Causeway Chronicle

Euro heartache for Bannsiders

Crusaders 3 Coleraine 2

Euro heartache for Coleraine at Seaview on a dramatic afternoon.

Backed by a large travelling support,  Oran Kearney’s men fell at the final hurdle.

It is Crusaders who qualify for European football next season after Play Off final success.

Few would have predicted Coleraine even reaching the decider back at the start of the year.

A fine run of late season form gave them today’s opportunity but, unfortunately, it was the Crues – in Stephen Baxter’s last domestic game as manager – who got over the line.

Coleraine made a dream start after only five minutes.

Matthew Shevlin headed a Dean Jarvis throw-in into the path of Jamie McGonigle who fired a low drive through the legs of Johnny Tuffey.

Jarlath O’Rourke looped a header from a Ross Clarke cross into the roof of the net as the shell shocked hosts attempted a quick response.

Ben Kennedy went close with a 23rd minute free kick which was inches wide.

The visitors looked comfortable – but then the game suddenly turned on its head in the space of sixty seconds.

Crusaders levelled after 36 minutes with a well worked goal.

Paul Heatley – on his last appearance – brilliantly controlled Philip Lowry’s ball before finding O’Rourke who cooly picked out the bottom corner.

And moments later Daniel Larmour struck to put the home side in front, with the aid of a deflection off Stevie O’Donnell, after the defence failed to clear their lines from a long Jordan Forsythe free kick played into the box.

There was much more tempo from both teams after the break.

Heatley flashed a drive wide and then Robbie Weir tested Brown as the Crues started the second half brightly.

Andy Scott, seeking his first goal of the season, had an effort blocked by O’Rourke, before Shevlin tried his luck.

An equaliser looked on the cards after an hour as Jarvis released McGonigle down the left flank.

The striker burst past Tuffey but he could only find the side netting from a tight angle.

A sensational strike from Josh Carson brought the Bannsiders level on 70 minutes.

There appeared little danger when the midfielder picked up the ball 30 yards from goal as Lowry cleared substitute Conor McKendry’s cross, but he unleashed a piledriver which arrowed into the roof of the net.

The Crues had a let off when Heatley went in high and late on Lyndon Kane. Referee Tony Clarke showed a yellow card…it could easily have been a red.

A stunning save by Brown to tip over a Clarke attempt ensured parity going into the closing stages.

McKendry thought he had won it in the last minute when he collected Scott’s pass but he sliced into the side netting.

There was heartache in injury time as Crusaders snatched victory.

In the second minute of six additional minutes, Forsythe fired goalbound at the second attempt and substitute Jordan Owens claimed to get the final touch as the ball came off Scott on the line.

There was no time for another comeback this time and Coleraine suffered major disappointment on the last day of the NIFL season.

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson