Irish Premiership: Classy Curran, Jeffrey's injustice and the game that never disappoints - what we noticed

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
Linfield celebrate Kirk Millar's free-kick
The excellent Kirk Millar should have taken centre stage at Taylor's Avenue

Every now and then, the Irish Premiership serves up a Saturday so action-packed and relentless, you feel the need to go lie down in a darkened room.

As was the case this weekend, as we were treated to eight-goal thrillers, controversial red cards and goal-of-the-season contenders.

There was a lot to unpack. Let's give it a crack with five easily digestible takeaways from the action.

Classy Curran earns deserved praise from Paddy

Reds strike twice as Glentoran lose ground

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin isn't usually one to single players out, either for criticism or praise, but Ryan Curran certainly got a healthy dose of the latter after his part in the Reds' 2-0 win at Glentoran.

Not only did Curran take his goal superbly well, but the No.9 combined effectively with his teammates throughout a thoroughly satisfying afternoon for the north Belfast side.

McLaughlin described Curran's performance as "top drawer" while expressing his pleasure at seeing the former Ballinamallard United striker gel so smoothly with Joe Gormley and Conor McMenamin as Cliftonville's front three.

Gormley's status as the Solitude sharpshooter is virtually untouchable, while Conor McMenamin's match-winning exploits and Ruaidhri Donnelly's departure to Saturday's opponents have combined to leave Curran flying somewhat under the radar.

But the 26-year-old is regularly an excellent performer for McLaughlin. Granted, Curran's haul of five league goals is nothing special, but his ability to hold onto the ball in tight spaces and spot a pass allows him to bring more than just goals.

Strikers are ultimately judged on goals, of course, but Curran has delivered at crucial times this term, notably with the last-gasp winner in the County Antrim Shield final and the goal to send the club into the Irish Cup semi-finals.

Michael McCrudden also enjoyed an excellent game at the Oval, but it was Curran who stole the spotlight.

Magic Millar overshadowed by latest unsavoury episode

Millar hits double in win for leaders Linfield

The post-match reaction to Linfield's 2-0 win over Carrick Rangers should have centred on Kirk Millar, who scored one of the scrappiest goals you will see all season, and one of the most spectacular.

Unfortunately, Millar's double was soon forgotten as Carrick released a statement condemning alleged "vile and personal sectarian abuse" during the game.

In his post-match observations, Carrick manager Niall Currie said he heard abuse being directed at the club's goalkeeper, Harry Doherty, but added that the player's reaction was "bang out of order".

Linfield later responded to Carrick's statement, noting their "surprise and disappointment" at the east Antrim club's claims while confirming that they would conduct an internal investigation.

While the Irish League continues to deliver an exciting product on the pitch, we can only lament at the frequency with which we seem to be discussing allegations and incidents of abuse.

A few weeks ago, we were excited at the prospect of a five-team title race. But now, with three of that quintet effectively out of contention, a much darker, unwelcome narrative is threatening to take centre stage.

Jeffrey injustice mirrors Ballymena's ongoing slump

Jeffrey sent-off as Bannsiders beat Ballymena to keep up title push

There was a time when David Jeffrey, at the helm of his all-conquering Linfield team, ruled the Irish League.

But now, the 57-year-old must be wondering what he has to do catch a break.

For Saturday's derby defeat by Coleraine represented the latest grim chapter in what has been a deeply dispiriting season for the Ballymena United boss.

The Bannsiders, who won 2-0, were superior for much of the game, but Jeffrey was left exasperated by referee Steven Gregg, who sent him off for two bookable offences.

Jeffrey was told by the fourth official that his second yellow card was punishment for stepping onto the pitch during his protestations against Gregg's decision to award a free-kick following Scot Whiteside's challenge on Stewart Nixon.

However, video footage confirms that, while he strayed out of his technical area, Jeffrey did not step onto the pitch.

Red card or not, Jeffrey was left to reflect on yet another defeat. Ballymena are now 10th in the league, having scaled the dizzying heights of second last season. They have accrued one point in 2020 and have scored two goals in their last seven league games.

While the Sky Blues' Irish Cup hopes are still alive, Jeffrey must figure out a way to arrest his side's protracted slump before they rub shoulders with Warrenpoint Town in the relegation play-off spot.

Jeffrey has performed wonders during his 25 years in Irish League management, but breathing new life into this Ballymena side ranks among his toughest assignments.

Crusaders turn corner after torrid February

Crusaders come from behind to beat Institute 2-1 at Seaview

After a torrid February that included a humbling 4-0 reverse at Linfield, agony in the League Cup final and an Irish Cup exit at the hands of Glentoran, March has tentatively offered brighter horizons for Stephen Baxter and Crusaders.

There was no shame in Tuesday's north Belfast derby draw with Cliftonville, but the Crues showed no shortage of grit and determination to sink plucky Institute at Seaview.

Yes, when Conor Tourish's looping header put bottom-placed 'Stute into a surprise lead after 70 seconds, murmurs of discontent replaced the pre-match buzz on the Shore Road.

But after Baxter called for the heavy artillery in the shape of Jordan Owens, the home side's fortunes began to turn.

Owens, as effective as ever, delivered a trademark knockdown header for Philip Lowry to equalise before Paul Heatley struck a 58th-minute winner.

This season hasn't panned out as expected for Crusaders and, barring a glorious late-season surge, it will end without a trophy.

However, they won't rest until they recapture their devastating best, and comeback victories like the one over Institute can only help.

The one that never disappoints

Deasy scores screamer in Stangmore thriller

Perhaps the craziest thing about Dungannon Swifts' 4-4 draw with Warrenpoint was that we should have seen it coming.

The last five meetings between the side have produced a staggering 34 goals. Since February 2019, the scorelines have been: 4-3, 5-3, 4-3, 3-1 and 4-4.

It wasn't the first time they produced late drama this season either. In October, Lorcan Forde's stoppage-time goal lifted Warrenpoint to a first win of the season, sparking jubilant scenes at a rain-soaked Milltown.

On Saturday, however, it was Dungannon's turn to stage the late, late show as Rhyss Campbell made it 4-4 with the last kick of the game after a breathless you-score-we-score Stangmore shootout.

Dungannon and Warrenpoint have conceded a combined 161 goals this season. Therein lies the genesis of their goalfests, but we're not complaining; when these sides step into the ring, it's Irish League theatre at its most chaotic.

And don't worry, this story hasn't ended yet. They'll go at it one more time after the split.

Randall goal secures win for Larne

Watch the NIFL Premiership Highlights Show on BBC iPlayer with Nicola McCarthy and former Irish League manager Roy Walker.

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