06 May 2024

Stephen Baxter's time in charge of Crusaders will go on for a little bit longer after he guided the north Belfast club back into European football at Coleraine's expense in the play-off final at Seaview.

Baxter had announced his intention to end his tenure with the club at the end of the campaign - to be replaced by club legend Declan Caddell - but had agreed to stay on to see them through their UEFA Conference League campaign should they qualify.

And they duly did so after a compelling five-goal victory over the Bannsiders in front of a large home crowd on the May Day Bank Holiday.

They had to come from behind to do so after the visitors moved in front as early as the fifth minute through Jamie McGonigle who drilled a low shot beneath keeper Jonny Tuffey after Matthew Shevlin had nodded on Dean Jarvis' throw-in from the left.

However the Crues hit back with two goals in as many minutes later in the first half to change the complexion of the game.

First, on 36 minutes, Jarlath O'Rourke levelled with a right-foot finish after Philip Lowry and Paul Heatley had combined to create the opening.

Then, around sixty seconds after that, Baxter's charges moved in front for the first time Daniel Larmour blasted the ball home via a deflection of Stephen O'Donnell who had lost his footing trying to defend another attack.

That was how it stayed until 20 minutes from time when Coleraine roared back into the game with a stunning finish from Josh Carson's left-foot some 30 yards from goal and delivered with aplomb into the top corner.

But, just when it seemed extra-time was inevitable, the game ended in dramatic fashion after Jordan Forsythe scuffed the ball in front of goal, got a second bite of the cherry after Lewis Barr cut it back into his path and Jordan Owens got the final touch to direct it over the line despite Andy Scott's best attempts at clearing the danger.