Cliftonville produced a clinical display to put four unanswered goals past Ballymena United at Solitude this afternoon.
After a flash of individual brilliance from Joe Gormley had opened the scoring, the same player doubled the Reds’ lead from the penalty spot following a foul on Sean Moore.
Ronan Hale blasted in the hosts’ third after the break before Moore wrapped things up with a fizzing low drive into the bottom corner.
Manager Paddy McLaughlin made two changes to the side that had started the midweek win over Glenavon, with Jonny Addis returning from suspension to replace Luke Turner, and Gormley coming in for loanee striker David Parkhouse, who was ineligible to face his parent Club.
The Reds enjoyed a bright start but found a packed United defence difficult to work through but, after surviving a penalty scare when Sean Graham went to ground under an Addis challenge, threatened through Moore and Hale, who both drew saves from Sean O’Neill.
There was nothing the visiting keeper could do on 30 minutes, however, when Gormley plucked a Rory Hale cross out of the air and spun to loop a first-time shot back over his shoulder and into the first corner to break the deadlock in style.
Gormley scuffed a more straightforward chance wide soon later but made no mistake from the spot on the stroke of half-time; confidently blasting home a penalty after Moore had been felled just inside the box by Steven McCullough.
The visitors offered more of a forward threat after the interval and were unfortunate not to reduce the arrears when Robert McVarnock clipped the crossbar ahead of Josh Kelly seeing an attempt deflected wide.
Ronan Hale had twice gone close to extending Cliftonville’s advantage at the other end before eventually getting his 22nd goal of the season when he received a pass from brother Rory and smartly stepped inside Ross Redman before lashing past O’Neill with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.
The scoring was complete soon later when an unconventional assist from Levi Ives – who looked to be losing his footing as he navigated his way towards the Ballymena box – laid the ball off for Moore and the youngster drilled a precision drive into the far corner.
Cliftonville: Gartside, Ives (Traynor, 81 mins), Addis, Gallagher, Rory Hale (Casey, 86 mins), Lowe (McDonagh, 86 mins), R Doherty, Gormley (C Curran, 81 mins), Ronan Hale, Coates (Robinson, 81 mins), Moore. Unused subs: G Doherty, R Curran.