Crusaders 3-2 Glenavon
Danske Bank Premiership
Seaview, Saturday 14th September 2019

Match Report by Calum Jones

Photos by Maynard Collins and Alan Weir

Glenavon suffered an agonising 3-2 defeat away to league leaders Crusaders on Saturday, with Josh Daniels missing an injury-time penalty and the opportunity to rescue a point for Gary Hamilton’s side, which would have been the least of what they deserved after a vast improvement on recent league performances.

The Lurgan Blues made a dream start at Seaview, with Rhys Marshall heading them in front inside the opening minute. However, Crusaders equalised on 13 minutes through Paul Heatley, who scored an outrageous acrobatic volley.

The home side went in front on 54 minutes when Philip Lowry converted a Ross Clarke corner that had been headed on by Jordan Forsythe.

Glenavon drew level 15 minutes later when Andrew Mitchell scored from the penalty spot after he’d been fouled by Howard Beverland.

Crusaders substitute David Cushley restored their lead in the 79th minute when he scored the game’s second penalty, which was awarded when Aaron Harmon was adjudged to have impeded Heatley.

Referee Jamie Robinson awarded a third penalty in injury time when he penalised Chris Hegarty for a foul on Glenavon substitute Conor McCloskey. Daniels was entrusted with the task of taking Glenavon’s second spot-kick, but the winger’s effort was tame and Sean O’Neill saved it to secure the three points for Stephen Baxter’s side.

Glenavon grabbed the lead with less than a minute on the clock. Paddy Burns took a throw-in on the left flank and the ball was returned to him by Jack O’Mahony. Burns then nipped past namesake Billy-Joe before whipping in an excellent cross to the far post where Marshall outjumped Michael Ruddy and headed beyond O’Neill to make it 1-0.

Ten minutes later James Singleton headed over at the back post from an Andy Hall corner.

Heatley drew Crusaders level on 13 minutes when he scored what it’s safe to say is sure to be a Goal of the Season contender. Heatley peeled off Harmon as Forsythe floated a pass into the box, and with his back to goal, the Crusaders forward twisted as he leapt into the air and connected with the ball with his right foot, somehow managing to steer it into the far bottom corner in the process, leaving Jonny Tuffey helpless in the Glenavon goal.

Tuffey produced a great save 10 minutes later to keep the score level when he denied Lowry. The Crues midfielder robbed Andrew Doyle of the ball just outside the Glenavon penalty area before playing a one-two with Jamie McGonigle to create a shooting opportunity for himself, but the Glenavon goalkeeper was equal to the effort.

McGonigle was picked out with a superb ball over the top from Rory Hale in the 29th minute, but the striker dragged his low right-foot shot narrowly wide of the far post when he really should have at least forced Tuffey to make a save.

Two minutes before half-time Singleton ghosted past Forsythe before teeing up Robert Garrett to have a pop at goal from 25 yards. The Glenavon midfielder’s right-footed shot was brilliantly struck and proved to be too powerful for O’Neill to hold onto in the Crusaders goal. The rebound fell for Mitchell and he steered a low shot beyond O’Neill, only for Ruddy to clear the ball away virtually on the goal line. Although, on second viewing, Mitchell’s shot may have been going wide of the far post.

Four minutes into the second period O’Neill punched a Hall cross and the ball fell to the feet of Daniels, but the Glenavon winger was unable to steer his shot past the Crusaders goalkeeper.

O’Neill was called into action again in the 51st minute when he had to dive down to his left to make a smart save in order to keep out Garrett’s dipping shot from a free-kick some 30 yards from goal.

Crusaders went in front for the first time on 54 minutes. Clarke’s outswinging corner from the right picked out the head of Forsythe at the near post. Forsythe’s header may have been goal-bound itself, but Lowry was on hand to nod it past Tuffey and into the bottom corner from point-blank range to ensure that the ball found the net.

The first penalty of the afternoon was awarded on 69 minutes. Daniels’ throw-in from close to the corner flag on the left flank was intended for the feet of Mitchell but before it could find the Glenavon striker he was clumsily bundled over by Beverland and referee Robinson pointed to the spot. Mitchell stepped up to take the spot-kick himself and thumped the ball past O’Neill to make it 2-2.

Glenavon might have got their noses in front five minutes later when substitute Daniel Larmour rose at the back post and headed a Burns corner back across goal, but the ball was just too high for fellow defender Doyle and he couldn’t keep his header down.

The game’s second penalty was awarded on 79 minutes. Heatley raced onto a long ball over the top from Lowry and when the winger tried to cut inside Harmon he went to ground and Robinson blew his whistle. In truth, it appeared to be a very soft decision. Substitute Cushley dispatched the penalty, slotting the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to score what proved to be the winning goal.

Glenavon were presented with a golden opportunity to rescue a point when Robinson awarded a third penalty in the third minute of injury time. Garrett floated in a cross from the right and Mitchell nodded it down for McCloskey. Hegarty’s challenge from behind on the Glenavon substitute was deemed to be an illegal one by Robinson and the referee pointed to the spot for a third time.

Mitchell had dispatched Glenavon’s first penalty with aplomb, but the striker appeared to have picked up a late knock, so Daniels was handed the responsibility of taking the Lurgan Blues’ second spot-kick. The winger’s effort was poor, however, and O’Neill saved easily, diving to his left to keep out the shot and secure a victory which saw Crusaders move six points clear at the top of the Premiership table.

Saturday’s defeat will have been a bitter pill for Glenavon to swallow. In fact, manager Gary Hamilton told BBC Sport NI after the game that he was at ‘an all-time low’ in terms of how he’s felt after a game of football. However, Hamilton should take a lot of positives away from what was a vastly improved performance from his side.

The Lurgan Blues face another tough test next Saturday (September 21st) as they welcome last season’s runners-up Ballymena United to Mourneview Park (kick-off 3pm).

Crusaders: 1. Sean O’Neill (GK) (C), 2. Billy-Joe Burns, 3. Chris Hegarty, 4. Howard Beverland, 7. Philip Lowry, 9. Jamie McGonigle, 10. Rory Hale, 14. Jordan Forsythe, 17. Michael Ruddy, 22. Paul Heatley, 25. Ross Clarke

Subs: 11. David Cushley (for 25. Ross Clarke, 73’), 29. Paul McElroy (for 10. Rory Hale, 73’), 12. Declan Caddell (for 9. Jamie McGonigle, 87’); not used: 8. Sean Ward, 16. Kyle Owens, 21. Gary Thompson, 30. Gerard Doherty (GK)

Goals: 13. Paul Heatley (13’), 7. Philip Lowry (54’), 11. David Cushley (79’, penalty)

Yellow Cards: 17. Michael Ruddy (64’), 3. Chris Hegarty (90+3’)

Glenavon: 1. Jonny Tuffey (GK) (C), 3. Paddy Burns, 6. Andrew Doyle, 7. Josh Daniels, 8. Rhys Marshall, 9. Andrew Mitchell, 11. Andy Hall, 15. Aaron Harmon, 21. Jack O’Mahony, 27. James Singleton, 28. Robert Garrett

Subs: 20. Conor McCloskey (for 21. Jack O’Mahony, 59’), 2. Daniel Larmour (for 27. James Singleton, 62’), 23. Kyle Beggs (for 11. Andy Hall, 84’); not used: 18. James Taylor (GK), 24. Stephen Murray, 30. Jordan Jenkins, 33. Kyle Neill

Goals: 8. Rhys Marshall (1’), 9. Andrew Mitchell (69’, penalty)

Yellow Cards: 28. Robert Garrett (56’), 6. Andrew Doyle (85’)

Referee: Jamie Robinson