First half goals from Jordan Forsythe and Paul Heatley sent Linfield crashing to their first league defeat in eight months.
Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders sent out a title warning with a display of passion and commitment which certainly indicates they’ll not be far away when the Danske Bank Premiership title is handed out at the end of the season.
Even though by Mark Stafford pulled a goal back for the title holders in the second half, there was no denying the Crues a famous win - their first over the Blues in seven outings.
David Healy’s boys were unbeaten in 27 games going into the game. In fact, they hadn’t even conceded a goal this season, but it all came crashing down in a night of drama.
The Crues made their intentions known right from the off with Forsythe attempting an audacious scissors kick that flashed over the top.
Then a misunderstanding between Crues skipper Colin Coates and goalkeeper Brian Jensen almost presented the Blues with a surprise opening, but Aaron Burns could only loft his shot high and wide.
Baxter’s boys were certainly up for this. Jenson’s long clearance caused panic in the Blues back line, leaving Jordan Owens with time and space on the edge of the box. However, veteran shot stopper Roy Carroll came to the Blues rescue by beating away the big striker’s shot.
Ex-Crusaders midfielder Andy Mitchell then tried his luck with a 25-yard drive that skidded off the greasy surface, but flashed past the post.
But the home fans were on their feet on 24 minutes with Forsythe’s exceptional strike.
He was sent clear by the irrepressible Heatley and, after taking a quick look, he drilled in brilliant shot into the top corner. It was the first goal the Blues had conceded this season.
It was relentless stuff by the home side. Jordan Owens had the ball in the net again only to be flagged for offside by the referee’s assistant.
But the second goal did duly arrive and what a strike it was. Heatley picked up a long punt forward and, spotting Carroll slightly off his line, he thundered the most audacious of volleys into the top corner.
The Crues then sent in search of a killer third with Rodney Brown drilling a wonderful 30-yard drive inches over the top before big Owens missed a sitter.
Michael Carvill’s cross was miscued by Heatley for once, but the ball fell perfectly for the big striker, who directed his free header over the crossbar.
Things turned on their head 19 minutes from time when the Blues grabbed a lifeline.
Burns managed to cut the ball back from the by-line, leaving big Stafford with a simple tap-in.
But Heatley then burst into action again on 78 minutes, sending in a 20 yard shot that took a deflection, which Carroll blew a sigh of relief when the inches past the post.
CRUSADERS: Jensen, Burns, Coates, Ward, Brown, Lowry, Carvill (Whyte 76), Caddell (Snoddy 62), Forsythe, Heatley, Owens.
Unused subs: Beverland, Cushley, Glackin.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Lowry, Burns, Clarke (Stewart 83), Casement, Rooney (Adams 62), Mulgrew, Mitchell (Millar 62), Quinn.
Unused subs: Robinson, Garrett.
REFEREE: Andrew Davey (Bangor).