: Kelly, McKenna.
Referee: M Smyth (Bangor).