Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits he will have some tough decisions to make ahead of Saturday’s massive IRN-BRU League Cup final.
The Crues go into the showpiece decider against derby rivals Cliftonville without influential goalkeeper Sean O’Neill and talismanic striker Gary McCutcheon.
Both players sustained injuries during the club’s Irish Cup double-header with Linfield - which eventually saw the Crues progress with a 2-1 replay victory on Tuesday night.
During that second instalment McCutcheon limped off with a hamstring injury which will sideline him for the next two to four weeks.
O’Neill has already been ruled out for the remainder of the season, giving Baxter plenty of food for thought as he assesses his squad ahead of Saturday’s League Cup showdown.
“Gary is out of the game - it will be two to four weeks depending on how bad it is,” Baxter said of McCutcheon’s injury.
“It is very unfortunate for him because he has been playing so well in recent games.
“But again, that’s football. That’s why you have 21 players and not just 11. Players will be brought in when required and asked to do a job.
“We won 5-1 on Saturday, but we made three chances for the Linfield game. That’s just how you have to freshen things up when you have to.
“We have to motor on now without Gary which is a big loss, but I don’t grumble too much when we lose players to injuries.
“You have to ask someone else to step in and do a job.”
Following O’Neill’s season-ending collar bone injury Baxter drafted in experienced French keeper Yohann Lacroix and Longford Town shot-stopper Craig Hyland.
Hyland made his debut in Tuesday’s Irish Cup win over Linfield and could get the nod for Saturday’s meeting with the Reds.
“To be a successful football team, it is all about players and having the right blend,” Baxter added.
“We lost arguably the best goalkeeper in the league recently when Sean picked up his injury.
“But we couldn’t sit back and accept that. We had to go out and do a lot of hard work for a few days and bring in two additional goalkeepers.
“We had to unearth something else and we have two very goalkeepers here.
“I am confident we have enough cover for the rest of the season.
“I have tough decisions all around the park - not just who will be goalkeeper,” Baxter added.
“I am sure I will probably have six or seven different teams between now and Saturday, and I will eventually settle on one.
“We will assess things over the coming days and make sure everyone is focused to play.”
Meanwhile, Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin admits he has no fresh injury worries ahead of Saturday’s cup clash.
“We have come out of the Portadown game relatively unscathed,” he said.
“We have a few long-term injuries but most of the squad is fit. It will be tough to pick 11 lads to start Saturday’s game, but all I can do is be honest with them and tell them what I think.
“But we are all looking forward to it.”