New boy Rory Patterson opened his Crusaders goal account - but then blotted his copybook by squandering a controversial first-half penalty kick in the 4-2 defeat of Ards.
Snapped up from Derry City last week, the 34-year-old required merely 33 minutes to bag his debut strike as Stephen Baxter’s boys began the defence of their Danske Bank Premiership title with a swagger at Seaview.
The Crues forged ahead early on through Michael Carvill, but the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Patterson’s 32nd-minute effort.
Ards, however, failed to toss in the towel after that early blow and replied within 60 seconds through skipper Gareth Tommons. The midfielder struck after the break but the battling visitors wilted in the second half when Jordan Forsythe and Declan Caddell got in on the scoring stages.
And, Ards’ night of misery was compounded 10 minutes from time when midfielder Josh Kelly was dismissed.
The game erupted in controversy three minutes before the break when Ards goalkeeper Sam Johnston flattened Paul Heatley right on the edge of the penalty box.
Referee Tony Clarke dumfounded almost everyone in the ground by awarding a spot-kick. Patterson stepped up to scoop the ball over the top with Johnston already grounded.
Although Ards adopted a defensive strategy, the Crues created enough chances to have had the points in the bag by the interval.
Billy Joe Burns screwed a shot wide on 14 minutes before Forsythe let fly with a blistering 25-yard drive that flashed inches wide.
It was no surprise when Ross Clarke and Heatley combined to open up the visiting defence on 23 minutes and Carvill walloped home a beauty from the edge of the box.
Moments later, Heatley hoofed a low drive wide before Rodney Brown’s cross was met by Patterson, but his flick header was superbly saved by Johnston.
Then, in a lightning break, Clarke and Philip Lowry mesmerised the Ards defence with some great one-touch stuff and, when the ball fell to Patterson, he drilled hard and low past Johnston.
But Ards were back in it 60 seconds later. David McAllister’s cross found Tommons at the back post and his low drive crept past Sean O’Neill.
To their credit, Ards roared from the traps and had loud appeals for a penalty waved away by official Clarke on 54 minutes when Jonny Frazer buckled under a challenge from Howard Beverland inside the box.
But the home crowd were silenced two minutes later when new boy Sean Noble found Frazer on the right and his low cross was rammed past O’Neill by that man Tommons.
It was a signal for the Crues to lay siege on the Ards goal, which eventually paid dividends on 69 minutes. Clarke’s corner picked out the long-striding Forsythe and his bullet header ballooned the net before Johnston could even move.
And, it was all up for Ards on 80 minutes when Kelly was dismissed after picking up a second yellow card following a nasty challenge on Patterson.
Substitute Caddell sealed the points in injury-time by powering home a Clarke corner-kick.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Bevderland, Coates, Lowry (Caddell, 64), Carvill (Cushley, 64), Forsythe, Brown, Heatley, Clarke, Patterson (Snoddy, 87).
Subs (not used): McChrystal, Owens, Ruddy, Doherty.
ARDS: Johnston, Byers (E.McAllister, 87), Elebert, Frazer, D.McAllister, Kelly, Noble (McLellan, 81), Tommons, McClean, Nelson (Cherry, 67), McAleenan.
Subs (not used): Mooney, M.Kelly, Mitchell, Torrens.
REFEREE: Tony Clarke.