Published Saturday, 22 December 2012
David Rainey scores a late equaliser for Crusaders. (© Pacemaker)
Saturday's game had almost everything the packed crowd could have wished for - some quality goals, a penalty given and one controversially not awarded and a sending-off.
Crusaders were reduced to 10 men in the 82nd minute when the linesman drew referee Ross Dunlop's attention to an incident involving Crues striker Jordan Owens and Linfield defender Albert Watson.
The linesman informed his colleague that he had seen Owens allegedly elbowing Watson and the referee had no hesitation in showing him a red card.
The same official had annoyed the home support earlier in the second half when he refused to signal for a penalty after a Crues player had appeared to have been bundled to the ground in the box.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter was annoyed at the non-award of what he felt was a legitimate spot kick but was happy with the outcome.
"All I can do is manage my team - the referee and linesmen are professionals and I felt the referee was looking to his asistant to give decisions," he said.
Linfield are the champions of this country and a brilliant team so in the context of the game I have to be satisfied with a point.
Stephen Baxter, Crusaders manager
Blues boss David Jeffrey was not unhappy at the outcome either but his team's chances of retaining the title have suffered another blow as they head into the Boxing Day Big two clash with Glentoran at Windsor Park.
"William Murphy has concussion and our team doctor has ruled him out of the game with Glentoran which is disappointing." he explained.
"Albert Watson will be okay for the game although he now has two heads - another one growing out of the one he has already - after the incident with Jordan Owens.
"Crusaders are a big physical side who play to their strengths and I was disappointed with the free kicks we conceded that led to their goals.
"But after some games which end in draws you are more disappointed than I feel at the monent - I was so very, very proud of the players."
The result means Crusaders are now six points behind leaders Cliftonvilel, who have a game in hand, while champions Linfield stay in fifth place.
Linfield took the lead in the 20th minute when Billy Joe Burns finished clinically with a first time shot after a corner taken by Michael Carvill had eluded the home defence.
Carvill then had a chance to make it 2-0 but Crues goalkeeper Sean O'Neill saved his shot with his legs.
Paul Heatley then drove in from the left flank and sent in a rasping shot which Linfield 'keeper Alan Blayney, who showed a safe pair of hands throughout, acrobatically tipped over the bar.
Mark McAllister then slipped the ball to the unmarked Peter Thompson but his weak shot from 12 yards out was easily stopped by O'Neill.
Then Josh Robinson had another chance to equalise but his shot from the left hand side of the box clipped the crossbar.
Gary McCutcheon eventually did put level with the last kick of the first half scoring on the half volley after the Blues' defence had failed to clear.
Thirteen minutes after the restart Linfield restored their lead from the penalty spot through Brian McCaul after a shirt tug by Craig McClean on Philip Lowry as the referee again took the advice of his assistant.
Owens missed a good chance a good chance to equalise after getting the better of Murphy but his shot went wide of the near post.
Then in the last minute of normal time Linfield conceded a free kick about 40 yards out and Gareth McKeown's delivery was nodded on by Timmy Adamson and substitute Rainey scored from close-range.
Six minutes of time were added on but the game ended in stalemate as both sets of fans headed home in the knowledge that they'd seen one of the best matches of the season.
The game at Seaview was the only Danske Bank Premiership match to be played on Saturday after heavy rain left other playing grounds waterlogged.
Five other matches have been rescheduled for Tuesday 15 January.
Crusaders 2-2 Linfield:
Crusaders: McCutcheon 45, Rainey 90, sent off Owens 83.
Linfield: BJ Burns 20, McCaul pen 56.