Irish Premiership: five things we noticed from the final Saturday of 2019

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Crues put five past Swifts at Seaview

Even by the league's lofty standards, the last Irish Premiership Saturday of 2019 was phenomenal entertainment.

Cliftonville ended the year on top, Linfield and Coleraine played out a thriller and we even got a midfielder going 86 minutes without conceding in nets.

It was a lot to unpack, but let's give it a go.

Brush and McMenamin heroes at opposite ends

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McMenamin on target as Cliftonville edge out Larne

Another game, another Conor McMenamin winner.

Having already sunk Coleraine and Crusaders during this festive period, the 24-year-old popped up with yet another significant strike at Inver Park.

After Jeff Hughes had cancelled out Joe Gormley's first-minute header, up stepped McMenamin in the second half, rifling a brilliant shot into the top corner for his fourth goal in three games.

Before Paddy McLaughlin was appointed manager, McMenamin wasn't sure where his future lay. Now it's difficult to imagine him ever being out of the team.

And while he may be the one stealing the headlines, Richard Brush's contributions at the other end continue to shine through. In fact, McMenamin wouldn't have scored the winner had it not been for Brush denying Mark Randall in a one-on-one a minute prior.

McLaughlin recently called Brush the best goalkeeper in the league. It's difficult to disagree with that assertion given his performances of late.

As for Larne, they're still searching for that elusive home win. They've picked up just 12 points from a possible 33 at Inver Park. That's an alarming record for a club of their ambition.

Carville's stint between the sticks ends in heartache

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Midfielder lasts 86 minutes in goal before conceding

Ballymena United may not be challenging for the title this season, but one thing's for sure; there's never a dull moment with the Sky Blues.

In the latest chapter of their madcap adventure through the 2019/20 season, we were treated to Adam Lecky's second red card of the season, but only after Declan Carville - a central midfielder - had been cruelly denied a clean sheet after he stepped into nets amid the club's goalkeeping crisis.

With three stoppers out of action, Carville started between the sticks for Ballymena's trip to Glentoran and went 86 minutes without conceding before a harrowing finish to his afternoon.

First, a poorly-hit punt upfield struck Andrew Burns and allowed Robbie McDaid to profit. Then, having gone up for a Ballymena corner, Carville was caught up the pitch as Navid Nasseri raced clear to make it 2-0.

To add insult to injury, Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey will be without the services of totemic striker Lecky for the New Year's Day clash with Larne after he was sent off for barging into Chris Gallagher.

Hogg injury overshadows Carrick win

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Carrick Rangers dedicate dominant win at Institute to beloved team-mate Thompson

Carrick Rangers' trip to the north west proved most productive as Niall Currie's side swept Institute aside to pick up three more valuable points.

Lloyd Anderson, Reece Neale and Stewart Nixon were on target as Carrick moved seven points clear of 10th-placed Dungannon Swifts.

However, Currie's delight was tempered by the revelation that goalkeeper Aaron Hogg had 'snapped' his Achilles tendon.

Hogg, who before Saturday had played every minute of Carrick's league campaign, will be a huge miss in the second half of the season.

While Currie praised 17-year-old Ben Nicholl, who replaced Hogg, it would come as no surprise to see Carrick pursue an experienced 'keeper in the January transfer window.

Blues big guns fail to deliver again

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Honours even as Coleraine fight back to draw with Linfield

It hasn't been a very merry Christmas for David Healy and Linfield.

The Blues took just two points from their three games against Crusaders, Glentoran and Coleraine, leaving them three points adrift of Cliftonville but with a game in hand.

Stephen Fallon scored a fine goal for Linfield but it was another fruitless venture against a top-six side for three of the club's most talented attack-minded players.

Yes, there were no goals for Shayne Lavery, Andrew Waterworth or Bastien Hery, who have scored just one goal between them in 13 games against top-six sides in all competitions this season (Lavery vs Coleraine in August).

Linfield remain very much in contention of course and, given the depth of their squad, it would take a brave man to bet against the Blues retaining their Gibson Cup crown.

However, given the fireworks they have, at times, provided this season, it's reasonable for the Linfield fans to expect more from three of the club's most high-profile names.

Point continue progress under Gray

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Glenavon and Point share spoils at Mourneview

At one point, Warrenpoint Town looked hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the table.

They were shipping goals and getting battered every week. Since Barry Gray's return, however, it's been a different story.

Rejuvenated and reorganised, they stunned a then unbeaten Coleraine in November and picked up their second win of the season two weeks later against Ballymena.

As a measure of their progress under Gray, four points from trips to Institute and Glenavon have seen them draw level with the former.

Key to their encouraging form has been improved defending. They were impressively resolute at Mourneview Park, with young goalkeeper Mark Byrne in particular catching the eye.

Changing managers early in the season can be fraught with peril, but there is no question that Gray has breathed new life into 'Point since returning to the helm in October.

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