Substitute Ethan Devine emerged the hero - bagging a winner deep into injury-time to send the home fans crazy.
The result took the Blues four points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table heading into the weekend fixtures.
It was a typical all-Belfast showdown – both sides went for the jugular right from the off.
The Blues led twice through Chris McKee and Chris Shields, but the battling Crues hit back through Johnny McMurray and the irrepressible Ben Kennedy.
But it was Devine who grabbed the headlines deep into injury-time.
Linfield shot out from the traps and could well have been in front after only 60 seconds.
Eetu Vertainen and Kirk Millar combined to set up McKee but he totally miskicked in front of a gaping goal.
The Crues responded in a positive manner with Jude Winchester cleverly dinking a pass to Kennedy, who drilled his shot across the face of the goal, which was eventually cleared by Ben Hall.
Vertainen’s energy up front was causing problems for Crusaders and he was right out of luck with a stinging right-foot drive that was arrowing into the corner of the net until Jonny Tuffey got down to brilliantly beat away.
Linfield deservedly forged ahead on 20 minutes.
Ahmed Salam produced a bit of magic on the right before slipping a defence-splitting pass to McKee, who brilliantly slotted the ball past Tuffey.
The Crues were level within four minutes.
Jordan Forsythe’s long ball bamboozled the home defence including Jimmy Callacher and when McMurray found himself with only Chris Johns to beat, he cleverly lofted over the stranded shot-stopper.
Linfield were back in front seconds before the half-time cuppa.
Referee Tim Marshall had a long think after Millar’s blockbuster was charged down by Weir and he eventually awarded the penalty kick.
Shields stepped up to confidently send Tuffey the wrong way from the spot.
The Crues came racing out after the restart and Kennedy was just out of luck with a thundering 35-yard drive that fizzed inches wide.
And they were level again on 58 minutes.
This time Callacher was adjudged to have handled a Forsythe shot and, once again, the referee pointed to the spot.
Kennedy stepped up to drill the ball low to Johns’ right.
The title-holders were almost in front again three minutes later.
Vertainen twisted and turned past Chris Hegarty before crossing for Millar, whose point-blank shot was brilliantly saved by Tuffey.
But the Blues nicked it deep into injury time.
Jordan Stewart’s corner-kick was met by Devine and his header crept in at the back post.
LINFIELD: Johns, Shields, Callacher, Millar (Stewart, 72), Vertainen (A.Clarke, 84), Hall, McKee (Devine, 79), McClean (Evans, 72), Fallon, Quinn (Newberry, 72), Salam.
Subs (not used): Walsh, M.Clarke
CRUSADERS: Tuffey, Wilson, Weir, Lowry, Kennedy, Forsythe, O’Rourke (Hegarty, 44), Winchester (Lecky, 57), Robinson, Clarke, McMurray (Doyle, 79).
Subs (not used): Shields, Patterson, Owens, Patterson
referee: Tim Marshall
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