Danske Bank Premiership: Linfield and Crusaders cut the gap to Cliftonville
Danske Bank Premiership
CRUSADERS and Linfield both made the most of the reduced Danske Bank Premiership rota on Saturday to cut the gap to early season league leaders Cliftonville.
The Blues moved up to third in the Irish League table, and to within two points of the Reds, with four goals in the space of 11 first-half minutes against Carrick Rangers at Windsor Park.
Christy Manzinga, returning to Linfield's starting 11 after missing three games through suspension, broke the deadlock approaching the half-hour mark when he powered a free header into the top corner from an inviting Kirk Millar free-kick.
Three minutes later, Sam Roscoe doubled the lead, finding space in the box to get on the end of a Marty Donnelly corner and heading past Carrick 'keeper Neil Shields. Manzinga got his second and Linfield's third five minutes after that, reacting quickly to blast home the rebound after Shields had saved his initial shot from a well-placed low cross from Michael Newberry.
Donnelly completed the scoring eight minutes before the break when his well-controlled right-foot drive went under Shields and in, the game finishing 4-0.
The Crues moved up to fifth in the table and to within four points of Cliftonville thanks to a 1-0 win at Ballymena United. Jarlath O'Rourke's close-range header at the back post from Jordan Forsythe's fine delivery was just reward for the visitors' dominance.
Stephen Baxter's side passed up several other chances to make their winning margin more comfortable as they bounced back from Monday night's 2-0 loss to Coleraine. Aidan Wilson, Paul Heatley, Johnny McMurray and Forsythe were among those who squandered opportunities to increase their side's lead.
The Sky Blues hit the woodwork late on as they laid siege to the Crusaders goal but were unable to salvage a point.
On Friday night, Coleraine played out a scoreless draw with Glenavon on Ballycastle Road.