Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter left purring over players’ character

Crusaders and Ballymena United fought out a seven-goal thriller on Tuesday night

Crusaders and Ballymena United fought out a seven-goal thriller on Tuesday night

  • by Gareth Fullerton

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter wears the smile of a contented manager these days.

Sitting second in the Danske Bank Premiership, the Crues have also progressed to not one but two cup finals already this season.

They booked their place in the final of the NIFL League Cup with Tuesday’s extra-time victory over Ballymena United.

Baxter’s side will meet derby rivals Cliftonville in the decider on January 25, while they also have a County Antrim Shield decider against Linfield to come – expected to be rearranged for next month.

A 24-game unbeaten run has contributed to the Seaview club’s mesmerising success story.

Baxter has lavished praise on his players as they continue to set the Irish League alight.

And he is hoping there is more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

“The players put themselves on the line every week, and they have now reached two cup finals this season and in a good position in the league,” Baxter said.

“We have managed to keep the unbeaten run going and we will try to keep it going as long as possible.

“The players showed great character on Tuesday night, and they have shown that spirit for three or four months. The level of performance has been fantastic.

“It is great to watch the effort of the players – it is a joy to watch.”

Next up for Crusaders is another instalment against Ballymena United on Saturday – this time in the league at the Showgrounds.

The Sky Blues are the last time to beat the Crues – a 2-1 win in the Premiership back on August 17 at Seaview.

“I hate these back-to-back games, but it is what it is,” Baxter said ahead of tomorrow’s renewal.

“We have to prepare the team and get them ready to play – and they will be ready.

“The games are coming thick and fast, but I can’t ask much more from a team than reaches two cup finals and goes on a 24-game unbeaten run, and sit second in the league – stunning.

“They are an amazing team with amazing characters – they are great to work for. When you get that level of performance, it is a joy and delight to manage them.

“I would do anything for them, and they reward me with their effort.”

Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson believes his players may be out for revenge following their League Cup agony in midweek.

“We will be up against it again on Saturday, but our players might feel they owe Crusaders one,” he said.

“We have proved we can match them, so hopefully the players can put in another good performance and try and pick up some points.

“We have Crusaders on Saturday and then Coleraine on Boxing Day – two massive games.

“After that we have Ards and Ballinamallard, so we want to pick up as many points as we can. “




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