Linfield have no answer to classy Crusaders
Crusaders 3 Linfield 0
Jordan Owens bagged up a brilliant brace to officially end Linfield's Premiership title reign.
The Crusaders striker hammered in two sensational goals – one in each half – as David Jeffrey's team again wilted when it mattered.
Declan Caddell plundered a killer second strike for Stephen Baxter's team, who have now almost certainly cemented the league's runners-up spot as Cliftonville will take over Linfield's mantle sooner rather than later – they now hold a 14 points lead with the finish line in sight.
"We scored three good goals and created three more very good chances to score," said Baxter.
"We were very comprehensive and it was as good a performance as I have seen from us for a while, so I am pleased with that.
"There are five points between ourselves and Linfield and we have two games in hand, so hopefully we can go on and claim second place."
Linfield's Michael Carvill had the first opportunity of the game when Niall Quinn and Brian McCaul's trickery sent him free, but the striker's shot was superbly saved by Crues goalkeeper Yohann Lacroix.
The Crues fans were on the feet celebrating three minutes later when Owens poked the ball into the empty net after Linfield 'keeper Ross Glendinning had beaten away a Paul Heatley drive. Referee Arnold Hunter ruled out the effort for offside.
Caddell then cut the Blues defence to pieces following a devastating 30 yard dash through the middle, but Glendinning was quickly off his line to block the effort.
The Shore Road men deservedly took the lead on 24 minutes. Craig McClean's pass exposed the Blues back line, picking out Owens, and his finish was clinical, curling a beauty into the top corner that watching Northern Ireland record goalscorer David Healy would have been proud of.
Glendinning came to his team's rescue two minutes later when William Murphy's back pass fell shamefully short, but the young keeper quickly left his line to deny Heatley.
Crusaders grabbed the second goal on 32 minutes when Caddell benefited from a sweet reverse pass from Timmy Adamson, leaving him in acres of space and he brilliantly slotted the ball under the diving Glendinning.
The Blues almost hit back five minutes later when Michael Gault's header sent Carvill racing into the box, but he volleyed hopelessly wide.
Crusaders could well have ended the contest four minutes before the interval when Paul Leeman's free kick was met by Owens, his header found Heatley, but his delicious drive crashed off the crossbar.
Linfield almost grabbed a consolation on 43 minutes with McCaul sending Quinn in on goal, but Lacroix was out quickly to deny the youngster.
Owens hit the clincher on 55 minutes. McClean's punt up field was magnificently mopped up by Adamson, who instinctively cut the ball in for the striker. His finish matched the build-up – his 13th of the season.
Caddell should have piled on the agony but he missed a sitter on 68 minutes as he rolled the ball wide of a gaping goal.
CRUSADERS: Lacroix, Magowan, Leeman, Robinson, McClean, Caddell, Morrow, E McAllister (Coates 65), Heatley (Snoddy 81), Adamson, Owens (Rainey 85). Subs: McBride, McMaster.
LINFIELD: Glendinning, Burns, Douglas, Murphy, Quinn, Lowry, Gault (M McAllister 57), Mulgrew, McCaul, Carvill, Thompson. Subs: Armstrong, Hanley, Browne, Ervin.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge).