A Johnny Tuffey howler proved costly for Linfield in last night’s showdown against Crusaders at Windsor Park.
The former St Johnstone goalkeeper gifted Stephen Baxter’s team an equaliser in first half stoppage time, which was Jordan Owens tapped home.
It looked so good for the Blues, especially when Michael Carvill fired them into the lead midway through the first period.
It was a game that Linfield dominated and would have won only for Crues goalkeeper Sean O’Neill.
The result kept the Blues at the top of the Premiership table, but title holders Cliftonville are only one point adrift.
Linfield boss David Jeffrey made three changes to the team that demolished Dergview in the Irish Cup at the weekend, drafting in defensive pair Niall Quinn and Mark Haughey for Matthew Clarke and Kye McVey. Aaron Burns also replaced the injured Mark McAllister.
In the opposing camp, Andy Smith was handed his first league start after joining the Crues in the recent transfer window, while skipper Colin Coates returned, having shaken off an ankle injury.
And, it was Smith who almost opened the scoring after only three minutes when his spectacular left-footed volley was rattling into the top corner until Tuffey somehow touched the ball over.
Linfield responded in a positive manner. Michael Carvill whipped in a left wing corner which fell invitingly for Philip Lowry, who managed to screw the ball wide of the target when it looked easier to score.
Jeffrey’s boys took the lead on 26 minute and what a beauty it was. Coates hauled down the rampaging Waterworth 20 yards from goal and Carvill arrowed the free kick into the bottom corner, well out of the reach of O’Neill.
The Blues almost struck again seconds later, but Quinn’s cross was inches too high for the in-rushing Waterworth.
The Crues were gifted an equaliser in first half injury time with that Tuffey howler. Chris Morrow’s innocent free kick landed safely in the hands of the former Northern Ireland international, who inexcusably let the ball slip from his grasp, leaving Owens with a simple tap in.
Linfield shot from the traps after the break, with O’Neill touching a Carvill drive past the post.
But Crusaders almost silenced the home fans when Owens was expertly picked up by Craig McClean and his pile-driver appeared to be flicked over the Tuffey, but referee Arnold Huter didn’t agree.
Crusaders had another let-off on 66 minutes when Quinn’s corner kick was met by Aaron Burns, whose header flashed inches past the post.
However, Baxter’s team again came back off the ropes and almost sneaked ahead on 72 minutes. Substitute Aidan Watson looped over a deep cross for Paul Heatley to volley just over the top.
Then, Linfield skipper Gault produced a wonderful blocking tackle on substitute Timmy Adamson, who picked up the pieces following another dangerous McClean free kick, when a goal seemed imminent.
Linfield: Tuffey, Gault, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill (Mulgrew 59), BJ Burns, A Burns, Ward, Sproule (Thompson 87), Quinn.
Subs: McVey, Clarke, Tipton.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Leeman, Magowan, Coates, Morrow (Watson 70), Robinson, Caddell, McClean, Owens, Heatley, Smith (Adamson 64).
Subs: McAllister, Hanley, McCutcheon.
Referee: A Hunter (Maguiresbridge).