IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits players have to handle pressure

Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter

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Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits his players have to handle the pressure if they are to record back-to-back Premiership title successes.

The champions have won just once in their last four league outings, with goals also appearing to have dried up.

The Crues have scored just twice in those four games, with their lead at the top of the table being cut to five points.

Baxter’s men do boast the advantage of having played a game less than their chief rivals.

But the Seaview boss accepts improvement is needed if they are to remain at the head of the standings.

“It is important not to get sucked into the pressure cooker, and try and play your football,” he said.

“People talk about the ‘big P’ in sport – pressure. You see golfers collapse with five holes to go, so you have to stay focused and stay in the moment of what you are trying to achieve.

“I have asked the players to consider their performance against Ballymena last week and work hard. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And there is a long way to go.

“We have had three draws in the last month. We haven’t been beaten, but I would rather we winning.

“So wee have to go to Carrick and see if we can get a result there.”

Baxter is also confident his players can rediscover their scoring touch in front of goal.

“The boys are scoring for gun in training – it is like watching Barcelona,” he added.

“But in the games the pressure comes in, and it is where you are in the context of the season.

“The pitches dry up and it becomes bumpy, so the pressure changes. Nothing is easy and there is a lot of pressure in the games, and we have to learn to cope with it.

“We have a lot of attacking players and good quality players who know where the net is, and they have to find their scoring boots. And we trust them. We have nine games to go. This is a game down and we still have a lead and we have to keep going.”