Referee Raymond Hetherington will not be on Coleraine’s Christmas Card list after his performance at Seaview on Friday night.
With the game tightly poised at 2-1 in favour of the hosts, Hetherington awarded a goal for Jordan Owens when the whole ground saw him clatter into Andy Findlay first.
With only 12 minutes left it gave the Bannsiders a mountain to climb at the home of the league champions.
Boss Oran Kearney was incensed with the decision and let the referee know afterwards as he explained to Times Sport.
“In any league in the world whether it’s junior level or the top league it’s a foul all day long,” he said.
“Andy is coming out to take the ball, he is favourite, he’s up higher than everyone, but he’s clattered by Owens as he’s about to claim it.
“Jordan makes no contact with the ball, he fouls Andy and then puts the ball into the net.
“I said to Raymond afterwards that he got it wrong and he said he would hold his hands up if he thought it was the wrong decision after watching it back.
“But that’s no use to me, the players or the club.
“We had been playing well and causing them a few problems up to that point.
“I’m not saying we would have got something from the game, but we were definitely asking the question.
“That decision just finished the game for us, it was a real kick in the teeth.”
After a tight first half Crusaders broke the deadlock just seconds after the restart.
Jordan Forsythe’s long throw in was cleverly flicked on by Owens for Josh Robinson to finish from close range.
Coleraine drew themselves level in spectaculare fashion on 58.
Matthew Snoddy’s clumsy challenge on substitute Jamie McGonigle earned a free-kick 30 yards from goal and Ruairi Harkin stepped up to ram home a beauty past a startled Sean O’Neill.
However, the title holders were back in front within two minutes when referee Raymond Hetherington awarded a penalty kick after an apparent hand ball offence by Darren McCauley.
Billy Joe Burns stepped up to send rookie goalkeeper Andy Findlay the wrong way.
With 12 minutes to go the contrversial third goal arrived.
Craig McClean swung a cross into the box, and big Owens tapped in to equal the club’s scoring record despite fouling the keeper.
“I thought we defended well all night, particularly in the first half,” continued Kearney.
“That was probably the most direct Crusaders side we have faced in a long time.
“They threw the ball up to us all night, but as I say we dealt with the long ball pretty comfortably.
“It has been a pretty tough week for us. That was our third game in six days.
“By contrast Crusaders came into the game tonight not having played for 13 days, so they were fresh and raring to go.
“We had to shuffle things about and get ourselves going again after the disappointment of Tuesday night, but I couldn’t fault our players.
“They gave everything on the night and deserved to take something from the game.
“That’s why it was such a kick in the teeth for us to concede that third goal.”
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter praised Owens after he levelled the Crues goal scoring record.
“We had a foothold on the game from start to finish,” he said.
“But we got the goals we needed and it was a good effort from us, I’m pleased.
“I’m thrilled for Jordan. He’s been here since he was 14 or 15, what a fantastic character and we love him here.
“He’ll go on and beat that record by some distance.”