CLIFTONVILLE 1 CRUSADERS 3
Crusaders clinched the Danske Bank Premiership title in style at Solitude on Tuesday night.
Goals from Gavin Whyte and Paul Heatley (2) sealed a stellar 3-1 victory against Cliftonville – and back-to-back championships for the first time in the club’s history.
The win keeps Crusaders eight points clear at the top with just two games left.
And while speculation persists over the final outcome of Portadown’s disciplinary appeal – which could potentially see a redistribution of points in the Premiership – Crusaders were in celebratory mood at the final whistle.
Whyte broke the deadlock in the ninth minute with Heatley scoring twice in the space of two second half minutes.
Substitute George McMullan bagged Cliftonville’s consolation in the 86th minute, but it failed to take the gloss off the Crues’ special night.
It was a commanding display from the back-to-back champions.
Whyte broke the deadlock in the ninth minute when he capitalised on a defensive error involving Reds goalkeeper Peter Burke and defender Johnny Flynn.
Whyte dispossessed Flynn following a poor pass from Burke and raced clear before firing a low drive into the bottom corner.
The champions could have boasted a healthier lead at the break.
Matthew Snoddy had an effort cleared off the line by Caoimhin Bonner in the fifth minute while Burke did well to tip Jordan Forsythe’s 25-yard effort over the bar.
Jordan Owens flashed an effort inches wide of the post in the 24th minute.
Owens had a header cleared off the line by Marty Donnelly in the 54th minute.
It was 2-0 in the 56th minute when Heatley finished off from close range after Snoddy’s shot deflected into his path.
And Heatley added his second and Crusaders’ third two minutes later when he raced clear before slotting past Burke.
McMullan claimed Cliftonville’s sole reply four minutes from time, but the night belonged to Crusaders.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, Bonner, Flynn, Knowles (Winchester 78), Curran, McDaid, M. Donnelly, Catney (McMullan 46), Hughes (Garrett 78).
Subs not used: George, Lavery.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Magowan, McClean, Caddell, Snoddy, Forsythe, Whyte, Heatley (Carvill 88), Owens.
Subs not used: McKibbin, Clarke, O’Carroll, Mitchell.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)