Crusaders continued their impressive start to the season with a 4-1 win over Carrick Rangers at Taylor's Avenue last night.
The Crues were without captain Colin Coates who was suspended, while Matthew Snoddy and Andrew Mitchell missed out with injuries, but the champions showed strength in depth, playing summer signings Howard Beverland and David Cushley.
Carrick won the last meeting 4-3 in March, but goalkeeper Brian Neeson and midfielder Brian McCaul were the only home players to have survived that fixture in a much-changed side. However, the Crues were in no mood for a repeat of that scoreline.
The opening goal finally came in the 40th minute when the visitors broke from deep; Paul Heatley played the ball to Declan Caddell and his cross deflected off the studs of Stephen McCullough and past the hapless Neeson.
Then, just before the break, it was 2-0 when new signing Cushley fired in one of his trademark volleys from 20 yards following a clearance from Seanna Foster.
With the Carrick pitch causing numerous postponements last season, the drainage system was completely revamped over the summer, and the surface held up well. Carrick pulled one back in the 58th minute when TJ Murray slotted past Sean O'Neill following some good work by Tiernan McNicholl.
Heatley then continued his impressive scoring record against his old club with a cool finish 20 minutes before time to restore the two-goal lead. With minutes left, sub Philip Lowry chipped in off the crossbar to make it 4-1.
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, McKeown, McNally, Clarke, McCullough, Foster, McNicholl (English 88), Hanley, McCaul (Rice 83), Murray, Lavery (Morrow 80).
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Gault, McClean Whyte, Heatley (Carvill 87), Cushley (Lowry 82), Owens, Forsythe, Caddell (Clarke 82)
Man of match: David Cushley
Match Rating: 7/10
Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)