Honours even as frustration continues for Crusaders in Larne
The agony goes on for Crusaders!
Stephen Baxter’s boys are now five games without a win following an uneventful Danske Bank Premiership outing against Larne at Inver Park.
In a match that was hampered by the horrible weather conditions – the wind and driving rain made it difficult for both sides, who struggled to make any sort of impact.
In fact, the scoreless draw was a game that will hardly enthuse anyone watching on Sky Sports television – it was a shocker.
The Crues now find themselves six points adrift of table-topping Coleraine and, even at this stage of the league campaign, it’s a big gap for the former title holders to reel in.
It was hardly surprisingly Larne boss Tiernan Lynch stuck with the team that demolished Ballymena United at the weekend – it was their first victory in five starts.
Crusaders’ Baxter reshaped his side - bringing in skipper Colin Coates, Michael Ruddy, Paul Heatley, Jordan Forsythe and Ronan Hale at the expense of Howard Beverland, Kyle Owens, Jarlath O’Rourke, Jordan Owens and Gary Thompson.
Larne had to wait 23 minutes for their first sniff at goal. Fuad Sule whipped in a great cross from the right which fell invitingly for Johnny McMurray, who blasted over the top, but eagle-eyed referee Keith Kennedy had spotted the striker was guilty of a handball offence.
Then, at the other end, Crusaders striker Jamie McGonigle appeared to be pulled back inside the box by defender Harry Flowers, but this time the Lisburn whistler wasn’t interested.
The only genuine chance of a totally forgettable 45 minutes fell to Paul Heatley just after the half hour when Ruddy’s corner-kick was cleared by Jeff Hughes, but only to the striker on the edge of the box, whose swivelled shot fizzed past the post.
Larne, playing against a gusting wind, were presented with a half-chance seven minutes before the break when David McDaid, who was feeding off scraps for most of the half, got the better of Coates, only to see his parting shot drift harmlessly wide.
The Crues roared from the traps after the restart, with Heatley drilling in a cross from the left that was met by Declan Caddell, whose header was well saved by Conor Devlin at the base of the post.
Then Flowers came to the home team’s rescue when he managed to clear a dangerous cross from McGonigle from practically his own crossbar.
Baxter’s team certainly adapted to the conditions better after the break, even though they were playing against the wind.
Ross Clarke’s persistence then almost paid a dividend on 63 minutes when he finally managed to smuggle the ball to Heatley, who tried his luck from distance, but his shot was easily gathered by Devlin.
As the clock ticked down, the Crues had a chance to nick all three points when Forsythe delivered a teasing cross from the right that was missed by both David Cushley and Jordan Owens, who had both been introduced to the action only five minutes earlier.
Larne had a big appeal for a spot-kick deep into injury-time when McMurray’s shot appeared to come off the hand of Billy Joe Burns, but again referee Kennedy waved away the protests.
Justice was done because it was a game in which neither side did enough to win.
LARNE: Devlin, Flowers, Kelly, Watson, Sule, McDaid, Tilney (Donnelly, 54), Lynch (Randall, 59), Cosgrove, Hughes, McMurray.
Subs (not used): Mitchell, Ramsey, McKendry, Andrade, Gilmour.
CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Caddell, Coates, Ruddy, Lowry, Hale, Forsythe, Clarke, Heatley (Cushley, 73), McGonigle (Owens, 73).
Subs (not used): O’Neill, Beverland, O’Rourke, Thompson, McElroy.
REFEREE: Keith Kennedy.