Crues strike late at Ferney to maintain lead as Blues hammer 'Point
Colin Coates headed in the winner from a corner in the fourth minute of added time to maintain Crusaders' five-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
The dramatic late goal gave the Crues a 1-0 win over Ballinamallard at Ferney Park, while Linfield trounced bottom club Warrenpoint Town 6-2 at Milltown.
Aaron Burns and Kirk Millar both scored twice and Ross Gaynor and David Kee were also on target for the Blues.
Liam Bagnall and Stephen Murray scored second-half goals for the home side.
The Crues will host their nearest challengers in the pick of the first round of post-split fixtures at Seaview on 9 April.
The champions had won just once in their last four trips to the County Fermanagh club and struggled to impose their authority in the early stages.
In the first half, Jordan Forsythe's shot grazed the outside of the post, while Stefan McCusker made a fine diving save from Diarmuid O'Carroll, and also denied Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley.
After the break, Owens headed the ball into the ground and over the bar from four yards out after meeting a cross from O'Carroll.
Heatley fired against the post and moments later had an effort cleared off the line, before Coates's dramatic late intervention.
Linfield took just four minutes to open their account against Warrenpoint as Burns shot home for his 19th of the season, then six minutes later Millar smashed the ball in from a couple of yards after Jimmy Callacher's header came off the post.
Gaynor's left-footed piledriver into the bottom corner on the half hour made it 3-0 and Burns added the fourth from the penalty spot in the 51st minute after Millar was brought down by Conor McDonald inside the area.
Millar struck from a narrow angle for the fifth on 56 minutes, before Bagnall pulled one back by sweeping the ball into the corner of the net.
Substitute David Kee drilled the ball home for the sixth on 63 minutes to make it five wins and a draw from their last six league games for the in-form Blues.
Murray grabbed a late consolation after 79 for Barry Gray's side as Warrenpoint still trail the Mallards by one point at the foot of the table.
What they said
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter: "That victory was nothing more than we deserved over the 90 minutes. We hit the woodwork a few times and carved out some good scoring opportunities.
"We dug out an important result and now we have to push on. We'll look forward to the Irish Cup semi-final against Glenavon on Friday night. It will be a nice break from the pressure of the league."
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