NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership 2013/2014 Season Highlights

The 113th season of league football in Northern Ireland saw 712 goals scored over 228 fixtures at a very respectable ratio of 3.1 goals per game.

Crusaders

The final tally

League champions

Defending champions Cliftonville managed to win the NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership for a second successive year, thus retaining their title, something the club had never managed before in their history.

Runners-up

Despite leading the table by two points with five fixtures left, Linfield had to be content with finishing in 2nd position with Crusaders finishing 3rd.

Relegated

Ards finished in last possession on the table, confirming their relegation back to the NIFL Championship 1, a league they had won a year previously.

Back to the start

At the start of the season, a few teams were vying for the title of league favourites amongst the pundits.

Cliftonville

Cliftonville, winners of the league the previous season were once again expected to mount a major challenge for league honours. Many of the previous seasons stars were retained, including the strike partnership of Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce. Together, they has scored an unimaginable 65 goals the previous season.

History, however, was not in Cliftonville's favour. In the past 22 years, only Linfield had every managed to defend their league title.

Linfield

Linfield, 50 time Northern Ireland champions, and the dominant force in Northern Ireland football over the previous decade, were expected to once again mount a major run on the title. After all, they had been crowned league champions in seven of the previous nine campaigns. A large amount of players were brought in by the start of the season, including James Knowles from Cliftonville.

Crusaders FC

A second place finish in the previous season put the Crusaders firmly in the limelight. They also proved an impossible nut to crack at home, turning the Seaview ground into a fortress where no other side in the league was able to come away victorious.

Importantly, they had managed to hold onto all their top players, while improving in a number of areas. Most pundits agreed, Crusaders would be fighting right at the top of the table come the end of the season.

Glentoran FC

Despite major financial problems the previous season, Glentoran FC were buoyed by the fact that they won the Irish Cup, defeating league champions Cliftonville. Unfortunately, the clubs financial problems although addressed, forced them to concentrate on their youth with many players leaving the Oval ground. They would also start the season without their stalwart captain, Colin Nixon, a veteran of over 800 games for the club. The loss of leading marksman Andrew Waterworth to rivals Linfield would also be a major blow.

The season kicked off on 10 August 2013.

The turning point

True to the predictions of the pundits, two of the favoured teams were in with a shout at league glory with five games left in the season and the all-important championship phase approaching . Linfield led the table by 2 points followed by Cliftonville.

Crusaders were in 3rd, with Portadown in 4th. Glentoran, despite their young team, were in 5th.

Of course, after 33 games the championship phase would commence. It was here that Linfield's season fell apart. They faced Cliftonville in the first match of this phase and crucially lost 1-3 at home. This victory put Cliftonville at the top of the table, a lead they never relinquished.

Linfield kept the pressure on for a while, but a draw with Portadown and a loss to Glentoran effectively ended their challenge. To make matters worse, both these matches were played at home.

Cliftonville were unbeaten during the championship phase, and this, coupled with Linfield's indifferent form, handed them the championship and the Gibson cup.

Season statistics

The NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership 2013/2014 season turned up a fair number of interesting statistics over the course of the 38 weeks that it ran.

Largest ground

Windsor Park, the home ground of Linfield was the largest stadium on show during the season and could seat 12 342 supporters.

Smallest ground

There were a number of smaller grounds used throughout the season. Ards, promoted from the NIFL Championship 1, did not have a stadium and played at both Clandeboye Park and Dixon Park. Warrenpoint Town, also promoted from the NIFL Championship 1 began the season using Stangmore Park while their own stadium, Millpoint, was refurbished. All these stadiums could only accommodate 2000 supporters.

Average attendance

The league boasted an average attendance of 867 supporters per game. Linfield was the best supported team with an average attendance of 1860 per home game. Dungannon Swifts were the worst supported team during the course of the season with only 427 supporters per home game on average.

Highest scoring match

The highest scoring match of the season equalled a record that had been set 47 years earlier. On 7 September 2013, Portadown beat a hapless Ballinamallard United by an astonishing 11-0. Playing in front of their home supporters at Shamrock Park, Portadown were leading comfortably by 3-0 midway through the second half. The turning point came when Ballinamallard had two men sent off leading to Portadown netting an unbelievable 8 goals in the final 25 minutes. Gary Twigg and Kevin Braniff both scored hat-tricks while Peter McMahon and Darren Murrays netted a brace each.

The second highest scoring match of the season took place on 10 August and saw Ballymea United lose 3-6 at home to Glenavon.

League top scorer

Joe Gormely of Cliftonville was the league's top scorer. He bagged 27 goals during the campaign and played a major role in Cliftonville retaining their crown. Darren Murray of Portadown, Andrew Waterworth of Linfield and Liam Boyce of Cliftonville followed, each scoring 23, 22 and 21 goals respectively.