Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter believes his boys are now back on the title track!
The Shore Road team were simply too hot to handle against Glenavon at Seaview on Saturday – the result duly dumping Gary Hamilton’s Lurgan Blues off the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
They just couldn’t handle the twin strike duo of Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley, who teased and tormented the Glenavon defence throughout an enthralling 90 minutes of action.
It was Heatley who volleyed the Crues into an early lead with a sensational effort following a looping cross from Owens.
Heatley then returned the favour, sending Ross Clarke clear on the right, the latter’s low cross thundered home by the head of that man Owens.
But the best was yet to come. The giant striker controlled a long clearance from goalkeeper Harry Doherty before ramming home an unstoppable drive from 30 yards.
Before that, the in-form Glenavon shot-stopper Jonny Tuffey prevented his team from consuming what could been an embarrassing afternoon at the office, pulling off a number of unbelievable saves – mostly to deny Heatley, who really could have left with two match balls.
“That was a performance of last season, I asked the boys for a strong high-tempo display before the game,” said Baxter. “From the start to finish, that was as good a show we’ve put on for two or three years here at Seaview.
“Our passing, the breaking of the lines, the quality of our play and our defending was top-drawer. I have to be very pleased with that.
“Three goals didn’t reflect how one-side the game was, if it had of been six, seven, eight, nine or even 10, you would have said fair enough.
“Jonathan Tuffey made some wonder saves on one-one-one situations.”
Baxter also hailed his deadly duo up front: “Jordan was again at his best, Paul scored a wonder goal but he could well have gone home with two match balls.
“The technique he showed was unbelievable. A ball coming over your shoulder is the most difficult finish in football, he drilled it into the top corner.
“If Mo Salah had scored that, they would be showing it 10 times on Match Of The Day.
“In ice skating terms, the judges hand out the marks. Well, for me, Heatley’s (goal) was 10 out of 10 for artistic impression and Jordan’s (second goal) was 10 out of 10 for sheer class.
“We hit the bar, we had shots cleared, it was just wave after wave of attack. If Tuffey hadn’t been on form, it could well have ended 10-0. It was an amazing performance.”
Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton admitted his team was second best on the day.
“The better team won the game,” he said. “We stood off Crusaders and gave them too much time on the ball, if you allow them time on the ball they will hurt you.
“They probably should have been more in front at half-time. When we were chasing the game, they were hitting us on the counter.
“Thankfully, Jonny Tuffey made a few great saves to keep us in it.
“Goals change games. Stephen Murray had a great chance to pull one back before half-time. We probably didn’t deserve it at that time, but it was a chance to get us back into the game.
“Had it gone in, it would have given us something to hang on to.
“It proves you have to take your chances against teams like Crusaders because if you don’t there is only one outcome – they will punish you and they’ll hurt you.
“If you finish above Crusaders at the end of the season, you’ve a great chance of European football, in fact if you finish above them, you maybe even have a good chance of winning the title.”