30 Dec 2023
© Pacemaker Press

The Sports Direct Premiership bade farewell to 2023 in style with a draw in the top of the table clash alongside significant victories for Ballymena United, Crusaders, Dungannon Swifts and Loughgall.

Much attention going into today’s fixtures was naturally focused on the clash at Inver Park between defending champions Larne and current leaders Linfield.

The sides were separated by a point at kick-off, and that was how it remained at full time as they battled to a share of two first half goals.

Larne had seized the early advantage when, on seven minutes, Lee Bonis ran onto a ball over the top before taking it round Chris Johns and into the net.

But Linfield hit back midway through the first half when, from seemingly nowhere, Michael Newberry sent over a cross for Matthew Fitzpatrick to nod past Rohan Ferguson.

Two second half goals proved enough for fourth placed Crusaders to defeat Carrick Rangers at Seaview.

Scoreless at the break, Paul Heatley edged the Crues in front on 49 minutes with a strong finish past Ross Glendinning after fending off the attention of a number of Rangers defenders.

Jordan Owens then doubled up just after the hour after connecting with a Billy Joe Burns pass from the right.

It was a superb end to the year for Loughgall who wrapped a memorable 12 months with a 3-1 away win over Coleraine.

The on form Benji Magee fired the Villagers in front on 37 minutes with a low finish past Gareth Deane, but David McDaid hit back for Coleraine early in the second half with a close range tap in.

However, Loughgall responded in a positive fashion with two Nathaniel Ferris goals before the hour to make sure of the points, the first going in off an upright before converting from the spot not long after that.

But the accolade of being highest scorers on the day fell to Dungannon Swifts and Ben Gallagher as his hat-trick helped Rodney McAree’s romp to a 5-0 victory over Newry City at Stangmore Park.

The 21-year-old kicked the scoring off from the spot on 16 minutes, doubled up with a first time effort just after the half-hour before claiming the match ball later in the first half – and that after missing a second penalty!

Leo Alves added a fourth not long after the interval with Kealan Dillon adding to the managerless visitors woes with a 54th minute strike in off the post.

Meanwhile, Ballymena United recorded their first back to back wins since January with a one-goal defeat of Glenavon at Mourneview Park thanks to a superb solo effort from Fraser Taylor nine minutes from the break.

The Glentoran-Cliftonville game was postponed following an early morning pitch inspection at the BetMcLean Oval.