Manager David Healy doffed his cap to his Linfield braves after their Tennent’s Irish Cup quarter final victory at Seaview.
The former Northern Ireland striker just couldn’t hide his delight as he joined in the post-match celebrations in front of the Linfield masses that had been shoe-horned into the tight North Belfast venue.
Goals from Stephen Lowry, who expertly converted from the penalty spot, and Niall Quinn sent most of the sell-out crowd home happy.
Linfield are now unbeaten in five outings this season against the league champions, having won the last three and, make no mistake about, this was another deserved victory.
“Sometimes I can be critical of the team’s performance, or even my own decisions, but I thought we were outstanding today,” beamed Healy.
“We worked extremely hard all over the park and I always felt we were the better side.
“Of course, you are never comfortable at 0-0, especially with the players Crusaders have. Had we lost, they would have been favourites to achieve the league and cup double, but I always felt we were on top of the game, that’s what’s pleased me.
“I suppose there was a bit of added pressure on us going in to the game. I know what it means when people say you are only a draw away from a crisis when you are a manager at Windsor Park.
“It was like the end of the world a few weeks back when Portadown held us to a draw at Windsor. We won the previous eight or nine games . . . and we’ve won every match since then. So things can change to rapidly.
“I’m chuffed to bits with this win -- we were the better team.”
Healy also saluted the performance of little Paul Smyth, who was chopped down by Billy Joe Burns to earn the Blues the breakthrough penalty kick.
“It was only his second game back after being out injured for 12 weeks,” he added. “He picked up a little injury near the end, but hopefully he’ll be ok.
“Sometimes, wide players frustrate the life out of people, but he was great. He is still learning and he is becoming that wee bit more clever in certain situations.
“When he went by the guy (Burns) in the box, I knew if he was touched at all, it would be a foul. It was an easy one for the referee.
“ -- it was a stone wall penalty. His performance in the second half lit the spark for us.”
“We still have a lot of work ahead us, but this win gives us further belief that we can not only can we match a good team like Crusaders, but go on and beat them.”
Healy also believes his team’s latest victory will give them great momentum ahead of they final eight games in the title race -- although they still trail Crusaders by seven points.
“You’ll never hear me saying we are going to give up on the league,” he added. “If that was the case, my head would be on the block.
“There are eight games to go -- there is a lot of football to be played. We’ll certainly not be giving up on it.
“There are still three games before we go into the ‘split’ -- they are now crucial. I don’t think either team will win five games out of five when the split takes place.
“I know Crusaders did it last season after beating us in the opening match (in the split), but I don’t think there is an awful lot separating the teams this season.
“It’s vital we don’t go into the final five games further adrift. We would could manage to cut it, it would be bonus. There is no doubt the match against Crusaders at Windsor
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admitted his boys fell shot just when it mattered.
“It’s a huge disappointment” he said. “It’s he quarter final of the Irish Cup and we are trying to do the double. So to lose in the manner we have, in terms of the goals we conceded, was a big let down.
“It was a poor enough game of football. It wasn’t pretty -- I knew the ball would be in the air more than on the deck. But Linfield edged that, that’s the bottom line -- congratulations to them.”
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Mitchell, Burns, Beverland, McClean (Cushley 63), Whyte, P Lowry (Suarez 84), Caddell (Clarke 71), Brown, Forsythe, Owens.
Subs not used: Dougherty, Keane.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Haughey, Stafford, Callacher, M Clarke, Smyth (Ward 85), S Lowry, Mulgrew, Quinn, Stewart (Burns 77), Waterworth.
Subs not used: Moore, Millar, Gaynor.
REFEREE: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).