MICHAEL Carvill’s early strike was enough to book Linfield a spot in the County Antrim Shield final.
The little midfielder struck after only eight minutes – but the goal will certainly give Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O’Neill a few nightmares on the eve of Hallowe’en.
Carvill’s corner kick was fisted into his own net by the big shot stopper, much to the delight of the big travelling support at Seaview.
To his credit, O’Neill made amends for his ‘ghoulish’ behaviour by producing a series of breath-taking saves as the Blues threatened to run riot, especially in the first half.
Linfield will now face Ballymena United in the final on November 27.
Veteran striker David Rainey, one of posse of changes in the Crusaders team, tested Blues goalkeeper Alan Blayney after only two minutes, but the Northern Ireland international saved at the base of the post.
It was all Linfield after that. Daryl Fordyce sent Philip Lowry hurtling into the box, but his cut-back was superbly gathered by O’Neill.
However, O’Neill must take full responsibility for Carvill’s strike on eight minutes.
The little midfielder’s corner kick, swirling in the wind, was helped into his own net by the embarrassed keeper.
Linfield then had chances to kill off the tie after that. Jim Ervin’s cross found the unmarked Gary Browne, but his first touch shamefully let him down, with the ball trundling into the arms of O’Neill.
The Blues then lost centre-back William Murphy with what appeared to be a broken nose.
Johnny Black – one of six changes to the side – was brought in for his debut and he blasted a 25 yard free kick just over the crossbar on 24 minutes.
Hard working midfielder Jamie Mulgrew then brought the best out of O’Neill with a stinging low drive that was eventually mopped up by Paul Leeman.
Carvill tested O’Neill with another looping free kick on 34 minutes, but this time the keeper managed to flick the ball over the top.
The over-worked O’Neill produced a magnificent save to deny Robert Garrett on 36 minutes, pawing his ferocious 35 yarder over the crossbar.
Stephen Baxter’s team had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Colin Burns when Garrett sent Matthew Snoddy crashing, but a free was awarded only inches outside the box.
Crusaders were let off the hook again on 66 minutes. Black’s corner was met by substitute Peter Thompson, but his header was hoofed off the line by David Gibson.
Thompson then punished an uncharacteristic mistake by Crues skipper Colin Coates, playing his first game since September, but referee Colin Burns ruled out the effort for an offside infringement.
Jordan Owens almost grabbed a last minute equaliser, but he shot straight at Blayney following a Stephen McBride free kick.
Crusaders: O’Neill, McBridge, Leeman, Coates, Rainey (Robinson 85) , Caddell (Watson 51), McMaster (McCreadie 75), Owens, Snoddy, Gibson, Heatley.
Subs: McClean, Drummond.
Linfield: Blayney, Murphy (Curran 23), Lowry, Carvill, Fordyce (Thompson 61), Browne (McCaul 75), Garrett, Ervin, Mulgrew, Watson, Black.
Subs: Hanley, Clarke.
Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey)