By Odhran Crumley at the Coleraine Showgrounds
Two spectacular strikes from Jamie McGonigle and one from Darren McCauley saw Coleraine come back from the dead to earn a point in their top of the table clash with Crusaders at the Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday.
Both sides found it hard to get a foothold in the game early on with possession constantly changing which was to be as expected with so much at stake.
Jamie McGonigle’s deep free-kick was met by the head of Eoin Bradley, the latter directing the ball back across goal but the ball was cleared after a scramble.
New signing Stephen Dooley had the next opportunity for the home team but his effort was blocked bravely by Billy Joe Burns.
Crusaders had their first chance in the tenth minute. A silky one-two between Jordan Forsythe and Paul Heatley saw the latter shoot wide of the post.
With 15 minutes on the clock, the home side went close. McGonigle’s deep corner fell to the feet of Stephen O’Donnell. His volleyed effort glanced the bar on its way over.
Oran Kearney’s men continued to attack and this time it was Bradley’s turn to fire over the top after an eye catching run from Brad Lyons.
The league leaders created chances of their own with Paul Heatley showing quick feet to make room for a shot from the edge of the box. Luckily for Coleraine Adam Mullan was on hand to block his goal-bound effort.
The game developed an edge with heavy challenges going in all over the pitch. Referee Raymond Crangle dished out four bookings in ten minutes.
Crusaders broke the deadlock in the 37th minute when Gavin Whyte made space for a shot on the right of the box before firing into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Coleraine went in search of an equaliser right from the restart but a stray pass from Ciaron Harkin set Paul Heatley on the counter attack. He skipped past Mullan before hitting the post. From the rebound, Whyte was on hand to grab his second shooting into the empty net.
In a nightmare few minutes before the break, the Bannsiders found themselves two goals down.
Whatever Oran Kearney said at the break worked as his side pulled one back three minutes into the second half.
Bradley got in behind the defence and what appeared to be a heavy touch fell into the path of McGonigle who struck into the bottom right corner of the net.
McGonigle continued to cause problems as his side pressed for an equaliser. As they pushed they left a gap at the back for the Crues to expose.
A neat one-two between Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley saw the latter race in on goal showing real composure to roll the ball past Chris Jones and into the bottom right corner of the net.
It appeared to be a killer blow but Stephen Baxter’s men were reduced to ten after captain Colin Coates got a second yellow for pulling down Bradley as he was in on goal.
In a piece of sublime individual genius McGonigle brought his side into the game once again. He cut in from the left before unleashing a rasping effort into the top right hand corner of the net.
Kearney’s men began to take over in search of an equaliser but needed to call on their keeper Johns to make a wonder save to keep them in the game.
From the next attack substitute Martin Smith’s cross was glanced home by Darren McCauley making it 3-3 with twelve minutes left on the clock.
Several moments later McCauley was almost in again only for a match saving tackle from Burns.
The men in blue and white dominated the five minutes of additional time having the best chance.
Brad Lyons flicked the ball over the Crusaders defence into the path of Bradley, he flicked over the onrushing Sean O’Neill only for Sean Ward to clear the ball off the line.
Raymond Crangle brought the game to an end not long after confirming a share of the points after an inspired Coleraine comeback.
Coleraine: Chris Jones, Adam Mullan, Ciaron Harkin (Martin Smith 77), Darren McCauley, Eoin Bradley, Gareth McConaghie, Brad Lyons, Stephen O’Donnell, Aaron Traynor (Josh Carson 90), Jamie McGonigle, Stephen Dooley.
Subs Not Used: Steven Douglas, David Ogilby, Ian Parkhill.
Booked: Eoin Bradley (21), Gareth McConaghie (84).
Crusaders: Sean O’Neill, Billy Joe Burns, Mark McCrystal, Howard Beverland, Colin Coates, Sean Ward, Declan Caddell (Matthew Snoddy 78), Jordan Forsythe (Philip Lowry 57), Jordan Owens, Paul Heatley, Gavin Whyte.
Subs Not Used: Brian Jensen, David Cushley, Jonny Bonner.
Booked: Colin Coates (21) Red (66), Jordan Forsythe (27), Paul Heatley (57), Sean Ward (84).
Referee: Raymond Crangle
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jamie McGonigle (Coleraine)