Sunshine, sensational strikes and sendings off – the opening Saturday of the new Danske Bank Premiership campaign most certainly did not disappoint!
Crusaders, fresh from last week’s Charity Shield victory, lead the way with a clinical five-goal haul at home to Dungannon Swifts.
Stephen Baxter's side moved in front after just seven minutes through Paul Heatley’s back post finish, before doubling their lead half-an-hour after that when a Ben Kennedy header deflected off Brendan Barr into his own net.
Rhyss Campbell pulled one back for the Swifts in first half stoppage time, but Kennedy restored the Crues’ two goal lead early in the second half. Kennedy struck again on 65 minutes before Heatley doubled his own tally for the afternoon just a couple of minutes later to complete the scoring.
Ballymena United’s Paul McElroy bagged the first goal of the season with his fourth minute opener at home to Glenavon. The Sky Blues made it 2-0 just after the half-hour mark through new signing Jordan Gibson but Glenavon were thrown a lifeline moments from the break when Peter Campbell beat Sean O’Neill from the edge of the area.
The visitors were reduced to nine men with the dismissals of Eoin Bradley and Andrew Doyle in the second but Gary Hamilton’s side never gave up and duly snatched a dramatic equaliser deep into stoppage time when Aaron Prendergast pounced on a poor backpass to slot home the equaliser.
Coleraine stormed to a 3-1 victory over Cliftonville at The Showgrounds thanks largely to a first half brace from new arrival Evan McLaughlin. The former Derry City man opened the scoring on 31 minutes after bundling home a Josh Carson cross, and then doubled up just seven minutes later with a great finish into the bottom corner.
Ryan Curran dragged the Reds back into contention just short of the hour, but that was how it stayed until the fifth minute of stoppage time when Jamie Glackin made sure of the points for the Bannsiders.
Newly promoted Newry City got their time back in the top flight off to a dream start with just over a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock away to Carrick Rangers. Thomas Lockhart bagged what will surely be a contender for goal of the season when he unleashed a half volley from around 30 yards out that gave Ross Glendinning no chance as it flew into the top corner.
But Carrick levelled before the break through the experienced Curtis Allen before, on 75 minutes, Steven Gordon edged them into the lead with a header from Andy Mitchell’s free-kick.
Larne and Glentoran kicked the season off on Friday evening with a scoreless draw at Inver Park while champions Linfield open their defence on Sunday at home to Portadown, kick-off 3pm.