Stephen Baxter hailed Crusaders’ latest bout of derby day delight as two Gavin Whyte goals condemned Cliftonville to yet another defeat at the hands of their local rivals.
The winger struck in either half to extend the Crues’ dominance in the fixture to a full 13 games since they last tasted defeat. Indeed, they’ve dropped just two points to the Reds in approaching three-and-a-half years.
Visiting boss Barry Gray blasted refereeing errors in the lead-up to both goals, but didn’t let his players off the hook either after what he called an “atrocious” display, with Baxter appearing to back that assertion up when he reflected on how few chances his team gave away.
“It’s not often in a north Belfast derby you come away thinking I don’t really remember an attempt on goal from Cliftonville,” said the Crues boss.
“I thought our two centre-halves were outstanding today amongst a number of brilliant performances. We had the cutting edge we needed going forward and marshalled the game out pretty well.”
In spite of being minus the services of skipper Colin Coates and the mercurial Paul Heatley in attack, Crusaders were rarely troubled and pulled ahead on 12 minutes in controversial circumstances.
Jay Donnelly’s poor control allowed Whyte to seize on a loose ball and, with Donnelly unable to retrieve possession after being clattered by David Cushley, Whyte strode forward and waltzed round Garry Breen before finding the bottom corner thanks to a telling deflection off Jamie Harney.
Whyte wrapped things up in injury time when he surged clear and stroked past goalkeeper Brian Neeson, with Baxter adding: “Gavin is on a lovely run and it’s great to watch a player playing with that confidence, even in training. His passing and movement is exceptional.
“For the first two months of the season he wasn’t playing well or getting past people or scoring goals but he is a player born with that ability, you can’t coach it,” he added.
He needed consistency, which is why he is not across the water at this age, but in the last two or three months we are seeing that consistency and if he can maintain that to the end of the season we will see where his future lies because he is an amazing player.”
Cliftonville gaffer Gray, meanwhile, felt that, in addition to the foul on Donnelly, Joe Gormley was tripped in the build up to the second goal and raged: “Both are fouls, but Raymond Crangle is the only one in the ground who thinks different. He’s got the decisions wrong and it’s created two goals against us.
“Rory Donnelly has been manhandled the whole game and hasn’t got a free-kick because Raymond deemed it was Rory backing into defenders as they throw their arms around his neck.”
It wasn’t just the man in the middle who et with Gray’s ire as he added: “Our performance was utter crap. We have created nothing in front of goal. The defensive mishaps for the first goal were atrocious and our midfield had little control and these players are maybe too comfortable within their own zones.
“I’ve stood by the players but they have sent supporters back up the road with nothing. We should feel sorry for the people who have spent their hard earned money over Christmas to watch our last two games. We’ve been absolutely atrocious.”
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, McChrystal, Beverland, Ward, Snoddy, Cushley (Lowry, 77 mins), Caddell (Glackin, 90 mins), Forsythe, Whyte, Owens (McClean, 90 mins). Unused subs: Dougherty, Nimick.
CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harvey, Curran (Cosgrove, 73 mins), Hughes (Gormley, 75 mins) Bagnall, Winchester, J Donnelly (Garrett, 64 mins), R Donnelly. Unused subs: Dunne, Lavery.
REFEREE: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).