Crues push ICT all the way

Paul Heatley scored a brace as Crusaders fought back from 3-0 down. Photo Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Paul Heatley scored a brace as Crusaders fought back from 3-0 down. Photo Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Stephen Baxter said he was proud of his players after they pushed Inverness Caledonian Thistle all the way in the Scottish Challenge Cup semi final.

Crusaders fought back from three goals down at the Caledonian Stadium to push the Scottish Championship side all the way in the five-goal thriller.

George Oakley scored from close range in the opening minute and soon Joe Chalmers had headed in a second.

Jake Mulraney made it three, but Paul Heatley then scored either side of Inverness defender Brad McKay being sent off for a second booking.

The hosts’ Iain Vigurs missed a penalty after Declan Caddell was sent off.

Speaking afterwards Baxter said although he was disappointed with the start his side made, he was pleased with the way they responded.

“It was a great game of football,” he said.

“In the first half we sat off them and allowed them to run at us from deep positions, they passed it great and got into goal scoring opportunities time after time.

“I’m disappointed with how we conceded the goals.

“We said at half time we weren’t going down without a fight, we changed it up a bit at the break, we brought on a couple of regulars and had a right go at them.

“I think the reality is we probably should have won the game 6-4 we had that many chances to score.

“The competition has been brilliant, we have enjoyed every second of it.

“It has been a little bit different as we are mixing with full time opposition, but we didn’t let ourselves down in any shape or form.

“We are very proud of what we have given here tonight.”

The Crues got off to the worst possible start as they fell behind inside the first minute.

Liam Polworth was allowed to race through the Crusaders midfield unopposed before feeding Oakley, who was left with a simple finish inside the area.

The hosts doubled their lead 12 minutes later, this time Oakley turned provider as his cross from the right was dispatched by Chalmers from close range.

John Robertson’s side were well on top. Chalmers sliced a shot off target before Oakley had an effort tipped over by Brian Jensen.

The Crues did manage to find their feet as Heatley forced Ridgers in to action on two occasions.

But unfortunately for the Seaview side it was Inverness CT who scored again as Mulraney made it three before the break when he was left unmarked in the box and coolly finished in the corner.

But it turned out to be the veritable game of two halves as Crusaders inspired by the introduction of Jordan Owens and Gavin Whyte from the bench turned things around.

On 57 minutes Heatley reacted quickest to divert Whyte’s shot past Ridgers.

Six minutes later the home side were reduced to ten men as McKay was ordered off after picking up a second yellow card for a shove off the ball.

The visitors made sure of a thrilling finale as Heatley grabbed his second with 11 minutes to go.

They almost grabbed an equaliser near the end but Darren Murray was denied by Ridgers and Seedorf hooked the ball off the line.

The game ended in controversy as Caddell saw red after he was gave away a soft penalty, which Vigurs fired well wide of the target deep in injury time.