Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits he doesn’t intend to get involved in a bout of ‘mind games’ ahead of Saturday’s Irish Cup semi final against Glenavon at Windsor Park.
His opposite number, Gary Hamilton, began the psychological war by branding the Crues as a ‘physical team’ and urged match official Arnold Hunter to ‘be strong’ in the white heat of what is sure to be a fascinating battle.
But Baxter was having none of it, stating he had no intentions of taking the bate.
“It was a cheap shot,” said the big Newtownards sports shop owner. “If Gary thinks he is going to influence the referee with comments like that, he’s in for a surprise.
“Arnold Hunter will not be fooled by that. He is one of the country’s top referees, who has officiated all over the world.
“I suppose Gary wanted to adopt the antics used by Sir Alex Ferguson on many occasions in his days at Manchester United, especially before big games, but I’ll not lose any sleep over it.
“Perhaps he forgets he has players in his squad that are no shrinking violets. I don’t think boys like Winkie Murphy, Ciaran Martyn or Eddie McCallion ever looked for protection from referees before.”
Baxter will be without the injured Declan Caddell for the game. He joins the long-term casualties, Matthew Snoddy (medial ligament) and Aidan Watson (back) on the sidelines.
“Declan sustained a bad ankle knock in a recent game against Glentoran,” added Baxter. “He’ll be out for possibly another three weeks.
“But we’ve got some our players back, including our captain Colin Coates, Timmy Adamson and Craig McClean; they are returning at the right time. They now have a few games under their belt. Their fitness is improving all the time.
“We need our big players for the big games. We are also starting to see the best of Richard Clarke in midfield after joining us in January from Glentoran.
“So it’s all coming together nicely. We have some massive matches looming, starting with this semi final. Then we go into a series of crucial league games.
“We’ve got ourselves into a good position in terms of finishing third in the Premier League table, which would guarantee us of European football next season,” he added.
“But our immediate focus is on the semi final. It will be a tough game, there is no question about that.”