NIFL Premiership

Cliftonville 0– 2 Crusaders 

CLIFTONVILLE missed the chance to return to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership after a 2-0 defeat to Crusaders in Tuesday evening’s rearranged fixture at Solitude. 

Paul Heatley struck before the break and a second from Ben Kennedy inflicted a first home defeat at Solitude on Paddy McLaughlin’s side this season. 

The Reds’ boss acknowledged it was a disappointing evening and regretted letting down a capacity home support in the derby. 

“It was disappointing,” admitted McLaughlin. 

“There was a big crowd here and they came out in their numbers, and we’ve let them down badly. 

“Sometimes these nights can happen. I think the experience of Crusaders definitely came out on top. The game was 50-50 in the first half, we had two great chances to score and didn’t take any of them. 

“They’ve had one chance and taken it and it shows you the quality that good sides can have - you give them one chance and they’ll score. 

“They gave us three or four chances and we were disappointing in our finishing. In the second half, the second goal killed the game off. There was a shot, I’m not sure if it was going on target. 

“The ’keeper is probably disappointed with keeping the ball in play, he does well to keep out the initial shot, but the rebound was a tap-in. 

“It was frustrating (conceding) two soft goals at key stages of the game and like I say, the experience that Crusaders had then to see the game out and they’ll believe it was comfortable enough. 

“As much as the result annoyed and disappointed us, we were really disappointed with the performance, especially in front of a big crowd. We feel that we have let them down badly.”

McLaughlin named an unchanged starting 11 from the weekend win over Glenavon with the only changes coming on the bench as Conor McDermott and Declan Dunne returned. 

Both sides struggled to adapt in the winter elements with very little to note in the opening quarter. 

Ryan Curran headed over from Levi Ives’ corner and then shot into the side netting from Jamie McDonagh’s low cross. 

The hosts then lost Rory Hale midway through the half to a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury that he recently returned from. 

Conor McDermott closes down Ben Kennedy

Conor McDermott closes down Ben Kennedy

Their best opening of the half came when Paul O’Neill pounced on hesitancy by Crues’ ’keeper Johnny Tuffey, but the shot-stopper redeemed himself and parried away the striker’s effort. 

Kris Lowe then blocked a Paul Heatley effort from the edge of the area, but before half-time the winger would break the deadlock. 

A Ben Kennedy dink was controlled by Declan Caddell who laid off for Paul Heatley and he thumped home to give the Shore Road outfit the lead at the interval. 

Cliftonville found it difficult to up the tempo after the break as Addis glanced wide from McDonagh’s corner. 

On the hour-mark, a free-kick from the wide position presented an opportunity, but Luke Turner’s header was too high. 

On 63 minutes, Crusaders doubled their advantage as Ross Clarke saw his shot split by Luke McNicholas and Ben Kennedy bundled the rebound home to make it 2-0. 

Conor McDermott couldn’t keep his snapshot down in the aftermath and Addis again headed wide of the target. 

On 82 minutes, a high delivery from McDonagh was split by Tuffey and Jonny Addis saw his effort hooked off the line. Ronan Doherty’s follow-up drew a save from Tuffey and Jamie McDonagh shot wide with the third bite. 

In injury-time, Addis headed an Ives corner against the base of the post, but in truth, the game was beyond the reach of Cliftonville as Crusaders took the derby spoils. 

CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, Lowe, Addis, Turner, Ives, C Curran (Kearns 58), Doherty, Hale (McDermott 23), McDonagh, R Curran, O’Neill (Gormley 58). 

CRUSADERS: Tuffey, BJ Burns, Hegarty, Wilson, Weir, Lowry (Lecky 90), Kennedy, Caddell, Heatley, Robinson, Clarke. 

REFEREE: Lee Tavinder