Snow Joke at Ballymena hey

Ballymena United 1 Crusaders 1 27-11-2010

It’s a strange World indeed, when your main talking point of the weekend is the weather and not your customary bad refereeing performance , tactical mistakes , team selections and the dastardly actions of your given foe of the day!

The scene at half-time

Of course, we still have time to debate all these issues , but when the frozen white stuff lands on our doorstep of a weekend , you can feel the collective sharp intake of breath, by men, the length and breadth of these Island Nations. Postponement! A word that strikes terror into the heart of any right-minded, red-blooded male. Especially at this time of year!
Saturday afternoon. The one day of relief from the mundane humdrum that shackles us men to the responsibilities of family and working life. Our solace, where we partake of our manly pursuits. Re-enacting scenes handed down from generation to generation . Whether it’s in the bar, on the terraces or pinning your hopes on picking the winner of the 4.20 at Doncaster. For any man , it’s a right of passage. There’s no worse fate for any man , than the sheer panic that a postponement brings. That time when a man gets to hear those three little words that can bring a sweat on in the coldest of climates. No, not I love you, but let’s go shopping!
Pity the fools, I often think , as I see them shuffling along like the nodding wee lap dogs that their partners have moulded them into.

Snow Surrender!

Three Quarters of all conversations between strangers must start with a conversation about the weather. It’s an easy one to break the ice with  (excuse the pun!). Guaranteed , the weather was on all our lips on Saturday morning.
Alan Black’s 11.30am pitch inspection must have caused some severe scrotum tightening down the Shore Road. Not unsurprisingly his opinion on the pitch differed from all those around him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got some perverse pleasure at the thought of some of us having to endure Smyth’s Toystore, instead of Smyth’s clearances, Next Underwear , instead of our next pint. Thankfully, both sides insistence in giving the match referee , Stephen Wetherall the final say  paid dividends.

He'll make you look white!

The game itself was positive enough. Both sides made best use of the conditions. We deserved our first half lead. They deserved their equalizer.

Major talking points.

Chris Morrow got  upset with a flailing elbow from Andy Smith, nothing too serious. We got the half time scare with the blizzard delaying the start of the second half. Ten minutes clearing the lines sorted that out. Ryan Berry scored a great equalizer. I was pleased for the lad. His career had stalled at Glentoran and the last we saw of him was being stretchered off in last years Irish cup game v Coagh Utd at Seaview.

Caddell picked up his obligatory  yellow card , the referee had a momentary feel in his pocket for a second one, which would have been harsh and he got the shepherd’s crook. Bit surprised that Owens dropped back into his midfield slot with Arthurs up top when there was a midfielder in Montgomery on the bench. Maybe Baxter isn’t as quick at giving youth its chance as Dr Brodie eulogized later that evening.

Highlight of the day was the snowball fight in the stand.  You’re definitely in the grip of old age if you lose that desire to throw a snowball! I think our aging Stewards weren’t too happy though . Fully expect a letter of complaint to land at my door any day soon. It’s easier than dealing with the perpetrators at source.

All that snow does have its advantages though. You can’t see the weeds in my garden today!

See you all the same place, same time, next week.

Seeing Red again!

The Peatdiggers steal the points, but only after Carvill digs us a big hole!

Glenavon 2 Crusaders 1 20-11-2010

An eyecatching performance from Spiersy

“Some of the best lessons we ever learn are from past mistakes. The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future.” – Dale E. Turner

I don’t like the word cheat . It’s a word often bandied about in football parlance. It’s very rarely the truth. Of course, we often feel cheated . That’s human nature. When events or circumstances conspire against us, rob us of our dreams , our aspirations, our goals , we look for someone or something to blame. Maybe the cold harsh reality is that we just weren’t good enough , or as in this case ,those that robbed us of our dreams, our aspirations and goals in this match weren’t good enough.

The Referee, Hugh Carvill will take a lot of flak for his performance in this game. Did he cheat us? Not intentionally. To suggest so would eat at the very integrity of the local game. Did he err ? Of course he did . We all make mistakes. Should he have been in a position to do so? I think not. Hugh Carvill had taken charge of 8 Premiership games this season. In those 8 games he had issued a total of 47 cards. This included 2 straight red cards and a second yellow. That’s an average of 5.9 cards a game. His two previous games in the middle had been Donegal Celtic v Newry where he booked 9 and the infamous Eddie Patterson agenda game , Coleraine v Cliftonville where he showed 9 yellows and a straight red to Geordie McMullan. He officiated as  fourth official for the last two rounds of games before Saturdays. Coincidence, maybe , but highly unlikely. My guess would be that he was taken out of the firing line .

His 26th minute decision to send young David Gibson off for a professional foul was laughable. It was at worst a slight coming together, a harsh yellow from mine and the camera angle on TV. The Ref didn’t cheat, he made an error. An error that ultimately cost us a valuable three points. Of course we’re angry. What about Kyle Neill? Did he cheat? Again I say no. Did he use gamesmanship? Of course he did. There was contact , although minimal, Gibsons arm made contact. Enough to push him over? Of course not, but why shouldn’t he use every advantage he can. I would expect our players to try to do the same. Would  Kyle Neill have got a shot off before an impending Coates challenge ? No chance. He took full advantage of the situation and the Referee duly obliged. Was he trying to get Gibson Red carded ? Again , I doubt it. I’m ready to give him the benefit of the doubt and think he knew he couldn’t beat Coates and went down looking the free kick. He couldn’t have known the ref would flash a straight red. Carvill all but admitted his mistake to a Crusaders player after the final whistle. Little good that it does us. I’m sure he won’t run to the IFA to get it rescinded.

It was a bad day at the office all round for Carvill. He missed a blatant stamp on Arthurs by Magee, another on Morrow and his decision to only show yellow to Coates for a two footed lunge on Hamilton was also wrong. It didn’t connect, but the intent was there . A red in my book , every time.

That doesn’t defend the actions of Molloy and Hamilton who spent the game card waiving at the Ref. If they want to referee games, don a black shirt.

Aside from those incidents. It was a very good game. The shape of the team was right , the effort was superb and we can count ourselves very unlucky not to have held out for a share of the spoils.

The afters that took place on the touch-line and the balcony at the final whistle were very unseemly. I know we were upset that events didn’t go our way , but honestly, we don’t do ourselves any favours. I know our club thrive on our historic Hatchetman and Cornerboy images, but being ungraceful in defeat and showing a lack of sportsmanship is not becoming of Crusaders FC . The players and Management aren’t painting a good image of our club. This was all done under the watchful eye of the Chairman of the IFA disciplinary committee. Heaven knows what he’s taken away from it. Hugh Carvill, his assistants and Colin Burns took a watching brief on the pushing match that evolved. It would be interesting to see what is in the referees report on that.

We have back to back visits to Ballymena coming up. Roy Walker is a master at gamesmanship as we well know . Our players discipline  will again be tested to the full, you can guarantee that. If we want success on the pitch , it’s vitally important that we hurt our opponents in the correct way . Beat them fair and square and leave the shenanigans for the teams that can’t match us any other way.

Keep the faith!

Time to give the Spades a digging

Marty Quinn , will he need cheering up again?

Match preview Away v Glenavon 20-11-2010

This is a big game for Crusaders. Having taken Linfield out by the root last Saturday, it’s vitally important to follow it up with another three points in this game.

Our recent record against the peatdiggers is quite impressive. Two 3-0 wins and a 1-1 draw last term , followed up with an impressive 5-4 win in our only encounter this season.

No cheer for Marty

The 5-4 game at Seaview wasn’t as close as the scoreline suggests. 2-0 down after 18 minutes, Crusaders powered back to 5-2 up with twenty minutes to play. The introduction in the closing stages of the troublesome Costello and a bit of complacency allowed Glenavon to claw their way back and had the Hatchetmen biting their fingernails in a tense last ten minutes.

Two of our scorers that day , Owens and Bell sit this one out on the naughty step. I’m undecided whether we should stick to last weeks highly successful 4-5-1 formation or revert to 4-4-2. Rainey and Halliday aren’t suited to ploughing a lone furrow. Our midfield was superb last week. the running of Caddell and Morrow off the ball caused Linfield all ends of problems, with the defensive covering of Watson giving them both added freedom. Gibson is worthy of another run out at right back , though left back is a cause for concern. Coates is the best Centre back in the league. Despite the 30 minutes in the Emerald Green of the GAWA at left back on Wednesday night, he is not the leagues best left back. If McBride is still absent , will Stanley learn from the mistakes he made at the Oval? In my opinion square pegs are exactly that. I’d rather see a reserve left back filling in for the day , and not breaking up our and quite possibly the leagues best centre back pairing.

"I'll be at least this many feet from Coates all match"

Gary Hamilton would definitely appreciate seeing Coates at left back . The Black gloved one is averse to our box when Coates is around. I’d suggest Old Blackbeard would rather walk the plank than man up to Coatesy shivering his timbers. As for the bearded look, well like any hair , it grows on you!

Thankfully, Costello, our nemesis of the past seems  out of favour at Mourneview. It’s a toss-up between him and Timmy Adamson on who causes our defence the most problems.

Hope Crusaders keep up their smokin’ form today and have Marty Quinn puffing like a train, otherwise last weeks  feel good factor will crumble to ashes!

Here’s to more long faces on those Lurgan spades!

A win worth waiting for!

Ten out of Ten for the mighty Ten

Crusaders v Linfield 13-11-2010

Dallas strikes oil and the mighty frog goes ballistic!

Robert Ingersoll wrote, ‘The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart’.

The embarrassing 8-1 defeat  of last Month,  consigned to the back of the drawer of the old memory banks,  after the heroic backs to the wall victory over runaway league leaders Linfield.

It might have been ten years in the making , but I can’t remember a sweeter victory over the ‘Old Enemy’ , who for so long have cast a dark shadow over our wee Seaview home.

That 8-1 defeat was just so un-Crusaders like. There was no passion, no committment, no fight and no heart . Lesser teams  have performed more valiantly at Windsor Park , by applying those very qualities with abundance. That night the team in red and black unconditionally surrendered after the first goal.

In my preview of the game , I had posed some questions that I felt would help to decide whether we would have a positive or negative outcome on this occasion.

There’s no doubt that the cut in attendance made the atmosphere less intimidatory. The Railway End, second half, was almost exclusively red and black and the Crusaders support was more vocal than has been the norm in the past. Of course,  the heroics on the pitch had a major part in nullifying the Linfield support too.

Could we play as badly , or Linfield as well?

There is little doubt that the tactical mistakes that were clear in the league games at Windsor and the Oval , played a big part in both defeats. Yesterday , Stephen Baxter got all the big decisions correct. Regardless of what opposition supporters or statistics say, we had the two best centre backs back in tandem again. The difference this time and ok it was due to injury and not design, we had two full backs in place , whose primary concerns are defending and not attacking . Sounds simple, but half our defensive problems lie with the opposition exploiting the space left by the marauding of McBride and McKeown. Two great players , but when you’re already playing with two wide men , they are a luxury.

The 4-5-1 formation employed until Owens sending off worked a treat too. It unleashed the shackles off Morrow’s defensive  duties, not that he wasn’t heroic in the tackle, but he wasn’t tied to a position and Linfield found him hard to pick up. Gault and Garrett outnumbered in the middle  had to also deal with the tenacious Caddell and Watson. There was some meaty challenges from both sides , but as they say you can’t wallow with the pigs without getting a wee bit dirty.

Owens sending off just before half-time was the correct decision . The big lad will have time to reflect on his stupidity when he watches the next few games from the sidelines. You hurt the opposition more being on the pitch for 90 minutes , than you ever will by some rash act of bravado.

The half-time team talk was going to be pivotal. So was the decision to keep the defensive and midfield shape intact , with no designated forward.  Davy Jeffrey , replacing Burns with Curran and Ervin with Carvill and going three at the back also played into our hands. Linfield’s play reverted to hoofball and  to Coates strengths . They didn’t have the overlapping full backs to exploit their numerical advantage and with it the ability to get behind our back four and do some real damage. Ultimately, the extra space created by their changes and our lack of it,  meant that our own midfield runners were hard to pick up and boy did we make them pay for it. Dallas took his goal with aplomb and Beavers goal was a worthy of winning any game.

Special mention for Chris Keenan. He had a personal nightmare at Windsor and was publicly blamed by his manager for six of Linfield’s goals that night. There are no hiding places at Seaview. Not with the crowd right on top of you. The big man came through this particular challenge with flying colours. His save from Peter Thompson’s header in the first half was verging on World class.

I’m sure part of this defeat of Linfield will be attributed to the 4g surface. Tough!! Linfield hold advantage over the rest of the clubs when it comes to the financial aspects of the game. Good luck to them, I say. If the plastic surface can in some way be a leveler , happy days!

As I’d also said, the players needed little motivation going into yesterdays game. The game at Windsor had hurt and hurt hard. The performance that night had let the Club down, let the fans down , but more importantly let themselves down. Pride has been restored.

Today is Remembrance Sunday and we pay homage to those brave souls who gave their lives in the Great War. It is a time of solemn ceremony and dignified observance. In the coming week I’m sure a few Hatchetmen will be helping a few Bluemen remember Saturdays events. Lest they forget!

Here come the blues again!

Will we be eight again?

Match preview Home v Linfield 13-11-2010

This is the  match I dread  most each season.

As the norm, Linfield take over Seaview , take the three points , pat us on the head and go on their merry way. Of course, they usually reward us with a pot of cash (robberies withstanding) as a consolatory gesture. Thanks to the draconian measures laid down by Health and Safety , our usual gate will be cut by at least a third , costing the club an estimated £10k.

The pressure proves too much for some on the Shore Road!

With Linfield’s support cut to around 1200, the ground might be less intimidatory. Maybe the result  will be different too.

Big Davy Jeffrey brings his Linfield team (unless he’s round the neighbours again!) to Seaview at the peak of their powers. Free-scoring at one end and miserly at the other, its little wonder that the Blues are odds on to collect Irish League title number 50.

If there were any positives to come from our 8-1 drubbing , well at least it wasn’t nine. Lets be honest, it was embarrassing. The worst of my lifetime. Surely we couldn’t play that badly again.

Our form of late has been very up and down. Some strange selections of course haven’t helped the cause.

Tuesday nights lineup was the most balanced we have had in a while. The first half was as good as we’ve had for a while too.

Beaver is back from suspension and will obviously come into contention, but will he start the game or will Big Stanley go for the more disciplined Aiden Watson? The spotlight will also fall on Chris Keenan. He had one of those nights that he’d like to forget , but you know he won’t. The sort of night you want to hit the bar and drink too much , but still know it’s not enough. Not many players in a red and black shirt left Windsor that night  with any credit. Gault and Garrett on the other hand were imperious, their strikers were clinical, and the back line was largely untroubled.

Can we turn things around in such a short space of time?

Well the run of games against Linfield at Seaview without a win has to end sometime. I thought it might have happened last season when we were in a rich vein of form.  Time after time , Fergie was our tormentor in chief. Glad to see the back of him , we thought. Paul Munster? He’s no Fergie , said one wag. Result, a Munster hat-trick and a 5-0 reverse. Will things differ this time? Well Linfield are still to win on our 4g surface for starters. If the 8-1 capitulation isn’t motivational enough for revenge , nothing is. Can Linfield be as good? Can Crusaders ever be as bad?

This time tomorrow, we will know all the answers!

No wild goose chase this time

A Ruby Tuesday!

away v Dungannon 9-11-2010

The good news story of the week , was the rescue and release of the Dungannon goose with a beer can trapped on its beak.

The Dungannon goose -winging it again

The good news story for Crusaders fans was that Marty Donnelly had been rescued from the bench and released to wreak havoc at Stangmore Park.
“He’ll make you look s****” , sing the Seaview faithful, but in watching his performance on Tuesday night, it made Stephen Baxter’s decision to leave him on the bench at the Oval , staggering.
The wee man has scored eight this term, assisted in many more. The joy on his face and on the terraces as he slotted home Crusaders second goal, was priceless.
In stark contrast to the unbalanced, out of sorts performance , as witnessed at the Oval, this was manna from Heaven. Three goals in 48 minutes , Crusaders were in complete control. With natural width , Dungannon were being pulled all over the place. Caddell and Watson were strong in the tackle , Owens was his usual handful and the back four had a better shape to it. When Lavery pulled one back for Dungannon , the frailties of the past month were all apparent and we retreated into our shell. When Adamson popped in number two, it was here we go again, but like a James Bond Vodka Martini , we were shaken, not stirred. It’s the big bad Blues on Saturday, hopefully, Mr Baxter has taken the supports concerns on board and we see a similar line up go into battle. If not, heaven help us.

Would the 'real' Crusaders please stand up

Big game in ‘little’ Vilnius

Preview away Dungannon 9-11-2010

The 'real' Stephen Baxter

Crusaders and Tuesday nights are not great bedfellows. In fact, from a Crusaders point of view , a Tuesday is a terrible way to waste 1/7th of your life! A Tuesday in Dungannon, could it get much worse. The town where when you ask for two Coca Colas , you get introduced to a couple of Lithuanian meat packers!

Of Course , it also means a date with Mr Coates nemesis, Timmy Adamson. Torturer of Crusaders, whose physical game wouldn’t be out-of-place in the hooped Shirted side who play at Stevenson Park.
It’s vital that we get back on track , especially with Linfield and their Biannual KY Jellyfest fast approaching this Saturday.
The big question on Hatchetmens lips is will normal service be resumed? Will we be a team of round or square pegs? Will we be guided by the Stephen Baxter that wants to fight with referees, when we win, or the Comical Ali clone that could only see great performances all over the park on Saturday?
We know we’d like to see Donnelly in the starting line up. McBride or Bell at left back. Our recognised centre backs paired together and any 2 from 3 up top. What we don’t want to see is the unbalanced , abomination that we saw at the Oval.
Beaver is suspended, Bell and Murphy are free to play , but big Jordan claims he’s coming down with the Flu on Facebook (imagine a head cold in a head that big!) though I hope he makes it.
After the fundraising walk on Saturday, it’s back to the happy bus tomorrow. Lets hope it’s a very happy bus on its return home tomorrow night!