Two disputed goals from Gavin Whyte wins north Belfast derby for Crusaders
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Crusaders 2 Cliftonville 0
TWO disputed goals from the imperious Gavin Whyte saw Crusaders sink north Belfast rivals Cliftonville to re-assert their title challenge at a packed Seaview yesterday.
Reacting to their second defeat in three days, Reds boss Barry Gray didn't hold back anything.
He hammered his players and could not fathom how match official Raymond Crangle didn't blow his whistle for alleged infringements in the lead up to both goals.
Whyte popped up with the opening goal on 12 minutes and he slotted home in stoppage-time to seal a precious win for the Crues as they closed the gap on leaders Coleraine to four points with a game in hand.
“The performance was pure sh**e,” fumed Gray. “Utter crap. We've created f*** all in front of goal and we've apparently one of the best strike forces in the league.
“Even though their first goal was a foul on Jay Donnelly, the defensive mishaps after that were atrocious. Our midfield controlled little to nothing, we forced balls into areas with a style of play that is f*** all to do with me because it's nothing that we've worked on since I joined the club six months ago.”
Gray made two changes to the side that played so poorly in last Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Linfield, with Daniel Hughes and Jude Winchester earning recalls in place of Joe Gormley and Tomas Cosgrove.
Gray's decision to move Barry Curran from an unfamiliar central midfield berth to his natural habitat of right wing gave the visitors more balance than they had at Windsor three days earlier.
But the Cliftonville manager can't legislate for individual errors.
Despite a lively start from the visitors, Crusaders opened the scoring - and it was a self-inflicted wound as the off-colour Jay Donnelly lost possession too easily and while his claims for a free-kick - after David Cushley appeared to trip him - were waved away, Whyte took full advantage.
The Crues winger left the isolated Garry Breen on his backside and his low drive from a tight angle took a slight deflection off Jamie Harney but the ball still nestled in the corner of the Cliftonville net.
Three minutes later, Rory Donnelly's glancing header narrowly missed the Crusaders post but the Cliftonville striker was well policed by Howard Beverland and Sean Ward throughout.
It was one of the few sights of goal the visitors had in 90 minutes, and they haven't won on the Shore Road for over three years now.
In the second half, Cliftonville didn't pose any attacking threat – and even before Whyte raced onto a long clearance to bag his second of the day in the closing stages, the Crues could easily have added more to their tally.
Declan Caddell had two good second-half chances and substitute Philip Lowry forced a save out of Reds ‘keeper Brian Neeson.
Nobody could argue with Stephen Baxter's post-match assessment.
“It's not often you come away from a north Belfast derby not remembering a Cliftonville attempt on goal,” said the Crusaders manager.
“Sean [O'Neill] has caught a couple, but I thought our two centre halves [Howard Beverland and Sean Ward] were really outstanding today among other brilliant performances.
“We had that cutting edge going forward too. I thought 20-25 minutes into the game Cliftonville had a bit of possession but were going no-where with it. So that's pleasing from our point of view that we didn't let them behind us. We marshalled the game out really well.”
Joe Gormley went to ground under pressure on the edge of Crusaders penalty area but no foul was given and from the resultant counter-attack Gavin Whyte made it 2-0 with a composed finish.
It has been rumoured Gormley – a third-choice substitute yesterday - would be offered to Crusaders in the transfer window.
However, Gray ruled out the Ardoyne man leaving Solitude.
“Joe's going no-where and nobody in the panel is going anywhere unless I decide they're going,” Gray said.
“It's simple as that. There are no offers on the table and there are no plans to off-load anybody at this stage.”
Crusaders: S O'Neill, BJ Burns, M McChrystal, S Ward, H Beverland, D Caddell (J Glackin 90), M Snoddy, J Forsythe, D Cushley (P Lowry 78), J Owens (C McClean 94), G Whyte Subs not used: M Dougherty, R Nimick.
Cliftonville: B Neeson, J McGovern, L Ives, G Breen, J Harney, L Bagnall, J Winchester, C Curran (T Cosgrove 75), R Donnelly, D Hughes (J Gormley 76), J Donnelly (S Garrett 65) Subs not used: D Dunne, R Lavery
Referee: R Crangle