Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter saluted striker Jordan Owens, who moved to within one goal of the club’s all-time scoring record at Seaview on Saturday.
The 26 year old bagged his 13th of the season in the battling win against gutsy Ballymena United in a game played in horrendous conditions.
Baxter’s boys are now six points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table, but he insists it means nothing at this time of the season.
“Jordan is a great lad and he deserves all he gets,” said Baxter.
“He’s going to break the record sooner rather than later – and no better man to do it. His only one short, on 156. Glenn Hunter is the current holder of the record. I can’t speak highly enough of Jordan.”
Owens got the show on the road with that early strike before Paul Heatley shamefully blasted a spot kick over the crossbar after he collided with United goalkeeper Dwayne Nelson.
Things got worse for Nelson as he gifted the home team a second goal when he punched Richard Clark’s corner kick into his own net.
United came out with all guns blazing after the break. With the gusting breeze at their back Matty Tipton shot them back into it after Crues goalkeeper Sean O’Neill had somehow kept out a David Cushley free kick.
Referee Keith Kennedy again angered the visiting fans by awarding the second spot kick of the afternoon when Owen and Kyle McVey clashed. Billy Joe Burns made no mistake.
But United were still not finished and Tipton struck again after Cushley thundering drive crashed off the crossbar.
“Credit to both teams for giving it their best in incredibly tough conditions,” added Baxter.
“I don’t mind admitting I was glad to hear the final whistle.
“It doesn’t matter how you get the points – the most important this we got them.
“We needed to keep the unbeaten run going to keep us in the right place in the table.
“We’ll not be taking much notice of the table at the minute. We’ve big games coming up over the festive period – against Cliftonville and Linfield.
“After those games, we’ll assess where we are at. From our point off view, we’ll keep the heads down and keep working hard.”
United chief Glenn Ferguson doesn’t mind admitting Lisburn official Kennedy is now well and truly stroked off his Christmas card list.
He fumed: “The first penalty was never a foul – Dwayne got the ball first. Big Jordan (Owens) actually laughed when they got the second. He (the referee) didn’t want to speak to me afterwards, insisting I was too loud. He’s not a schoolboy – he’s a man.
“I was wanting to speak to him man to man and he wouldn’t let me. It’s embarrassing.
“If he has made a mistake, I would like him to come out and admit it.
“There were a cataloge of errors all afternoon that cost us big time. For a start, I’m sure he (Kennedy) has known for some time he was coming here to referee today. He knows Crusaders wear black and red.
“He turns up in a black shirt with red stripe, just like Crusaders. There was confusion all round. And, that just epitomised what happened today.
“He made a mistake with the first penalty. I’m not so sure about the second – I would need to see it again.
“I believe we could have got something out of the game had the referee been fair with us. I hate having to speak about refereeing decisions, but I’m so frustrated.
“Big decisions change games, but those big decision didn’t go our way.”