Our league challenge all but over, admits Ward
While it remains mathematically possible for Linfield to finish the season as league champions, the Blues' players, management and supporters left Seaview knowing their dream is fading fast.
Good Linfield sides don't raise the white flag and surrender without a fight - particularly when a title is there to be won.
David Healy's men went on a phenomenal run and deserve immense credit for that but Crusaders pulled a big performance out of the fire when they needed it most. The Blues did create a few opportunities and asked questions of the home defence but the champions stood firm and landed two painful blows in the final few minutes.
The gap at the top could have been two. Instead it's now eight with only four games left and Linfield midfielder Sean Ward wasn't in the mood to start believing there will be any more dramatic twists.
"It's a massive setback," admitted Ward. "Eight points with four games to go, mathematically it's not over but realistically I can't see Crusaders throwing it away.
"At the end of the season any team that finishes top of the league are worthy champions.
"If it's Crusaders congratulations to them and I think it's fair to say the league is probably over. Had Stephen Lowry tucked away his chance the result could have been different but Crusaders were clinical late on and it's those fine margins that decide games."
While Saturday's 2-0 loss, following late goals from Gavin Whyte and Jordan Forsythe, will be a painful pill for Linfield to digest the reality is that the Blues made life difficult for themselves earlier this season, particularly during that black November when they lost all four league games.
Losing three of their four league matches against Crusaders certainly didn't assist their cause.
A side with title-winning ambitions have got to find a way of slaying their closest rivals.
Crusaders have only suffered three defeats in the last 17 Premiership meetings between the sides.
"I don't think we lost the league on this one game," added Ward. "Had we won it would have made things interesting but going back to September, October and November our form could have been better. But in the second half of the season its fair to say we gave it a good go.
"We still have a lot to play for including an Irish Cup final and consolidating second place.
"Yes we are disappointed to lose this one and perhaps rule ourselves out of the league championship but we are certainly still hungry to finish the season on a high.
"We will leave here knowing that we have more work to do and the players know if they don't perform in the league games they won't play in the showpiece final and that is one of the best days a player can experience - if they win it.
"I want to be involved in it and I want to finish on a high.
"It hasn't worked out for us but we'll regroup and we have a lot to play for."