Linfield striker Gary Browne kept the bubbly flowing for the champions by grabbing a glorious double in a 2-1 Carling Premiership victory against Cliftonville at Windsor Park.
David Jeffrey’s boys scribbled their name on the Gibson Cup for a record-breaking 51st time following their weekend win over Portadown.
With the Irish Cup still on the horizon, Jeffrey took the opportunity of fielding an entirely different starting 11 against the Reds.
Former Lisburn Distillery hitman Browne scored in each half to possibly give his manager a selection headache for the cup semi-final against Newry City at the Oval this weekend.
Even though Eamonn Seydak grabbed a late consolation for the Reds, Linfield bossed the game right from the off.
Cliftonville sportingly formed a guard of honour for the newly crowned champs — but pleasantries ended there.
A one minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in memory of former Cliftonville player and director Maurice Masters, who sadly passed away yesterday.
The Blues tore into the opponents right from the start, with Daryl Fordyce whipping a thundering 30 yard drive inches past the post in the first minute.
Browne bagged his opener on 17 minutes. He picked up a Billy Joe Burns cross and turned his marker before drilling an vicious drive past Ryan Brown — his third goal of the season.
Cliftonville responded through Ryan Catney, who picked up a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area only to see his low drive zip past the post.
New boy, Ross Clarke, who came through the Linfield academy, was one of three players to make their Blues’ debuts on the night.
He burst into action on 28 minutes. After dispossessing Aaron Smyth on the half way line, he lashed his shot inches wide following a dazzling 25 yard solo dash.
The Reds then enjoyed a slice of luck on 39 minutes. Following a neat inter-change involving another debutant Neil Dougan and Fordyce, Barry Holland was fortunate so slice Burns’ cross inches wide of his own post. It was the defender’s final contribution. He was then helped off after injuring a shoulder, to be replaced by Stephen Garrett.
Linfield had chances to end the argument. Dougan’s peach of a pass sent Fordyce hurtling through the middle, but with only Brown to beat, the midfielder shamefully pulled his shot wide.
Seconds later, Dougan was again the provider, but this time Browne lofted his effort yards over the top.
Cliftonville, however, carved out their best opening in first-half injury time. Catney’s endeavour on the left created an opening for Joe Gormley, who looked on in disbelief as Stuart Addis got down brilliantly to paw the ball out of the bottom corner.
Gormley gave the Blues an early fright at the start of the second period, cutting inside to pick up a Catney cross only to shoot wildly over the crossbar.
The Blues retaliated almost immediately, but defender David Armstrong was guilty of possibly the miss of the season. Chris Casement’s corner kick was spilled by Brown, falling invitingly for the former Ipswich Town defender, who could only shoot against the base of the post with the goal at his mercy.
Cliftonville almost equalised on 58 minutes. Garrett’s cross appeared destined for the head of Gormley, but Armstrong atoned for his howler at the other end by somehow getting back to flick the ball to safety from under the crossbar.
Lethal Browne struck again on 65 minutes. Again he demonstrated his predatory instincts by swivelling on the edge of the box before lashing the ball past Brown.
Substitute Michael Carvill should have punished the Reds again 10 minutes later. Sent through on his own by Jim Ervin, the usually lethal striker could only shoot off the body of the overworked Reds shot stopper.
Seydak gave the visitors a glimmer of hope two minutes from time — his sizzling drive arrowing past substitute goalkeeper Ross Glendinning, who was also making his Linfield debut.
Linfield: Addis (Glendinning 87) Douglas, Armstrong, Burns (Ervin 46), Hanley, Fordyce, Browne, McAllister, Dougan, Casement, Clarke (Carvill 60). Subs: Thompson, Garrett.
Cliftonville: Brown, Holland (Garrett 39), McVeigh, Smyth, Caldwell, Catney, C Scannell, McMullan, Gormley, Johnston, Seydak. Subs: R Scannell, Garrett, Boyce, O’Carroll, Donnelly.
Referee: Colin Burns (Lisburn).