CRUSADERS 0 LINFIELD 0
Ten-man Linfield earned a spirited point against champions Crusaders at Seaview.
The Blues had midfielder Stephen Lowry sent off for two bookable offences just after half-time but held out for a 0-0 draw on the Shore Road.
David Healy’s men could have emerged with much more, but Mark Haughey squandered a great scoring opportunity in the 54th minute.
In a game of few chances, Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte and substitute David Cushley tested Roy Carroll in the second half, but the champions couldn’t find the breakthrough.
The hype and expectation surrounding the game didn’t translate into an entertaining opening half.
There were only two shots on target during a drab 45 minutes on the Shore Road.
Josh Carson tested Sean O’Neill in the 43rd minute, but it was an easy save for the Crusaders goalkeeper.
In injury time Paul Heatley could only direct a header straight at Roy Carroll as the half trudged to a close.
Linfield were reduced to 10 men in the 51st minute with Stephen Lowry picking up a second yellow card.
Lowry – who was booked in first half injury time for a tug on Heatley – entered Raymond Crangle’s book for a second time shortly after the interval for a foul on Declan Caddell.
Despite the setback it was the Blues who should have claimed the lead three minutes later.
Andy Waterworth was brought down by Whyte on the left flank, and Chris Casement’s free-kick was somehow headed over the bar by Mark Haughey from just four yards out.
In the 57th minute Kirk Millar found space on the right before delivering a teasing low cross that was almost headed into his own net by Declan Caddell.
David Cushley was introduced as a 62nd-minute substitute for Michael Gault, and the forward almost broke the deadlock two minutes later.
Cushley managed to hustle possession off Jimmy Callacher and break into the box, but his shot was well saved by Carroll.
Whyte tormented Chris Casement in the 74th minute, but after cutting inside the Linfield defender Whyte was denied by Carroll at the near post.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Gault (Cushley 62), Coates, Caddell (Lowry 75), Forsythe, McClean, Owens, Heatley, Whyte.
Subs not used: Carvill, Dougherty, Clarke.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Millar, Burns, Ward, Casement, Carson (Smyth 67), Quinn.
Subs not used: Clingan, Clarke, Fallon, Salley.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)