Timmy Adamson grabbed the goal that finally ended Linfield’s remarkable Irish Cup run.
The big striker struck the decisive blow in the second half of this battle of the heavyweights to book Crusaders a spot in round six of the Irish Cup — they will face Glenavon on February 9 — and Linfield’s first defeat since the 2009 semi final against Cliftonville.
Brian McCaul shot the holders into the first half lead, but little Gary McCutcheon levelled from the spot.
Adamson then confirmed Linfield’s second defeat in a remarkable 41 Irish Cup ties and the club that has won six league and cup doubles in the last seven years, now face the possibility of ending the season without silverware.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter was able to recall defender Davy Magowan and midfielder Timmy Adamson after their suspensions, while goalkeeper Craig Hyland, signed this week from Longford Town, replacing Sean O’Neill, who is out for the rest of the season after dislocating a shoulder in the first tie against the Blues 10 days ago.
Linfield boss David Jeffrey was forced to draft in rookie goalkeeper Ross Glendinning for the injured Alan Blayney while defender Niall Quinn replace suspended Johnny Black.
The Blues carved out the first chance on 12 minutes when Michael Carvill’s free kick completely deceived Hyland, but striker Matthew Tipton hopelessly hoofed his effort over the top.
Big Adamson had the home fans on their feet on 21 minutes when he met a monster thrown in from Gareth McKeown but the striker’s header scraped the post.
Hyland established himself 60 seconds later by brilliantly beating away a wickedly hit Michael Carvill free kick but the big southerner was picking the ball out of the net on 27 minutes with a magical 30 yards strike by McCaul, the midfielder’s sixth strike in eight games and 14th of the season.
Crusaders responded with a scintillating run by Chris Morrow, but the midfielder could only fire into the body of William Murphy.
Linfield had strong appeals for a penalty kick on 35 minutes when the industrious Carvill appeared to be taken out by Hyland but referee Colin Burns flashed the yellow card at the little No 10, for simulation.
The temperature was gradually rising on a bitter cold evening and Heatley should really have levelled matters on 37 minutes after rounding Billy Joe Burns, but he rattled his drive over the barr.
No matter, Crusaders were level 60 seconds later following another controversial decision by the referee. He punished Albert Watson for an apparent push on Adamson inside the box and McCutcheon sent Glendinning the wrong way from the penalty spot.
With so much at stake, the game became ragged in the second half. Defender Magowan decided to try his luck from distance on 64 minutes, but Glendinning had little difficulty in dealing with the shot.
He did, however, produce a wonderful save seconds later, clawing a stinging Josh Robinson shot out of top corner after another teasing cross from Heatley.
Craig McClean then followed Magowan’s lead to lash in a thundering shot from fully 35 yards that crashed off the crossbar, with Glendinning beaten.
It was the Crues who forged in front on 59 minutes – Adamson bagging his 15th of the season. Jordan Owens’ cross was miscued by Heatley, but the ball fell perfectly for Adamson who thumped home from close range.
Heatley should have killed the tie stone dead on 79 minutes when he shamefully flicked a Caddell pass over the top with only Glendinning to beat.
Substitute David Rainey was then sent hurtling through the middle, but Glendinning was quickly off his line to smother.
Crusaders: Hyland, McKeown, Magowan, Coates, Morrow (Owens 62), Adamson, Robinson, Caddell, McCutcheon (Rainey 82), McClean, Heatley. Subs: McBride, Leeman, Snoddy.
Linfield: Glendinning, Gault (Fordyce 88), Murphy, Carvill, Burns, Tipton (Browne 88), Mulgrew, Watson, McCaul, McAllister, Quinn (Lowry 62). Subs: Ervin, Clarke.
Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey).