The third game of any league campaign can never offer a true measure of a team’s title credentials but Saturday’s meeting between the past two champions certainly raised some intriguing questions.
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter was left to reflect on how his defending champions struggled to gain a sustained foothold in play with a performance lacking the cohesion and collective energy traditionally on show in high-profile battles.
The diminishing returns due to the absence of some key names will also serve as cause for concern.
In contrast, Linfield manager David Healy was happy to highligght the value beyond the points return enjoyed by such an assured display that suggested the frailties in mind and body of last season have been enhanced.
“It was a good performance, we were solid from back to front, down here at Seaview you will always be tested given the opposition,” said Healy. “It’s about improving week on week for us.
“I’ve no doubt Crusaders will be there come the end of the season.
“Crusaders have been the stand-out in this country for the past three or four years.
“It’s a mentality now, we weren’t bullied, Crusaders ran over the top of us make no bones about it last year in most of the games, on the flip side the year before we were stronger.
“When you do play your rivals you put a marker down and we looked big and strong.
“That’s more pleasing than the three points, away from home is always a test of character, you need to be bang on it and we’d no-one off it today.
“We were very professional and solid, we will get fitter and stronger off a slower season build-up.
“At times today when we did play we looked effective, I was pleased with our discipline and, in terms of selection, the staff got the decisions right.
“Jamie Mulgrew is the club captain and has probably been my best player over the past few years I’ve been at the club.
“I thought Daniel Kearns and Joel Cooper were good, this year we’ve players who can handle the pressure up against tight defending.
“With the players we have, that’s the message we need, it’s about consistency.”
Baxter finished frustrated at the lack of end product off such a positive start.
“You always have to assess what you see and be honest, for 30 minutes today we were really good with all the presure,” said the Crusaders manager. “We were rampant at that moment in time, but after 30 minutes Linfield started coming into the game in a much better way and were the dominant team for the whole of the second half.
“They were first to the ball, passed it better, had the shape and leaders who worked really, really hard.
“Goals change games and it’s fine margins in these fixtures.
“That’s it, they won the key battles, were stronger in midfield, good in the back four and with wide players who can hurt you with that wee bit of quality.
“You pick a squad of 24 players and people are taught to be ready to play.
“Chopping and changing across a back four is never good but that should not be used as an excuse at all, you get on with it over what is a long campaign.
“We lost a game of football today because Linfield had the bigger heart in the second half because they were the side in control.
“Once you hold and apply the pressure in any game it becomes that bit easier and everything suddenly starts flowing, so they had that momentum.
“It’s not a lack of effort, they are all top players and great lads so we will now pick ourselves up and just work through the process.”