Paul Heatley (07)

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Paul Heatley celebrates what proved to be the winner at Solitude (Picture: Stephen Hamilton/PressEye.com)

CRUES ON CUSP OF LEAGUE GLORY

Crusaders virtually clinched the league title following this defeat of outgoing champions Cliftonville at Solitude.

Stephen Baxter's side are nine points clear of the pack with three games to play and possess a vastly superior goal difference over only challengers Linfield.

The Crues raced into the lead after just seven minutes when Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley combined following a poor Peter Cherrie goalkick for the latter to fire the ball into the bottom corner.

It was almost 2-0 just after 20 minutes when Gavin Whyte collected the ball from Owens only to send the ball wide of the target.

George McMullan might have levelled just after the half-hour mark after Joe Gormey squared the ball into his path but 'keeper Sean O'Neill did well to block.

Tomas Cosgrove came even closer moments from the break with a cross which deflected off the crossbar before falling to safety.

On 52 minutes Heatley almost doubled his tally for the afternoon only to be thwarted by a superb finger tip save from Cherrie.

The Crues continued to sniff out that crucial second goal, almost grabbing it when Whyte tested Cherrie with a low drive on the hour before Owens struck the bar and Diarmuid O'Carroll's follow-up was charged down.

As the game wore to a close Heatley was denied once again as was Josh Robinson ..... but in the end that early goal proved enough to almost guarantee a first league title in 18 years.

Cliftonville: Cherrie, McGovern, Scannell, McMullan, M. Donnelly, Knowles, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Cosgrove, McMurray subs McDaid, Seydak, Winchester, J. Donnelly, Bonner

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Robinson, Magowan, McClean, Clarke, Caddell, Heatley, Owens, O'Carroll, Whyte subs McKibbin, Hanley, Leeman, O'Flynn, O'Hanlon

Referee: Mervyn Smyth

Attendance: 1532

Tags:  Cliftonville  Crusaders