CRUSADERS 5 CARRICK RANGERS 0
Paul Heatley was a class apart as he inspired Crusaders to a 5-0 victory over newly-promoted Carrick Rangers at Seaview.
Heatley bagged four first-half goals and set up Andy Mitchell for a fifth as the champions ran riot on the Shore Road.
It was a sensational display from the 28-year-old who made it eight goals for the season – doubling his tally in one half of football.
Both teams were also reduced to 10 men in the first half when Crues skipper Colin Coates and Carrick striker Miguel Chines were sent off following a clash.
Heatley – who was returning from suspension after being sent off against Coleraine last week – opened the scoring with a low finish from the left side of the box in the 17th minute.
The winger doubled his and Crusaders’ tally in the 17th minute with a delightful curling effort from 25 yards that sailed into the top corner.
Coates and Chines saw red in the 23rd minute after the pair tangled inside the Crusaders half.
Coates appeared to react to Chines’ challenge, and after consulting his assistant referee Raymond Crangle brandished the red card for both players.
Heatley completed his hat-trick in the 37th minute when he raced onto Billy Joe Burns’ searching pass before delivering another clinical left-foot shot into the bottom corner.
It was 4-0 in first-half injury time when Carrick defender Mark Surgeoner was adjudged to have handled inside his own box.
Heatley stepped up and made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending Carrick keeper Brian Neeson the wrong way.
Crusaders’ talisman could have added to his tally early in the second half.
Heatley glanced a header just past the post in the 51st minute, before another shot bobbled inches wide two minutes later.
Sandwiched in between was a great chance for Carrick, but after being sent clear Joe McNeill was denied by the save of Sean O’Neill.
Heatley was denied by the woodwork in the 70th minute, his shot from 10 yards cannoning off the post as he continued his quest for a fifth goal.
Substitute Mitchell got in on the act in the 76th minute.
Heatley was the provider, delivering a teasing cross that Mitchell met with a brave header that bounced into the far corner of Neeson’s goal.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McClean (Mitchell 64), Snoddy, Owens, Whyte (Molloy 77), Heatley (O’Carroll 78), Forsythe, Clarke.
Subs not used: McKibbin, O’Flynn.
CARRICK: Neeson, Smyth, Traynor (Miskimmin 67), Surgeoner, Kelly, Harmon, McNeill, Chines, McCloskey, Johnston (McCaul 52), Browne (Mackle 67).
Subs not used: Arthur, Dick.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)