With a minute played the ‘Gers had the opening opportunity as Sean Noble’s cross found Adam Salley in the box, but the young striker’s first-time shot was blocked.
At the other end, Richard Clarke’s corner found the dangerous Jordan Owens unmarked; his header looked destined for the bottom corner but from nowhere ‘keeper Brian Neeson made an incredible point-blank save to stun the striker.
Rangers then had a great chance of their own, as Steven McCullough’s shot from distance was uncharacteristically spilled by goalkeeper Sean O’Neill, and he was relieved when he saw Daniel Kelly’s rebound crash off the post.
Owens was a constant threat for the North Belfast side, and with Carrick failing to clear their lines he pounced on the lax defending but could only direct his shot straight at Neeson.
On the 18th minute the Hatchetmen opened the scoring. Billy Joe Burns’ cross found Phillip Lowry who shrugged off Glenn Taggart’s challenge before scoring, with Neeson left disappointed that he couldn’t keep the ball out.
Having taken the lead, the Shore Road side slowed their play and settled the game. Tzee Mustapha replaced Glenn Taggart on the 34th minute in what was an otherwise eventless half after the first goal.
Five minutes following the start of the second half, Jordan Forsythe beat Seanna Foster to go through one-on-one, but the former Bangor winger couldn’t hold his nerves as he fired high into the stand.
Soon after it looked as if Lowry had grabbed his second of the afternoon as he fired in after Owens’ header was saved by Neeson, but the midfielder’s celebrations were cut short as the assistant referee flagged for offside.
As Aaron Callaghan’s side went in search for an equaliser, Declan O’Brien replaced Mark Clarke to provide an added attacking impetus.
On the hour mark the Champions doubled their lead. Forsythe lofted the ball into the box and Owens was there from close distance; his header looked to have been kept out by Neeson but referee Lee Tavinder adjudged that the ball had crossed the line, much to the fury of the ‘Gers shot-stopper.
Now with a two-goal deficit, Carrick made their final substitution as Nathan McConnell replaced Adam Salley.
It was to no avail, however, as Stephen Baxter’s side added a third moments later. A sweet counter-attack was finished off as Gavin Whyte’s smart pass found Burns well up the pitch, and he brilliantly defied the odds of scoring from a tight angle as he chipped the ball past Neeson and into the far corner.
Five minutes from time, referee Tavinder awarded Crusaders a penalty as Lowry fell under a tackle from Mark Surgenor. Midfielder Clarke stepped up to the spot in search for his side’s fourth, but Neeson guessed correctly and dived to his left to deny the midfielder, meaning it was three goals and three points for Crusaders in a disappointing day for Rangers.