Ruthless Reds blast out New Year warning to title rivals
Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin saluted his festive warriors after four consecutive wins leaves them still leading the charge for the Danske Bank Premiership title.
The Reds are three points ahead of champions Linfield - who have a game in hand - after Thomas Maguire's first half goal was enough to see off Glenavon 1-0 at Solitude on a day when all of the top six sides recorded victories over their bottom six counterparts.
The Blues comfortably defeated Institute 3-0, while Coleraine won 2-0 at Carrick Rangers and Crusaders eased to a 4-0 victory at Warrenpoint Town.
Glentoran beat Dungannon Swifts 2-0 at Stangmore Park to make it 13 games unbeaten, while Larne snatched a 3-2 win at Ballymena United.
Substitute Maguire was the unlikely hero at Solitude with his first Reds goal, leaving his boss full of New Year cheer.
"I think we had the hardest run of fixtures out of any team in the league over the last couple of weeks, and to have two away games in 48 hours against Crusaders and Larne was so tough, but to win them both and then back it up with another three points against Glenavon speaks volumes for everybody," said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin added: “We’re delighted with that win and it’s great for wee Thomas Maguire to get his first goal for the club on such an important day.
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“We get praise for the nice football we play but there is an ugly side to us, and it’s important we have that in reserve because you’ll not always get to play that nice football, so I’m delighted we showed that today.”
Goals from Andrew Waterworth, Mark Haughey and Shayne Lavery saw Linfield sweep aside Institute at Windsor Park.
Blues boss David Healy said: “I thought we were good today.
“We started well — they made it hard for us but it was important that we scored when we were on top.
“If I was being critical I’d say we over-complicated things a bit in the final third.
“We had enough play and balls into their box but didn’t capitalise on it at times.”
Jordan Owens, Jamie McGonigle, the unfortunate Danny Wallace and Paul McElroy were on the scoresheet as Crusaders triumphed 4-0 at Warrenpoint, and Coleraine remain in third spot after Aaron Traynor and Alex Gawne netted against Carrick Rangers.
Josh Carson also missed a penalty for the visitors.
Glentoran are now 23 points better off than they were at this stage last season following a 2-0 win at Dungannon Swifts where Willie Garrett and Elvio van Overbeek found the net.
Glens chief Mick McDermott said: “The players have been outstanding and it’s a credit to them.
“We’ve earned the right to compete with every side in this league.”
Conor McKendry’s stoppage-time free-kick gave Larne a thrilling 3-2 victory at Ballymena United.
Larne boss Tiernan Lynch said: “Conor (McKendry) is a very special player, a very talented boy and you will probably see more and more of him now.”
Attention turns to the Irish Cup this weekend with the tie of the fifth round being Glenavon v Coleraine. Holders Crusaders host Dundela.