IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders stay five points clear with routine victory at Carrick Rangers
CARRICK RGRS 0 CRUSADERS 4
Crusaders bounced back to form at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena to keep them bang on course to retain the Danske Bank Premiership title.
They had the game over as a contest by the interval after bombarding relegation haunted Carrick Rangers in a dramatic first half.
Goals from Paul Heatley, who bagged a double, and Jordan Forsythe had the match done and dusted after 20 minutes. Big Jordan Owens bagged the fourth late on.
When Carrick goalkeeper James Taylor was sent off on 34 minutes following an incident with Dairmuid O’Carroll, it merely compounded to their troubles.
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter made three changes to the team that were held to a home draw by Ballymena United last week, drafting in midfielder duo Richard Clarke and Jordan Forsythe along with striker O’Carroll at the expense of Matthew Snoddy, Michael Carvill and Gavin Whyte.
Rangers chief Gary Haveron also wielded the axe, handing starting slots to goalkeeper James Taylor, Aaron Smyth, Brian McCaul – they were both free from suspension – and James Wright.
Brian Neeson, Kyle Cherry, Ryan Kane and Miguel Chines, how hit his team’s equaliser last week against Ballinamallard United, all dropped out.
Crusaders were in front in only 20 seconds. Craig McClean’s quickly taken free kick fell perfectly for Forsythe, who curled a beauty beyond Taylor.
The game practically ended as a spectacle 90 seconds later when Baxter’s boys struck again.
Heatley skipped down the left, leaving Smyth in his wake and when he was confronted by Taylor, he cleverly drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
Carrick could have been back into it on 19 minutes when Conor McCloskey slipping a great little pass to Adam Salley, but the only Sean O’Neill to beat, he could only shoot against the body of the diving shot stopper.
But it was game, set and match 60 seconds later. Billy Joe Burns took off on a fantastic solo run, hurdling tackle after tackle before picking out the unmarked Heatley and he rolled the ball under the body of Taylor.
Things got worse for Rangers on 34 minutes when Taylor was dismissed after needlessly sending O’Carroll flying after hitting him in the face with the ball.
His place was taken between the posts by midfielder McCaul and he brilliantly saved Burns’ penalty kick.
But McCaul had no chance with the Crues fourth goal on 84 minutes when Jordan Owens’ shot crashed against the underside of the crossbar, but the referee insisted the ball had crossed the line.
Carrick Rangers: Taylor, Smyth, Traynor, Surgenor, Johnston (Kelly 57), Harmon, Doyle, Salley (Chines 75), McCaul, Wright, McCloskey.
Subs not used: Roy, Wallace, Kane.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Coates (Mitchell 65), Robinson, McClean, Clarke (Whyte 84), Caddell, Forsythe, Heatley, Owens, O’Carroll (Carvill 70).
Subs not used: Snoddy, McKibbin.
Referee: M Smyth (Belfast).