Linfield 4 Cliftonville 2
Hotshot Andy Waterworth doffed his cap in the direction of Linfield manager David Healy after bagging a sensational hat-trick which took Linfield back to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table!
The big striker was simply too hot to handle for a Cliftonville side was outplayed, out worked and outfought in a totally one-side opening 43 minutes. Strikes Jimmy Callacher and Waterworth had the Windsor Park fans anticipating a goal feast.
But against all the odds, Joe Gormley reduced the deficit with his first kick - a goal that altered the dynamics of the game. Suddenly, the Reds were back in it.
When Waterworth struck again after the restart, Healy boys looked to have sealed the deal, until Jamie Harney popped up at the back post to head past Roy Carroll.
That man Waterworth still wasn't finished - and he reserved the best to last. In a magical piece of play involving the impressive Kirk Millar, Jamie Mulgrew and Niall Quinn, the big 32-year-old was perfectly placed to give the move the finish it deserved. This time, it was game, set and match.
The fixture is usually a spicy affair and this one lived up to all expectation with both teams refusing the traditional pre-match handshakes - a legacy of last season's Irish Cup final when the Reds failed to respect the national anthem after their request to have it abolished failed.
He may be 32-years-of-age, but Waterworth proved he is still one of the best in the business when it comes to putting ball in net.
"That's 17 goals so far, I'm happy with that," he said. "I enjoy proving people wrong. After every poor performance, I'm written off by some people, but that's part and parcel of the game.
"There have been times I've struggled with injury. I know I'm getting older, so I have to look after myself a bit more, but I felt really good today.
"I'm happy with my fitness levels. I know I'm going to get criticism . . . I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea the way I play, but I know my own strengths and I believe I'm mentally strong.
"Sometimes the criticism helps spur me on. People are entitled to their opinion. I'll enjoy the hat-trick and the three points, and we'll enjoy being top of the table, but we'll not becoming carried away. It's a long season and trophies are not handed out in November."
Waterworth admitted he took the advice of his manager, which helped him take his goal tally for the season to 17.
"Although our opinions differ at times, the gaffer has been urging the strikers to attack the front post, thankfully it paid a big dividend," he added. "He's a Northern Ireland goal scoring legend, so who am I to argue?
"It's impossible to get across the front post on every occasion, but two of my goals came from that source, so the gaffer's theory was spot on.
"I thought we were very efficient as a team today. We were caught cold against Coleraine a few weeks back, so we made sure it wouldn't happen again. We had a hunger about us . . . we were busy and effective all over the park.
Blues boss David Healy heaped praise on his team, who turned in one of their most impressive displays of the season.
"We should have been out of sight by half-time - we were good and the score line didn't flatter us, that's for sure," he said. "Credit to the players, apart from the two lapses for their goals, I thought we were very good
"Some of our approach play was excellent. Our movement, our energy and our fitness levels were good . . . we pressed the ball all over the park."
Cliftonville manager Barry Gray admitted his team dropped below the levels expected of them.
"I am really, really, really concerned about our work rate levels - I'm really worried," he said. "We conceded four goals, but did Linfield have to work for them? I'm not taking away the quality of Waterworth's finishing, but it was made easy for him.
"In my opinion, when things are difficult, you work harder. When things get even tougher, you work harder again and continue that theme until you come out the other side."
Linfield: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth (Reynolds 90), Cooper (Clarke 80), Stewart (Garrett 72), Millar, Fallon, Mulgrew, Quinn, Casement. Un used subs: Stafford, Forde, Mitchell, Deane.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern (Breen 59), Ives, Harney, C Curr, R Donnelly 6 (McConnell 84), McDonald (R Curran), Bagnall, Catney, Gormley, J Donnelly. Unused subs: Harkin, Garrett, McConnell, Garrett, Maguire.
Referee: Tim Marshall.
Man of the match: Andy Waterworth.
Match rating 8/10.