CRUSADERS 6 BALLYMENA UNITED 0
Defending champions Crusaders got the defence of their title off to a fantastic start as they saw off Ballymena United 6-0 at Seaview.
Three goals from Jordan Owens, two from Paul Heatley and one from Gavin Whyte sealed the win for Stephen Baxter’s side - but Ballymena will be hoping for better in their next outing against Glenavon on Wednesday night.
United had seven summer signings in their starting 11 as they opened their campaign against last year’s league champions and they got off to a solid start.
Billy Joe Burns made good ground for the home side but his through ball ended up in the hands of Ballymena keeper Alan Blayney.
In the 17th minute Burns surged forward once again from the right hand side and his pass found Paul Heatley and he fired past Blayney to make it 1-0.
One minutes later it was 2-0. A Gavin Whyte pass found Heatley. He left a few defenders in his wake before squaring for Jordan Owens to fire home.
It was 3-0 in the 20th minute as Burns crossed from the right for Owens to grab his second of the afternoon.
In the 26th minute the Crues David Cushley tried his luck against his old club but his left foot shot flew over the bar from 25 yards.
Owens should have made it 4-0 in the 30th minute, but his tame effort was easily dealt with by Blaney.
The Sky Blues afternoon got worse two minutes later as Crusaders made it 4-0. Owens headed a ball on and Whyte was on hand to shoot past a helpless Blayney.
The visitors had their first chance of the half in the 34th minute, but Johnny McMurray’s long range shot was just off target.
Then right on the stroke of half-time Ballymena’s Cathair Friel tried his luck. Crues keeper saved well and Burns was on hand to clear the danger.
Both sides started the second half brightly but neither threatened in the early exchanges.
Ballymena had the first chance of the second half but Gary Thompson’s 56th shot from close range was saved by O’Neill. Thompson should have scored.
It was 5-0 in the 64th minute as Heatley grabbed his second of the game. The speedy winger leaving Johnny Flynn for dead before scoring past Balyney. It was all too easy for the Crusaders player.
Crusaders sub Richard Clarke tried his luck in 75th minute but Blayney saved.
The Crues had another chance in the 78th minute but Whtye’s shot hit the post with Blayney beaten and the rebound was hit wide.
Ballymena nearly pulled one back in the 82nd minute but Allan Jenkins shot was pushed onto the post by keeper O’Neill.
Three minutes later Ballymena had another great chance. McMurray made good ground before feeding Friel but his shot was stopped by O’Neill.
And the Crues made it 6-0 right at the death as Owens stroked home from the penalty spot to complete his hattrick.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Gault, McClean, Whyte, Heatley, Cushley, Owens, Forsythe, Caddell. Subs: Clarke, Lowry, Holden, Carvill, Soares.
Ballymena: Blayney, Owens, Flynn, Thompson, Jenkins, McCloskey, Friel, Ervin, McMurray, Smith, McCaffrey.
Subs: Glendinning, Henderson, Kane, Millar, Johnston.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)