IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders Stephen Baxter impressed with Ballymena United

Ballymena's Jim Ervin  in action with Crusaders Paul Heatley

Ballymena's Jim Ervin in action with Crusaders Paul Heatley

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There was a look of realisation on the face of Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter on Saturday after his side’s 2-1 defeat to Ballymena United at the Showgrounds.

The Crues boss now knows that Ballymena could be on their way to being a force in the Danske Bank Premiership in the coming weeks, months and years.

Baxter will also have taken on board that there is a new resilence and depth of character to the Sky Blues squad and maybe the days of picking up three easy points at Warden Street might be a thing of the past.

He will also know that his side bossed the second half and if Jordan Forsythe had scored with a header the victory would have been theirs.

But football is not about if’s, but’s and maybe’s, it’s about the score at the final whistle and nothing else, as Baxter admitted afterwards.

“The first half was a lively affair and both teams cancelled each other out and loads of long balls being played.

“We got in for a reasonable goal and they got a penalty kick and it was 50-50.

“We upped our gears in the second half and we were coming at them with all guns blazing and carved out a few chances.

“And the pressure was builing and building and then we get the sending-off of their goalkeeper and then you are looking for a winner and then you get a free-kick against you.

“A stupid free-kick and they get the ball into the box and score from it.

“The interesting thing for me today was the determination and the focus of the Ballymena team. They had so much more hunger to get that result in the end.

“The way they defended and saw the game out. They way they harried and went about their jobs. Those are the sign of a team that is very hungry. Are for me we lost that battle today,”

And Baxter - whose side took the lead through a Paul Heatley effort - says United manager David Jeffrey hyas made a huge difference at the Showgrounds.

“He has an appetite to win football matches and to be the best and he knows how to get that and is a secret that only David and I know.”

And after wins against Glentoran, Linfield and now Crusaders - Ballymena could be tipped to be title challengers .

But United boss Jeffrey - who had watched Tony Kane and Kyle Owens score for his side - was having none of it.

“It is only October and we are not getting carried away. Experience has taught me not to get carried away and we will see where we are at Christmas.

“We will review the situation then but our only aim is to make the top six.

“Now the challenge for them is to play consistantly at this level. But we are no Leicester City.”

Ballymena United: Glendinning, T Kane, Owens, Thompson, Jenkins, Faulkner, Friel, Wallace, Ervin, McMurray, Loughran.

Subs: McAuley, Flynn, McCloskey, E Kane, Shevlin.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Gault, Coates, Carvill, Cushley, Forsythe, McClean, Owens, Clarke, HeatleySubs: Beverland, Mitchell, Soares, Dougherty, Snoody.

Ref: S Taylor.