Stephen Baxter fears a lengthy suspension list could hamper Crusaders’ Setanta Sports Cup hopes on Tuesday night.
The Crues start the defence of their all-Ireland crown with a trip to Turner’s Cross to face Cork City.
The quarter-final, first leg clash is a tricky assignment for the Seaview men who are missing skipper Colin Coates, midfield pair Declan Caddell and Chris Morrow, defender Stephen McBride and striker David Rainey.
Baxter - whose side defeated Derry City in last year’s final - is under no illusions ahead of the game, but insists the Irish League representatives are ‘in it to win it’.
“We are the champions and we want to retain the trophy. So we are up for the fight,” he said.
“But it is going to be very tough. Cork City are a very good side - they proved that with their first round win over Cliftonville.
“They are also in their pre-season so they will be fresh and raring to go, while we are coming to the last stages of our season and have a raft of players missing.
“It is a massive task, but as we proved last season we are up for the challenge in the Setanta and we can’t wait. We defeated Bohemians, Sligo Rovers and Derry City to win the trophy last year, so we know what it takes to succeed in this competition.”
Baxter admits Crusaders will have to be disciplined in tonight’s first leg clash, against a side that defeated an understrength Cliftonville 6-2 on aggregate in the first round.
“We have a plan in mind,” he said.
“We’ll go there and look to keep a good shape. It’s important we keep the tie alive for next week’s return leg at Seaview.
“We’ve done similar things in the past, not least when we played Rosenborg in the Europa League back in July.
“We went out to Norway, were disciplined, produced a good performance, and came away with a very respectable 1-0 defeat against full-time opposition.
“We had two strikers playing centre-midfield that night against Rosenborg and we might have to improvise again in Cork this week.
“We can’t complain. We will field a team capable of taking something from the game ahead of the return leg.”