LINFIELD: Blues blow away Crusaders as Joel Cooper and Jamie Mulgrew grab goals

Joel Cooper (right) celebrates breaking the deadlock for Linfield against Crusaders.
Joel Cooper (right) celebrates breaking the deadlock for Linfield against Crusaders.
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Linfield grabbed an early advantage over defending Danske Bank Premiership champions Crusaders as Joel Cooper and Jamie Mulgrew fired home to seal a 2-0 victory.

Ross Clarke displayed quick thinking and quick feet early on to dance into the danger area but his final shot failed to find a way past Roy Carroll despite the promising position.

It proved a day of hard-earned yards and hard-fought gains given the high stakes of the high-profile meeting between two teams with title aspirations inside the opening few weeks of the campaign.

Another slick piece of play by Clarke on the right ended with a teasing delivery but Jimmy Callacher proved alert racing in to steer away the threat.

Linfield grabbed the upper hand on 35 minutes with the visitors' first significant attack as Daniel Kearns' pass picked out Chris Casement with time and space in the box to fire over a low cross met on the run by Cooper.

Crusaders' response featured a lob from the edge of the area by the returning Jordan Owens off Declan Caddell's hooked pass but the effort cleared the crossbar.

Casement forced Sean O'Neill to scramble across on 53 minutes and push out the full-back's curling free-kick effort.

Linfield, however, increased the advantage just before the hour mark with a fine break as Cooper attacked at pace then delayed his run to allow the supporting Jamie Mulgrew to race into the left-hand channel and fire home on the run.

The visitors' clean sheet came under threat - from the Linfield players as Josh Robinson's miscue was then smashed against the crossbar by Matthew Clarke.

O'Neill had to react quickly to divert away a deflected cross by Kearns, with Linfield whipping over successive dangerous deliveries from out wide without any end product.

Crusaders' last-gasp effort offered hope as Owens and Heatley linked up but Jordan Forsythe's final drive proved wayward - the closing frustration on an afternoon of disappointment.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, McChrystal, Caddell (Snoddy, 57), Forsythe, K.Owens, Ruddy, J.Owens, Heatley, Clarke (Cushley, 64), Patterson (Glackin 74).

Subs (not used) Carvill, Holden, Doherty, Donnelly.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth (O'Connor, 69), Cooper (Millar, 79), Clarke, Kearns, Mulgrew, Mitchell (Garrett, 82), Quinn, Casement.

Subs (not used): Deane, Stafford, Fallon, Smith.

Referee: Steven Taylor.