Red-hot Crusaders show no mercy in Portadown thrashing
Crusaders 6-0 Portadown
Crusaders went a magnificent seven points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership after bossing this bad tempered clash and hitting title rivals Portadown for six.
Three first-half goals in just six minutes rocked Ronnie McFall's side and their miserable night got even worse in the 23rd minute when Darren Murray was shown a straight red card for aiming his head towards Billy Joe Burns' face.
Murray can now expect a six-match ban, a loss of discipline that casts further doubt on the mid-Ulster side's ability to stay in the title race.
By that stage the Ports were already three goals down and the Hatchetmen, with Jordan Owens (2) and Paul Heatley on target, were well on their way to another massive win that keeps the fans dreaming of Gibson Cup glory.
Owens got his hat-trick in the 58th minute, taking his tally to 23 for the season, and a late Diarmuid O'Carroll penalty and close-range finish from Heatley supplied the icing on the cake.
Champions Cliftonville are now 12 points adrift of their north Belfast neighbours, albeit with a game in hand, and this victory heaps further pressure on the Reds as well as hopefuls Linfield.
At one point in the opening half, the game was in danger of degenerating into an unsavoury scrap but when the football was played, Portadown couldn't beat back the home side's attacks.
Before the game there was a minute's silence in memory of Crues goalkeeping coach Roy McDonald's mother Patricia, who passed away.
Defensive uncertainty had resulted in the Ports conceding five goals against Ballymena United last weekend and they found themselves three goals down within 17 minutes.
Owens got the ball rolling in the 11th minute, pouncing on a Burns cross. Three minutes later he netted again, this time with a sensational volley from just inside the 18-yard box.
On 17 minutes it was 3-0 when Heatley's perfectly timed glancing header from Richard Clarke's right-wing cross sailed into the bottom corner of the net.
The visitors were rattled and with 20 minutes on the clock temperatures hit boiling point as Mark McAllister and Josh Robinson staged a running battle off the ball. Referee Raymond Heatherington brought play to a halt and promptly showed yellow cards to McAllister, Robinson and Declan Caddell.
But the Ports' misery was compounded in the 23rd minute when Murray was dismissed for pushing his head towards the face of Burns.
And after 58 minutes Owens got his treble, directing a downward header past David Miskelly after Heatley's sweet left-wing cross.
The Crues were in total control but took until the 84th minute to score again. Ross Redman barged over O'Carroll in the penalty area and the former Cliftonville ace hammered home the spot-kick. Heatley made it six three minutes later with a cool finish.
This Crusaders side is brimming with confidence and after seven straight league wins they are sprinting towards the finishing line in the title race. Whisper it quietly, but perhaps they are unstoppable.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McClean, Molloy, Clarke, Caddell, Whyte, Heatley, Owens. Subs: O'Carroll for Robinson 61; Friars for Caddell 75; O'Flynn for Whyte 76.
Portadown: Miskelly, Redman, Ramsey, Breen, McMahon, Mackle, Murray, McAllister, McElroy, Gault, Garrett. Subs: Twigg for McMahon 45; Mouncey for McElroy 45; Conaty for McAllister 63.