Michael McCrudden struck his third hat-trick of the season as Cliftonville powered to a five-goal victory over Carrick Rangers in the Solitude sunshine this afternoon.
Garry Breen and Barry Coffey were also on the scoresheet in the Reds’ final pre-split fixture of the Danske Bank Premiership campaign, which saw the hosts rewarded for an energetic start.
Just five minutes had elapsed before McCrudden broke the deadlock when he slammed Rory Hale’s cross home from close range, with a low drive into the bottom corner making it 2-0 three minutes later.
Ryan Curran then headed straight at Aaron Hogg from Daire O’Connor’s right-wing delivery but the Carrick keeper’s luck was out just past the half-hour when he made a fine stop to keep Breen’s header out, only for the Cliftonville defender to nod the rebound into the net.
The visitors’ only real opening of the first-half saw Cathair Friel call Aaron McCarey into making a smart stop low down to his left before Hogg did superbly to keep a fierce Daniel Kearns blast out at the other end.
McCrudden completed his treble seven minutes before the break when, following great work from Kearns to tee up the chance, he coolly dinked the ball over the advancing keeper from a narrow angle.
The second-half was a non-event for long stretches, although Curran won’t want to be reminded of the 52nd minute chance he sent wide after doing well to nick possession off Hogg inside the box, while McCarey produced an acrobatic reaction to a well-hit Caolan Loughran free-kick.
It should have been 5-0 on 77 minutes but, after being set up by McCrudden, Curran saw his attempt blocked by the keeper before Kearns’ follow-up was cleared to the edge of the box, from where Seanna Foster fired over against his former Club.
The scoring was complete soon later, though, and it was certainly worth the wait as substitute Coffey delivered the goal of the day with a powerful finish into the top corner from the edge of the area.
Cliftonville: McCarey, Breen, O’Connor, R Curran, McCrudden, Foster, Donnelly (McGuinness, 46 mins), Bagnall (Coffey, 13 mins), Hale (Casey, 75 mins), Lowe, Kearns. Unused subs: Dunne, Hyland, O’Brien, Teggart.