IRISH LEAGUE: Paul Heatley goal enough to give Crusaders victory over Cliftonville

Crusaders Billy Joe Burns  in action with Cliftonville's  Stephen Garrett. Crusaders won the game to strengthen their position at the top of the Irish Premiership table.
Crusaders Billy Joe Burns in action with Cliftonville's Stephen Garrett. Crusaders won the game to strengthen their position at the top of the Irish Premiership table.

Crusaders 1 Cliftonville 0

Paul Heatley’s early strike was enough to earn Crusaders the bragging rights in this thrilling North Belfast derby at Seaview.

The victory almost certainly ended Cliftonville’s chances of regaining the Danske Bank Premiership title, but keeps the Crues seven points clear of Linfield, who have played one game more.

Crues lost Billy Joe Burns on 63 minutes, sent off for a second yellow card. But Cliftonville also had substitute George McMullan dismissed in the first half for comments made to the fourth official.

Heatley shot the Crues ahead after only three minutes. He picked up a Burns pass, skipped around goalkeeper Conor Devlin before tapping the ball home.

Cliftonville were almost level four minutes later when James Knowles’ cross was headed agonisingly inches past his own post by Crues skipper Colin Coates.

Darren Murray had a header saved by Sean O’Neill from another Knowles cross.

Heatley could well have put the Crues further in front on 17 minutes when he motored on to a Burns cross , but Devlin quickly left his line to block.

Gavin Whyte then missed a glorious chance when he robbed defender Levi Ives and following a 40 yard solo run, he could only drill his shot wide.

Crues goalkeeper O’Neill produced a wonder save on 29 minutes to keep out a Johnny Flynn header from yet another great cross from Knowles.

Cliftonville then lost substitute George McMullan five minuets from the interval. He was dismissed by referee Ross Dunlop for speaking out of turn to an official on the line.

Heatley tested Devlin after two minutes of the second period before Owens missed a great chance following a poor clearance by the Reds keeper.

Crues defender Burns when then dismissed after picking up a second yellow card following a foul on Ryan Catney.

The home team were right out of luck on 67 minutes when Forsythe’s powerful header crashed against the crossbar.

Cliftonville then had a goal ruled out for an offside infringement after Flynn had headed in a Knowles free kick.

The Reds knew it wasn’t going to be their day three minutes from time when Jay Donnelly rolled shot wide when it looked easier to score.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burn, Robinson, Coates, McClean, Whyte (Mitchell 65), Caddell, Snoddy, Forsythe, Heatley, Owens. Subs not used: McKibbin, Magowan, Clarke, O’Carroll.

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, Cosgrove, McGovern, Flynn, Ives, J Donnelly, Knowles, Catney, Garrett (George 85), McDaid (Hughes 71), Murray 6 (M Donnelly 76). Subs not used: Bonner, McMullan..

REFEREE: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).