CRUSADERS 2 CLIFTONVILLE 3
A Chris Curran hat-trick kick-started Cliftonville’s title celebrations in style at Solitude.
Two clinical strikes in the first half and a penalty in the second helped the champions to a 3-2 victory over derby rivals Crusaders.
David McMaster and Jordan Owens scored Crusaders’ replies but there would be no denying the Reds a final-day triumph in the north Belfast sunshine.
Saturday’s game was a sideshow to the main event, with Cliftonville captain George McMullan lifting the Gibson Cup in front of a packed-out Cliftonville support.
It was an historic afternoon for Reds, who celebrated back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history.
Crusaders formed a guard of honour for the champions who were led out by captain for the day Eamonn Seydak.
And it didn’t take long for the Reds to click into gear with Curran breaking the deadlock in the 11th minute.
Diarmuid O’Carroll picked up possession on the edge of the box, squared to Curran who unleashed a low drive which crept under the body of Sean O’Neill.
At the other end Gary McCutcheon fizzed an effort across the face of goal.
Seydak curled a free-kick onto the roof of the net in the 18th minute, and then O’Neill tipped another decent effort from Curran over the bar four minutes later.
Crusaders were back on level terms in the 29th minute, with McMaster’s deflected shot from the edge of the box evading Brown and nestling in the bottom corner.
Cliftonville restored their lead in the 32nd minute with Curran again on target, the winger cutting in from the left before placing his shot in the far corner.
The Reds winger bagged his hat-trick in the 63rd minute after Josh Robinson was judged to have handled Chris Scannell’s attempted pass inside his own box.
Curran stepped up to send O’Neill the wrong way for his eighth goal of the season.
The Crues continued to make a fight of it, with substitute Owens tapping home from close range in the 75th minute after Brown spilled McMaster’s initial shot.
It did little to take the gloss off a season-ending derby win, and the ensuing celebrations with another Gibson Cup.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Leeman (Coates 43), Magowan, Robinson, Hanley, Caddell, McMaster, Adamson (Owens 59), McCutcheon, Clarke, White (E. McAllister 54).
Subs not used: McClean, Morrow.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brown, Johnston, McNally, O’Carroll, Smyth (Doherty 68), Seydak, Winchester, Curran, Gormley (C. Scannell 56), Cosgrove, Murray (Boyce 59).
Subs not used: Donnelly, Catney.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)