A first live Friday night TV Game of the season saw Linfield head to Seaview looking to close the gap at the top of the table. Unfortunatley, it got bigger, but there is no need to panic.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield’s starting eleven was the same as the one that began the previous match, a 7-0 win over Glenavon.
There was one surprise at the start of the game, as Linfield attacked the Shore Road in the first-half where their fans were based. I think the last time that happened was April 2014.
Those fans that were at that end didn’t see a lot of attacking action from Linfield. There wasn’t a lot of attacking action from Crusaders thankfully, bar a Jordan Owens shot that was blocked.
Linfield’s first real attacking moment of note came from a Mark Stafford header under pressure that went wide.
The main talking point, and recurring theme of the half, was the number of yellow cards for fouls on Jamie Mulgrew. It’s not often you can put brains and Crusaders in the same sentence, but they had the brains to do it on a rotating basis in order to avoid getting a second yellow.
Billy Joe Burns hit the side netting in Crusaders next attacking moment of note. You would have been disappointed if the keeper was beaten from there.
Stephen Fallon then had an inswinging cross that went just wide and Matthew Clarke had a shot saved as Linfield ended the first-half strongly.
They couldn’t get the goal. The better team but not dominant, but good foundations to build on for the second-half.
Those foundations tumbled in the opening minutes when Kirk Millar’s misplaced pass was seized upon by Rory Hale who curled home from outside the box.
Within a few minutes, Joel Cooper had a shot blocked while a Crusaders counter attack saw Ross Clarke’s low shot blocked by Rohan Ferguson.
That effort from Cooper was Linfield’s only response in the aftermath of the Crusaders goal.
David Healy turned to his bench in search of an equaliser, bringing on Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin and Daniel Reynolds from the bench.
Despite those three options, as I said a few weeks back, the attacking options from the bench don’t seem as plentiful while Jordan Stewart and Daniel Kearns are unavailable.
As we approached injury time, it looked like Linfield were going to get their big chance when the ball fell perfectly for Daniel Reynolds on the edge of the penalty area, but his low shot was saved by the legs of Gerard Doherty.
It confirmed that it was going to be a frustrating evening for Linfield, even more so when Shayne Lavery was laughably booked for being barged over in the left win position.
Stephen Fallon had a long range shot go wide in the final seconds as Linfield’s six match winning run ended.
It was a frustrating result on so many levels. Crusaders were there for the taking. Not just in the first-half. Crusaders had conceded eight goals in their previous three games and were vulnerable. We didn’t work their defence enough in the second-half.
If Linfield had as much urgency as we did in the final minutes much earlier, they would have got something out of this game.
There is no need to panic. Crusaders aren’t as far away as they seem. If Linfield win their games in hand, they will only be two points behind Crusaders.
There was nothing in this game that suggested Crusaders are a team to be feared. I’d be very disappointed if Linfield don’t get at least seven points from the remaining three League games.
A run of three defeats in four against Crusaders is worrying. A recurring theme, not taking your chances and not blocking speculative long range shots.
We have to do what we did after the Coleraine match in August, dust ourselves down and go again. That will involve two trips to Dungannon in four days.
Elsewhere, Cliftonville won 1-0 at The Oval while Larne could only beat Glenavon 6-0. As I type, Coleraine lead 4-1 at Carrick.
It might not be a bad thing for there to be a traffic jam at the top of the League. Linfield can take advantage of other teams playing under pressure and taking points off each other.
Frustratingly, Ballymena United are out of the Scottish Challenge Cup, as if they were involved, their match against Crusaders would have been postponed, giving Linfield an opportunity to but the lead.
A disappointing night but no need to panic. Having three games postponed in August/September meant that the climb to the top was always going to be a long climb. This is just a stumble rather than a fall.