Irish Premiership: Jamie McGonigle's brace sends Coleraine top of the table

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Jamie McGonigle's brace sends Coleraine top of the table

Jamie McGonigle's superb brace earned Coleraine a 3-0 win over Crusaders at Seaview that leaves the Bannsiders on top of the Irish Premiership table.

McGonigle's goals came after Josh Carson's predatory strike had put the visitors ahead at half-time.

The win moves Oran Kearney's men above Linfield on goal difference at the top of the standings.

Crusaders remain in the bottom half of the table with two defeats from their opening five league matches.

The north Belfast club must host newcomers Newry on Saturday with just a point separating the two sides while Coleraine will travel to an Ards side that have won just once in the league this season.

Early warnings go unheeded

In response to his team's sluggish start to their title defence, Crues manager Stephen Baxter made four changes to the side that defeated Warrenpoint Town in their last league outing with captain Colin Coates returning alongside Philip Lowry, Sean Ward and Michael Carvill.

The visitors were without Brad Lyons as he awaits clearance for his proposed loan move to Blackburn Rovers with Ciaron Harkin and fit-again Carson returning to bolster the midfield while right-back Aaron Canning also made his return after rejoining the club at the weekend.

Josh Carson
Josh Carson's first goal of the season gave Coleraine the lead

Coleraine were rewarded for a confident start as Harkin's early free-kick was headed over the bar by Gareth McConaghie before Bradley's shot on the turn forced a fumbled save by Sean O'Neill.

The Crusaders defence failed to heed those early warnings and a mistake by Howard Beverland allowed Bradley through on goal once again just minutes later.

O'Neill could only parry the striker's powerful shot straight into the path of Carson, who made no mistake from the follow-up.

The defending champions almost equalised immediately when Billy Joe Burns found Paul Heatley in some space on the edge of the area but the attacking midfielder dragged his shot across goal and wide.

It sparked a period of dominance for the home side but they failed to convert their pressure into clear-cut chances as Jordan Forsythe headed over and Heatley skied another effort from outside the box.

Former Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte was introduced to the crowd at half-time but the presence of the new Oxford United star only served to remind the home support of how much their side were missing his attacking quality.

Jamie McGonigle
Jamie McGonigle (19) was the subject of a failed transfer bid by Crusaders in the summer

Defensive slip proves costly

Whyte would have been impressed with how his former team-mates began the second half as Forsythe cleverly juggled the ball onto his left foot before blazing his shot over the bar before Matthew Snoddy's stinging 30-yard effort was palmed onto the roof of the net by Chris Johns.

The Bannsiders keeper was called into action again just after the hour mark when he had to stretch to divert a low shot by Burns around his post.

At the other end, Eoin Bradley made a driving run down the right before rolling a pass into the path of Darren McCauley but his shot was always rising over the target.

The home side appeared to be gaining the upper hand until another costly defensive lapse.

A clearing header drifted across the area instead of away from danger and a slip by Sean Ward allowed McGonigle the space to spin and fire a shot into the bottom corner.

Crusaders were still reeling five minutes later when McGonigle wrapped-up the result.

The striker, who Crues attempted to sign in the summer, was afforded too much time on the ball and he produced a clever drag-back before unleashing a low, 25-yard strike that left O'Neill flat-footed.

The visitors were able to see out the rest of the game without ever looking likely to concede a consolation goal, with Kearney substituting McGonigle in injury-time to allow him to soak up the praise from the travelling support.