By Peter Wilson
Larne and Crusaders played out a thrilling but tense 2-2 draw in the summer sunshine at Seaview on Saturday.
An early Philip Lowry goal was cancelled out by Johnny McMurray’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time with David Cushley salvaging a point for the Crues after Sean Graham had given Larne an early second-half lead.
One of the biggest talking points of the game was David McDaid’s missed penalty for the visitors which could have brought them level midway through the first half.
The Crues got off to a good start as Chris Hegarty headed the ball down from a Jordan Owens corner a quarter of an hour in with Lowry turning to poke home at the front post, amidst a scramble in the box.
Just before the half hour mark, Philip Lowry caught Mark Randall in the box with referee Tim Marshall pointing straight to the spot. McDaid stepped up to tuck away the resulting penalty, but his effort came back off the left upright.
Just on the stroke of half time, McMurray equalised for Larne: a great ball over the top of the home defence by Albert Watson was misjudged by Crusaders skipper Colin Coates with the ex-Ballymena striker cushioning a half-volley into the bottom right.
Just seconds after the break, McDaid did well to pick out Graham on the right and he stepped inside a Crusaders defender before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top right past Sean O’Neill.
On 59, Owens looped his header into the air after a Jarlath O’Rourke corner with Conor Devlin punching clear.
With 12 minutes remaining of regular time, substitute Cushley brought the Crues back on level terms as he deceived Devlin, who couldn’t keep his thunderous strike from range out despite getting a hand to it.
On 86 minutes, Jordan Forsythe delivered a good ball in from the right hand side but Declan Caddell could only skew his shot wide of the mark.
Meanwhile a minute later, after some good build-up play from the hosts, Ross Clarke forced a good save from Devlin at his near post.
Deep into the five minutes of stoppage time added on, Shane McEleney sent a good ball over the top to Thomas Stewart but O’Neill was successful in gathering the ball.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Hegarty, Coates (c) (Clarke 64), Lowry, Ward, Hale (Caddell 74), Forsythe, O’Rourke, Owens (Cushley 72), Heatley
Unused subs: Beverland, Ruddy, Thompson, Doherty
Larne: Devlin, Kelly, Watson, McEleney, Sule, Randall, McDaid (Lynch 74), Graham (Tilney 83), Cosgrove, Hughes (c), McMurray (Stewart 80)
Unused subs: Mitchell, Ramsey, Donnelly, Hassin
Referee: Tim Marshall
It’s onto League Cup action next for Larne as the Invermen host Premier Intermediate League side Lisburn Distillery in the second round of the competition on Tuesday 27 August. Kick off at Inver Park is 7.45pm.
Photo: Bill Guiller