GLENAVON could consider themselves unfortunate to be beaten by Crusaders on Saturday, as they came away from Seaview on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline.
The Blues certainly looked a different side to the one that had been dumped out of the Irish Cup 4-0 by Stephen Baxter’s men a week earlier, although they didn’t take anything from the game.
That’s perhaps because it was a different side, and one set out with more capability to cope with an imposing Crusaders team.
Glenavon lined-up in a 4-5-1 formation with youngster David McAllister making his debut on the left wing. Mark Miskimmin came in on the right side whilst Kyle Neill filled in at centre-back for the injured Jay Magee.
It was a young Blues side, with six players under the age of 23 and they did a better job of curbing Crusaders, in particular midfield maestro Chris Morrow who didn’t dominate the game as he had a week earlier.
Glenavon didn’t let the home side settle into the game early on and the first half was one of few chances at either end.
Timmy Adamson lobbed just over the bar before Andrew Mitchell’s well struck 25-yard effort forced a good stop from Sean O’Neill in the opening exchanges before Colin Coates tested Davey O’Hare with his 33rd minute free-kick.
The towering defender was everywhere for the home side, helping to contain Glenavon and one end and providing Crusaders’ most potent threat at the other. He could, however, only head wide from Stuart Dallas’ corner before the best chance of the half fell to another centre-back, Glenavon’s John Convery.
Kyle Neill’s right-sided free kick was cleared only as far as Brendan Shannon and when his shot fell to Convery eight yards out, he looked certain to score. His smashed effort beat O’Neill in the Crusaders goal but man of the moment Chris Morrow got in the way of the whistling shot before it could cross the line
Timmy Adamson then headed a corner kick over the bar as the half drew to a close. Glenavon had increasingly worked their way into the game and ended the stronger of the two teams but they’d have to keep up that level of performance after the break.
After Brian McCaul had warmed O’Neill’s fingers with a shot from the edge of the area, the Blues shot themselves in the foot when a momentary lack in concentration saw them go behind.
Paul Leeman’s long ball into the box was headed down by Declan Caddell for Aidan Watson to tap home unmarked just five minutes after the break, forcing Glenavon to chase the game.
Matty Burrows came on soon after as they looked to get a swift equaliser but the ball was in O’Hare’s net once again on 57 minutes. David Rainey nodded in but his goal was correctly ruled out for a foul on the Glenavon goalkeeper.
O’Hare was again in the thick of the action on the hour-mark as he spilled Stuart Dallas’ corner-kick with John Convery in quickly to save his blushes, scooping Morrow’s header off the line.
Morrow then missed a sitter when he somehow scooped David Rainey’s pass over the bar from close range.
It wasn’t looking good for Glenavon as Crusaders pushed toward goal but Brian McCaul almost equalised against the run of play, forcing Sean O’Neill to push his effort over the bar.
The goalkeeper spilled the resulting set-piece but he managed to smother it marginally before Burrows could force it over the line.
O’Hare then made a smart stop from Rainey’s rifled effort at the other end before Glenavon came agonisingly close to a last minute equaliser.
Matty Burrows managed to work space in the box and, showing his predatory instinct, immediately fired off a shot but his curling effort was superbly tipped around the post.
And time was still left for the Blues to force one more save, this time Brendan Shannon controlling the ball well, turning and rifling an effort at the top corner from 35 yards but O’Neill was match to it and tipped it over the bar.
Glenavon were, in the end, beaten but it was a much closer run affair than the previous week’s 4-0 thumping and Gary Hamilton’s young side certainly shouldn’t be disappointed with a promising performance against a strong Crusaders side.
GLENAVON: O’Hare, Turkington, Neill, Convery, Shannon, McAllister, McCaul, Cherry, Doherty, Miskimmin (Rooney 78), Mitchell (Burrows 56).
Unused Subs: Coleman, Rodgers, Gordon.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, McBride, Leeman, Magowan, Coates, Morrow, Adamson (Snoddy 87), Rainey, Dallas, McMaster (Caddell 46), Watson. Unused Subs: McCann, McCreadie.