All eyes were on Windsor Park as the title holders of the last two seasons faced off in the match of the day with Cliftonville making the short journey across town to face Linfield on Saturday afternoon.
Cliftonville were anxious to prove to that last year’s success was no fluke, while David Jeffrey’s team sought to demonstrate normal service would resume for Linfield after relinquishing the Gibson Cup for the first time in four years.
The Blues were arguably the better side in the opening twenty minutes as both teams seemed intent on taking the game to their opponents but the home side’s momentum was disrupted by a 21st minute injury to midfielder Philip Lowry who was replaced by Matthew Tipton.
New signing Chris Curran has added a whole new dimension to Cliftonville’s attacking play and the former Manchester United trainee was instrumental in the Reds taking the lead on 26 minutes as he beat Matthew Clarke all ends up before crossing for Joe Gormley to slot home.
Things got better for the visitors two minutes later when Gormley finished off a sweeping Cliftonville counter attack to score his fourth goal in two games and send the huge travelling support into ecstasy.
The travelling fans were reserving most of their ire for former player James Knowles, who swapped clubs in the close season, but the former Blackburn Rovers player silenced his detractors with a fabulous free kick on 32 minutes to bring his side back into the game.
Knowles was then the stand out player as he dominated midfield for the remainder of the half with Linfield pouring forward in search of an equaliser. Aaron Burns was unlucky to find himself in the book as he went down under a Tomas Cosgrove challenge in the box but referee Colin Burns felt he made the most of the contact between the players.
The second half again saw the home side in the ascendancy and David Jeffrey was apoplectic with rage when the referee adjudged the ball came off Barry Johnston’s arm from BJ Burns’ half volley. An equaliser seemed inevitable and duly arrived on 64 minutes as Aaron Burns rose at the far post to power home James Knowles corner to complete the comeback.
Tommy Breslin then sprung Diarmuid O’Carroll from the bench in what was the defining moment of the game as the former Republic of Ireland U/21 international didn’t take long to expertly divert Barry Johnston’s shot home.
The Kerry native then sealed the points in injury time as he latched on to Conor Devlin’s kick out to deftly lob over Jonny Tuffey to complete a fabulous cameo.
There were ugly scenes at the end as Cliftonville’s players were pelted with plastic bottles when they exited the pitch but the Reds will console themselves with finishing the day on top of the division after two games.
They are joined on six points by Dungannon Swifts who defeated Ballinamallard United by a Matt Hazley penalty after he was brought down by Alvin Rouse. Ryan Campbell almost gave the Fermanagh side a point when his free kick hit the bar but the Swifts hung on to cement their lofty status.
Glentoran continue to defy their off field financial woes as they claim outright third position with a 2-1 win over Glenavon. The Glens took the lead on twenty minutes when David Howland reacted first to a loose corner kick and volleyed home but had keeper Elliot Morris to thank for a first half lead as he dived to keep out Mark Patton’s drive.
The lively David Scullion doubled Glentoran’s lead on 56 minutes when he tapped home after good work on the wing by from Stephen McAlorum and the East Belfast held on despite a late goal by Glenavon player manager Gary Hamilton.
The battle of the newly promoted sides went the way of Warrenpoint Town as they came from behind to defeat Ards and register their first points in senior football at Clandeboye Park.
Ards were dominant in the first half when William Faulkner coolly slotted past Jonathan Parr to put the home side ahead on 33 minutes. Daniel Hughes rifled home a superb equaliser for Warrenpoint Town on 76 minutes but the South Down side then had Parr to thank as he stunningly reacted to keep Ben Roy at bay.
Ruairi Devlin then defied his amateur status to dance his way through the Ards defence before banging home the winner and cap a marvellous evening for Barry Gray’s team.
Last year’s runners up Crusaders’ nightmare start continued as Gary Liggett pounced to give Ballymena United an unlikely victory while Coleraine twice came from behind to grab a draw against the visiting Portadown.