IRISH LEAGUE: Paul Heatley shines as Crusaders beat Ballymena United

Crusaders Paul Heatley celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1
Crusaders Paul Heatley celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1

Crusaders exacted revenge for last season’s title ending defeat with an emphatic opening day victory over 10 man Ballymena United.

The Sky Blues had twice beaten Crusaders at the Showgrounds last season and David Jeffrey was braced for a backlash after his side all but ended their title hopes in the penultimate game of last season.

However, the home side looked on course for another upset when Matthew Shevlin bundled the ball over the line to give the Braidmen the lead on 54 minutes.

Crusaders got back on terms six minutes later when Paul Heatley fired into the net. before United defender, Kyle Owens was given his marching orders for a foul on the striker just 60 seconds later.

And Heatley completed the turnaround with a sublime strike on the volley on 78 minutes.

The game was all but over at that stage but goals from skipper, Colin Coates and a 90th minute header from substitute Jordan Forsythe completed the rout.

Crusaders were warming to the occasion and when Sean Ward split the United defence with a sublime throughball, Gavin Whyte ran in behind but he poked his shot safely into the hands of Ross Glendinning.

The home side responded on 18 minutes with their first shot on target and it was a blistering strike from Leroy Millar from 25 yards which needed to be turned over the crossbar by Brian Jensen.

It was the Sky Blues who found the net on 56 minutes when Conor McCloskey’s long throw-in from the right was headed towards goal by Owens and Shevlin got the crucial touch to bundle the ball over the line.

The game suddenly exploded into life and United’s lead lasted just six minutes as Heatley fired Crusaders level when the ball broke to him inside the area.

It got worse for the Sky Blues just 60 seconds later as Owens was shown a straight red for tripping Heatley who was clean through on goal.

Heatley then clipped the top of the crossbar for Crusaders on 72 minutes with a deft chip towards goal as the Seaview men went for the winner.

And it was Heatley who put Crusaders ahead with 12 minutes to go in stunning fashion as he volleyed home with a sweet left foot finish from 20 yards.

Three minutes later Crusaders skipper Coates got onto the end of Rodney Brown’s header to give the visitors a two goal cushion from close range.

And substitute, Forsythe finished the job in stoppage time with another close range header.

Ballymena United - Ross Glendinning: Jim Ervin, Kyle Owens, Jonathan Flynn, Leroy Millar (Emmet Friars 72); Conor McCloskey, Michael Gault, Anthony Kane,Joseph McKinney; Matthew Shevlin (Cathair Friel 86), Kevin Braniff; Subs Not Used - Conor Brennan, Gary Thompson, Francis McCaffrey.

Crusaders - Brian Jensen; Billy Joe Burns, Colin Coates, Howard Beverland, Rodney Brown; Gavin Whyte, Sean Ward (Jordan Forsythe 60), Philip Lowry, Paul Heatley; Declan Caddell; Jordan Owens (David Cushley 90); Subs Not Used - Mark McChrystal,. Michael Carvill, Matthew Snoddy.

Referee - Keith Kennedy.