Cliftonville 3 Glenavon 0
Cliftonville stormed past Glenavon with a confident second-half display at Solitude.
Though the scoreline flatters the hosts, they gave the Lurgan Blues a lesson in taking their chances with Jason McGuinness, Ruairi Harkin and Davy McDaid all netting after the interval.
Home boss Gerard Lyttle made no fewer than seven changes to his starting XI from the line-up that suffered County Antrim Shield elimination against Linfield in midweek; goalkeeper Peter Burke and captain Jason McGuinness returning along with Levi Ives, Martin Donnelly, Daniel Hughes and Jude Winchester, while a pre-match injury to Chris Ramsey saw Jaimie McGovern slotted in at the last minute.
Though Solitude spirits had been relatively high on the back of a winning streak yielded through encouraging performances, consecutive losses to Glentoran and the Blues meant Cliftonville entered the contest hoping a week-long wobble didn’t develop into a more long-term concern at the hands of a Glenavon side that had enjoyed significantly differing fortunes.
Having hammered in-form Ballymena United 5-0 and then dispatched Dungannon Swifts from the Mid-Ulster Cup by the same scoreline – albeit with both teams fielding virtual reserve line-ups – Gary Hamilton’s side visited north Belfast determined to inject some spark into their Premiership title challenge.
Skippered by Paddy McCourt, the Lurgan Blues almost fell behind on eight minutes when a Hughes attempt struck the base of the post before the home striker saw penalty appeals waved away by referee Arnold Hunter, who flashed a yellow card for simulation when Hughes fell under pressure from Kris Lindsay.
Though the visitors carved out the better of the chances – Mark Sykes and Paddy McCourt denied by Peter Burke – it was Cliftonville who took the lead when McGuinness’ towering header screeched into the top corner just before the hour.
Harkin’s long-range blast doubled the advantage and, when Lindsay and goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey got themselves in a twist, McDaid pounced to wrap things up.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Curran, Knowles, M Donnelly, Hughes, Harkin, Winchester, Cosgrove. Subs: McDaid (for Winchester, 60 mins), Garrett (for Curran, 86 mins), Catney (for Hughes, 83 mins), Lavery, A Donnelly.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Kelly, Lindsay, Marshall, Cooper, Bradley, Hall, Sykes, McCourt, Martyn, Singleton. Subs: Kilmartin (for Martyn, 46 mins), Marron (for Lindsay, 82 mins), Doyle, McGrory, Moorhouse (for Hall, 65 mins).
REFEREE: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)