Linfield triumph over Crusaders at The Oval but finish the race as second best
The 10 men of Linfield secured second place in the Danske Bank Premiership with a 3-1 victory over champions Crusaders at The Oval.
Ivan Sproule and Michael Carvill had given Warren Feeney's side a two goal cushion at half time, but Paul Heatley quickly pulled one back for the Crues at the start of the second.
Sproule was then sent off for an elbow on Craig McClean, before Andrew Waterworth wrapped it up in time added on for the Blues.
The 'home' side welcomed Crusaders to The Oval with a guard of honour and were guilty of showing them a little too much respect in the opening minutes, as the Shore Road side laid siege to Johnny Tuffey's goal.
Diarmuid O'Carroll and Heatley both hit the woodwork in spectacular fashion in the opening five minutes, as they looked to enforce their champion status.
Sproule opened the scoring when Ross Clarke's ball from the left found its way to the winger on the right. His first effort was parried well by Sean O'Neill in the Crues goal, but he followed the ball in to tuck the rebound under the keeper at the near post.
Heatley attempted two bicycle kicks in quick succession, with O'Carroll sending an overhead kick wide.
Carvill doubled Linfield's lead just after the half hour. Aaron Burns rose highest to knock on for Carvill, who turned inside Colin Coates and fired a daisy-cutter into the bottom right corner, with O'Neill rooted.
Stephen Lowry almost made it 3-0 towards the end of the half, popping up in the same position Sproule scored from, only to have O'Neill's chest get in the way.
At 2-0 down, Stephen Baxter's boys could have been forgiven for taking it easy, but within two minutes of the restart they had halved Linfield's lead. Substitute Stephen O'Flynn slipped a perfectly weighted ball in behind Sean Ward for the onrushing Heatley, who took a touch past Tuffey before coolly knocking it home.
O'Flynn then went down in the box under a Tuffey challenge, but referee Andrew Davey awarded a corner instead of a spot kick.
Sproule received a straight red on 79 minutes for leaving McClean clutching his face on the deck following an off the ball incident.
In stoppage time, Waterworth stole the ball on the half-way line, going one on one with O'Neill and finishing with aplomb.
LINFIELD: Tuffey, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill, Burns, Ward, Clarke, Sproule, Clarke. Subs: Glendinning, Thompson, Millar, Morrow, Quinn
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Coates, Magowan, Robinson, Caddell, Adamson, Heatley, O'Carroll, Owens, McClean. Subs: Hanley, McKibbin, Leeman, O'Flynn, Clarke
LINFIELD have confirmed that Donegal Celtic defender Danny Wallace will join them in the summer.
Wallace has penned a pre-contract agreement and his signing follows that of Ballinamallard pair Mark Stafford and David Kee on Monday.