CRUES KICK OFF CAMPAIGN ON WINNING NOTE
Crusaders kicked off their 2023/24 Sports Direct Premiership campaign with a 2-1 victory over Ballymena United at The Showgrounds.
Stephen Baxter's side got off to a blistering start, creating early opportunities through Ben Kennedy and Paul Heatley only to be thwarted by keeper Sean O'Neill and some last ditch defending.
A goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived on 16 minutes when a Kennedy ball into the six yard box reached Adam Lecky who wasted no time firing past O'Neill at the back post.
Ballymena might have levelled midway through the first half when Scot Whiteside found Johnny McMurray but his effort fizzed narrowly wide.
But the Crues doubled their lead moments later. A Lecky cross to the far post was knocked on by Heatley as far as Jarlath O'Rourke who made no mistake with a close range finish.
And the visitors might well have extended their advantage before the break, with Heatley being denied by O'Neill before having a 'goal' ruled out offside.
Ballymena's hopes of salvaging anything from the game were dealt a blow on the hour when skipper Colin Coates was dismissed for a challenge on Heatley, but they did grab a late consolation through Ryan Waide who sent a spectacular effort past Jonny Tuffey seven minutes into stoppage time.
Ballymena United: O'Neill, Nelson, Whiteside, Coates, Graham, Waide, McCullough, McGuigan, McMullan, McMurray, Place subs Johnston, Kane, O'Boyle, Gibson, Murray, Tennant, Crawford
Crusaders: Tuffey, Callacher, Weir, Lowry, Kennedy, Lecky, Forsythe, O'Rourke, Larmour, Heatley, McKeown subs Williamson, Teelan, Owens, Winchester, Smith, Anderson, Clarke