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03 Jan 2021
© Stephen Hamilton/PressEye Paul Heatley celebrates scoring for the Crues against Warrenpoint
A Paul Heatley ten minute hat-trick was the highlight of a busy weekend as the Danske Bank Premiership heralded the arrival of the new year in style.
With Crusaders leading Warrenpoint Town courtesy of Adam Lecky's 21st minute strike - fittingly the first goal of 2021 - Heatley made sure it was a winning start to the year for the Crues on 71 minutes with a volley into the top corner, following that up five minutes later from close range before staking his claim for the match ball with nine minutes to go after being picked out by Billy Joe Burns.
Morning leaders Larne began the afternoon on the back of a 12-month home winning streak but both that run and their place at the summit ended thanks to Kofi Balmer's 80th minute header which handed Ballymena United victory at Inver Park, and stretched their own unbeaten run to seven games.
Defending champions Linfield returned to the top of the table after coming from behind to defeat Glenavon at Mourneview Park.
Daniel Purkis had handed Gary Hamilton's side the lead midway through the first half but that was cancelled out by Niall Quinn not long after the break with Jordan Stewart bagging the winner with just under a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.
Cliftonville needed a stoppage time penalty to get the better of Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park. An Aaron Donnelly own goal gave the Swifts the edge at the break but Chris Curran levelled early in the second half - and that was how it stayed until the 94th minute when Ryan Curran converted from the spot after referee Shane Andrews had ruled that a goal bound effort had been blocked by an arm.
And penalties also played a significant part in Coleraine's three-goal defeat of Carrick Rangers at The Showgrounds.
The 'Gers could have gone ahead just after the half-hour mark had Caolan Loughran been able to beat Gareth Deane from the spot awarded after Lyndon Kane had brought down Jordan Gibson.
However, a second penalty at the same end on 54 minutes successfully converted by Ben Doherty set the Bannsiders up to claim the points. Stewart Nixon doubled their lead with four minutes remaining before Eoin Bradley tapped home a third in stoppage time.
Meanwhile, in the evening kick-off, goals from Patrick McClean and Jay Donnelly inside the first quarter-of-an-hour ensured Glentoran would go on to beat Portadown at The Oval although Adam Salley did pull one back for the visitors late in the game to set up a nervy finish.