Crusaders preparing to take ‘step into the unknown’ against FK Ekranas

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter admits Crusaders will be taking a “step into the unknown” when they host FK Ekranas at Seaview on Thursday.

The Crues are preparing to take on Lithuanian opposition for this Europa League first qualifying round, first leg showdown in north Belfast (7.45pm kick-off).

Baxter – who is currently on a family holiday in Portugal – will be keeping a close eye – and ear – on proceedings on the Shore Road.

And he accepts the clash with Ekranas will be a stern test for his Irish League hopefuls.

“It is always a bit of a step into the unknown when you go into Europe, and Ekranas is an example of that,” Baxter said.

“But we are looking forward to the challenge. This is the fifth time we have been in Europe in the past six seasons and it is a huge feat for the club on and off the pitch.

“It is always a steep learning curve, but it is a challenge we embrace and try and enjoy.

“We have had some big games in Europe in recent years, and Ekranas is another huge challenge for us.

“But this is reward for all the effort and endeavour the players have put in during the past season to finish as high as they can in the Premiership.”

Baxter will be kept up to date with the tie by his assistant Jeff Spiers and first team coach Marc Wilson.

“I will stay in near constant contact with Marc and be kept up to date over the phone,” the Crues boss added.

“It’s not an ideal situation, but this was the only time I could squeeze a family break into the summer calendar.

“My son is 12 and we have to work around school holidays and other commitments.”

The Crues have a full panel to choose from.