IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders pushed hard by Ballymena but extend lead at top of Danke Bank Premiership

Crusaders Colin Coates  in action with Ballymena's David Cushley
Crusaders Colin Coates in action with Ballymena's David Cushley
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CRUSADERS 3 BALLYMENA UNITED 2

Crusaders extended their lead at the top of the Danske Premiership after this hard fought win over Ballymena United at Seaview.

The Belfast team are now 17 games unbeaten, but conceded their first home goals of the season since the opening day defeat by Portadown.

Big Jordan Owens shot the Crues into an early lead before United goalkeeper Dwayne punched into his own net.

United, with the wind at their backs in the second half, got back into it through Matty Tipton, but Billy Joe Burns scored from the spot to regain the two goal cushion.

Tipton struck again to leave the Crues holding on at the finish.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter made only one change to the team that took all points in last week’s game at Warrenpoint, drafting in Declan Caddell for Michael Carvill.

Ballymena United chief Glenn Ferguson rested teenage sensation Matthew Shevlin, the target of a number of cross-channel while Tony Kane and Michael Ruddy were suspended.

Defender Kyle McVey was given the nod along with midfielder Mark Magennis.

The home team took the lead on 14 minutes when Owens blasted in his 13th of the season, finishing off a Billy Joe Burns’ cross.

Paul Heatley then hoofed a penalty kick over the crossbar before the Crues struck again when Nelson punched a Richard Clarke corner kick into his own net.

United reduced arrears on 48 minutes. David Cushley’s fierce 25 yard free was brilliantly saved by Sean O’Neill, but Tipton followed up to score.

But Crusaders pulled away once more four minutes later when Burns scored from the spot following McVey’s foul on Owens.

Gutsy United again clawed their way back on 62 minutes. Another free kick from Cushley rapped against the crossbar and again Tipton was first to react, drilling home the rebound.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, McClean, Coates, Magowan, Caddell, Clarke (Robinson 72), Heatley (Carvill 86), Forsythe, Snoddy, Owens.

Subs not used: O’Carroll, O’Flynn, Whyte.

Ballymena United: Nelson, McVey (Ferguson 60), Rodger, Taylor, Ervin, McBride, Thompson, Magennis (Faulkner 59), Jenkins, Tipton, Cushley.

Subs not used: McNally, Henderson, Kane.

Referee: K Kennedy (Lisburn).