Crusaders' Billy Joe Burns hails Jordan Owens after silencing Linfield
Crusaders 3-0 Linfield
Billy Joe Burns produced a sublime man of the match display against his old employers and not even a soft drink can thrown in his direction could take the fizz out of this Crusaders display.
Two exquisite Burns crosses allowed Jordan Owens to do what he does best and Paul Heatley inflicted further pain on a Linfield side that waved farewell to their 100 per cent record.
The Blues missed a glorious chance to go eight points clear of the champions with a victory at Seaview but they had no answer to Crusaders' passing, movement and clinical finishing.
Linfield boss Warren Feeney was a frustrated observer and he could be forgiven for asking himself how Burns was ever allowed to leave Windsor Park.
Burns was flying into tackles and together with Colin Coates, Josh Robinson and Craig McClean, they silenced lethal hitmen Bates and Andy Waterworth.
"I do get a bit of grief about my crossing but I hit so many that a few will come off," joked the right-back. "I think Chicken (Jordan Owens) made them into better crosses than they were.
"I thought we dominated the second-half and can't complain with a 3-0 win. We are dangerous when we put crosses into the danger area and I can't speak highly enough of Jordan. He turns average balls into great balls and his strength is being ruthless when the ball is in the box."
On the missile hurled in his direction from the visiting support, Burns added: "It was a can squashed down.
"A few of their boys were giving me grief for running across the pitch but I'm hardly going to give it back to their fans to throw it back at me!"
The first goal arrived six minutes before the break when Owens left the Blues defence trailing and powerfully headed the ball past Ross Glendinning after Burns' sweet right-wing delivery.
On 54 minutes it was 2-0 with Heatley drilling home after Owens rose to head on Robinson's free-kick. In the 73rd minute, Burns produced another sensational cross, allowing Owens to head home from close range.
Crues boss Stephen Baxter has been so impressed with the form of Owens he even suggested afterwards that Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill could benefit from his services.
"He's lean, fit and firing," said Baxter. "He was awesome and could be a replacement for big Kyle Lafferty. I've been on the end of big defeats against Linfield for six years and it's only really in the last four years when we have turned the tide. In the last two years we have probably been better than them. It's important to be in the right place by Christmas but we haven't even got to October yet."
This is the Blues' first Premiership loss after a stunning six-game winning run and while the disappointment will linger, the league leaders will benefit from the timely reminder that other sides are up for the title fight.
"You will get hard and easier matches in this league," said Linfield coach Alfie Wylie. "I said to the boys it's like a decathlon. Every match is a different event and we will have an opportunity to put things right. It's now about how we respond to this setback."
CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns (Molloy, 88 mins), Robinson, Coates, McClean, Whyte (Mitchell, 79 mins), Clarke, Snoddy, Heatley, O'Carroll (Forsythe, 70 mins) Owens. Unused subs: McKibbin, O'Flynn.
LINFIELD: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Ward, Haughey, Clarke, Millar, (Kee, 58 mins), Mulgrew, Lowry, Burns, Bates (Salley, 70 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Deane, Hegarty, Quinn.
Man of the match: Billy Joe Burns
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)