IRISH CUP: Friends become foes as Crusaders face PSNI

PSNI striker Lukas Adamczyk up against Howard Beverland during the last meeting with Crusaders. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

PSNI striker Lukas Adamczyk up against Howard Beverland during the last meeting with Crusaders. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

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Crusaders and PSNI will firmly shelve a fine friendship come Saturday afternoon.

The two Belfast-based sides have a close-working relationship, strengthened in 2014 when then PSNI boss Gavin Arthur jumped ship to take over as the Crues’ reserve team boss.

There will be absolutely no favours handed out in this Irish Cup sixth round clash though - Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter knows that for certain sure.

He was a relieved man the last time the sides clashed. PSNI twice came from behind to level the County Antrim Shield semi-final but two late goals put paid to their hopes of an upset.

“Whenever a lesser team comes to play against you, it’s their big day out,” said Baxter, who is considering a first start for Mikel Suarez as he mulls over ‘one or two’ potential changes to his line-up.

“The last time they came to play us, while there was a difference in quality between the two teams, they had that enthusiasm and drive. That’s something we’re going to have to guard against.

“When it’s a cup game, we have to make sure that we don’t lose that intensity. It’s so high in the league every week but we can’t let that drop just because this is a cup match.

“They’re riding high and they have some ex-Irish League players in there who have been there and done it.

“They know they’ve pushed us once before and they’ll have confidence that they can come and do that again this weekend.”

If the two teams’ recent records are anything to go on, goals will be at a premium. Bolstered by new signing Alan keane, Crusaders have kept four clear sheets on the trot while PSNI have conceded just once in their last four outings.

“If somebody carves out a good chance against you and scores, they deserve it but we’ve been solid and got into a good rhythm over recent weeks,” said Baxter.

“Alan was on his mid-season break so to play as well as he has straight away is excellent. His quality is there for all to see but he keeps telling me he’s not fit yet. If that’s what he can do already, I can’t wait to see him at 100%.”

PSNI boss Ian Campbell, meanwhile, is hopeful his side’s good run of form can continue.

“We’re excited,” he said. “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re going well in our own league and we’ve exceeded a lot of expectations. We’re on a good run at the minute - our defence has been excellent.

“We play good football and our defence is giving us a really good platform.”

Campbell’s side are fourth in the Championship and have former Carrick duo Mark McCullough and Jonny Wright to call on. Ex-Glentoran man Ryan Berry adds to that experience while, up front, Łukasz Adamczyk, was the Championship’s Player of the Month for November.

“We’re realistic enough to know there is a big gulf between the top of the Premiership and where we are but sometimes in football, that gulf can be bridged,” said Campbell.

“We have a good relationship with Crusaders. Our reserve teams have filled free Saturdays with games against each other a few times this season. We look forward to renewing that friendship.”

But, when the referee’s whistle is blown on Saturday, the underdogs will have their minds fixed on a cup upset.

“Well that would just be the icing on the cake,” smiled the boss.