A makeshift Crusaders side missing half of their regular outfield starters through injury took to the field and seen off a youthful and energetic Mid Ulster team, beating them by three goals to one.
Crusaders started quickly, passing the ball around confidently with centre midfield duo Clare Carson and Heather Mearns having a lot of possession. However the first real chance came against the run of play when Mid Ulsters number 97, Chloe McCaron got a clear shot away, but her effort was high and wide.
The first goal came after 13 minutes, when Crusaders Nadine Murphy picked the ball up ran past a defender, played a perfect one-two with Heather Mearns and then hit a wonderful left foot dipping shot into the top left corner, giving goal keeper Jacqueline Burns absolutely no chance.
Mid Ulster didn't let their heads drop and almost replied immediately when Adele Gillespie drove a powerful shot towards goal, but it was blocked by a defender before bouncing around in the penalty area and was eventually cleared to safety.
Mid Ulster kept asking questions of the Crusaders back four, but 5 minutes later they gave away possession in the attacking third and Crusaders brilliantly turned defence into attack, playing a long ball over the top to forward Shannon Grattin, who ran on to the ball and hit a first time finish over Burns from 20 yards to put her team 2-0 up after 18 minutes.
Mid Ulster defended well for the next 25 minutes, giving Crusaders very little room and restricting their chances to long range strikes. They were even causing a few problems of their own with forward Sarah Connolly and midfielder McCarron creating one or two chances, but unable to really test Sarah Lemon in the Crusaders goal.
The next goal came after 42 minutes, when the Crusaders midfield were given too much room and a long ball was chased down by winger Brooke Baine and her shot could only be cleared into the path of rampaging Northern Ireland left back Lisa Armour who hit a powerful finish across the keeper into the far corner to score her second of the season.
Mid Ulster rallied once more and two minutes later they managed to win a free kick 30 yards from goal. It was sweetly struck by the impressive McCarron with Burns was well beaten, however it came crashing back off the bar and was cleared to safety. This proved to be the last action of the half, with the score at half time 3-0.
The second half was a much more even affair. Both teams could only fashion long range chances thanks to some resolute defending, especially from Crusaders normal first choice forward Alison Smyth, who found herself starting at centre back such was the defensive crisis.
That being said, Crusaders were nearly gifted a fourth goal on 58 minutes, when a simple backpass was played back to Burns, and somehow went through her, but she recovered well to turn race onto the ball and slide it away under a lot of pressure.
Mid Ulster got their consolation goal after 78 minutes, when Sarah Connolly, who has recently won senior Northen Ireland caps, showed some good skill to keep the ball despite pressure from both centre backs, turn and play the ball across goal into the path of Gillespie, who managed to poke the home under the diving Lemon.
That was the last significant action of the game, as crusaders were happy to see out the result. Mid Ulster put on a good performance and it took three very good finishes to see them off. They will be happy to take this display into their next game at home against leaders Glentoran.
Crusaders manager Steven Calvert said after the match “I am obviously happy with the win, but we went to sleep a little in the second half and let them back into it. But as we have 5 regular starters missing I though we did very well, especially player of the match Alison Smyth, who played out of position at centre back. She was outstanding.” Crusaders now only trail Glentoran by two points after 7 games, and play Cliftonville away next week.
Photo and Report by Ben Hanna