Goals from Chris Gallagher, skipper Rory Hale and new boy Ben Wilson sent Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders crashing to their first defeat of the Sport Direct Premiership season – Cliftonville’s first win on the Shore Road since 2019.
The visitors had the first sight of goal as Cliftonville’s Luke Turner took off on a solo run before testing Jonny Tuffey with a stinging low drive from distance.
On 12 minutes, Crusaders’ Ben Kennedy whipped in a trademark corner-kick that was met by Daniel Larmour. His header bounced off the synthetic surface and appeared arrowing into the top corner until goalkeeper David Odumosu, making his league debut for the Reds, managed to flick it over the crossbar.
Cliftonville took the lead on 18 minutes with a classic strike from Gallagher. Ronan Doherty’s short corner caught the Crues defence napping and the midfielder rammed home an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box.
Crusaders, however, should have been level three minutes later. Paul Heatley left Odhran Casey trailing in his wake before drilling in a vicious low drive that flashed inches past the post with Odumosu beaten.
The visitors thought they had struck again on 23 minutes when Sam Ashford got up above Rory McKeown to flick on for Wilson, who produced an emphatic finish - but referee Tony Clarke ruled out the effort after the striker had strayed offside.
But the Reds fans were celebrating again two minutes before the interval.
This time Gallagher turned provider, with a surging dash from his own half before squaring to Hale on the edge of the box and he drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
The Crues roared out from the traps after the restart.
Heatley sent in a brilliant delivery from the left that looked destined for Philip Lowry or Adam Lecky at the back post until defender Sean Stewart headed clear.
But it was the home fans that were dancing a jig on 55 minutes.
Kris Lowe and Hale combined on the right and, when the midfielder sent in a low cross, Wilson was on it in a flash, turning sweetly to leave Tuffey helpless.
Cliftonville almost had a fourth 13 minutes from time.
Stewart’s cross picked out the strong-running Doherty, who in turn found Hale but his low drive flashed just wide with Tuffey and defender Billy Joe Burns hopelessly beaten on the line.
And Crusaders had another glorious chance on 80 minutes when Jordan Owens’ clearance bounced off Johnny Addis and fell invitingly for Sam Ashford, who ballooned over the top.
CRUSADERS: Tuffey, Burns, Lowry, B.Kennedy, Lecky (Owens, 62), Forsythe (Weir, 62), O’Rourke, Larmour, Smith (Clarke, 46), Heatley (Teelan, 83), McKeown.
Subs (not used): Kerr, M.Kennedy, Anderson.
CLIFTONVILLE: Odumosu, Stewart, Addis, Gallagher, Hale (Curran, 88), Lowe, Doherty, Ashford, Casey, Turner, Wilson (Gormley, 85).
Subs (not used): Gartside, Pepper, Kenny, Kearney, Berry.
Referee: Tony Clarke.