CRUSADERS 3 INSTITUTE 1
Two goals from Jordan Owens against Institute helped Crusaders maintain their six point lead at the top of the Danske Premiership.
With now only seven games remaining, the Shore Road boys are still in pole position to pick up the title for the first time since 1997.
Owens earned Stephen Baxter’s team the lead midway through the first half, but it was soon cancelled out by a Robbie Hume header -- in the visitors’ first meaningful attack.
But Dairmuid O’Carroll settled the Crues’ fans nerves with a spot kick early in the second half before Owens wrapped it up.
Baxter was still without his suspended skipper Colin Coates and the influential Paul Heatley, who was also banned.
Josh Robinson and Timmy Adamson were drafted into the side the romped to victory against Carrick Rangers last weekend, with Paul Leeman and Stephen O’Flynn dropping out.
Institute was vastly under strength with Dean Curry, Darren McFadden, Aaron Walsh and Mark Forker all out due to suspension.
The home team went looking for an early breakthough with Timmy Adamson sending the dynamic Gavin Whyte free, whose shot was blocked by Stephen O’Donnell.
Seconds later, Richard Clarke cross was met by Adamson, whose looping effort flashed across the face of the goal.
Institute, even with the strong wind behind them, were finding it difficult to escape from their own half, and they rode their luck again on nine minutes, with Adamson blasting inches past the post following an teasing cross from Billy Joe Burrns.
Visiting goalkeeper Marty Gallagher then established himself three minutes later, getting down to beat away an Owens shot, after great work by Clarke and Josh Robinson.
And, in their next attack Whyte and Declan Caddell carved open the Institute defence down the right. The midfielder’s cross was flicked on by O’Carroll for Adamson, who skied his shot over the top.
Big Mark Scoltock then came to Institute’s rescue on 19 minutes. Burns’ cross was bundled away by Gallagher only to Adamson, who fired in a sizzling drive that was hoofed by the defender.
Institute at last managed to threaten at the other end. Michael McCrudden cleverly chested the ball down for Robbie Hume, who shot hopelessly wide.
But the Crues made their domination play on 29 minutes. Inevitably, Clarke was the architect. His cross was headed on by Burns, leaving Owens to drill the ball past Gallagher. It was the striker’s 26th goal of the season.
It could have been two seconds later when another Clarke cross was met by O’Carroll, but Burns hammered the midfielder’s flick on past the post.
Whyte really should have piled on the agony on 35 minutes following a scintillating 50 yard solo dash, leaving a posse of defenders in his wake, but his finish failed to match the build-up as he could only shoot against the legs of Gallagher.
But against all the odds, Institute were back on terms eight minutes before the break.
Paddy McLaughlin’s cross was met by Hume, whose header from the edge of the box arrowed past a startled Sean O’Neill.
The Crues missed a great chance to re-establish the lead just before the break. Stephen Curry’s wayward clearance fell invitingly for O’Carroll, who could only loft his shot over the crossbar.
But it O’Carroll required only six minutes of the second half to shoot his team in front. Peter Bradley was put under pressure by Whyte, allowing Caddell to pinch the ball, but the defender left a trailing leg to bring down the midfielder and referee Raymond Crangle had no hesitation in awarding the penalty kick.
O’Carroll stepped up to confidently ram home his 17th goal of the season from the spot.
Incredibly, Institute should have been level four minutes later when Dwayne McManus’s cross found the head of Hume, who shamefully planted his effort over the bar.
But the Crues were out of sight 60 seconds later. Whyte showed a clean pair of heels on the right and his cross was easily headed home by the lurking Owens.
Clarke was then right out of luck to see his looping cross from the left crash off the top of the crossbar following great work from Craig McClean.
Whyte really should have added to his team’s goal tally when his electric heels took him clear of the visiting defence only to roll his shot agonisingly past the post.
Striker Stephen O’Flynn was only inches away from punishing his former employers when he picked up an O’Carroll flick only to see his volley graze a post with Gallagher beaten.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Magowan, McClean, Owens (O’Flynn), Clarke, Caddell, Whyte, Robinson, Adamson (Hanley 85), O’Carroll.
Subs not used: Leeman, O’Hanlon, McKibbin.
Institute: Gallagher, Bradley (Bradley 60), Scoltock, McLaughlin, O’Donnell, Young (Armstrong 70), McManus, Curry (McIntyre 60), McCrudden, Crown, Hume.
Subs not used: Wilson, Ballard.
Referee: R Crangle (Belfast).