CRUSADERS 3 LINFIELD 0
Crusaders closed to within two points of Premiership leaders Linfield with an impressive 3-0 win over the Blues at Seaview.
A double from Jordan Owens and a clinical finish from Paul Heatley saw the champions flex their title muscle in north Belfast.
It was a commanding performance from Stephen Baxter’s side whose winning margin should have been greater than the eventual scoreline.
Both of Owens’ goals came courtesy of trademark headers – the first arriving in the 39th minute and the second in the 73rd.
Heatley’s goal was sandwiched in between to inflict Linfield’s first Premiership defeat of the season.
The champions were ahead at the break following a competitive first half.
The opener arrived in the 39th minute, with Billy Joe Burns’s cross finding Owens between two defenders and the striker dispatched a bullet header past Ross Glendinning.
It was the striker’s seventh Premiership goal of the season and only the third league goal Linfield had conceded in seven outings.
Both sides had chances to break the deadlock before Owens’ opener.
Linfield defender Mark Haughey almost scored an own goal in the fifth minute when he deflected Burns’ shot inches wide of the post.
At the other end Reece Glendinning squandered a great heading opportunity when he guided Guy Bates’ cross over the bar.
In the 29th minute Owens had a header deflected just past Ross Glendinning’s post, and from the resulting corner Crues skipper Colin Coates was wayward with another headed effort at the back post.
Kirk Millar blazed high and wide for the visitors in the 32nd minute while Crues winger Gavin Whyte had a low drive easily saved by Glendinning.
The Linfield keeper could do nothing about Owens’ header in the 39th minute, however, as the Crues edged ahead before the break.
Linfield were dealt an early blow in the second half when Heatley doubled Crusaders’ lead in the 54th minute.
Coates delivered a deep free-kick that was headed back across goal by Owens, and the ball found its way to Heatley who took a touch before squeezing a low shot past Glendinning.
Owens headed wide with a free header at the back post in the 57th minute from Richard Clarke’s corner, and then Coates was inches away from getting a telling touch on Craig McClean’s teasing corner.
It should have been 3-0 in the 62nd minute, but after rushing through on goal Whyte could only blast his shot wide of the mark.
The champions didn’t have long to wait to extend their lead, however, with the third goal arriving in the 73rd minute.
Matthew Snoddy’s punted clearance reached Whyte who laid the ball off to Burns on the right.
Burns then delivered another inch-perfect cross for Owens to head home from three yards, giving Glendinning no chance.
Linfield finally tested Sean O’Neill in the 89th minute, the Crusaders keeper doing well to palm Andy Waterworth’s shot to safety.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns (Molloy 88), Coates, McClean, Robinson, Clarke, O’Carroll (Forsythe 71), Snoddy, Owens, Heatley, Whyte (Mitchell 79).
Subs not used: O’Flynn, McKibbin.
INFIELD: Ro. Glendinning, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, Bates (Salley 70), Millar (Kee 58), Burns, Ward, Clarke, Mulgrew, Re. Glendinning.
Subs not used: Hegarty, Quinn, Deane.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)