Linfield 2 - 0 Crusaders: Linfield manager David Healy hails his New Year heroes
Linfield boss David Healy punched the air in delight following this thrilling win and insisted: "We're back in the title hunt."
Goals from Andy Waterworth - his 20th of the season - and Jimmy Callacher made it a happy New Year for Healy's boys. The result also catapulted the Blues into second place in the Danske Premiership table - six behind Crusaders.
It was the Crues' first league defeat since the opening day of the campaign and, incredibly, the first time they have failed to find the net this season.
"I would like to think we are now back in title contention," said Healy.
"The gap at the top is now down to six points. The Crues have now lost five points in the last two games, which gives us hope.
"They are still favourites, but hopefully, come April, we'll be there or thereabouts. We are by no means the finished article, but we are starting to lay down a few markers.
"We are going to be challenging because that's the demands I'll be putting on my players. They have set the standards over the last three games - and they were tough fixtures. I know every player in that dressing room would love to win the title.
"So we will be going flat-out to achieve that. I'll be making sure the players are fully aware of their responsibilities - and what is still achievable."
Linfield bolted from the traps with the pace of Waterworth and Paul Smyth a constant threat. But it was the Crues who almost sneaked ahead on six minutes when Sean O'Neill's long punt forward found the feet of the lively Paul Heatley, whose effort crashed against the body of Ross Glendinning.
But the big Linfield following were celebrating on 26 minutes with that Waterworth opener.
Jamie Mulgrew sent the big striker clear on the left. After leaving Davy Magowan in his wake, his first shot was superbly saved by O'Neill, but Waterworth gobbled up the rebound to ram the ball into the bottom corner.
Crusaders attempted to come back off the ropes. Mulgrew's clumsy challenged flattened Heatley 35 yards out, but Jordan Forsythe's free-kick was easily plucked by Glendinning
However, the Crues almost self-destructed eight minutes before the break. Colin Coates' intended back-pass to O'Neill fell woefully short and Waterworth was in like a flash.
O'Neill spared his skipper's blushes by rushing from his line to save. Then in a bizarre incident, Kirk Millar and Craig McClean crashed into linesman Mark O'Brien, who had to be stretched off with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. Fourth official Ross Dunlop took over the duties on the touchline.
The Blues struck again five minutes into the second half. Substitute Davy Kee, on for Mark Haughey, whipped in a corner kick and Callacher managed to get up above O'Neill to head the ball home.
It was the Crues first defeat by Linfield in 11 meetings at the international venue, dating back to February 2012.
Manager Stephen Baxter said: "You can't give away goals like we did and expect to win football games. The second was simply a horror show - we didn't defend the corner kick at all.
"But I thought our second half performance was fantastic.
"It's a setback, but titles are not handed out our at this time of the year. There are many big games up ahead - and we'll be ready for them."