IRISH CUP: Crusaders see off Reds

MARK Dickson helped write a new chapter in Crusaders' history books with Saturday's match-winning goal.

The striker's 48th-minute volley sealed a memorable Irish Cup triumph for the Shore Road men, and with it claim the prized trophy for the first time in 41 years.

In 1968 it was Joe Meldrum who stole the headlines with a two-goal salvo against Linfield, but in 2009 it is former Blues hit-man Dickson who will earn the column inches following his heroics at Windsor Park.

It was the third Irish Cup success in the Seaview club's modest history.

Saturday's encounter – the first north Belfast derby finale – might not linger long in the memory for the 7,500 fans who graced the international stadium on a tempestuous spring afternoon, but Dickson's sublime finish will be trumpeted for years to come.

It arrived three minutes after the break when Martin Donnelly floated in a testing free-kick from the left wing.

And when Colin Coates headed back across goal Dickson thundered a sweet right foot volley high into the roof of Cliftonville goalkeeper John Connolly's net.

It was the forward's 17th goal of the season, and no doubt the sweetest.

It was a rare highlight in a game largely void of verve and entertainment, with nerves taking centre stage during the opening 45 minutes.

Crusaders skipper Coates nearly broke the deadlock on four minutes with a powerful header after connecting with Donnelly's corner, but Connolly was able to palm the effort away to safety.

Ronan Scannell then almost inadvertently set up brother Chris at the other end as the Reds looked to respond.

In the 17th minute Jordan Owens went close with a decent strike that fizzed past Connolly's post after David Rainey jinked past Ciaran Donaghy.

Eight minutes later Chris Scannell outfoxed Coates before offloading a blistering drive that warmed the palms of Chris Keenan.

The derby desire finally creeped into the contest on 25 minutes when Barry Holland lunged in on Owens, with the striker requiring treatment after being floored by the Cliftonville defender.

Referee Adrian McCourt refrained from producing the first card of the afternoon, despite being harangued by the 3000 Crusaders fans.

Owens was then guilty of squandering a golden opportunity in the 36th minute when he was gifted a free shot from inside the box.

An attempted clearance rebounded to the feet of the towering striker, but from about 12 yards out he ballooned his volley high into the Railway Stand.

It was a glaring mistake from the 19-year-old youngster, who appeared to let the big occasion take over him.

Dickson was then inches away from breaking the deadlock when he failed by a whisker to reach Rainey's vicious cross, and then Ryan Catney tried his luck at the other end with a tame and off-target shot.

The second half, and the game in general, sparked into life with Dickson's goal three minutes after the restart.

The free-kick from which the goal was scored arrived after a rash foul by Aaron Smyth, with Dickson making the young defender pay for his error.

Rainey almost doubled the lead three minutes later when he headed wide from Donnelly’s corner.

Cliftonville came within inches of levelling matters on 54 minutes with talismanic striker Chris Scannell.

The Reds forward, who had 27 goals to his name prior to Saturday’s final, could only watch as his fierce shot was saved by Connolly, and with the ball spinning goal-wards Coates managed to scrape it off the goal line and to safety.

Barry Johnston then sliced a free-kick wide of the target in the 61st minute after Catney was fouled right on the edge of the Crusaders penalty area.

At the other end Smyth almost directed an Owens cross into his own net, but the defender retained his composure to nudge the ball wide of the goal.

Scannell had another shot saved by Keenan as Cliftonville tried to forge their way back into the game.

The graceful striker then linked up with his team-mates with some neat one-twos before rushing in on goal, only for Crues defender Gary Smyth to slide in and deflect the ball over his own goalkeeper and off the top of the crossbar.

It was a huge slice of luck for the man affectionately known as ‘Smicker’, who was making his seventh Irish Cup appearance.

Reds boss Eddie Patterson made his first change of the afternoon, introducing the attack-minded Conor Downey for the industrious Catney.

Chris Scannell had another long-range effort rush past Keenan’s right-hand post.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter replaced the tired legs of Dickson and Owens with Stevie Coulter and Ross Arthurs, as cramp started to set in.

Cliftonville brought Rory Hamill into the contest 15 minutes from time for Mark Holland.

As time ticked away Donnelly was replaced by Declan Caddell, who became the first name to be put in the referee’s book three minutes later for a lunge on Barry Holland.

Soon after McCourt drew his whistle to his lips, and signalled the start of the Crusaders celebrations at Windsor Park.

CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R. Scannell, Johnston, O'Hara, M. Holland (Hamill 75), C. Scannell, Smyth, Donaghy, B. Holland, Catney (Downey 65), O'Connor

Subs not used: Fleming, Patterson, Boyce.

CRUSADERS: Keenan, McKeown, McBride, Black, Smyth, Coates, Owens (Coulter 66), Doherty, Dickson (Arthurs 72), Rainey, Donnelly (Caddell 87).

Subs not used: Morrow, Emerson.

Booked: Caddell (87)

Referee: Adrian McCourt (Bangor)

Attendance: 7499

News Letter man of the match: Coates (Crusaders)