Linfield 3 Crusaders 1: Stuttering champions Linfield put a nightmare month behind them by putting Crusaders to the sword last night to move five points clear at the top of the Carling Premiership table.
The Blues rattled eight past Stephen Baxter’s men on their last visit to Windsor Park and by half-time last night it could have been double figures.
Mark McAllister and Peter Thompson netted in the downpour as the floodgates threatened to open.
In the end they had to settle for a 3-1 success, with Thompson bagging his 22nd goal of the campaign after the break.
Philip Lowry, McAllister and Thompson were all guilty of missing chances as a combination of last-ditch deflections and the slippery surface conspired against them.
Midfielder Lowry thought he’d opened the scoring on 15 minutes when he angled a header past Aaron Hogg from Jamie Tomelty’s corner, only for Thompson to inadvertently block his effort on the line — and that was a sign of things to come.
Thompson was next to threaten when the ball dropped to him 12 yards out on 25 minutes but his dipping volley cannoned off David Magowan and behind for another corner. Michael Gault’s driving run and cross found McAllister a minute later but he could only direct a free header over the bar.
Chris Morrow arrowed a long-range strike at the other end as Crusaders tested Northern Ireland stopper Alan Blayney for the first time but the Blues keeper was able to gather at the second attempt after fumbling the shot on the skiddy surface. Within a minute the action was at the other end again and McAllister tested Hogg from 15 yards before the Blues broke the deadlock on 29 minutes.
McAllister collected a pass from Thompson and persevered when Hogg half blocked his first effort to keep his cool and slide the ball into the net, despite the attentions of two defenders.
Michael Halliday had the chance to level two minutes after his side went behind but the former Glentoran hitman lost his balance with his back to goal and could only shoot weakly at Blayney.
Gault’s header was saved by Hogg as they threatened again before Thompson doubled the champions’ lead three minutes before the break.
The former Stockport County striker owed a huge debt of gratitude to McAllister, who danced his way past a feeble Crues backline and squared for his strike partner who had the simplest task
of the night to tap home from a yard out. By the start of the second period, Baxter had shown his full hand having made three substitutions — David McMaster replacing the injured Declan Caddell early on and David Rainey and David Gibson on for the ineffective Martin Donnelly and David Bell.
The league champions increased their lead on the hour when Tomelty’s free-kick was inexplicably nodded down to Thompson by Gareth McKeown and the ex-Northern Ireland man picked his spot from 12 yards. Halliday headed a consolation five minutes from time when he rose highest in the box to meet McMaster’s corner although that will be of little comfort to the hapless and disappointing Crues who have failed to win any of their last three league outings.
LINFIELD: Blayney, Ervin, Casement, Burns, Curran, Lowry, Garrett, Gault, Tomelty (Munster 75), McAllister (Allen 73), Thompson. Subs not used: Bailie, O’Kane, Mulgrew.
CRUSADERS: Hogg, McKeown, Magowan, Bell (Gibson 46), McBride, Dallas, Caddell (McMaster 24), Watson, Donnelly (Rainey 46), Morrow, Halliday. Subs not used: Murphy, Arthurs.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).