CLIFTONVILLE 1 CRUSADERS 5
Crusaders swatted Cliftonville aside in an easy North Belfast derby victory at Solitude, where hat-trick hero Paul Heatley was outshone only by the mercurial David Cushley. It was Cushley who set the visitors on their way from the penalty spot after just two minutes and, after Heatley had doubled the Crues’ advantage before the break, Cushley made it three before teeing up the fourth for Heatley, who would go on to complete his treble ahead of Rory Donnelly netting for the Reds in the closing minutes.
With neither anticipation nor expectation ever lacking in the build-up to derby day, yesterday’s encounter was afforded a further sense of intrigue surrounding the hosts’ goalkeeping situation.
Following Brian Neeson’s dismissal in Saturday’s defeat to Institute, the Reds – whose first-choice custodian Richard Brush had been sidelined by serious illness since mid-November, while young stopper Declan Dunne remains on loan at Portadown – had been facing a crisis of sorts, with rookie kid Ruadhan McKenna tipped by many among the Cliftonville support to be thrown in at the deep end for the occasion.
It was, however, Brush who strode out with his team-mates, having returned to training on the quiet in recent weeks.
There were similar question marks regarding who would line out between the posts for Crusaders. Sean O’Neill – recently transfer-listed by request in the aftermath of Gerard Doherty’s arrival from Derry City – stepped in at the weekend when Harry Doherty pulled up with injury just ahead of kick-off against Warrenpoint Town and O’Neill’s performance in that game was sufficient to earn him the nod at Solitude.
Unfortunately for Brush, his first involvement was to pick the ball out of the back of his net after the Crues pulled ahead with less than two minutes on the clock. Declan Caddell assumed possession inside the area and his attempt to sidestep Jaimie McGovern ended with the home defender tripping him, leaving referee Andrew Davey with no option but to point to the spot.
Cushley stepped up and made no mistake – and things got even better for the visitors on 13 minutes when Cushley sent Heatley scampering through and he got his angles absolutely perfect to somehow squeeze the ball between Brush and his post.
Cliftonville’s first-half response simply didn’t materialise but they should have been awarded a spot-kick four minutes after the interval when Michael Ruddy handled inside the area. Their fury at seeing their appeals dismissed by the ref were exacerbated when the Crues broke forward and the menacing Cushley lashed an unstoppable drive into the far corner to put the seal on an inevitable success.
Man of the match Cushley then teed Heatley up for the fourth and, after Heatley had completed his treble following good work from sub Rory Patterson, Cliftonville bagged a consolation from Donnelly but it was far too little much too late on a day they were simply outclassed by their derby foes.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McGovern, Ives, Harney, C Curran, Garrett, R Donnelly, Catney, McConnell, Gormley, A Donnelly. Subs: McKenna, Breen, Harkin (McConnell, 54 mins), R Curran (C Curran, 76 mins), Bagnall (Catney, 76 mins), Maguire, McMenamin.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Coates, Lowry, Cushley, Caddell, Forsythe, Ruddy, Heatley, Clarke. Subs: Doherty, Ward, Carvill, K Owens, Snoddy (Caddell, 74 mins), Brown (Forsythe, 85 mins), Patterson (Cushley, 74 mins).
REFEREE: Andrew Davey (Bangor)