Classy Crues blow Blues away in a Windsor whirlwind
Linfield 2 Crusaders 5
Crusaders injected new life into their title challenge with this astonishing performance at Windsor Park.
It was billed as a battle of the Belfast Gladiators - and it didn't disappoint in front of a live Sky Sports television audience.
The result puts a huge question mark over Linfield's Danske Bank Premiership title defence - they have now lost their last three league games.
Paul Heatley, Gavin Whyte and Philip Lowry were on the mark for the visitors, who were helped in no small measure by own goals from Mark Stafford and Jimmy Callacher.
Although Stafford and Aaron Burns gave the home fans some hope, David Healy's boys were a well beaten side and were relieved to hear the final blast of referee Tim Marshall's whistle.
The visitors required only three minutes to carve out the first chance with Whyte racing down the right and, when he picked out Jordan Owens, the big man totally scuffed his shot. When the rebound fell to Heatley, he blazed over.
Mark Haughey helped warm up the home supporters, cutting in from the right before letting rip with a fierce 25 yard drive that Brian Jensen did well to flip over the crossbar.
And Jensen was at it again on 18 minutes. This time Andy Waterworth gobbled up a delicious pass from Burns and, after cutting past Howard Beverland, his near post drive was pawed to safety by the giant Dane.
But it was the Crues who drew first blood on 22 minutes, courtesy of that man Heatley.
When Jordan Forsythe's low cross fell invitingly for the little striker on the edge of the box, he sent in a low drive that crept agonisingly past Roy Carroll and into bottom the corner.
Carroll was picking the ball out of the again 11 minutes later. Heatley found Mark McChrystal in acres of space on the left. His low cross deflected home off the unfortunate Stafford, giving Carroll no chance.
Linfield attemped to come back with Waterworth sending Kirk Millar free. When he drilled in a low cross, Whyte appeared at the back post to whip the ball away from Matty Clarke, who looked a certain scorer.
But the Blues were not to be denied. Stafford climbed high above the Crues defence to bullet home Millar's corner kick to haul the hosts back into eight seven minutes before the break.
The goal injected a new confidence into Linfield and Waterworth, having spotted Jensen off his line, sent in a looping shot that just cleared the crossbar.
Incredibly, the pendulum swung in the Crues favour once again seconds before the interval - and what an effort it was from wing wizard Whyte.
He took off on a dazzling 40 yard dash on the right, leaving Robert Garrett hopelessly in his wake. His cross was rapped against the crossbar by Snoddy, but the rebound fell to Whyte, who touched home a beauty.
Linfield roared from the traps after the break and Stephen Lowry should really have worked the goalkeeper when he was presented with a great chance by Burns, but McChrystal got back to block. Then, Callacher's penetrating pass sent Millar hurtling through the middle, but Jensen was out in a flash to intercept.
The international arena erupted on 56 minutes when Burns once more reduced the deficit with a bullet header following a peach of a cross from Andy Mitchell. Suddenly it was the Blues asking all the questions and Stafford was only inches away from levelling after another excellent cross from Mitchell.
Substitute Jordan Stewart showed great vision to send Clarke free. After skipping past the challenge of Whyte, his low shot was hoofed off the line by McChrystal.
But it was game set and match nine minutes from time when Whyte was allowed to waltz in from the right before smashing in a low cross that the unfortunate Callacher touched into his own net.
After his brother Stephen had his pocket picked by Whyte, substitute and former Linfield midfielder Philip Lowry piled on the agony by side-footing home his team's fifth three minutes from time to put the seal on an emphatic success.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Millar (J Stewart, 59 mins), Burns, Clarke, Garrett, Mitchell (Rooney, 79 mins). Unused subs: C Stewart, Robinson, Quinn.
CRUSADERS: Jensen, Burns, Beverland, Coates, Snoddy (Ward, 90 mins), Caddell, Forsythe, Heatley (Lowry, 82 mins), Owens, Whyte (Carvill, 90 mins), McCrystal.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)