NORTH Belfast side Crusaders are virtually assured of their first Irish Premiership title in 18 years after beating city rivals and champions Cliftonville 1-0 at Solitude yesterday.
The Crues are nine points ahead with three games left ahead of second-placed Linfield.
The Blues, currently without a home ground because the West Stand at Windsor Park is deemed unsafe after cracks appeared in its structure, lost further ground on the Shore Road men losing 2-0 to Glenavon.
With a superior goal difference of 27, the Gibson Cup is almost certainly on its way to Stephen Baxter’s Seaview side – the first time since 1997.
Paul Heatley scored the crucial goal by shooting low past Reds keeper Peter Cherrie in the seventh minute.
He proved his worth to the Crues by pouncing for the title-winning strike at Solitude.
Cherrie’s kick out fell to Heatley whose touch went to striker Jordan Owens. Heatley ran on to a nice return pass and directed his finish inside the far post.
Reigning champions for the past two seasons Cliftonville only turned up for the contest towards the end of the first half.
Visiting keeper Sean O’Neill made a decent save from George McMullan while a Tomas Cosgrove cross came off the Crusaders crossbar.
In the second half Cherie made four saves from Heatley while Owens hit the bar with a header from a corner.