06 Apr 2024
© Stephen Hamilton/INPHO Stewart Nixon bagged Crusaders' late winner at Inver Park

The opening round of Sports Direct Premiership post-split fixtures produced a set of results that could prove to have seismic repercussions come the end of the season.

Larne remain top of the table, but saw their lead reduced to a single point after losing 1-0 at home to Crusaders.

What proved to be the winner came with just eight minutes to go when Stewart Nixon struck from point blank range with a header from Ross Clarke’s free-kick.

Linfield missed out on the chance to capitalise and move into pole position after being held to a scoreless draw by Glentoran in the evening kick-off at the BetMcLean Oval despite creating a number of openings while, at the other end, David Fisher was unlucky to hit the woodwork late on.

Cliftonville surrendered a two-goal lead away to Coleraine but the Reds did do enough to secure European football in the summer.

Paddy Burns volleyed Jim Magilton’s side in front on 23 minutes, with Rory Hale doubling up just four minutes after that.

Matthew Shevlin found the net for the Bannsiders just after the hour with a close range finish from Josh Carson’s low cross before, with barely a couple of minutes to go, keeper David Odumosu fumbled a Jamie Glackin cross into his own net to level matters.
And the events of the day were no less important in Section B.

Ballymena United were the big winners after they picked up their first league win since December at the expense of Loughgall at Lakeview Park.

Jim Ervin’s side stormed into a two-goal lead inside the opening four minutes after Fraser Taylor and Alex Gawne found the net within moments of each other.

But the Villagers showed great resilience to hit back either side of the hour to get back on level terms when first Ryan Waide and then Nathaniel Ferris struck.

However, the visitors ultimately left with the points after Steven McCullough converted from the spot with just under 20 minutes remaining.

That win puts United five points clear of bottom of the table Newry City after they went down by the odd goal in five to Glenavon at Mourneview Park.

The Lurgan Blues held the lead at the break through James Doona’s 26th minute free-kick, but Adam Salley levelled for City just after the hour.

Gavin Hodgins nudged Glenavon back in front a few minutes later but, once more, Newry responded with Barney McKeown nodding home following a bit of a scramble in front of goal.

Glenavon had the last laugh, though, on 90 minutes when Stephen Teggart bagged the winner with a first time strike into the far corner.

Meanwhile, at Stangmore Park, Carrick Rangers missed out on the chance to move into the European play-off spot with defeat to Dungannon Swifts.

The Swifts roared into a three-goal following a blistering nine-minute spell early in the first half.

Tomas Gavlin kicked the scoring off on 13 minutes with a well placed finish before Kealan Dillon struck twice in four minutes to put Rodney McAree’s side firmly in control.

That was how it stayed until Kyle Cherry handed Rangers a glimmer of hope early in the second half, and the comeback looked to be on ten minutes after that when Danny Gibson nodded home from close range … but, in the end, there was to be no further scoring.