Four things we noticed - Cliftonville do it the hard way and Crues bounce back

Linfield earn 3-0 win away to 10-man Institute

Cliftonville hit the front, Crusaders secured a crucial win and Warrenpoint stunned Coleraine.

BBC Sport NI breaks down five talking points from the latest round of Irish Premiership fixtures.

Cliftonville can do it the hard way

Reds move top thanks to Donnelly strike

There was no wonder goal this week, but Cliftonville secured another significant win with a 1-0 success over Ballymena United.

Ruaidhri Donnelly's second-half strike proved decisive as Paddy McLaughlin's Reds dug in to move two points clear at the top thanks to Coleraine's slip-up (more on that later).

Cliftonville have attracted a lot of plaudits this season. Their front three have blown teams away and they have drastically improved their defending, conceding just nine times in 16 games.

At this stage last season, Barry Gray's Cliftonville had shipped 24.

Saturday's win over the Sky Blues was a nervy, gritty win, the kind of which usually prove invaluable come the end of the season.

Greater challenges lie ahead - Cliftonville's festive period last term descended into farce - but after seven wins on the bounce - and six clean sheets during that run - McLaughlin's side deserve to enjoy their time at the top.

Carrick may prove Crues turning point

Crues sink Carrick with two late goals

It looked like it was going to be another one of those nights for Crusaders.

Stephen Baxter's side, without a win in five, were 1-0 down at Carrick Rangers. After a surprise win at Ballymena, Niall Currie's side were threatening another upset.

Then, having peppered the Carrick goal all night, Ross Clarke took matters into his own hands as he skated past two orange shirts before lifting the ball into the roof of Aaron Hogg's net.

A point would have been a fine result for Carrick, but the Crues rallied late as Jordan Owens and Jamie McGonigle both struck in stoppage-time to keep the north Belfast side in touch at the top.

Crusaders have only lost to one team - home and away to Coleraine - this term but have dropped points in games they'd have expected to win.

Friday night's late flourish at Taylor's Avenue may well spark them back into life.

Point can be blessing in disguise for Coleraine

Warrenpoint Town v Coleraine highlights

In a way, Oran Kearney probably felt a strange sense of relief after leaving Milltown on Saturday.

Yes, Coleraine's defeat by Warrenpoint saw the Bannsiders relinquish their place at the summit, but at least they can proceed without a constant focus on their unbeaten run.

The fact that Kearney's side emerged from the first 15 games of this campaign without a blemish on their record was hugely impressive, but defeats can often be the most important lessons.

Warrenpoint deserved to take all three points. Their combination of bodies-on-the-line defending and rapid counter-attacking unnerved Coleraine as they claimed only their second win of the season.

Kearney may tolerate Saturday as a blip, but he will expect a strong response from his players when they welcome Carrick to the Showgrounds this weekend.

Bounce back with a win and they'll consider it another challenge overcome.

Donnelly delivering for Invermen

Dungannon Swifts v Larne

Having scooped the Championship player of the year award after firing Larne to promotion, Marty Donnelly is showing no signs of slowing down.

The fleet-footed winger, who led the second-tier's scoring charts last season, has already netted eight goals this term, the most recent of which lifted the Invermen to a 1-0 win at Dungannon Swifts.

In truth, Donnelly was gifted his goal when Swifts defender Caomhan McGuinness horribly miscued a pass, but not for the first time the 31-year-old finished with aplomb.

Donnelly, as he did during the promotion season, is out-scoring David McDaid and has outshone summer signing Johnny McMurray since his arrival from Ballymena.

Only former Cliftonville teammate Joe Gormley has scored more Premiership goals this season. The league leaders have been impressive in defence this season, but they'll need all their organisation and knowhow to keep out their ex-winger when they travel to Inver Park this weekend.

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