Crusaders’ victory a big statement of intent, says Stephen Baxter

Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates his treble against Portadown
Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates his treble against Portadown

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter punched the air on the way to the dressing room at the finish, knowing his team had made a serious statement of intent in this fascination Danske Premiership title race with a 6-0 victory over Portadown.

The Shore Road boys produced a sensational performance, totally outclassing a Portadown team that looked anything like championship candidates.

Jordan Owens stole the show by bagging a hat-trick and Paul Heatley hit a glorious double with substitute Dairmuid O’Carroll converting from the spot.

Just to make it a totally miserable night for the Ports, striker Darren Murray was dismissed on 22 minutes after an alleged head butt on Billy Joe Burns.

The result catapulted the Crues seven points clear at the top and more significantly, they are now a massive 12 ahead of title holders Cliftonville.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, said: “I’ll be 10 years at the club next month and that’s a good of performance if witness in that decade.

“We were fantastic and I’m so proud of them. We’ll not get carried away on the wave of the moment, just because we’ve scored six goals without reply.

“It was the way we managed the game that also pleased me. There were a few things going on off the ball that didn’t please me. Perhaps in days gone by, our boys would have reacted badly to that type of behaviour, but they dealt with it well and showed great professionalism.

“I knew the enormity of the game, I’ve worried about it all week. Portadown were my tip for the title at the start; there is quality throughout the team. They’ll be hurting in the manner of their defeat. But not get carried away. There is a long way to go.

“We were six points behind in the title race in early December, so we managed to swing it around. We’ll just play each game as it comes as this race host up.”

Baxter hailed the three goal hero Owens, stating there is more to come from him.

“He’s a big fella who wants to do well and learn,” he added. “He wants to do extra in training, we both work together. He is just a class individual.

“Jordan is also a wonderful guy off the park. Everything you want as a professional, he gives that to you. Mind you, he had the yellow jersey in training in Thursday night - he was absolutely wick. The players vote and he was by far the worst; they gave him so much stick.

“But then he turns round and produces a performance like that. He was brilliant.”

Ronnie McFall, the Portadown chief, had no excuses. He said: “We got what we deserved: nothing. You simply can’t defend like we did an expect to get away with it.

“It was an embarrassment. We were three goals down in 17 minutes. Ball came into the box and defenders were nowhere to be seen. There is no excuse.

“We’ve now conceded 11 goals in two games, it’s just not good enough.”

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson (O’Carroll 61), McClean, Molloy, Clarke, Caddell (Friars 75), Whyte (O’Flynn 76), Heatley, Owens.

Subs: Hanley, O’Hanlon.

Portadown: Miskelly, Redman, Ramsey, Breen, McMahon (Mouncey 46), Mackle, Murray, McAllister (Conaty 63), McElroy (Twigg 46), Gault, Garrett.

Subs: Brennan, Richardson.

Referee: R Hetherington (Dungannon).