Dungannon Swifts, already facing something of an injury crisis, had to cope with the loss of Timmy Adamson after just eight minutes.
But every cloud has a silver lining and the introduction of 16 year old Stefan Lavery proved a more than adequate answer to a testing blow.
The diminutive attacker caused Crusaders constant problems, with the highlight being a stunning goal on 64 minutes, a sublime lob from the edge of the box that handed Dungannon a short-lived lead.
With both sides creating a wealth of chances, it was no surprise that the Crues also found the net — although the circumstances of their equaliser were calamitous for Dungannon keeper Alvin Rouse.
His mistake, combined with a soggy, sticky pitch that saw Colin Coates’ long cross bounce deceptively, if at all, and allowed Dominic Melly to shoot into an unprotected net.
Swifts were handed an advantage on 73 minutes when Coates’ last-man foul on Lavery was punished by a red card. But the home team couldn’t benefit from the bonus and found themselves back on numerical parity when Rouse was dismissed for a foolish retaliation on Davy Rainey, after the big goalkeeper was fouled on his way to gather a cross.
Swifts boss Dixie Robinson praised Lavery, and the other fringe players, for stepping up to the challenge.
“Stefan took his goal well and it is certainly the first of many for a youngster with a big future.
“Others also stepped in. Andrew Ferguson formed a great partnership with Adam McMinn in defence, while Terry Fitzpatrick is comfortable dealing with extra responsibility in midfield.
“We could justify saying that we deserved a win after this performance, which is a great for us considering how many players we have out,” said the Maghery man.
“A good display like this stands to us as the season progresses,” added Robinson, clearly thrilled to be sitting upsides the three big Belfast clubs and spearheading the provincial challenge.
Opposite number Stephen Baxter agreed.
“When you have clubs like Crusaders and Dungannon challenging in the top four, it is great for the local game” he said.
“Dungannon played some great football. It was the kind of game that will bring the crowds back, a great advertisement for our game.”