Crusaders claim north Belfast bragging rights while Linfield suffer first league defeat

Diarmuid Pepper

Crusaders came out on top in the North Belfast derby over the weekend.

Cliftonville had home advantage but two second-half goals were enough to claim all three points for Stephen Baxter's men at Solitude.

It's early days, but the win moves Crusaders to the top of the Northern Ireland Football League.

Crusaders broke the Irish League transfer record in the signing of Jamie McGonigle and the former Coleraine striker made his Crues debut against Cliftonville.

However, it was the veterans who secured the victory.

A goal mouth scramble seen Crusaders bombard the Cliftonville goal, but Ross Clarke had the wherewithal in a congested penalty area to loft the ball towards Jordan Owens.

Owens, Crusaders record goal scorer, rose the highest and nodded his side into the lead with a goal early in the second half.

Paul Heatley wrapped up the win with a smart finish into the bottom corner after a precise through-ball from Rory Hale.

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin was upbeat after the game despite the defeat.

Speaking on the club website, he said: “We have a good squad here with a lot of young players knocking on the door and I'm confident we can put this result behind us and lift ourselves up from here.”

Meanwhile, in the opposite end of the city, Linfield suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of Oran Kearney's Coleraine.

Linfield staged a comeback in the second half but it wasn't enough to prevent a 4-2 away win for Bannsiders.

However, Kearney admitted afterwards that the game ought to have been postponed.

Linfield face a historic tie against Qarabag on Thursday night in the Europa League play-off.

While he was delighted to have picked up three points at Windsor Park, Kearney said he would have been understanding had the game been called off.

Speaking to the BBC, Kearney said: "I said to David (Healy) after the game, and I'm not being patronising because I would have said it win, lose or draw, I don't think this fixture should have been played today."

Whilst David Healy acknowledged the need to prevent a backlog of fixtures, he too felt that the game should have been postponed given that "next Thursday we (Linfield) are going into probably the biggest game any Northern Irish club has had in their history”.

Ben Doherty opened the scoring with a mere 14 seconds on the clock. He worked his way to the edge of the Linfield 18-yard box and cushioned the ball into the top corner of the net.

Coleraine went on to score a further two goals without reply as the Bannsiders took a three goal lead.

Ryan McGivern headed into his own net from a Coleraine corner, while Stephen O'Donnell scored the third with a powerful header.

However, Linfield rallied and scored two goals in quick succession as they sought to set-up a grandstand finish.

These hopes were dented when Ryan McGivern, who has already netted an own-goal, received a second yellow card in the 77th minute.

A debut goal from Emmett McGuckin in injury time sealed the win for Coleraine.

McGuckin intercepted a poor back pass to the Linfield keeper, whereupon he rounded the goalie and tapped the ball home from close range.

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