Improved performance fails to stop second successive defeat.
A shell shocked Crusaders again headed into a fixture with a thin match day squad as they looked to banish the demons from last week's drubbing.
The game started fairly evenly, with Crusaders tentatively trying to rediscover their passing game against opponents who were looking to dominate the midfield area by deploying a fluid middle 5. Neither team demonstrated the quality required to take the game by the scruff of the neck, but despite this a number of defensive mistakes at either end saw a number of good chances come and go throughout the first half. A mixture of poor finishing and brave goal keeping from Paul Findlay ensured that the Crusaders goal remained intact, whilst at the other end the crossbar denied Crusaders from their best opportunity.
Crusaders started the second half knowing that they had far more in the tank and they would have to show it to get a result from the game. However, the visitors soon started to dominate territory, forcing Crusaders to play on the back foot. Despite this, the back four of Tim Grabham, Michael Mustoe, Guy Bewick and Mark Vallance were holding firm. This changed in the 55 minute when a loose ball in midfield rebounded kindly off the ref into the path of a Kingsclere forward, who drove at the heart of the Crusaders defence before laying the ball off for a team mate to wrong foot the covering players and slot home. It got worse for Crusaders 5 minutes later when a long ball over the top saw Tim Grabham contest for a bouncing ball on the edge of the box with a visiting forward. There looked nothing out of the ordinary in the contest, but the ref saw different from 45 yards away and awarded a rather soft penalty. The Kingsclere striker made no mistake from the pot and Crusaders found themselves 2-0 down.
The injustice seemed to be the spark Crusaders were missing and they finally upped their game a gear or two. Jon Vowles started to pull the strings in the middle of the park, orchestrating some much more fluid passing movements with Gareth Taylor and Gav Flye and these bore fruit in the 75 minute when Jon Vowles played a couple of one-twos around the box to find himself through on goal. His smart finish gave Crusaders renewed hope.
Sensing blood, Crusaders committed more players to attack and contrary to the previous half hour, started to dominate territory. A number of corners and free kicks came and went without reward, but with 5 minutes on the clock a through ball saw Gav Flye in on the keeper. He expertly rounded the keeper only to find his shot from a narrow angle cleared off the line by a covering defender. The clearance bounced straight into the keeper's hands and with that the chance was gone. In typical fashion, Kingsclere immediately went up the other end of the pitch and with Crusaders now over committing to attack, found an overlapping player who drilled an unstoppable winner into the corner of the net.
On the balance of play, the result was not unjustified, but Crusaders will feel aggrieved at the award of the crucial penalty and once they got back into the game at 2-1, were unlucky not to get something from the game. It was a distinct improvement from the previous week's performance and with more consistent player availability and the return of some much needed confidence, there is still nothing seen in the league to date that should worry them.